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Commentary & Opinion

The ballad for Americans

Assuming elections were rigged because they dislike the results and claiming victory instead doesn’t make it so; it just assumes away any reliable way to count the people’s votes. Election rigging can’t be prevented by eliminating the rules. And of course it’s the pot calling the kettle black, as the worst rigging took place in the segregated states and now takes place in Red states trying to rewrite the laws to get the results they want by excluding people from the polls, or by gerrymandering in you-win-you-lose fashion. If politicians can choose their voters, the results aren’t elections. That’s the problem, not the cure.

They want to control the story of America and get furious at mention

  • That settlement of this country did not start at Plymouth Rock,
  • That the Natives, the Spanish and the Dutch were here first and made enormous contributions to this country’s history,
  • And, especially, that when Blacks were enslaved and brought over, they were assigned all the skilled trades on the plantations – who else would do them?
  • And that white mobs repeatedly wiped out the enormous history of Black achievement by burning and tearing down their communities, lynching their men and driving them out of skilled professions.

Talk about cancel culture, their political aim is to cancel out everyone else’s contribution to America.
Larry Diamond points out that “sometimes it takes a dose of populism to fight populism.” My America is extraordinarily well represented in the 1940s hit, Ballad for Americans, narrated on CBS by the chocolate brown star of stage, screen and opera, Paul Robeson. Robeson’s presence and his wild popularity in 1940 were important not because any color is better than any other but because Americans relished his talent regardless of color, and understood that bleeding hearts and powerful minds are encased in skin of every hue. It was sung at conventions and by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum, rebroadcast on CBS by popular demand and later covered by Frank Sinatra.

The broadcast starts with members of the audience asking who he is? Robeson responded:

Well, I'm everybody who's nobody. I'm the nobody who's everybody. I'm just an Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, French and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Scotch, Hungarian, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian, Greek and Turk and Czech and double-Czech American.”

And then he went on to sing the list of occupations.

I'm an

Engineer, musician, street cleaner, carpenter, teacher,

How about a farmer? Also. Office clerk? Yes sir! …

Factory worker? ... Yes ma'am. …

Truck driver? Definitely!

Miner, seamstress, ditchdigger, all of them.

I am the "etceteras" and the "and so forths" that do the work.

Questioned by the audience, Robeson went back through the list of ethnic and religious groups.

And he finished by singing “And you know who I am. … America.”

Folks that’s an America we can believe in, a people who have a lot more to be proud of than their individual skin colors. The Ballad for Americans is well worth listening to; it will get your juices flowing and your heart singing for the real America.

The white nationalist program is a disaster not because there is anything wrong with the color white but because when you take America apart everything falls apart – nothing in America is color-, religion-, or ethnic-origin pure; men and women are part of everything; and nothing works when people and their minds and muscle are pulled out of the mechanism that is America. We don’t fight as well, we don’t build as well, we don’t invent as well and we don’t sing as well. America is in shambles without all of us.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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