The year 1968 caused a ripple effect that persists today

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN July 15, 2018

It has been 50 years since 1968, especially “The Summer of ’68,” which shook up the American political system and social landscape. That year tops most lists of “most important years” with former CBS newscaster Dan Rather calling it, “one of the most transformative and consequential years in American history.”

1968 must seem so long ago to Gen Xers and Millennials. I was a high school junior then, and anyone talking about 50 years prior back then—that would have been 1918 — would certainly been considered a “square” or “out of touch.”
But the impact of 1968 is with us today. This past spring, CNN had a four-hour series subtitled “The Year that Changed America” that relived much of the tragedy, dramma, passion, and chaos of 1968.

The year 1968 may best be known for the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy or the bloody Democratic Convention in Chicago that August, but there were history-making events and people almost every day of that year.

Some may have been forgotten but several of the themes are still with us.
In January 1968, North Korean patrol boats captured the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence gathering vessel on charges of violating its 12-mile territorial limit. This crisis dragged on for months with the crew being released Dec. 22 in an undignified fashion. Of course, the Vietnam War dominated politics and daily lives. Our lengthy involvement destroyed lives, eroded trust in government, and disrupted the economy.

Due to political disagreement and refusal to raise taxes for increased spending, the U.S. faced a decade of inflation and a legacy of national deficits. Except for three years at the end of the Clinton administration, we have had an annual debt since 1969. An anguished President Lyndon Baines Johnson stunned the nation when he said that he “would not seek nor accept the nomination of my party to be your next president.”

That declaration set off chaos in the Democratic Party among party regulars, labors, blacks, and young voters that has yet to be healed.
Republicans were less polarized and successful in electing Richard Nixon, who had lost in 1960, in what Joe McGinniss’s “The Selling of the President 1968” describes as the prototype modern campaign of candidate-controlled events, the well-crafted vague and general stump speech, with targeted appeals to “the base.”

In October, a Senate filibuster blocked President Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas to replace Earl Warren as Supreme Court Chief Justice, thus giving Republican Nixon the judicial nomination that began the Republican grip on the Supreme Court.

As has occurred in most presidential elections since an independent candidate, in this case George Wallace, received enough votes to make Nixon a minority president with 43.7 percent of the vote. Theodore H. White in “The Making of the President 1968” observed that politicians classify elections as squeakers or landslides and commented, “it was a squeaker for the Republicans, and a landslide for the Democrats,” a statement that could apply as much to 2016 as 1968.

There were many non-election significant events in 1968 that drove issues still relevant today. In June, African American leaders tried to continue Martin Luther King’s influence with the “Poor People’s Campaign” while in September feminists protested the Miss America pageant. Similarly, the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City saw U.S. track medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos protest by raising their gloved fists during the national anthem at their medal ceremony, thus pre-dating National Football League players taking a knee and kneeling during the national anthem.

Much of the college student activism on college campuses, on the streets of Chicago, and in national protests apparently was fueled by the military draft.
Once the draft was ended by Nixon, protests became less frequent. Likewise, the “generation gap” was a hot topic in the late 1960s but now never mentioned.
Few college graduates in the late 1960s would have returned home and lived with their parents as is now a common practice.

A year of violence and strife ended in a hopeful peace when on Christmas Eve 1968, as he circled in the moon’s orbit, Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman read from Genesis, saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Fellow astronaut Bill Anders broadcast from their capsule a series of photos now called Earthrise showing the earth rising over the moon displaying the vastness of the universe. Some consider Earthrise the most influential environmental photo ever taken.

Polarizing presidential elections, persistent national debt, and frequent social protests may have been novel in 1968, but they have pretty much been the norm for the past half century. Some say the glass is half full, some say it is half empty.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Practicing civility through replying to Facebook posts

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, July 8, 2018

Better Angels is a national bipartisan citizens’ movement started in 2016 that aspires to bring together citizens with opposing points into a working alliance to reduce political polarization and to restore civility to the public sphere. A Missouri group is beginning to organize, and I am deciding if I should get involved.

Needing to practice my civility skills, I looked around Facebook and found a post about which I largely disagree, but with which I would welcome a conversation with the author.The author is anonymous to me. It was re-posted by a former student, and now professional colleague, who often takes pride in being “a conservative.”
The post below has seven major themes that are numbered, and that I have only altered to save space and make clearer.

Below each is my response to the anonymous author.

1. I honestly think our country is about out of control.
I agree. Most people probably agree. Since the 1950s, increased mobility, community economic diversity, communication and entertainment options, 24/7 news has made society faster and faster and governing nexttoimpossible.
Transportation, TV and more information technology are probably the major culprits. Maybe we have just had too much “progress.”

2. There are no morals, no stable family life for raising children, no respect for human life nor for our laws and Constitution. There is disrespect for our flag, law enforcement and first responders along with our military.

I agree that family life has changed drastically and think we have not kept up with the implications of two-income families, single-parent families, and the aging of America, but I disagree about disrespect for laws, law enforcement, and the military. This is not the 1970s anymore.

3. The lack of God in our daily lives, corruption, greed and one-sided politics is destroying our very country and the American Dream.

I agree more than I would like, especially with “one-sided politics” that has distorted public policy and made greed and corruption more acceptable.
I wish all people would honor their God and adhere to the Golden Rule found in most religions: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

4. I offer no apology for what I am posting, for this is truly how I feel. This is my opinion, not a debate. If you disagree, or find my position offensive, I’m perfectly fine with that and no, I’m not offended, feel free to unfriend me forthwith.

This is where I disagree the most. It is a debate. Politics is about making a group decision. I am not offended if you disagree with me, but I wish you would struggle to understand my perspective. I will do the same for you.

5. In my lifetime, I have never seen nor heard of a president scrutinized over every word he speaks, humiliated by the public to the point of disgrace, slandered, ridiculed, insulted, lied to and beyond common logic, threatened with death, threatened to rape our beautiful First Lady. Our First Lady is disrespected, and their children are insulted and humiliated. I am truly ashamed of the people of MY country. I am ashamed of the ruthless, hating, cruel, Trump haters who display themselves as having no pride, morals, ethics nor values in our country’s traditions. Our elders taught us to respect our president, whether we voted for him or not. All these news stations and reporters who feel they have the right to carry on with blatant lies and say the things they do for a good story. I know he is not perfect, very different than what we’ve become accustomed to but enough is enough, leave the man alone and let him do his job!

I agree with the viciousness of politics but believe we have been on a downhill slide since at least 1993 with the partisan reaction to President Bill Clinton (when ALL Republicans voted against his proposed budget).

I agree that the media is unbelievably arrogant and often awful and suspect that the harshest stuff comes from unsigned social media.

I believe that the first step to restore civility is for President Trump to stop tweeting and to do a series of media interviews.

7. None of the other presidents in their times were spotless or perfect either. I want our President Donald Trump to succeed and try to make our America great again!

I want Trump to succeed also and have never said, “he is not my president.” America, no country, can turn back the hands of time. To be “great again” is for our country to restore its place in global leadership and democratic governance. A responsible Congress and active citizenry is necessary to help Trump make better decisions.

As for my civility skills, how did I do?

Civil Rights Tour Brings History Alive

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN July 1, 2018

Visiting sites of Civil Rights protests, meetings, and nonviolent direct actions in Alabama and Mississippi fulfilled one of my lifetime goals.
Having been born in 1951, I do not recall the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. However, I do remember the brutal reactions of the police and Gov. Ross Barnett to James Meredith’s 1962 application and admission to the segregated University of Mississippi, as well as the protests in Birmingham a year later.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books and watched lots of documentaries and movies about the American civil rights era but, compared with a personal visit, they fail to convey the magnitude of events and the number of participants.
It is estimated that by August 1961 more than 70,000 people participated in lunch counter sit-ins across the U.S., with more than 3,000 of them arrested, and another 300 Freedom Riders being held in brutal conditions in the Parchman Farm-Prison. Likewise, more than 1,000 teenagers were attacked by dogs and water cannons in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park in May 1963.

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, is an excellent museum reviewing the full span of civil rights history. However, I prefer Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, where key events of the early civil rights movement occurred.

Montgomery was the largest domestic slave market in the U.S. so perhaps it is fitting that it became an early venue for civil rights protests. The recently opened Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice vividly capture the savageness of slavery (4 million slaves in 1860) as well as the 4,000 lynchings in 20 states and their legacy for today’s inequalities.
A few blocks away near the Alabama state capitol is Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. got his first job as a pastor.
While I was familiar with the popular story of Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus in December 1955, perhaps the largest lessons of my civil rights tour came from the Rosa Parks Museum and a book I purchased there–Rosa Parks: A Life by distinguished historian Douglas Brinkley.
Parks, now recognized as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was representative of thousands African American men and women who were well-prepared by their personal experience, workshop training, and self-discipline to make the personal sacrifices endured by the 13-month bus boycott.

Due to the loss of her job, threats, and jealousy of some friends, she and her husband moved to Detroit only a year after her “victory.” Parks’ notoriety and appreciation increased with time, culminating with her recognition by Nelson Mandela and President Bill Clinton and receiving the Presidential Medal of Honor in her last years before she died in 2005 at the age of 92.
It is a historical oversimplification to cite Parks as a single soldier in the struggle for freedom. In fact, four other women were plaintiffs in a 1956 lawsuit against the city that ultimately resulted in the legal nullification of city-wide bus segregation.

In Birmingham, I happened to strike up a conversation with a man I know only as Tony who served in the Army in Vietnam about the time I was using my college deferment to avoid the draft. Tony recounted his participation in the Children’s Crusade when he was 13 as we walked past the sculptures of attack dogs, cattle prods, and water cannons and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where four young girls were killed by a homemade bomb in September 1963. Tony repeated folk stories of the Children’s crusades that I was later able to validate at the Civil Rights Institute Museum.

Throughout Birmingham there are historical markers with explanations of important events. One thing I learned is that in 1963 Birmingham was switching from a commission to a city council form of government that increased the role of citizens, eliminating Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, the brutal head of police.

The civil rights agenda of 1955-1965 was much clearer, and far more focused than it was just a few years later. The goals of the earlier period were simple and direct: integrate bus service, lunch counters, schools, and public accommodations and to register to vote. By the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike in 1968 the agenda had expanded to include economic justice, union representation, and our role in Vietnam. Visiting Alabama helped me better understand Martin Luther King’s critics who wanted him to stay more narrowly focused than he was becoming.

The excellent museums and historical markers in Birmingham and Montgomery brought alive the magnitude of African American sacrifice to achieve progress toward racial equality.

Media should give Singapore Summit a chance

David Webber. Columbia Missourian, June 17, 2018

Having spent 25 months of the past decade in South Korea, I intently watched American cable news coverage of the Kim-Trump summit in Singapore on Tuesday. While I have no idea why President Trump acted the way he did at the G7 in Canada, I saw no alternative but to hope Trump would have a positive summit with Kim Jong-Un. The summit was historic with the potential to change the U.S.‘ relationship with several Asian nations.

To be sure, North Korea has more than a 50-year history of atrocities and enslavement of its own people. Yes, it appears that economic sanctions and recent U.S. communications with China have pushed North Korea to find a way to change the path it is on.

I have come to believe that the most promising route to a peaceful Northeast Asia is the grassroots development of North Korean citizens, neighborhoods, churches, community groups, schools and other social institutions. International inspections are not going to improve the lives of the North Korean people, many of whom are living in dire conditions.

CNN, MSNBC, and several reputable print media on which I rely were disappointing in their coverage. They were largely a parade of nay-sayers, not only looking backward, but using their narrow personal experience as to how things should be.

The reporters, political commentators and interviewed experts were full of reasons why the summit would undoubtedly fail. Some viewers may have seen it as “ideological bias,” but I sense it is the occupational hazard of arrogance and self-importance.

A question asked several times was “What is the absolute minimum that Trump can get out of this summit for it to be considered a success?” The answer approximated “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — the goal stated in U.S. law and United Nations resolutions.

Yes, that is the goal, but if the Singapore Summit results in a series of productive meetings involving the Secretary of State and his North Korean counterpart, the summit was a good use of the president’s time.

Summit coverage displayed a more general problem with cable TV, namely, live coverage has replaced in-depth, edited reporting. Apparently, it is less expensive, therefore “better,” to have a generalist TV host interview supposedly expert panelists about the topic of the day.

The host usually quickly recites the panelists’ impressive sounding title and projects a tone of fraternity rather than analytical acumen. Often, the panelists talk over each other and stir up live, on-the-air tension — I guess that is good television.

One commentator did observe “The Singapore Summit is spring training. It is not the World Series.” The topic of the night should have been, “How do we develop this fledgling team?” rather than, “What are all the ways we could have another losing season?”

The first reactions of South Koreans to the Singapore Summit was very positive, as indicated by the success of President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea local government elections the day after the summit.

Koreans have a long list of dates they use as shorthand for landmark events.

Let’s hope June 12 becomes a landmark date in Korean history.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Race difference in traffic stops must be examined, reduced

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, June 8, 2018

The Missouri Attorney General’s annual report once again documents black-white differences in the Columbia Police Department’s traffic stops. Blacks are more than three times as likely than whites to be the driver in a traffic stop. Officially, Columbia’s disparity index is 3.28 for Blacks, .76 for whites, and about .60 for Hispanics and Asians.

For comparison, in Independence, MO, the disparity index is 3.96 for blacks and .76 for whites; for Springfield it is 2.61 for blacks and .97 for whites; for Jefferson City it is 2.6 for Blacks and .83 for whites.
I believe there is a “school to prison pipeline” that has imposed large-scale destruction on the Black community and a heavy cost on American society. Sadly, a phrase I first heard in 1968 still pretty much describes race in America: Blacks are last hired, first fired.

On any given day, blacks make up nearly half of Boone County jail inmates. National studies find that blacks are incarcerated at a high rate and for longer periods than whites.

However, placing simplistic attention on overall traffic stops is likely to further reduce trust in police and the criminal justice system and to increase calls for fewer traffic stops all around.
CPD reports last summer that overall traffic patrol has declined, in part due to budget constraints. As I have written about previously, there appears to be more traffic chaos such as illegal U-turns.Less traffic enforcement to avoid racial profiling controversies would be a bad idea.

“Racial profiling” conveys the idea that drivers are stopped due solely to their race. It suggests that blacks are intentionally selected by police officers to be stopped. An alternative explanation is that due to historical inequities in housing, jobs, and education, blacks are more likely to live in high crime areas.

City officials need to report traffic stops and other police actions at a more detailed level than for the city at large. City ward or beat data would shed more light on any patterns of racial difference. Without indications of racially biased police attitudes and behaviors, we should be slow in calling for the resignation of any public official, but persistent in proposing fundamental social change to reduce current wide racial disparities in arrests and incarceration rates.

Data from the Attorney General’s report that has not been reported in the media, is that the citation rate for stopped whites and blacks is virtually the same—11.9 for whites and 11.5 for blacks. If the CPD had many racist officers, the citation rate would be vastly higher for black drivers. Additionally, Hispanic and Asian drivers are stopped at a lower rate than whites, so it is not likely that people of color generally are targeted to be stopped.

Compared with white drivers, blacks are disproportionately less likely to be stopped for moving violations but more likely to be stopped for equipment and license problems. The actual number of stops for investigative reasons are 138 for whites and 156 for blacks—certainly unequal but together they are only a fraction of the 12,437 traffic stops in the city of Columbia.
Blacks are more than half of the 502 stopped drivers who are detected to have outstanding warrants. Because police officers have lists of outstanding warrants, and look for these offenders, I suspect this contributes to racial differences in traffic stops.

My personal experience with low income citizens is that outstanding warrants are not uncommon. Frequent reason for such a warrant are probation violations or “failure to appear” due to forgetfulness, distrust of the system, or desire not to face legal consequences for a crime with which they are charged.
When apprehended, such offenders routinely go to jail waiting for several months for a public defender to process a plea to a less serious crime. Reducing outstanding warrants may be a promising path to reducing traffic stop disparities.

The criminal justice system is not very just. Expanding and funding the public defender system, reducing bail, insuring equal sanctioning, using alternative sentencing are effective, ways to reduce outstanding warrants.
Furthermore, reducing joblessness and poverty, will reduce inequities in vehicle quality and license compliance.

Disparities in traffic stops are just the tip of an iceberg of racial injustice that public officials need to address and reduce. Meanwhile, local police departments need to enforce the law as equitably and just as they can.

Let Greitens’ legacy be a step toward campaign and election reform

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN June 1, 2018

Last week, I wrote about how President Donald Trump’s and then governor Eric Greitens’ outsider status, while helpful in getting them elected, failed to prepare them for governing.This week I will dream big and sketch out a reformed electoral system for state-wide offices. State legislative and local offices should have campaign processes designed for plenty of opportunity for new faces and new blood, but state-wide offices, certainly the top spot, should attract experienced officeholders.

Campaigns and elections are overly ripe, some would say rotten, for reform. There are court-imposed obstacles and political interests that can block any significant reform, but the starting point is for party leaders to visualize their ideal selection process, and then seek the advice of election lawyers.

Political parties have always been a murky institution in American politics. We never have clearly decided what they are and whether we even like them, but there needs to be some kind of winnowing process before voters make the final choice among candidates. Missouri political parties need to be more visible, and more central to individual candidates. For almost 50 years now, “running against the party” can earn a candidate a substantial level of support. Many candidates choose to downplay, or even avoid, their party label. Similarly, most voters have no meaningful connection to a political party.

Political parties need to do more than just candidate recruitment. They need to set standards for conducting good campaigns such as expectations about negative advertising, sharing voter information, and disseminating party platforms and positions. It is unlikely that state party committees will judge a candidate’s fitness for office, but voters need help in enforcing expectations of candidates.

As far as term limited elected officials are concerned, with fewer print state-focused political reporters, and an almost infinite array of internet outlets of unknown veracity, there is an empty hole in need of credible, institutional memory.

Political parties can contribute to filling this hole by establishing high quality quarterly policy forums, complete with streaming and podcasts, that aim to elevate the level of public discourse. Otherwise, citizens see no purpose for political parties other than bickering during another campaign cycle.
Greitens’ downfall and resignation serve to highlight three of the major flaws and pitfalls in the American campaign and election system. Greitens is not unique but his rapid rise and steep fall shines a bright light on needed changes.

First, Greitens won 40 percent of the vote in the 2016 Republican primary. About a quarter million votes in a state of more than 6 million people. Certainly a strong showing in a four-candidate race, especially for someone who was not a life-long Republican, but Greitens’ victory that day was short of a majority of voters and far shorter of a consensus.

We need to adopt election rules that require a majority, or even a super-majority, rather than just “the most votes.” A simple method of ranking all candidates or requiring a runoff will expose candidates to more of the electorate. An approval voting method is better than the present “first past the post” method because it encourages multiple candidates, but assures that a candidate with only a sliver of support is not the winner. Keep an eye on Maine’s recent adoption of instant runoff voting.

Secondly, Greitens, like most candidates nowadays, was largely independent of his own party. He raised his own money, a lot of it from unknown sources outside of Missouri, and ran his own campaign.

Greitens was heavily critical of Missouri legislative and political leaders and they apparently had little influence over him. There is just too much money coming and going, some of it delivered in cash for payment of legal services, for citizens to have confidence that the public interest is being pursued.
Public funding, spending caps, and centralized party funding all need to be considered. State-wide candidates need party funding or ambition and dark money will rule.

My most specific suggestion that would revolutionize American politics is as follows: let’s restore citizenship and federalism and limit campaign contributions to state residents. Why are residents from California, Massachusetts, Texas, or other states contributing to Missouri campaigns?
Third, voters are largely unengaged and uninformed. There were media reports of Greitens’ questionable campaign donors before the November 2016 election but it was not a campaign issue. It is likely that if it had not been for the Governor’s sex saga, probably not an impeachable offense, that Grietens’ alleged campaign violations would have been ignored.

Few voters understand, or need to understand, Missouri campaign reporting requirements, dark money, or provisions of the state’s sunshine law. Most candidates don’t either. Unfortunately, universities and the media have done little to serve Missourians’ civic information needs.
Democracy, a political system that converts citizen preferences into public policy decisions, is hard to achieve and maintain but can easily be imitated and distorted for personal political gain.

Inscribed around the top of the dome of the Missouri state capitol are the words from George Washington’s Farewell Address: In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

There must be better ways to select top leaders

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, May 20, 2018

The continuing travails of President Donald Trump and Governor Eric Greitens should cause citizens to take a hard look at how these men ended up in these positions and ask, “Is there a better way to select our leaders?” . It’s time for political parties to get more formally involved in selecting their candidates for the top elected jobs.

A similarity between Trump and Greitens is they were both outsiders, and hyper-critics of the political establishment. While this gave both candidates the personal advantage of running without a tainted political record, it has proven to be a disadvantage to our nation and state because they were largely untested in governing. Perhaps we have so degraded the American political system through years of cynicism that we believe anyone can be an effective politician. That simply is not true. In earlier times, politics was a noble, perhaps the highest, calling. Aristotle compared politicians to craftsman and physicians who require practical knowledge and sound judgement to be effective.

For may leadership positions, choosing between “new blood” or experience is a serious, delicate choice. Experience too often can be another word for “more of the same” and new blood sounds so inviting and refreshing. Given massive distrust about the political process, I anticipate a wave of “new faces” presenting themselves for elective offices. Cynthia Nixon, a star actor in “Sex and the City,” has already announced for her party’s nomination to be governor of New York—probably one of the top five most difficult jobs in America. Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks,” Dave “The Rock” Johnson, People Magazine’s “sexiest man alive” have all been mentioned as potential presidential candidates. We need to stop this. Just because Michael Jordan and LeBron James are accomplished athletes does not mean they should run for governor, or even mayor.

The roots of our “open,” haphazard nominating process go back to 1968 when neither party, but especially the Democrats, were concerned their party nominating processes were too narrow and appeared to be backstreet deals from smoke-filled rooms. Calls for “opening up the system” with more primaries and less party control resulted in a myriad of candidates with their own political base and accesses to their own campaign funds In the twenty-three years between 1945-1968, under the old convention system, only Dwight Eisenhower publicly sought the nomination of either major party. Between 1972-1992, eight outsiders (five Democrats, and three Republicans) ran for president. Between 1996 and 2016, eighteen (thirteen were Republicans) outsiders ran in their party primaries.

Ronald Reagan, perhaps the best example of a successful “outsider” president, was previously a two-term California governor and head of an actors’ organization that gave his peers an opportunity to judge his personal character and work habits. Eisenhower looks like an “outsider” and “another candidate with military experience” but he was in fact the commander of the largest military organization in the world where he managed and supervised all sorts of subordinates in a rather stressful endeavor.

While novice candidates first appear to be a breath of fresh air” unencumbered with previous party failures and frustrations, they are largely untested in the political arena. Politics is not entertainment, military service, nor private business. The Trump organization is a privately-owned business without external stockholder oversight nor public accounting reports. Likewise, while Greitens has a long record of academic and military honors, his management experience is limited to a nonprofit organization he started and ran with self-selected sponsors and directors. Compare Trump and Greitens’ work experience with that of becoming a partner in a large law firm or a tenured professor where they would have gone through annual reviews by their superiors who set the criteria of evaluation.

What would have Trump and Greitens gained if they had served in a lower office, say the U.S. Senate or the Missouri Senate, respectively? Most importantly perhaps, they would have had to listen to others—at committee meetings, on the chamber floors, to constituents and to lots of reports who could ask follow-up questions. Alpha males, especially, tend to be early bloomers in broadcasting their visions of how things should be but short on essential listening skills.

Secondly, serving a term in another office would have given potential critics and accusers time to come up with the dirt that is better found before they get to a higher political office. Third, they would have an opportunity to see if they really enjoy the demands of a political job. The hours are long, the work can be lonely, the loss of privacy is great, the glory is fleeting. Perhaps some candidates would pick other ventures saving themselves, and us, from wasted time and embarrassment.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

What if Martin Luther King Jr Were alive today?

David Webber Columbia MISSOURIAN, April 17, 2018

Last week’s remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr. caused me to read, for the first time, King’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” In it, King writes about his concern about the term “Black Power” and assesses the strategic position of African Americans. What caught my attention, however, is the appendix titled: “Programs and Prospects” that contains insights and proposals about education, employment, rights and housing that equal his world-class ability as a community organizer and preacher. The book provides a vantage point for conjecturing about the frequently asked question, “What would King say about racial progress if he were alive today?”

I imagine King might recognize that the election of President Barack Obama was a milestone for racial progress but might single out the “School to Prison Pipeline” as illustrative of our failure to address fundamental aspects of our society.

King had high expectations and lots of criticism of the role that public education might have in reducing inequality. King acknowledged the additional challenges faced by children of poor families and wrote, “The job of the school is to teach so well that family background is no longer an issue.” He hoped that efforts such as Headstart could prepare at-risk students for educational success. King would have been disappointed, but not surprised, at the quality of education received by many African American kids.

While black high school graduation rates have increased to about 90 percent, nearly the same as for white students, test scores show a different picture. NAEP scores have gradually increased for all students, but black students are between 25-30 points behind in math and reading. One report found that black students enter high school about three years behind white students.

King proposed federal education parks, a large-scale magnet school in metropolitan areas that would be integrated and expending resources to close the achievement gap. In the half century since King’s death, I suspect he would have said that we have spent too much time and resources arguing about busing, even in Boston, and affirmative action rather than learning how to teach to at risk students.

Nationally, about 63 percent of students who begin college finish within six years. That figure is 45 percent for African Americans. In 1989, 25 percent of white men and women had college degrees, by 2009, college grads were 32 percent of white men and 41 percent of white women. For black men and women, the percent with college degrees increased from 12 percent in 1989 to 18 percent for men and 21 percent for women in 2009.

There are still wide disparities in economic factors. White families earn about $55,000 a year compared with $32,000 for Black families. While shocking, income is more equally distributed than wealth and savings. In 2011, the median white household had $111,146 in wealth compared to $7,113 for the median black household. Seventy-three percent of white families own their own home compared to 45 percent black families. Home ownership is usually the major asset by which families store wealth that is bequest to the next generation. Discriminatory patterns in the housing market persists in many cities.

Public policies based in tax credits rather than direct services have ironically perpetuated economic inequality because tax breaks like the Home Mortgage Interest deduction, the largest tax break, is worth more as family income increases.

The incarceration rate of African Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — perhaps the most disappointing development in civil rights in the last 50 years. African Americans are 6.4 times more likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned largely due to non-violent drug arrests. Removing black men from families is disruptive, reduces income and, most importantly, removes male role models. King would have been an eloquent advocate for reforming American prisons.

King subtitled his last book “Chaos or Community?” It would certainly be easier to argue for the former than the latter. On one hand, the black middle class has expanded, there are black quarterbacks and coaches in the NFL; on the other, racial profiling, differential poverty rates, and social rhetoric denies that we have made sufficient process toward King’s “beloved community.”
David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

The Columbia of 1968 strived for the same progress it does today

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN March 30, 2018

Last April 4, the 49th year since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, I became curious about Columbia’s reaction to the news of King’s murder on April 4, 1968. So, I spent the evening with Columbia Tribune microfilm at the Columbia Public Library. I was curious, hopeful and a little bit afraid of what I would find. When I came to Columbia in 1986, I was surprised to discover its segregated housing pattern, to learn that I walked the same ground where slaves once worked and to count more Confederate names than Union names on the courthouse war memorial.

I learned a great deal from the Tribune’s coverage of the week following April 4, 1968. Most important, Columbia remained calm and did not experience violent reactions as did Jefferson City, Kansas City and St. Louis.

The local context of public reaction to King’s murder included the defeat of a hotly debated open housing referendum just a few weeks before. Nationally, the politics of Vietnam War had caused President Lyndon Johnson to announce on March 31, 1968, that he would not run for re-election.

On Saturday, April 6 of that year, more than 500 “Negroes and non-Negroes” attended a two-hour memorial service at the Second Baptist Church where Mayor George Nicholaus called on “all Columbians to heal through mutual respect the deep disillusionment evoked by the sniper slaying” of King. He urged all people to “forget differences, look at similarities.”

The Sunday after the Thursday that King was killed was Palm Sunday. King was buried during the Christian Holy Week.
Nicholaus said, “I think the playing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ makes us all realize that we have a common purpose of being here tonight.”

Nicholaus went on, “I could not help but draw an analogy to the week we are about to begin” and “the last words of our Lord as he hangs on the Roman cross, ‘It is finished.'”

The Tribune reported that the mood of the audience was one of reverent dedication to making King’s death an impetus for better race relations.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, the day of King’s funeral in Atlanta, more than 1,000 marched “10-12 abreast, many arm-in-arm” from the Blind Boone Community Center to the Boone Country Courthouse.

The event was led by the Columbia Civil Rights Coalition and heard remarks from five speakers, including George Brooks of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Annie Gardner of the Congress for Racial Equality and two members of the Columbia Action Teen Council.
An April 10, 1968, Tribune editorial praised local citizens for staying true to King’s philosophy of nonviolence. It read:
“Anyone who has taken the trouble to observe our Columbia Negro people in recent months can have gained only one impression.
“Through the frustrating experience of the open housing election and the despair surrounding Dr. King’s murder, they have conducted themselves with dignity, intelligence, and restraint. They have clung tenaciously to their announced tactic of operating peacefully and within the law…
“During the open housing situation, the Negro voice was fair and untainted by malice. In defeat it remained admirably calm. At the Tuesday afternoon memorial service it said things that any resident of this city would hear with complete approval…
“The Negro leadership in Columbia today is exemplary. The Negro people respond to their suggestion of using traditional democratic means for achieving progress.”

As a believer in “traditional democratic means” for changing public policy, my research into Columbia’s reaction to King’s killing was a relief to my worries that Columbia might have been full of racial strife. The Columbia of 1968 sounds like it was the foundation of Columbia today that strives to make racial progress, even if painfully slow.

As for me, I was a junior in high school in a nearly all-white western Pennsylvania steel town. I heard the news with my father on the car radio when we stopped for gas on the way home that Thursday evening.
We were stunned. We sat in disbelief. Over the next few days my parents worried about the safety of my elder sister who attended a university not far from Pittsburgh’s Hill District that went up in flames like more than a 100 American cities.

Over the years since King’s murder, I have marveled at his personal characteristics of patience and persistent, but perhaps mostly at his leadership abilities.

At the time of his death, King was struggling with the Black Power movement, as well as the politics of the Vietnam War. As I learn more history and personal accounts of those 50 years, I learn the great struggles and sacrifices made by millions of my fellow citizens to move toward more racial equality.

The year 1968 was a traumatic year in American history; my impression is that Columbia came through in a lot better condition than most cities. Leadership of the black community must have been the difference.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Can Trump’s bombastic style shake things up on two crucial issues?

David Webber Columbia MISSOURIAN March 15, 2018

President Donald Trump is rolling the dice on two issues near-and-dear to me — the future, perhaps a last gasp, of America’s steel industry and the fate, at least in the short-term, of the Korean Peninsula. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and his decision to accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before May are in the face of about 50 years of prevailing economic doctrine and diplomatic history.

Little of Trump’s personal and governing style appeals to me. Apparently, he listens to few people, hardly reads policy briefings, and is largely uninformed about American political traditions and practices. Is it possible that his bombastic, often erratic, operating style just may shake up the foreign affairs establishment and the free trade club and set new us on a new course in Asia and renewed hopes in Ohio and Pennsylvania steel towns?

There are sharp contrasts in these two issues, and Trump’s involvement in them. Protective tariffs are an old issue that largely has been turned over to trade agreements and international organizations. Despite my fond memories of Pennsylvania steel towns, the parade has left town with few people, except Trump and his steel-town voters staying behind.

North Korea is also an old issue, at least 50 years, but one that national policy makers have not solved. Perhaps it is Trump’s political naiveté and international affairs inexperience that causes him to take on a challenge that his three immediate predecessors avoided. Trump showed some courage, and performed rather well, in speaking to the South Korea National Assembly last November. Perhaps he now thinks of himself as an international diplomat.

Both these policy issues that have pervaded recent American history but never really became the issue of the day. International trade policy largely has been bipartisan in supporting “free trade” and now consists of many international agreements and organizations. American interest in the Korean Peninsula also has been bipartisan — but largely one of inattention and inaction.

Academics and think-tank observers have tended to sing the same song to themselves without clearly connecting with American citizens about the real-life impacts of each issue. The decline of American manufacturing and the rise of the North Korea Kim dynasty have gone practically unchecked because no one knows the perfect solution. Enter Trump and his impulsive decision style to shake up conventional thinking and overcome inaction.

The American steel industry that once prospered in Pennsylvania and Ohio has been in free fall since the early 1980s. Despite talks of industrial policy to rejuvenate economically depressed communities, unemployed workers could listen to Washington leaders and experts talk about the benefits of free trade. Free trade appears to have benefited the information technology industry and American higher education and lowered some consumer price. It did little, however, for Western Pennsylvania and Ohio — three areas where voters somewhat inexplicably supported Trump in 2016. It was as if voters threw up their hands and collectively said “what the heck, at least he sounds like he feels our pain.” While these voters may feel good about Trump throwing some attention their way, trade tariffs will not restore their jobs and communities. The impacts are likely to be a symbolic victory appreciated only by Trump’s political base.

The United States are now almost powerless to affect the world steel industry. International trade globalization is too far along for one nation to garner economic gain through protectionism. The World Trade Organization will not permit Trump’s tariffs to stand. The time to effectively resist free trade agreements was a generation ago.

Alternatively, Trump’s announced willingness to meet with North Korea’s Kim has the potential to reduce the North Korea nuclear threat and promote stability in Asia. While both announcements were surprises, his decision on North Korea can be directly linked to his visit to South Korea last November. In this space, I wrote on Nov. 13, that time is running out, that conventional diplomatic relations have not been successful and that Trump meeting directly with Kim could work. Circumventing the “Six Party Talks” that have become another diplomatic obstacle in achieving peace in the region. Just as Trump has little patience with Congressional negotiations and compromise, he is unlikely to be patient with one-level-at-a-time diplomacy. This may be Trump’s most risky adventure. There needs to be a second, a third, and many future meetings, to chart a path toward a lasting Korean peace. Most important, Trump cannot lose interest and back off from meeting with Kim.

How will all this turn out? As Trump often says, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.