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A Wave Too Small

November 8, 2018

Another, more visually accurate, graphic depiction of the results:

We’re all still processing the results of the mid-term elections, but it is clearer than ever that fundamentally we are in a struggle to determine America’s national identity. On one side is the idea that the real America is a nation that is homogeneous, white, Christian, and European in origin. This idea now defines the Republican Party. On the other side is a vision of a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and secular America. This is now what the Democratic Party represents. We have increasingly separated ourselves geographically so that each side lives mostly among people who think the same way. All you have to do to see it is to look at the electoral map! Our politics now is basically over which idea should prevail. Where each side stands on other issues really flows from that divide.

The problem with the (white) nationalist/Republican concept is that it is racist in its very essence. In the age of Trump, that is no longer even disguised. In Georgia, neo-Jim Crow voter suppression was out there for all to see, with the Republican gubernatorial candidate directing it! In North Dakota, the Republican-controlled state government changed the rules at the last minute to require voter i.d. showing street addresses, which at one stroke disenfranchised most Native Americans, who have never had addresses with street names and house numbers. (Prior to this, North Dakota had NO voter registration requirement.) In Kansas, the local election official closed the only polling station inside the town of Dodge City (which is now majority Hispanic) and moved it miles out of town, making it far less accessible to voters. When protests erupted, she e-mailed “LOL” to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was also running for governor and who had been picked by Trump to head his bogus commission on voter fraud. In none of these (or many other) cases did protests cause authorities to relent.

The voter suppression is deliberate and targeted, and the playbook is now well-developed and has been deployed extensively in states controlled by Republicans. A study by Northern Illinois University ranked states from easiest to hardest to vote (based on requirements in place in 2016). All of the top 10 states where it was hardest to vote at that time had Republican governors, or legislatures, or both. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Mississippi ranked dead last, and Texas was number 46. The states where it was easiest to vote were mostly solidly “blue” states (with the exception of Utah and Iowa–and North Dakota before the 2018 address rule went into effect).

voter suppression

The wave of state voter suppression laws was unleashed by the 2013 decision by the conservative majority of the US Supreme Court which gutted the Voting Rights Acts on the highly dubious grounds that racially-based voter discrimination was no longer a problem in the US. Since then, two new Trump appointments have swung the Supreme Court even further the right, and Mitch McConnell’s Senate has been confirming conservative federal court judges at a furious pace. All of this has made challenges to voter suppression even more difficult to pursue.

The methods of voter suppression range from blatant to subtle, but they invariably target African-Americans and other minorities. Several states (notably Georgia) have purged their voter registration rolls, leaving thousands or even hundreds of thousands unable to vote when they show up to the polls. Even if they are allowed to cast a provisional ballot, they then have a difficult struggle to get it counted. Many states have imposed strict voter i.d. laws and then made it difficult to obtain one by requiring documentation that poor or minority voters might not have or by closing state offices where such i.d.s could be obtained in local communities. Or there may be too few voting machines sent to selected precincts, which then results in long lines and hours of waiting to cast a ballot. They do all these things because they work.

Then there is the disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies, which has a huge effect in some states with high incarceration rates, which in turn tend to be conservative and Republican. This factor is particularly important in Texas, Georgia, and Florida, all of which had high profile elections which Republicans won (apparently) by very thin margins. In Florida, former felons currently are unable to vote for life unless specifically granted dispensation by the governor, which current governor (and US Senate candidate) Rick Scott almost never did. An estimated 1.5 million Floridians were thereby prevented from voting because of this. This election a constitutional amendment was approved by Florida voters to restore voting rights to most former prisoners who have completed their sentences, which could have a major impact in the future.

Nowhere is the political balance more tightly tuned than in my adopted home state of Florida, where the last three governor’s races (including this one) were decided by margins of less than 1 percent–so far always to the Republicans’ benefit. As I write this, at least 3 statewide offices including governor, US senator, and Commissioner of Agriculture are apparently headed for a recount, in which provisional and mail-in ballots rejected for technicalities suddenly become crucial to the outcome. Because Republicans have run Florida for 20 years (thanks in great part to gerrymandering and voter suppression) they also control the state election machinery. There is good reason, therefore, for extremely close scrutiny of the recount, which could easily be tipped by procedural decisions about which ballots to allow and which to reject. The integrity of the system does not merit the benefit of the doubt in this case. Just remember the 2000 presidential election which went to George W. Bush by a hotly disputed margin of 537 votes in Florida!

As bitterly disappointed as I was in the statewide Florida results, I take some comfort that at least the House of Representatives will be in Democratic hands. This provides at least some protection against Trump’s despotic proclivities, but there is now no brake at all on Senate confirmations of Trump nominations of judges and other federal offices. This just became much more serious with Jeff Sessions’ resignation. The election was a major political shift (see graphic below, showing the relative shift in the vote since 2016), but it wasn’t enough to overcome how thoroughly the system has been rigged to favor Republicans.

The reality is that almost half of the voters (47.1%) in this country still supported Trump’s (white) nationalist program. The opposing multi-cultural template represented by the Democrats has made inroads in formerly Republican suburban areas in many parts of the country, but the division between urban, globalist (to use Trump’s term) voters and the rural and exurban white population in the interior of the country has becomes perhaps even starker. Outside of the Northeast and the West Coast, the blue areas stand out as islands in a sea of red. Where Democrats prevailed in rural areas, it’s because the population there is heavily African-American, Latino, or Native American.

This is a cold Civil Cultural War that we’re in, and there is no end in sight.

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