A story of success in Virginia…short-lived and over a century old, but still a relevant history lesson

We all believe that we’re inherently good. Our histories tell us as much. Unfortunately, history is not a record of factual events so much as a preservation of an identity. Problematic events that conflict with that identity often get ignored and go unmentioned—and can eventually even be forgotten. Evidence of wrongdoing disappears along with any chance of preventing the same problem in the future.

Or, as the old saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

A prime example of this is the story of The Readjusters.

Just after the Civil War, Virginia was in a debt crisis. The state owed $34 million from before the war. With no interest being paid during the war combined with fiscal conservativism, the debt ballooned to more than $45 million by 1871. Then a recession hit and of course the Conservative Party’s answers were to cut social programs, like public schools.

Public education was a right given in Virginia’s constitution, so the people were not all down with cutting it. And then along comes this tiny, bearded dude William “Little Billy” Mahone. He was a former confederate general and Conservative Party leader. He was also a railroad tycoon and a real motherfucker, but he believed in public schools.

So, in 1879 Little Billy got together with a bunch of other dudes interested in readjusting Virginia’s debt. They went down in the valleys and up in the mountains, to towns and cities all over the state and found support wherever they went. They found this support in spite of the fact that, believe it or not, they even welcomed Black people. This interracial statewide coalition then formed the political party called The Readjusters.

Guess what happened next? Well, it turns out that when you allow people equal standing and invite as many perspectives as possible problems get solved pretty damn quick.

That same year Black people started winning elections, Readjusters won majorities in both houses of Virginia’s General Assembly and Little Billy was in the senate the next year. 1881 came and Readjusters won even bigger majorities. And they won all statewide offices. And their pick for governor won.

Then they got their shit together. They got rid of the poll tax. They got rid of the whipping post. They created a college to train Black teachers. They reformed education, including more than doubling the budget for public education. And in case that wasn’t enough, they also turned the deficit into a surplus within two years.

So…What happened? Why isn’t Virginia the bastion of progressive ideas it was 140 years ago? Yup, you guessed it. Those two pesky and fundamentally American little words: white supremacy.

The conservatives didn’t like that Black people had equal standing in a political party, so they started organizing. They went around the state scaring racists with terrifying tales of racial equality and that’s really all it took. The racists voted conservatives into a legislative majority in 1883 and two years later they won all the statewide offices, the governorship and the Readjuster Party ended. Two years after that, in 1887 Little Billy lost his Senate seat.

That’s the story of The Readjusters, the shortest-lived political party in Virginia’s history and doesn’t all of it just sound so familiar?


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Biden is not a path to unity, progress or success

Ooooooooookay. So. A couple of the more recent pieces I wrote for BGIM were about Joe Biden. Most people were very receptive, but the pushback I did get mostly took this form:

“If it comes down to Biden or Trump, I’m voting for Biden!”

There are a lot of problems with this idea. The first is that it obviously disregards all of the information in those pieces, buuuuuuut the second is that it disregards everyone else, too! That is to say, while you may have resigned to voting for Biden, other people on your side will never vote for him and you will not convince them otherwise and you cannot win without them.

In case you didn’t know, 4.4 million Obama voters stayed home for Hilary. Those aren’t the racists who switched over for Trump. They’re also not the principal-only voters who went for a third party candidate. No, these 4.4 million people just stayed home. Why? Because people vote for whoever they feel represents their interests and to them Hilary didn’t feel like Obama.

This gets tricky because, while it’s easy to make republicans feel represented (be rich, misogynist or racist) it’s much harder for democrats. They have to make everyone else feel represented. Joe Biden does not do that. He actually does the opposite. I mean, this fool scoffs at the very idea that the younger generation (his biggest voting bloc) could even have any problems whatsoever.

The 2018 midterm elections brought the biggest representative change this country has ever seen. The diversity of gender, ethnicity and religion in newly elected officials was unprecedented. The lesson from this is that the more communities the democrats embrace, the greater chance they have of being elected. The opposite of this is to uncritically and prematurely succumb to a candidate because they appear to be the only eventual option.

Joe Biden is not the only option yet and if we get to the point where he is the democrats will have already lost. And I’m not just talking about morally. I mean, I am also talking about a moral loss in which the electorate of the country moves collectively further to the right because somehow they think that will stop the country as a whole from moving further to the right, but that’s not all I’m talking about. I’m also talking about a literal loss in which Trump gets another four years because the voters who were inspired during the midterms are left feeling neglected yet again by yet another candidate who openly excludes them.

All too often we think of unity as the sole responsibility of the marginalized and oppressed. We seem to believe it is entirely up to them to sacrifice their wants and needs in order to support leaders who are only interested in continuing to overlook them. But that is not how you achieve unity. That is how you keep people marginalized and oppressed. The only path to unity is to address the wants and needs of the people.

Honestly, and I hate that I’m saying this, but it’s a lesson the democrats could learn from the republicans. For instance, republicans want and need this country to be whites only. I’ve said this before, but for five years before he was even elected, Trump got in front of every camera he could find and pointed at the brown-skinned president and said that he didn’t belong where he was because he supposedly wasn’t from here. Then he ran a campaign promising to keep the brown-skinned people from the Middle East and the brown-skinned people at the southern border out of this country. Since entering office he has succeeded in keeping the brown-skinned people from the Middle East out and has created concentration camps for and stolen the children from brown-skinned people at the southern border. The result is that the republican politicians have all fallen in line, even the ones who have only ever publicly hated him. And as far as his supporters go, you can hear story after story of their continued devotion to him despite their own admitted suffering at his hands. That’s unity. It’s terrible and horrifying and more or less the exact same path taken by every dictator whoever incited the destruction of their own country or oversaw a genocide, but it is unity.

Yes, unity is easy for republicans. Their side doesn’t want or need anything too far out of the traditions of this country. For democrats, however, unity is going to take a lot of hard, internal work. That work is the only path forward and we’ll know whether it got done or not if it comes down to Biden or Trump.

Anyway, here: have a laugh.


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Photo of Joe Biden from 2013; official White House portrait (public domain)

Quiz time! How different are Joe Biden and Donald Trump, really?

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are pretty similar guys, and no, I’m not just talking about their age. Or their hair plugs. They’ve also shared world views. For instance, in 1975, while Trump was being forced into an agreement not to discriminate against renters of color, Biden was also fighting integration by sponsoring anti-busing legislation. In 1990, referencing the famously racist 1988 George HW Bush campaign ad, Biden said, “one of my objectives, quite frankly, is to lock Willie Horton up in jail.” On the other (same?) hand, that same year John O’Donnell was writing a book that quoted Trump as saying, “… laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”

While they’ve both built successful careers by hurting Black people, and yes, they both have the fake hair and teeth and world view… And yes, both Trump and Biden have been accused multiple times of inappropriately touching women… And yes, both Trump and Biden never apologize for anything they do… And yes, somehow both Trump and Biden have even said some pretty inappropriate things in public about children, you’ve gotta ask yourself, well, who hasn’t, right? I mean, you could really say any of that about any random two people, right? They can’t really be that similar, right? Right? No? Well, let’s find out together in a game I call…

Decision 2020: Orange You Glad We’re Biden Our Time?

Each question is either referring to Trump or Biden—but can you guess which one?

Click on all the links for all the answers and good luck!

———-

Who started his 2020 campaign with a fundraiser filled with corporate lobbyists and GOP donors?

Trump

or

Biden

During a presidential primary, when asked about his college grades, guess who lost his temper, interrupted with, “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect!” and proceeded to brazenly lie about his grades only to get caught and then lie about lying about his grades?

Trump

or

Biden

W ho once said about his state, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” then, in case you thought this was only a terrible racist joke, added, “I’m not joking.”?

Trump

or

Biden

During a Fox News interview, when asked about his viability as a candidate in the South, as he could be seen as a “Northeastern liberal”, guess who defended himself by bragging that he lived in a “slave state”?

Trump

or

Biden

Who consistently spoke affectionately, admiringly, effusively and eventually even eulogized one of America’s most disgusting and cowardly racists?

Trump

or

Biden

Who bragged about strong-arming the Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor while also neglecting to mention that that prosecutor was also investigating this braggart’s son?

Trump

or

Biden

Civil Asset Forfeiture is the process by which the government is allowed to take possession of everything you own if you are arrested—not convicted— just arrested. Guess who bragged about creating policy that extended Civil Asset Forfeiture as well as limited judges’ discretion during sentencing and added sixty new death penalties.

Trump

or

Biden

————

How’d you do? Lemme know in the comments and remember, even though polling has Joe Biden in the lead right now, at this same point in 2007 Hilary Clinton held the lead and in 2003 it was Joe Lieberman, whoever the hell that is.

Thanks for playing!


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by JE SHOOTS from Unsplash