Wednesday, January 04, 2023

"G" is for Gesture

Upon the 4th ballot on Wednesday , Representative Chip Roy of Texas rose to "nominate Byron Donalds as speaker of the House of Representatives." He made a few interesting remarks which little pertain to the matter of electing the chamber's leader.

At :44 of the video below, Republican Roy stated "Now here we are and for the first time in history there have been two black Americans placed into nomination for Speaker of the House." After polite, limited applause, members realized they were being prompted for a standing ovation, which they dutifully gave. It took them a moment but finally they realized that their colleague was offering them an opportunity to pat themselves on the back for being historically open-minded (and woke, ironically).

Having supported the notion that the two individuals to whom he referred, Republican Donalds and Democrat Jeffries, are to be judged in part by the race of their parents, Roy added (at 2:19) "we do not seek to judge people by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character."


Oh, give me a break. Neither Chip Roy nor any GOP U.S. Representative has, nor will, vote for one of those blacks, New York's Hakeem Jeffries, for Speaker. The other, Byron Donalds, has only two things in common with Jeffries: the color of his skin and the reality that he, too, will not be elected Speaker of the House.

Of course, in the manner of American politics, government, and anything which affects the American people, Donalds has far more in common with virtually every member of his caucus than he has with Jeffries.

Yet, an apparently sane and sober member of the United States House of Representatives, tasked with a select group with setting legislative policy for all Americans, has shamelessly and without effect brought race into the conversation, for which conservatives routinely criticize Democrats for in virtually their only justified criticism of political opponents. Not surprisingly, he then did an about-face, satisfied that no colleague nor member of the media would question his sincerity or consistency.

Roy is not an outlier, however. In the summer and early autumn of 2020, millions of Americans took to the streets to condemn the treatment of blacks by law enforcement and, to a lesser extent, the courts. It was generally understood that the mass incarceration so loathed by protestors and their supporters was engendered by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, celebrated by its sponsor as the "Biden Crime Act."

Approximately 23 years after enactment of legislation which, directly or indirectly, helped result in soaring incarceration rates for African-Americans, that same Senator Biden remarked "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

It was at the time, and for several years after, considered a gaffe, if not actually racist. But that was then, and in the presidential campaign of 2020, candidate Biden more than made amends: he pledged that his first nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court would be a black woman. It didn't matter, among black leaders, voters, or the mainstream media, who that individual would be or what she were to believe about anything substantive.  

Nonetheless, Biden had made a gesture, the undergirding of racial politics. He also made vague promises on issues that would disproportionately affect blacks. However, his promise on a Supreme Court nominee was clear, specific, and much more widely publicized than anything else he inferred about race. 

Chip Roy did the same on Wednesday. He made a gesture which, in an of itself, is nothing more. Nevertheless, that is how much of politics on the national level is today, in which symbolism typically dominates substance.

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