Ron DeSantis, Dinesh D'Souza Have, Combined, Three-Fifths A Brain
When it was written back in the day, the US Constitution very clearly counted enslaved black people as three-fifths of a human being for the purposes of representation, and because black people at the time couldn't vote or, you know, leave, this was ultimately about how much political power the quirky folks who held them in bondage would wield in their fancy new government. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing, like that Ricky Martin CD someone found in the place you actually still keep physical CDs. When you are the self-proclaimed "shining city on the hill," reducing your slaves to fractions and also having slaves in the first place is slightly off-brand. You could apologize and try to learn from your historical oopsies, but that's not really how American conservatism works. The originalists need to believe that America was originally and always great except for that weird period when the black guy was in charge.
Dinesh D'Souza slithered onto FOX News the other day to promote his latest dumb book "Death of a Nation," which is a play on Birth of a Nation, a famously racist movie. If D'Souza isn't an actual racist, then he's the Tobias Funke of racism who, despite his protestations, continues to comically behave like a racist. During his interview, he tried to racist-splain the Electoral College to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who'd called for its abolishment because it was a "shadow of slavery's power on America today." (BTW: If you Google "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez" and "electoral college," most of what comes up is right-wing publications and videos creeping on her as if she's an elected official already.)
D'Souza pointed out that the little lady was just confusamated by all this complicated man stuff. The Electoral College has nothing to do with slavery. It doesn't even offer it as a major. Except of course it does. It was Pennsylvanian James Wilson who proposed direct national election of the president, but Virginian James Madison pointed out that the South wouldn't have it: "The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes." A national popular vote would weaken the South's electoral might because its population was pretty much slaves, who couldn't vote, and Scarlett O'Hara, who liked to waste hers on third party candidates. The Electoral College allowed slaves to be counted toward the Southern states' total electors; for all the good that did black folks, they might as well have been trotted into the ballot box at gunpoint and just told how to vote. But then no one's picking cotton or hand-washing Scarlett's gowns.
So, yeah, we definitely have the Electoral College because slavery was a thing. No, the Electoral College didn't technically create slavery, but Ocasio-Cortez never said it did.
D'Souza also ludicrously claims the Three-Fifths Compromise wasn't so bad because it actually sort of counted enslaved blacks as people -- not fully, mind you, but it's not like they also counted every mint julep or palmetto tree as three-fifths of a human. It got hot down south. People drank a lot of mint juleps. Imagine how many electors they could've had! But no, they only extended this courtesy to black folks. We should be flattered.
As Tolstoy might say, the only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that D'Souza has no real knowledge of anything. But his fanciful BS on this subject is not uncommon in conservative circles. Down in Florida, where Andrew Gillum looks to win the governor's race, his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis wrote a book that downplayed the evils of slavery — ironically around the time Republicans were comparing Obamacare to literal slavery.
DeSantis wrote the book, "Dreams from Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama," in 2011 to shore up the racist vote during his House campaign. It's come up now because DeSantis has left a slime trail of racist nonsense during his current campaign for governor. As was popular at the time, the book bashes Kenyan socialist Barack Obama but DeSantis also takes time to slave-splain US history to Thurgood Marshall, who DeSantis thought failed to see the big picture in criticizing the authors of the Constitution for not ending slavery.
These good white folks, after all, were "forced" to preserve slavery to keep the nation together. DeSantis doesn't consider for a moment that if slavery was required for America to exist, maybe it wasn't the worst thing if America didn't exist. How bad was all that British tyranny anyway? If I'm going to be a slave, you could at least let me keep my English accent. The American Revolution is exactly why I'm not Idris Elba right now.
The Three-Fifths Compromise, DeSantis argues, made America possible and America would eventually get around to ending slavery four score and seven years or so later. What's a few extra generations of bondage between friends who work other friends to death?
I don't even know why they called it a "compromise." We were still five-fifths of a slave. It's not like we got weekends off. This white-centered thinking reflects the history of slavery in the US, one concession or compromise after another to pacify flesh-peddling freeloaders and avoid what would prove inevitable. Even the great emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln, was willing to barter with black lives:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
If we got a say -- and we didn't -- we'd have gone with freedom. If you think it's more complicated than that, you don't fully see us as human. Perhaps that's the enduring problem.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."