2020 Election – Georgia: A Harbinger of a New South

Former EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg describes the experiences of his grandparents' immigration to America from Eastern Europe in contrast to the recent pronouncement by Ken Cuccinelli, who serves as Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director, that the US should only admit immigrants who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.

As my readers know, I am a person with a special overriding interest in history.   That includes not only the political history of America and the world, but also less consequential areas of history as well, most notably, sports history.

And this coming Friday, October 23, 2020, we commemorate a special anniversary that is of enormous significance in the realms of both American history and sports history. Specifically, this Friday will mark the 75th Anniversary of the integration of what is commonly referred to as “Organized Baseball” with the signing of Jackie Robinson by the late, lamented, beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  That is the BROOKLYN Dodgers, not the ersatz Dodgers who play in Los Angeles and are representing the National League in this year’s World Series.

At the time of Jackie’s signing, baseball was unquestionably the nation’s number one participation and spectator sport.  The Sporting News, the weekly periodical known then as the “Bible of Baseball,” had a note in every issue that stated, “Baseball is a game played by Caucasian gentlemen.”

So the impact of Jackie integrating baseball was most profound.  The story of the racist abuse he endured is now a part of American history.

Yet Jackie triumphed, and the most prejudiced fans found themselves rooting for a black man and his black Brooklyn Dodger teammates, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe.  It is not surprising that some years later, during the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told Don Newcombe, “I could never have accomplished as much as I did in the civil rights struggle had it not been for what Jackie, Roy, and you achieved for the acceptance of Black Americans on the baseball diamond.”

The birthplace of Jackie Robinson was in Cairo, Georgia.  And now, 75 years after Jackie’s signing, Georgia will be my election night focus as to whether a New South has arrived in America.  In order to explain this, it is essential that I first give an encapsulated history of the politics of the South since the end of Reconstruction In 1877.

Reconstruction had been a time of fitful transition in the areas of the economy and voting rights.  African-Americans continued to be in a position of economic subservience.  Still, they could often vote, and there were occasional political breakthroughs for the African-American community in the South, including the election of two Black US Senators from Mississippi.

The Reconstruction era ended in 1877 with the withdrawal of the federal troops from the South, a consequence of a deal that made Republican Rutherford B. Hayes president. The end of Reconstruction was a catastrophe for African-Americans, as they were universally throughout the South deprived of the right to vote and all other forms of meaningful political participation.

Discriminatory barriers were erected against African-American voting, such as the poll taxes and literacy tests.  The barriers to Black participation in the South only started to meaningfully change after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a result of the historic demonstrations at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, led by John Lewis.

With the end of Reconstruction and the subsequent denial to African-Americans of the right to vote, the era of the racist Democratic Solid South began.  The Republicans had been the party of the hated Union during the Civil War, and with the disenfranchisement of African- American voters throughout the South, support for the GOP was virtually nonexistent among voters in the states of the Old Confederacy.

The Solid South began to wane with the advent of the presidency of Richard Nixon in 1969.  He was well aware of the fact that the white grassroots of the South had become disillusioned with the Democratic Party as a result of the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (public accommodations), 1965 (voting rights), and 1968 (housing) by Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Guided by his strategist, Kevin Phillips, author of The Emerging Republican Majority, and assisted by his chief southern political ally, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Nixon began his ultimately successful effort to transform the Democratic Solid South into a Republican Solid South, both based on a racist message and governance.  In the case of Nixon, the racist message was his continuing inveighing against busing to achieve racial balance in public schools.

There was a considerable irony to Richard Nixon on the issue of race in that his governance was not nearly as racist as his message.  The Nixon administration complied with and vigorously enforced all the federal court decisions mandating school desegregation measures and developed the Revised Philadelphia Plan, designed to require federal contractors to hire minority workers.

Since Nixon left office, with the exception of George W. Bush, his Republican successors have either been racist in their governance or message.  This includes two presidents who were personally not racist, to wit, Gerald Ford, whose 1976 campaign featured an anti-school busing message designed to please racists everywhere, and George H.W. Bush, whose 1988 presidential campaign never repudiated the racist Willie Horton ad published by a group of his supporters independent of his campaign.

And racism in a Republican White House has reached its apogee with Donald Trump, a virulent personal racist who is also an extremist in terms of racist government and message.

And throughout the South, by and large, with a few notable exceptions, Republican governors, U. S. Senators, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives have likewise been racist in their message or governance, usually both.

I have been predicting that the eras of the Democratic Solid South and the Republican Solid South will soon be followed by a non-racist New South, which will be dominated, albeit not completely, by the Democrats.  Republicans can succeed in the coming New South if they abandon and repudiate Trumpian racism.

The advent of the New South is attributable largely to two factors: 1) the growing political effectiveness of the African-American community; and 2) the migration to the South from other regions of the country of growing numbers of college educated managerial and white collar types in all industries.

While I have no doubt that the era of the New South is coming, I have been uncertain as to the timing of its arrival.  I had thought that prior to this campaign, the New South would arrive later in this decade.

Yet there is growing evidence in the Deep South state of Georgia, that the New South may have already arrived.  There are three election contests of note: the presidential race for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes and two US Senate races.  If the Democrats win two out of these three races, the New South will have arrived in the State of Georgia.

The New York Times/ Siena College survey, a poll rated A+ by Nate Silver, released its Georgia results today, and the results are highly encouraging to the Democrats.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/upshot/poll-georgia-biden-trump.html?referringSource=articleShare

Even his most staunch backers never thought it likely that Joe Biden would carry Georgia.  In the NYTimes//Siena College Poll, however, he is currently tied with Trump at 45 percent each.

The undecideds will decide the state.  And Biden is likely to have the advantage there, given the spike in the number of the Coronavirus cases and the continuing flight of seniors from Trump.

The first Senate contest is between the incumbent Republican US Senator David Perdue and his Democratic challenger, media executive Jon Ossoff.  The momentum is clearly with Ossoff.

The NYT/Siena College poll reported today that the two candidates are tied at 43-43.  A month ago, Perdue led, 41-37.   There is a Libertarian candidate, Shane Hazel, polling at 4 percent.  If no candidate polls over 50 percent on Election Day, there will be a runoff on January 5 between the top two candidates.

At some points in this campaign, it has seemed like Perdue is seeking the job of Ku Klux Klan executive director rather than reelection to the US Senate.  In July, the Perdue campaign ran a blatantly anti-Semitic digital ad.

(https://www.politico.com/amp/news/2020/07/28/jon-ossoff-david-perdue-anti-semitic-ad-384386)

Then, last Friday night, at a Trump rally in Macon, Georgia, Perdue deliberately mispronounced in mocking racist form the first name of Kamala Harris.

https://youtu.be/f9xgUOjPFKw

This certainly will not improve Perdue’s poll numbers.  In any event, it appears likely that this election is headed for a runoff.

The other Senate race is certainly headed for a runoff, due to the fact that there is one major Democratic candidate and two major Republican candidates.  The seat was previously held by Republican Johnny Isakson, who stepped down due to health reasons at the end of 2019.  Governor Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the seat in January, 2020.   The purpose of this election Is to elect a Senator to serve the remainder of the term, which expires in January, 2023.

The Democrat, Raphael Warnock, has the potential to be a political superstar.  Since 2005, he has served as Senior Pastor of the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr.  Martin Luther King served in the 1960s in a similar role.

Warnock has outstanding communication skills, both with voters in his African-American community and outside.

The two leading Republican candidates, Senator Loeffler and Congressman Doug Collins are rather nondescript, to say the least.  Both are strong supporters of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican Congressional candidate in Georgia who is an outspoken public advocate of the delusional QAnon conspiracy.

The NYTimes/Siena College poll results reported today were most encouraging to Warnock.  Last month, Senator Loeffler led with 23 percent, while Congressman Collins and Reverend Warnock were at 21 percent each.  Now, Warnock has opened a comfortable 32-23 percent lead over Loeffler, with Collins third at 17 percent.

In a hypothetical runoff matchup, Reverend Warnock leads both Loeffler and Collins, 45 percent to 41 percent.   Warnock definitely is the current favorite in this race.

Adding to Democratic optimism in Georgia is the early voting turnout, which, according to the Georgia Secretary of State, has achieved a 134% increase in early voting over the same time period leading up to the 2016 election.

I will not predict the outcome of these three Georgia races.  The impacts of a Democratic victory in these contests, however, is clear.

Biden needs to win 270 electoral votes to be elected president.  He is a certain winner to win all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 (233 electoral votes).  He has a strong lead in Michigan (16 electoral votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), two states Donald Trump won in 2016.  This gives Biden a total of 259 electoral votes.  If he then wins Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, he has 275 electoral votes and is elected president, regardless of the results in the other Battleground States of Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona.

Democratic Senate victories in Georgia, which were not anticipated at the beginning of this year, would add to the anticipated Democratic majority of at least 51 seats, based upon expected Democratic seat gains in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Iowa. Victories in one or both of the Georgia Senate contests would give the Democrats a stronger base for future elections.

The most salutary impact of Democratic victories in Georgia would be, as I said at the beginning of this column, the heralding of a nonracist New South.  That is not just a victory for the Democrats:  it is a victory for America.

Alan Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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  • Kathleen Demarest

    There is little I can add to this well written, well researched, information packed column. It is a concise, clear, knowledgeable history lesson/course.
    Its author, Alan Steinberg, is to be commended for his effort in endeavoring to inform
    his readers on such an important topic..

    Never the less, I want to mention and bring attention to Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel. When Branch Rickey was considering a black baseball player to integrate
    Major League Baseball, he knew he needed a strong baseball player.
    He, also, needed a person of unsurpassed character—— – —
    “ have the guts not to fight back”
    Fortunately, he decided to interview Jackie’s wife, Rachel Robinson.
    Impressed, he felt and stated that anyone smart enough to marry that woman
    was the right person to integrate MLB.
    And so, Jackie Robinson became our first black base ball player.
    With courage and determination, Rachel supported Jackie on a racist
    and often painful path.

    Would Jackie have endured without Rachel adding her strength, her love,
    her poise, her wisdom to Jackie’s?
    I really don’t know. I do know; she was a huge asset.

    In regard to any future Democratic New South victories in Georgia
    and a non racist New South, a shoutout to Stacey Abrams who has
    worked tirelessly to bring out the vote in Georgia.

    Two women, 75 years apart, who have made African American women proud.
    And, yes, all women proud.

    Alan Steinberg, let all of us celebrate your beloved Jackie Robinson’s
    baseball contract signing on its 75th anniversary on Friday, October 23,
    and let all of us look forward with pride and hope to a non racist New South.

  • Bruce Todd

    I think the best way to ground any discussion of a “New South” would be to point out the ongoing revival of our space program, the Artemis Program which has been continually been emphasized by the Trump Administration as a critical aspect of any revival of economic development of the U.S. physical economy. It was the far-reaching effects in terms of the creation of “New Technologies” as a result of the original Mercury, Apollo, and other programs that both President Eisenhower and even more so President Kennedy, that they understood would become the seed-crystals for whole new industries, in metals, ceramics, computers, remote sensing, satellites, navigation, and thousands more. The lack of both understanding and familiarity to that concept was clear in the Obama Administration, when they all but abandoned the main thrust of what remained of that once proud capability to reach out and place our feet on the Moon and even step across the void to Mars, and even quipped “Been there, done that”, and “We don’t need no fancy Fusion Energy”, or when he told an audience of South African students that “If you aspire to have the standard of living of the United States, then the planet will boil over”. That was exactly the mentality of the “Old South”, that outlawed education among their slaves. That is also the central premise of the “Green New Deal”, that darling of the global financial elites and their supporters who throw their messages over the fences of their secure walled enclaves to those on the other side, who because of the continuing collapse of the physical economy, especially since the global financial collapse of 2007-2008, and the escalating created outbreaks of wars, famine, and disease since then, are pushed over the edge from any semblance of any hope of a better future. I think a Jackie Robinson, or a Martin Luther King, or any parent of their day or of now, would wish their child or grandchild, would be the one that place that first unique footprint on Mars on maybe even some planet in some far-distant solar system. Let us once and for all leave that “Old South” behind, from every corner of this “Good Earth”.

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