Some Voting Suppression Being Stopped

voter-id-laws-2015Rock Creek, Montana   Luckily in some states, we’re still finding that the law is thankfully on our side.

We’ve mourned the fact that in Kansas they are standing with their arms folded in front of the door holding the ballot box for thousands despite losing in court at every turn, as Republicans led by their rabid Secretary of State spuriously attempt to block some 13,000 or more citizens from the right to vote at least in local and statewide elections where they are just outside the boundaries of the law. We would call it shameless, except that it is all a raw political calculus of maintaining power, literally by hook or crock.

In Texas for the fourth time in about five years voter ID laws have been overturned, this time by the arch conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which says something about how brazen and transparent their disregard for the simple and equal access of a voter’s right to the ballot was. Even though holding the ID laws unconstitutional they essentially sent it back to the state without exactly overruling, but instead demanding that they come up with alternate procedures to allow largely lower income and minority voters some viable alternative to allow them to vote. Suggestions included accepting alternative forms of identification that were more common and less discriminatory. Some may remember that a student ID was not satisfactory as identification for voting in Texas, but for some strange reason a gun license was hunky dory. They also suggested the voting registration card itself, sent dutifully to the registered voter at their home would also be satisfactory, because remember this blatant effort to deny voting access was to voters already ready and able to vote and duly registered and certified by the state. Finally, they even suggested, as Louisiana and other states even allow, that a voter could sign an affidavit certifying their identity, if lacking any other identification, and then proceed to vote. None of this is a perfect solution for an almost unheard of infraction, but at least Texas has been stopped from disenfranchising lower income and minority voters once again until they come up with something newer and less obvious.

Now comes an even more telling smack down of the North Carolina ID law in almost record speed. A federal appeals court, this time the Fourth, not the Fifth, struck down North Carolina’s voter identification requirement, upending voting procedures in this crucial, battleground state slightly more than three months before Election Day. “In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the [lower] court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” the Fourth Circuit panel said of the district court ruling that upheld the law passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.” The appeals court added later, “Faced with this record, we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

Finally, a court didn’t play footsy with the situation and hit the nail on the head. They saw discrimination and unmasked it without bothering to spend much time or trouble dissecting the rationalizations by the legislature. These are three significant victories, but it is hard to believe that they will stem the tide of so many efforts in so many other states to do anything possible to deprive the vote of minorities, Hispanics, and African-Americans. The message is clear that they the courts know they are up to no good, but this seems to be a contest for survival for the Republicans in many states who are more than willing to shred any democratic pretense in their efforts to remain in power by any means possible.

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Trump as Tea Party Devil Spawn

teapartyRock Creek, Montana    One of the books I had thrown in my bag as I left for Montana was an updated, reissued volume published by Oxford Press and sent to me at Social Policy, called The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol, a well-known scholar of American voluntary organizations, and Vanessa Williamson, now at the Brookings Institute. The book is an extensive look at the Tea Party from its inception in 2009 to its usurpation in 2011. They’ve added an epilogue that looked at the rise of Trump before he won the Republican nomination and noted many of the same fires that stoked both these engines, but that was more like waving a red flag for all of us who may have missed the book earlier, even if we couldn’t avoid the point now.

There’s no way to think of Trump and the phenomena he represents without also seeing him as the direct descendant of the outbreak and then successful cooptation of the Tea Party, and the fact that his candidacy offered the now dispersed Tea Party base an opportunity to rise again, expand, and express their continued, unmet demand to “take back America.” Trump is the proudly embraced Tea Party’s devil spawn.

The authors point out that at its heyday, a mere seven years ago, polling put the Tea Party support at around 20% of the American electorate, which at 46 million people would be difficult to ignore. Trying to calculate its actual organizational strength they settled at something like 200,000 members, defined as activists, in about 800 chapters around the country with an average of about 200 members per group. Importantly, they do a good job at looking at the contradictory political positions of this largely older, white political movement. They raised a big tent so there were extremes of the right and racists aplenty, but they were most stone cold in their consensus against immigration. On race they were welcoming of their few black members, embraced black speakers, and most of their leadership, the authors found, tried to hew them closer to middle ground. Yes, much like Trump. They flirt with racism, but steadfastly deny it. About immigration they have no such qualms.

Similarly on social programs, they were anti-welfare, but also opposed to privatization of Social Security and very much in favor of Medicare and other benefits and even in favor of expansion, including to children, despite their heavy mouth breathing about Obamacare. They also weren’t from Kansas, and were in support of public education. The authors also did not find a tight alignment of Tea Party views with the religious right. These were often two ships meeting in the night over abortion and same-sex issues, but a long way from synonymous, which I would argue also helps explain Trump’s ability to walk a line between these forces successfully.

They don’t spend a lot of time on the theme of how successful billionaires, like the Kochs, and media manipulators, like Fox News, seized the Tea Party momentum, and politicians like the wave of candidates elected in 2010 waving their banners so to speak, like Rubio, Cruz and others, usurped their issues, co-opted their energy, and tried to graft them onto their own, often self-serving programs and causes. This is a story waiting to be told and at the heart of understanding both the Trump phenomena as a revival of the same Tea Party protests in general and the estrangement between the Trump, the base, and Republican Party elites whether Speaker Paul Ryan, the Kochs, or countless think tanks, who were willing to play with the Tea Party fire, but never really understood the heat.

Trump did, perhaps intuitively, and 2016 election is the Tea Party fire this time without the party. If we all survive, there’s a lot to learn from all of this.

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