I write over and over that Democrats need to reach out to voters with better messaging, rather than simply endless fundraising solicitations. I argue that the Party and its candidates need to talk to what was once their base about why it should still be their base.
Good Democrats and Progressives ignore me. They know that the base needs to be talked down to. Told, not asked what it needs. FDR and the politics of participation is SO last century.
Today, to celebrate, and mourn, Black History Month, I’m going to change tacks. Let’s start with the last century, 1998 to be exact. And let’s talk about books for Black History Month. Oh, I know, you’ve already read the articles listing the “necessary” reading, from Alice Walker and Langston Hughes, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Not to mention How to Be an Antiracist and other instructional works.
Those aren’t the books that I’m talking about. How about the book from which some smart Republican campaign worker grabbed the Donald’s signature phrase: “Make America Great Again”? Did you think that that was the careful creation of some Wall Street marketing firm, tested and refined through audience surveys? HA!
“Make America Great Again” was the creation of a BLACK WOMAN science fiction writer, from Pasadena. It was included in her 1998 novel as the slogan of a demagogue presidential candidate who went on to become president while the nation was suffering from a plague and from almost universal drug dependence. The demagogue candidate blamed all the nation’s problems on “them,” the others, the non-whites, the non-rich, the educated. And the demagogue called for vigilante, or simply uncontrolled, violence against political opponents.
1998. BLACK WOMAN writer. For those Doubting Thomas, check it out at your local library. The book is Parable of the Talents. The author was Octavia Butler. And although you’d be hard pressed to find any current political writer familiar with it, the book won the Nebula Award for best novel, one of the most prestigious awards for science fiction literature.
The book was not a huge best seller. But it appealed to sci fi nerds and fantasy futurists. Now jump ahead 17 years to 2015. One of those nerds was working at the National Republican Campaign Committee when Donald Trump calls. He wants to run for president as a Republican. No one in the office takes anything about him seriously, except for his bank account. “Humor him. Give him pats on the back and a podium during the early debates, and he’ll end up supporting our nominee with his wealth.”
So they assigned him an official party representative. “Humor Him,” they tell the guy, “Help him build a campaign, stroke his ego. Make sure he’s happy enough to keep giving us money even after he washes out.”
The guy thinks it’s all a joke. With the Donald making clear that he doesn’t read books, hates Blacks, and has no concept of governance, the guy figures that he might as well have some fun with this dead-end project. The Donald wants his campaign to “think big,” even if he’s never thought bigger than how to keep his tenants white and his name on buildings around the world. So the guy gives him a “big” campaign theme - “Make America Great Again.” Best of all, it’s a wonderful inside joke, since the racist, misogynist candidate will never know that the slogan was created by a BLACK WOMAN.
But it works. The 1998 science fiction presidential campaign resonates with an audience that is horrified that the rest of the nation elected a black man President, twice. And is terrified that the world they though they knew and controlled is slipping away, out of their grasp, and they have no idea why, or how to stop it. They want their world to be great again, and they’re happy to blame all problems on some “other” particularly when that other is non-white.
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So wow, the Donald’s campaign takes off. White supremacists start coming out of the woodwork. “Make America Great Again” becomes an identity slogan, like its German predecessor, “Jews will not replace us.” Like the demagogue in the 1998 book, the Donald is calling on his supporters to violently attack the press and non-supporters at his rallies.
The guy, the low-level Republican Party staffer who fed the campaign ideas to the Donald, can’t tell anyone about it. The Donald is claiming that he invented the slogan all on his own, and that the racism and misogyny of his campaign are his natural state. And he’s got plenty of evidence for each.
The guy has his original notes and his contact memos and phone logs that show what he did for and shared with the Donald way back at the beginning. But as the Donald’s star rises, and people who should naturally vote Democratic flock to his rallies and primaries, no one wants to hear about or see proof that the Donald’s campaign model and key slogan were written, almost twenty years ago, by a BLLACK WOMAN.
The guy’s going to be alright. His campaign idea was genius, and paid off big time for the Party. He’s moved up into the middle management and supervisor-level ranks. And once the Donald’s star has faded, as they always do, the guy’s memoir, supported by all the documents he retained from the beginning, will be both a best seller and key tool for academics trying to figure out, “What happened in those years?”
Read the book. Octavia Butler was a futurist, a dreamer of what might be possible. She used Black characters and women in leading roles in the stories she wrote and the societies she imagined. It’s not her fault that, years after her death, some college nerd who loved sci fi used her story line and campaign slogan for what was supposed to be a gag played on a moron.
But gags played on morons can have unexpected consequences. And this story is true, but incomplete. The next chapter is spreading this real story to the world. Letting people know that the Donald’s entire campaign theme and motto was written by a BLACK WOMAN.
What response will Donald’s supporters have when they learn that the creative force behind their grate white dope’s campaign was a BLACK WOMAN? This is sign material, T-shirt material. Wear the T-shirts to demonstrations for all manner of groups. Carry the signs to every Donald event.
Praise Octavia Butler. Make her name known everywhere. Insist that local school boards include her novels in school libraries as examples of how Black writers can support White candidates. Call for local Republican Party clubs and committees to honor Octavia Butler as an integral part of the Donald’s success.
Make sure that local radio talk shows discuss her role in the Donald’s success, and how best she should be honored. Write letters to the editor.
There will, of course, be some diehards who won’t want to believe that a BLACK WOMAN wrote Make America Great Again. For them this is a learning opportunity. Perhaps not about Octavia Butler. But when you suggest that they use their local library to check the facts, their resistance to that idea will confirm, even to them, that their doubt isn’t about what happened, but about facts that they do not want to believe.
Then ask them the natural question, “Why do you not want a BLACK WOMAN to have written this favorite, lasting slogan for the Donald?