What happens to America when optimism dies?

When I interviewed Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir “Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black,” the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

I have always appreciated Clyburn’s wisdom, his passion and his commitment to his constituents. But most of all, I have admired the optimism of this child of the South, who grew up hemmed in by Jim Crow’s separate and unequal grip, yet who believed in the innate goodness of America and its people. Clyburn put his own life on the line to drag the country — kicking and screaming — into a more just future.

He was convinced, I believe, that no matter how off balance America might become, the country would eventually right itself.

A lot has changed since that afternoon, when he sat at a long table, signing books and chatting in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C., right beside his beloved wife. Emily Clyburn, a passionate civil rights activist, died in 2019, though Clyburn often references her wise words.

That optimism, however, has lost its glow.

Clyburn’s worries drove our conversation in July 2021, the second of two times he was a guest on my CQ Roll Call “Equal Time” podcast. The topic was voting rights, and Clyburn had opinions about the Senate procedure that would eventually stall legislation to reform those rights and restore provisions invalidated by a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

“When it comes to the constitutional issues like voting, guaranteed to Blacks by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that should not be filibustered,” he said. And about restrictive laws being passed in states? “I want you to call it what it is. Use the word: nullification. It is voter nullification.”

“This isn’t about just voting; this is about whether or not we will have a democracy or an autocracy.”

With those remarks in the back of my mind, it was still startling to hear Clyburn last week on MSNBC, talking about his GOP House colleagues, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and their waffling about complying with subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

When asked if the government and Capitol Hill could “be fixed,” Clyburn, known for his philosophical “this too shall pass” mantra, instead replied, “I don’t know.” He talked about threats to undermine democracy and said the country is “teetering on the edge.”

And that was before the shooting in Buffalo that claimed the lives of 10 beautiful Americans doing something as routine as Saturday supermarket shopping. African Americans were targeted by an 18-year-old who wore his “white supremacist” label like a badge of honor in a heavily plagiarized racist screed, a man whose stated goal was to “kill as many blacks as possible.”

Is it any wonder Clyburn’s optimism has been waning in these times?

An examination of replacement theory in America

The racist shooting in Buffalo, New York, over the weekend left 10 people dead and injured three others. Law enforcement is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

It is the latest in a list of similar acts of violence: Charleston, South Carolina, Charlottesville, Virginia, Pittsburgh, El Paso, Texas and Atlanta to name a few. All have an element of fear of the other. This is part of the basis of the “great replacement theory.”

The great replacement theory began as a white nationalist movement last century in Europe, according to the anti-defamation league. It has grown into the fear, especially in America, that white Christians will be replaced by nonwhite, non Christian people and immigrants.

This refrain has become more mainstream in recent years. In Charlottesville, the mob chanted “Jews will not replace us,” while the El Paso shooter said he was fighting against what he called a Hispanic invasion.

Increasingly, GOP leaders and commentators have championed this dialogue. They have complained about how race is taught in schools and pushed back on efforts to expand voting rights. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, used ads that echoed part of the replacement theory.

GUESTS:

James E. Ford, executive director at the Center for Racial Equity in Education

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Shannon Reid, associate professor at UNC Charlotte specializing in white supremacy

Local News Roundup: Earnest Winston fired; Panthers’ HQ agreement ended in Rock Hill; and more

The CMS Board of Education fired Superintendent Earnest Winston on Tuesday, in a 7-2 vote. In a time period of high scrutiny over school performance, lower test scores and mismanagement within the school, the board decided to part ways with Winston, but pay him over half a million dollars over the next two years. We’ll talk about what happened and what’s next.

In other school news, despite racial gaps and setbacks because of the pandemic, a CMS official says it’s time to scale back on testing within the school system in the coming year.

The Carolina Panthers have ended their agreement with Rock Hill over a new headquarters and practice facility this week. The future of the team’s $800 million facility is now up in the air.

And two Charlotte streets with racist ties will soon have new names. The city announced new names for Stonewall Street and Barringer Drive. We’ll give the details.

Guest host Erik Spanberg from the “Charlotte Business Journal” and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and all the week’s top local and regional news on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

Guests:

Jonathan Lowe, anchor/ reporter for Spectrum News

Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s executive producer for Investigations & chief investigative reporter

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Ann Doss Helms, WFAE rducation reporter

But what will the ‘optics’ be?

After the votes are counted, probably this week, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice. But members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who wanted to use her confirmation hearings for everything but the thing they were designed for are also walking away satisfied.

Republican senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas used their time to either talk down to Jackson or talk past her to make political points.

During the hearings, questions that criticized her sentencing philosophy as well as “empathy” were tailor-made for the African American Supreme Court candidate and a slew of negative ads to accuse her and every Democrat of being soft on crime in general and pornographers in particular.

In that, they were merely following the playbook that has become routine and is unfortunate for any American who wants to get anything done, especially, in this instance, for advocates of criminal justice reform. That Jackson had the support of major law enforcement groups and could boast of relatives with more time on the front lines of fighting crime than all those senators combined were facts to be ignored by those looking to set a narrative. That her sentencing record resembled that of Republican judges favored by the disagreeing and disagreeable senators were details to be brushed aside. Cotton, in fact, has ramped up his attacks, saying, to the disgust of the Anti-Defamation League, that she would represent “Nazis.”

After listening to and watching the show along with the rest of us, three Republican senators have explained their reasoning for backing the eminently qualified jurist while decrying the partisan grandstanding that has accompanied modern Supreme Court justice hearings. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, who actually voted against her last time around, had met with Jackson. They apparently have seen her as she truly is, not the ridiculous caricature constructed by her interrogators.

What did that get the three? The label of “pro-pedophile” from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Along with that slander, she also tweeted the proof was, “They just voted for #KBJ,” when the vote had not yet happened. But when has being wrong on fact or intention ever stopped the Georgia Republican?

It all fits in with the spectacle of Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee continuing their snarling and baseless accusations against Jackson this past Monday — the April 4 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The symbolism speaks for itself and points to a larger problem.

Say goodbye to reality-based reasoned discussion, with give-and-take from every side, and hello to filtering every issue through fear, feelings and optics.

Get used to terms such as “woke,” “socialism,” “critical race theory” and now “pedophile” in outraged statements and already surfacing alarmist election ads.

EQUALibrium: A public conversation on race and equity in Charlotte

Eight years ago in 2014, Charlotte ranked 50 out of 50 of the nation’s largest metro areas in an upward mobility study from Harvard and the University of California-Berkeley.
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The “Land of Opportunity” study painted a bleak outlook for Charlotte’s poorest residents, but served as a wake up call for city officials and community members.

Leaders took action to address and correct the trends in mobility. Money was raised, programs were launched and attention was paid to areas like pre-K education, affordable housing and transportation.

So, where is Charlotte now?

In this special conversation, host Mary C. Curtis is joined by local leaders and experts at Project 658 in Charlotte to look at how far the city has come, and what still needs to happen to improve upward mobility in Charlotte.

GUESTS

  • Ely Portillo, assistant director of outreach & strategic partnerships at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute
  • Sherri Chisholm, executive director of Leading on Opportunity
  • Vi Lyles, mayor of Charlotte
  • Charis Blackmon, executive director of West Side Community Land Trust
  • Daniel Valdez, senior director of external affairs at Welcoming America

Biden to Pick Black Woman for Supreme Court

Talking, what else, the Supreme Court and President Biden’s promise to appoint a Black women, on The Daily Drum, WHUR and Sirius 141, with host Harold Fisher, fellow guests Howard U poli sci prof Dr. Niambi Carter and political analyst Dr. Sherice Nelson

Americans who excuse violence need to see the world through Maxine McNair’s eyes — and soul

It looked like an ordinary room when I visited it years ago, a place you’d pause for a chat in the middle of a work day or to enjoy that lunch packed from home. But it was so much more, a room where memories and emotions overwhelm in the space of a few seconds.

When a business trip took me to Birmingham, Ala., I knew I had to visit, to witness at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where cowards placed a bomb that injured many and murdered four little girls getting ready for a church program on Sept. 15, 1963.

While the church itself is a beautiful sanctuary, the basement space is no less sacred.

That is what violence looks like, violence spurred by hate, violence that ended the lives of Addie Mae Collins, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, just 11 years old. It wasn’t just Ku Klux Klan members whose fingerprints stained that evil and bloody act. Among the guilty were the “good” white citizens of Alabama, the leaders and politicians, who feared any change in the social, economic and political order that solidified their status, their place at the top. Whether silent or vocal, they supported the folks who did the dirty work.

Maxine McNair, the last living parent of any of the girls killed in the 1963 church bombing, died on Jan. 2 at the age of 93. Any mother, any person, could and should feel a piece of that pain in their bones; they should try to imagine how it might have felt to live nearly 60 years after burying a child, all those years to remember what was and to think of what might have been.

Short-term memories

Instead, a lot of Americans have apparently forgotten that important historical event from not that long ago. It’s not that surprising if you paid any attention to how divided Americans were in their commemoration of an insurrection, a violent attempt to overturn the results of an election judged fair by officials of every political party.

And that was just one year ago, on Jan. 6, 2021.

recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that about 1 in 3 Americans believed violence against the government could at times be justified. Though that third included all Americans, who listed a range of said justifications, from vaccine requirements to “protection,” there was a distinct partisan divide — with 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats indicating approval.

The state of democracy one year after January 6

Talked about the state of democracy one year after January 6 with Charles Blow and Ohio State professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries on BNC’s ‘Prime.’

The fight for Black and brown children

There is a double standard when it comes to the treatment of children of color. They are punished in schools more frequently. They are arrested more frequently. Why is this happening and why are so many Black and brown children robbed of their childhoods? Kristin Henning, author of “The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth,” uses her experiences, data and research to paint an alarming picture. Henning sits down with Mary C. Curtis to discuss the problem and potential policy solutions.

Is Vice President Kamala Harris’ Team on the Outs?

Reports of tension among VP Kamala Harris’ team has many questioning her future and more. To discuss why so much scrutiny is being placed on Harris, Charles M. Blow brought on The Guardian opinion columnist Michael Harriot and #CQRollCall columnist Mary C. Curtis.