Republicans commit to taking lowest road
Trump-dominated Republicans in legislatures around the country are pulling an old “race card” out of their sleeve, attempting to make voting more difficult, especially for Blacks.
Georgia, the model, passed a voter suppression measure mere months after a big turnout of Black voters paved the way to victory for President Joe Biden and two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The new voting bill — and others like it around the country — was fueled by Trump’s demonstrably false assertion that voter fraud cost him the election.
Trump’s repeated disparagement of people of color — Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asian Americans — has seemingly green-lit other apparent bigotry.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioned the “allegiance” to America of Biden’s OMB nominee, Neera Tanden, the daughter of two immigrants from India.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in an interview said he wasn’t scared by the murderous, overwhelmingly white, mob that assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, as they were people who “love this country.” Johnson said he would, however, have been concerned if there had been “tens of thousands of Black Lives matter or Antifa protestors” storming the Capitol.
I believe the surge in threats and violence against Asian Americans is attributable, in part, to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about the “Kung Flu” or “China virus.”
In Tennessee, top Republican state legislators are trying to dismantle the state Historical Commission after it voted overwhelmingly to remove from the Capitol a statue of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. It’s an example of cancel culture, they claim.
Forrest was a traitor to his country and, after the Civil War, the head of what became the country’s leading domestic terrorist organization. To his credit, Republican Gov. Bill Lee favors the statute’s removal.
There are legitimate examples of cancel culture. The San Francisco Board of Education wants to remove the names of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington from schools for their insufficient opposition to slavery. Smith College suspended a janitor for calling security to ask a Black student what she was doing in an off-limits venue. An outside law firm review, as the New York Times reported, found the guard had acted appropriately — in fact had been encouraged to call security if he saw any unauthorized people in the area. The College president apologized to the student, but not to the janitor.
This “woke” culture, however, is concentrated mainly in elite colleges and news organizations — and while stupid and sometimes offensive, it isn’t anywhere near as pervasive or pernicious at the animus against people of color.
The voter crackdowns are surreal.
Voter suppression of minorities has a long, ugly history; considerable progress has been made, but through fits and starts. Most every study has shown there is miniscule fraud, but Trump — desperate to avoid being tagged a real loser — conned a lot of Republican voters into believing the election was “stolen.” Many elected Republican officials are perfectly happy, it seems, to surf that wave of bigotry.
The just-enacted Georgia voter law would — among other things — mandate tougher identification requirements for absentee voting, reduce the number of secure boxes to drop off ballots, and make it a crime to give water or food to citizens in long voting lines.
Opponents of the law charge it is aimed at the growing and largely Black vote. “This law is very much wrapped in racial discrimination targeting,” says Wendy Weiser, vice president of democracy at the pro-voting rights Brennan Center at the NYU School of Law.
Supporters of the new voting restrictions offer specious justifications: the law would enhance security, they say; very few would be affected by the tougher ID requirements, and other states restrict giving food and water to voters in line, including Joe Biden’s Delaware.
It’s worth noting that there usually aren’t seven- or eight-hour voting lines in Delaware, while it can be common in Georgia’s Black precincts. Regardless the state, the notion that a vote will be influenced by someone handing out food and water is absurd.
The drive to make mail voting harder occurs immediately after it was used by more by Blacks in Georgia than ever before.
Georgia’s Republican officials concluded the 2020 election worked well.
There was no need for enhanced “security,” other than to suppress some votes.
Most hypocritical was the provision of the new law that allows the legislature to overrule decisions made by local officials. That’s what Trump wanted them to do in the last election — to overturn a legitimate outcome.
Even if the proponents’ questionable claims that these changes wouldn’t affect many voters are true, it may affect just enough voters — enough, for example to change Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote win in Georgia or Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff’s 1 percentage point victory.
The Georgia law will be a model for other GOP-controlled states and likely will be enacted in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin if Republicans win back those governorships next year.
The Republican-controlled courts are unlikely to stop such voter suppression.
The only answer is to adopt federal standards, only possible if Democrats can circumvent a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
A memo to cable TV chattering heads: 1) the filibuster will not be killed or even significantly changed; 2) the state voting laws would significantly advantage Republicans and exacerbate racial tensions, and 3) the answer is to make an exception to the filibuster rules for fair voting measures — that’s what both Democrats and Republicans did for judicial nominations in recent years.
A singular exception will anger proponents of gun control or of raising the minimum wage or of climate change. Without out it, however, those measures face an even bleaker long-term prospect.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.