By Chuck Morgan
Vol. 2, No. 8, 1980, pp. 4-8
In our bureaucratic “work together” pragmatic society, I plead guilty to a conviction that the Constitution and the country are better off when the three branches of the federal government, the separated federal, state and local governments, private citizens and governments, private corporations and governments stand upon principles and struggle for their differing beliefs.
The genius of American democracy is its capacity for conflict and confrontation. I have a deep and abiding belief in the Constitution, in the people who live under it, and in the equal application of the law. To these beliefs I plead guilty.
We too often ascribe to ourselves, to our own times. and to our own purposes, historical imperatives. As articulate liberals, we coin phrases such as “manifest destiny,” “make the world safe for democracy,” and “democratize the military.” With these phrases we justified empire, wars and peacetime conscription.
We complicate. We refuse to see or admit that the causes of and solutions for complex problems are almost always very simple. Two such simple causes are the cotton gin and the Pill. When we search for causes our minds rebel at anything so simple as the Pill and the cotton gin. Yet, the gin made cotton king and locked Blacks into a slave system which was harsher than any other slave system in the history of the Western world. On the other hand, smaller than a cotton seed, the Pill freed women from the fear of pregnancies.
Each of these technologies, one enslaving, one liberating, provides the myths of yesterday and the mores of tomorrow. Each altered our lives. Each had and has an economic effect upon the concept of equality.
During the last half century, as we have governmentalized our lives, we have undermined the institutions of community. We have transferred to government the obligations and advantages of the family system. We have continued to consign Native Americans to reservations, prisoners and the mentally ill to out-of-sight, out-of-mind institutions, browns to barrios and Blacks to central cities. Liberals seek governmental-funded daycare centers while conservatives who state their favor of the family systems simultaneously seek to end aid for dependent children.
To the extent that liberalism is allied with governmentalism, liberalism contravenes civil liberty. All bureaucracies are self-protective. In private life, they grow until they are destroyed by leadership or by themselves. In government, they grow until they destroy all leadership and all incentives. I believe that government sits astride the back of every private citizen, extracting from each taxes under the guise of distributing the wealth. In a democratic society, that redistribution should take place in a democratic way.
It should be derived from debate, not deficits. It is this lack of debate which has allowed the new government class to transfer wealth not to the underclass but to the new government class.
Today Washington is Rome. Imperialism having failed abroad, we have moved it to the fifty pro-
vinces. About one in every five employed in America now works for one government or another.
The common weal is in the hands, indeed, the grip of the new American upper class—government employees—the top level of the 15 to 20 percent of our employed citizens who live off taxes extracted from their fellow citizens.
They work closely with our liberal community which is salaried from tax deductible and foundation funds and draws upon inherited wealth in the public interest. They associate themselves with one hundred senators, a quarter of whom are millionaires; they identify themselves with organizations which compete for government grants.
The question is not whether capitalism can survive. The question is whether democracy can survive. Can it survive “reform” and its results, including the uncivil civil service?
Long before benign liberalism kills capitalism, it will have so crippled it that it will buckle under the sheer weight of nonproductive bureaucracy. To survive, all economic systems must produce something of value, of quality, of need. Yet in the city where I now live—one of the world’s largest company towns—the number one manufacturing industry is printing. Like the cotton gin and the Pill, the printing press enriched our liberal lives, but you can’t eat food stamps. Someone must produce, package and distribute food.
During the Vietnam War, many more young men were eligible for the draft than were needed by it. The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service was entitled In Pursuit of Equity: Who Serves When Not All Serve? (1967).
Parallel questions are posed by the economics of scarcity: Who will get less and who will get more? Who will get work when not all can? Who, if anyone, should we discriminate for?
Today, we have a society dedicated to the proposition that all women and minorities are created equal and with all men and majorities they are equally endowed by their creator with the inalienable right to share equally in the non-productive services, shortages, and inflation created by the government and the government class.
Almost everyone, rich or poor, male or female, majority or minority, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or Polish- American, Catholic, Jew or Gentile, Ivy League, state university or “hardknocks” graduate, with or without a distinctive accent, style or manner, can recall a time when he or she was discriminated against or for, on a basis other than merit or worth.
To combat this, bureaucracies which enforce rights encourage affirmative action plans which down-play merit and design court decrees which would transfer to private life the worst aspects of the civil service system. Simultaneously, they advertise discrimination and encourage dissatisfaction and lawsuits. Widespread, individualized perceptions of discrimination force employees and employers to the courthouse, while, according to all public opinion surveys, racial and sexual prejudice has declined.
In 1970, there were 334 employment discrimination cases filed in federal districts courts. In 1978 alone, 5,504 employment discrimination cases were filed in federal courts.
Since 1954, Black male employment has declined 14 percent. White female employment has risen 15 percent. During the last 30 years, the unemployment rate among Black men has remained twice that of White men. That could be cut in half if only 400,000 minority males could find jobs. Four hundred thousand employed minority males is two percent of the almost 17 million White women who have found work since 1954. That number, 400,000, is less than five percent of the number of working wives whose husbands also are employed.
A basic truth known to all of us in the American Civil Liberties Union is that we belong to an organization which is more overwhelmingly White in its membership than is any public college or university in the South; membership in this organization and attendance at those institutions is equally voluntary. It does cost more to attend those institutions than it does to join the ACLU and liberal organizations equally dedicated to women’s rights, the rights of the elderly, and the rights of other protected groups. We should also note that there are few major business corporations which have lower percentages of Black employees than do our liberal organizations.
Despite that, we White liberals favor the total integration of American life. So do many Blacks and those in government
agencies. Many of us even see venality in the struggle of some Blacks to retain or to find a separate identity or, to use the title of Alex Haley’s best-seller, to find Roots.
Yet, from the times of Lincoln there has been a recurrent theme of separate development within the Black community. How to compete was a principle problem. In 1929, Robert Russa Moton, a recipient of the NAACP’s coveted Springarn Medal, wrote: “Except for a few state legislatures, the Supreme Court of the United States is still all that stands in a legal way between the Negro and civil political extinction.” In 1935, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, then the radical young Chairman of the Political Science Department of Howard University, wrote of… “the fact,…that the Negro in the United States is a special ward of the Supreme Court… It is only inadvertently that the courts like the legislatures, fail to reflect the dominant mass opinion. It must be futile, then, to erect these agencies of government to afford the Negro protection for rights which are denied to him by the popular will.”
The patron saint of Black faith has been the Supreme Court. Yet, it was that institution—of which Blacks were “wards” to use the word of Dr. Bunche—which had continued the slavery of Dred Scott, the segregation of Homer Adolph Plessy, and, after it had sanctioned segregation for five decades, had provided limited relief for Oliver Brown’s daughter Lucinda.
Then came the acts of Congress which exhibited both the high purpose of “sectional concern” and the Southern “scape goatism” which is so necessary when seeking the assistance of benign liberals. As a provincial White Southerner I welcomed these civil rights acts. It was in the South that I believed that change would come.
I wrote in A Time to Speak, in 1964… “How much easier it is to worry over Birmingham than over New York …. And while you … debate … what to do about Birmingham will you also worry over your own employees and co-workers, your schools and neighbors and that ghetto on the other side of town?” I knew the answer. Yet I also knew that minds—Dr. Bunche’s “popular will”—can be changed.
Cameras carried the message of segregation into the living rooms and thereby confronted White middle-Americans. They made essential, individual decisions in democracy’s favor. A White majority forced a reluctant White Congress to pass the new civil rights laws. Those were White Presidents who proposed them and White judges who upheld them. Once Blacks confronted the system, non-violently and within the Christian tradition, the tide turned and the popular will ran with them. Yet the words “equal protection” and “regardless of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin” merely echoed the language of Mr. Justice Bradley. Blacks are not to be “the special favorite of the laws.” The laws eliminated “special favorites.” They transformed majorities into “minorities.” The vestiges of slavery would remain.
History conspires with chance, fact with fiction, until crowded back from the threshold of a fair chance in a free society, Blacks wait in line to enter doors marked “equal.” Once in the door, they have to be able to produce equally. Many, many Blacks know that many of them are not equipped to compete on an equal basis with most Whites.
In mid-March of 1979, the Washington Post made a front page discovery. The headline read “Rules to Protect Minorities’ Rights Guard Majority,” but that was no surprise because it was the end sought by Washington’s liberal community.
Blacks who do not yet fully understand the politics of dilution, or who are themselves immune from its application, march to the cadence of coalition America. They join with everyone who has been discriminated against. In this parade in an economy of scarcity and limited jobs, the Black population inexorably and irrefutably is destined to join ranks in the rear, to struggle, stumble, and be left behind.
Coalitions may be necessary to pass bills, but the receipt of benefits by coalitions means that those who need them least will
get the most. Unfortunately, that is true with much “affirmative action.” Those most capable of making it without preferences received the preferences. Those who are least able to compete get the least. Between 1967 and 1974, for example, the employment of wives whose husbands earned more than $30 thousand per year rose by 38 percent. Compare that to the 11 percent increase in employment of wives whose husbands earn less than $6 thousand per year.
Understanding full well that there has been and continues to be discrimination on the basis of sex, national origin, religion and, other than Black race in this country, I submit to you the question of whether that discrimination has been different in kind, degree, and extent from the discrimination against Blacks? The vestiges and longlasting economic, political, and social effects of pre-Pill America are quite different from the vestiges of the slave system.
I do not care whether others—Black or non-Black—agree with those judgments for I have had opportunities to learn that Tom Paine was right when he wrote: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the result soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason….”
So let me state it simply. Times and minds do change but the vestiges of slavery and feudalism remain. I believe that because the Black population of the United States is an American population, only solutions provided by American traditions will work for it. Because much of Black America is no longer a total ward of the Supreme Court, but remains a ward of federal bureaucratic structures; because it is poor and, as such, is as conservative and fearful of change as are most impoverished groups; and because I believe that government and the concept of “equal” as “in separate but” continue to undercut Black progress, we must turn to the better aspects of the American past.
For years I have defended whatever tools were available for desegregation. I still do. Those tools include numerically-based affirmative action, school busing, federally funded training programs and welfare. I, too, am an integrationist, an assimilationist. Yet, we all know that Whites will not forever put their money into schools to which their children do not go. They will not for long accept the fearsomeness of night-time walks on big city streets. They will not for long continue to subject themselves to the negative end of affirmative action and fairness by compulsion and court orders.
No one bused their ancestors from Boston to Nebraska. As a child, my father made ten cents a day shoving logs off a creek bank and into the mainstream so that the logs would travel to downstream lumbermills and from there to the construction of the nation. My father was a “Southern Mountain White” who fought his way out of the “intellectual, spiritual and material impoverishment” which Black scholar Franklin Frazier urged Blacks to avoid. My father really did have one pair of shoes a year, a miles-long walk to and from a one-room school, and a much longer trek out of the mountains of Kentucky and into the American middle class.
We know of the limited aspirations of many Black Americans, of the dead-end which many Blacks do face; of the negative incentives provided Black citizens; and of the rationalizations for failure in the minds of their young.
The American Dream was based upon hope. Most Blacks, especially those who reside beyond the South, have little hope.
As Whites we know that once there really was a pot of gold at the end of the American rainbow, yonder in California, in Alaska. “Go West Young Man,” said Horace Greeley. That was good land offered under the Homestead Act. Yet, for Blacks, there weren’t 40 acres or even a mule. As in the time of McGuffey’s Reader and the Blue Back Speller, which made White America “one nation…indivisible,” today’s pot of gold, today’s homestead, today’s 40 acres, is education. It is a weapon, an instrument of power and self defense.
We must dream again the American Dream. We must devise new ways based upon our traditions to defeat the cynicism of young fogeys. Of course some Blacks, like some Whites, won’t work. Some Whites, like some Blacks, have no more ambition for their children than they have for themselves. Of course all God’s children won’t make it to the top in either a capitalistic or socialistic society. But to raise the level of the society, we must work and we must compete. Much to the chagrin of bureaucracy and pa-
ternal, benign liberalism, work and competition are central to the American Dream.
How many bold ideas are there which might work? In Cincinnati, Ohio, school board member John S. Rue had one. He proposed that the city set aside funds to provide a college education for every Black child who, on his or her own, voluntarily travelled to and graduated from a majority White high school.
I, too, believe that to set aside the vestiges of slavery, Black children, merely because of their skin color, should be guaranteed that kind of opportunity. That is but one idea. There must be countless others which may work if grounded in the vestiges of our better traditions.
The ancestors of Blacks, unlike the ancestors of each of the rest of us, did not come to this land of their own free will. They will, however, be freed from the institution of slavery only by the free exercise of their own will. It is in the nature of governments, even benignly liberal governments, to oppress. It is in the nature of a free people to resist.
As the poet James Oppenheim wrote: They set the slave free, striking off his chains. Then he was as much of a slave as ever. He was still chained to servility, He was still manacled to indolence and sloth, He was still bound by fear and superstition, By ignorance, suspicion, and savagery… His slavery was not in the chains. But in himself… They can only set free men free. And there is no need of that: Free men set themselves free.
Charles Morgan, Jr. worked as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] for a number of years and is now in private practice in Washington, D.C. This article is adapted from a speech given by Morgan at the Second Janet Pollak Civil Liberties Lecture sponsored by the ACLU of Illinois last year.