Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
If you ever wondered what would happen when you put Kanye West and Donald Trump in the Oval Office together, last week undoubtedly gave you an indication. Their meeting was one of the most colorful displays of contrasting styles, differing perspectives, and looseness of association in recent memory. The show ended with a flamboyant hug behind the Resolute Desk from a spirited, stooped-over, Kanye West to an uncomfortable, seated Donald Trump, sealed with Kanye's proclamation of, "I love this guy!"
Predictably, Kanye's hug was the talk of the nation, and it wasn't all positive. CNN's Don Lemon saw it as a moment when Kanye West was exploited and used by a white president. And the African American rapper, T.I., lashed out at West, exclaiming via social media, "This is the most repulsive, disgraceful, embarrassing act of desperation & auctioning off of one's soul to gain power I've ever seen. . . I feel compelled to slap the f***k outta you bro for the people!"
Well, apparently, T.I. didn't look back far enough, because in reality, this has all happened before.
Things were not good between Richard Nixon and the African American community back in 1971. First, he was a Republican, and the Democrats had just ransacked and passed the Civil Rights Act that had been originally pushed by Republicans. The view of the Republican Party as the Grand Ol' Civil Rights Party was abandoned as African Americans flocked to Lyndon B. Johnson and his War on Poverty.
What's worse, Nixon was an awkward, white man. He had no spunk and had this awful tendency to accumulate sweat above his upper lip. His performance in front of the camera was so bad that a decade earlier, during his debate with John F. Kennedy, those who heard the event on radio called him the clear winner while those who saw it on television almost universally sided with Kennedy.
Also, African Americans were not impressed with Nixon's first term as President. For starters, he had nominated two Southern judges to the Supreme Court, neither of whom was confirmed by the Senate. Second, unlike Lyndon B. Johnson with his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver, Nixon did not appoint any African Americans to his cabinet.
And then there was the issue of the growing welfare state and Nixon's intent of cutting programs initiated by Johnson. In fact, in 1971, the animus towards Nixon was so intense that the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted his State of the Union address.
Nixon recognized he needed an ally from the black community. He had been seen a few times with James Brown, but Brown was not a politically active individual.
Sammy Davis Junior, on the other hand, was a "Cool Cat." He was an African American Jew and flaunted it. He had one fake eye and was proud of it. And he was the sole black member of the infamous Rat Pack!
Besides, Sammy Davis, Jr. was The Candy Man! Who could ever dislike the man that could take the sunrise and sprinkle it with dew; and cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two?
Astutely, Nixon asked Davis to be on his National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity. Davis, of course, was thrilled at the prospect. From his standpoint, he was being tasked to serve on a Committee by the President of the United States! What greater honor could there be for any American, particularly an African American Jew! Davis gladly met with the President at the White House to accept his position, a photo op for both men.
Then Nixon asked Davis to appear in Vietnam before the troops, which he did, and then came to the White House to report to the President. Another photo op.
Next thing he knew Sammy Davis Junior was appearing at Republican fundraisers, and singing!
So, in the 1972, it was natural for Davis to be asked to participate in the Republican Nation Convention in Miami Beach. Davis enthusiastically accepted and that's how he found himself on stage before the Republican Youth Rally at the Playboy Hotel in Miami as the President of the United States arrived in the middle of his performance!
Seeing Nixon walk on stage, Davis was naturally overwhelmed. He stopped, warmly introduced Nixon, and then, in the joy of the moment, gave the President a welcoming, warm, sideways hug!
Immediately, the cameras blazed inscribing in black and white one of the 20th century's most impactful, interracial photographic moments. The picture, angled from the men's front-right, captured a stooped over Sammy Davis Junior with his left arm around the President and his right hand gripping Nixon's right forearm. The smiles on the two men's faces were genuine and beaming even though their poses-Davis's ever cool and Nixon's ever stiff-heralded their differences.
Although the moment was genuine, the reaction from the left was vicious. The hatred towards Sammy Davis Junior was palpable as African Americans from all over the nation condemned him for adulating the President. He was accused of being used and manipulated by white people. In short, the left, despicably, turned Sammy Davis Junior, into a traitor to his race.
Recognizing the vitriol, Davis's PR team went on offense. Sy Marsh, Davis's PR director, immediately reached out to one of the stalwarts of the Civil Rights movement and one of the most respected African American leaders in the country; Jesse Jackson. Remember, Jackson was at the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when Martin Luther King was brutally shot. The cameras would capture him as one of the men standing next to a dying King desperately pointing in the direction of the gunshots.
Of course Jackson could salvage Davis's image! Or at least Marsh thought.
At the time, Jackson was involved in an organization he developed, People United to Save Humanity (PUSH), and if Davis could bring $15,000.00 to the upcoming PUSH fundraiser in Chicago, Jackson would be happy to have Davis join him on stage.
Marsh quickly scrounged up the money from the people who recurrently bailed Sammy Davis Junior from financial peril stemming from his drinking and drug use, the casino owners.
The payment arranged, Davis showed up as planned, and here is how Wil Haygood, author of a 2003 Washington Post article named the "The Hug" describes it:
And there [Davis] stood, preparing to join Jackson on that Chicago stage and navigate the swinging bridge of black-white relations that defined the '60s. "Sammy walks out," recalls Marsh, "and they booed him. Sammy is in a state of shock." Davis swung his head from side to side of the building, looking for the anger, the source of the boos. "It struck me as with physical force, knocking the wind out of me," Davis would recall. "It grew louder." Jackson seemed momentarily startled. He quickly flung his muscular arm around Davis. Jackson's ferocious embrace was so full of on-the-spot love it seemed to weaken Davis. He seemed to be shrinking inside his denim jacket. The boos and catcalls rained on. "Brothers," Jackson said, waving his arm for quiet, "if it wasn't for people like Sammy Davis, you wouldn't be here, we wouldn't have PUSH today. Now, I expected some foolish people were going to react like this because the man hugged the president of the United States. So what? Look at what this gigantic little man has committed himself to over all these years." As the boos erupted anew, Jackson realized he had underestimated the anger. Davis's body began twisting. He wanted to bolt. Jackson could feel his angst, and only held Davis tighter. Then he asked Davis to sing something, and suggested "I've Gotta Be Me." Given the circumstances, it was a request both funny and meaningful -- and perhaps Freudian. Davis had no time to ponder the meaning; he simply began singing. Words caught in his throat; there was snickering. Marsh felt terrible. "Sammy sang a song, came off, said, '. . . They don't want me. I don't want them.' He got blind drunk that night, and cried.
What happened to Sammy Davis Junior is emblematic of the bullying tactics so characteristically employed by the left against anyone who dares to disagree with its position or who strolls outside of the confines of its stable. Sammy Davis Junior dared to venture outside of his predefined confines, and he paid for it dearly. Forever, he was called a whitey, and he was never acknowledged as the incredible credit he was to his race and to his country despite his many personality flaws.
Now, 46 years later, Kanye West stands at the threshold of the same precipice. Hopefully, his treatment will be a lot gentler, but as we're witnessing from the conduct of Don Lemon and T.I., probably not.
The author acknowledges WIl Haygood, "The Hug" The Washington Post, September 14, 2003, from which much of the factual content is obtained.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.