Posts Tagged ‘Voter Suppression’


Words are cheap. Especially the words of politicians denouncing bigotry and racism. Anyone, no matter how bigoted and racist they in fact are, can denounce bigotry and racism.

What matters is action. What you say is far less important than what you do.

Republicans have loudly and publicly denounced racism of late. But let’s take a look at what Republicans have done over the last half-century.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — noted optimist Lyndon B. Johnson said the Democrats would lose the South to the Republicans for “a generation” — the Republican Party adopted its “southern strategy,” pandering to racist southern whites who fled the Democratic Party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act.

At about the same time, Richard Nixon, according to former top aide, John Ehrlichman, proclaimed the disastrous “war on drugs,” which has devastated millions of American lives, as a way of targeting “blacks and hippies” without appearing overtly racist.

One particularly egregious aspect of that “war,” instituted under Ronald Reagan, was the disproportionately vicious penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine (used predominately by blacks) versus the penalties for possession and sale of rock (powder) cocaine (predominately used by whites).

To mask their racism, Republicans have routinely used, and continue to use, “dog whistle” code words that racists understand to refer to blacks and hispanics: “law and order,” “tough on crime,” “coddling criminals,” “welfare queens,” “welfare cheats,” “zero tolerance,” “super predators,” “illegal aliens,” etc., etc. Through use of these and similar terms, Republican politicians can pander to racists — who recognize the users of these terms as kindred spirits — without appearing overtly racist themselves.

And last but not least, Republicans have for decades been attempting to make it more difficult for poor working people — disproportionately black and hispanic — to vote.

  • They’re dead set on keeping voting on Tuesday, a work day, which makes it inconvenient for working people to vote.
  • They’ve also reduced early voting, notably in North Carolina, which again makes it less convenient for working people to vote.
  • They’ve restricted the number of polling places in black and hispanic areas in several states, notably Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, making people wait hours to vote, and outright stopping others, who can’t wait, from voting.
  • They and their propaganda outlet, Fox “News,” have created the myth of voter fraud at the ballot box (while all but ignoring the very real problem of easily hacked electronic voting machines) in order to place unnecessary burdens on low-income voters. The most prominent burden is voter i.d. laws in over half the states, which make it inconvenient for the poor (again, disproportionately black and hispanic), who often have to rely on public transit and pay fees, to obtain the necessary i.d.
  • They’ve purged voter rolls in several states resulting in the disenfranchisement of at minimum tens, more likely hundreds, of thousands of eligible voters. A voter purge in Florida in 2000, targeting black voters, was almost certainly responsible for the election of George W. Bush.
  • They’ve engaged in wholesale racial gerrymandering to reduce the influence of black and hispanic voters. There’s nothing subtle about the way this works. The GOP, which has controlled redistricting in most states since 2010, packs black voters (and here in the Southwest, hispanics) into a few overwhelmingly black or hispanic districts, thus diluting their influence in other districts that would, but for the gerrymandering, be in play. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such gerrymandering in two congressional districts in North Carolina is unconstitutional, which one hopes is a sign of things to come.

In the wake of the Charlottesville domestic terrorism incident, some GOP elected officials are denouncing, or at least distancing themselves from, Donald Trump’s racist apologetics.

Yet virtually all of them, from state representatives to U.S. senators, have engaged in and supported the cynical, anti-democratic, racist activities and practices outlined above.

Judge for yourself how sincere they are.

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No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a number of good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant relative of NAFTA. Among other things, it would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of this abomination. Until she wasn’t. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her.

  • Trump, apparently out of personal pique, cut a debt ceiling “deal” with the Democrats. (It was more like unconditional surrender to them rather than a “deal.”) This will reduce the leverage the Republicans have to screw the public with tax “reform”; the type of “reform” they’ve been talking about would mostly reduce taxes on corporations and the top 1%, so reducing their leverage here is a good thing.

(If there’s one place where I’m completely on board with Trump, it’s in despising Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.)

  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Dems have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so  poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly larger number of those eligible to vote (41% in the last election) who don’t even bother to do it, largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

The major gains of the Labour Party in the UK in the recent election there, under Jeremy Corbyn (the UK’s Bernie Sanders), which successfully went after nonvoters by offering a starkly progressive platform, will, one hopes, provide a further boost to the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind. But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency last November (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s worst dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants (doing the dirtiest, most necessary work), promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (i.e., vicious, tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • By acting as an apologist for neo-Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville, and by pointing out that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders, he’s put a spotlight on a seamy side of American “revolutionary” history that virtually no one talks about. (For more info on this see “A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.)
  • Trump has interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so repulsive and inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won last year, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won last year, would likely mean “game over” for American democracy.

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory last fall hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing.

(Of course, things could get a whole lot worse under Trump. He and his minions are likely too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it, but they almost certainly would take advantage of any of a number of disasters to impose parts of their horrific agenda. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of these possibilities in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”)


There seem to be two explanations for Donald Trump’s attacks on the courts, media, and objective reality: 1) He’s a whining, self-pitying baby who simply can’t stand it when he doesn’t immediately get his own way; 2) He wants to pull a full-Stalin by undermining the institutions that stand in his way — the judiciary and free press — and by creating a false reality in which his followers simply accept his bald-faced lies and self-contradictory statements while ignoring abundant and immediately presented contradictory evidence.

These two explanations are not mutually exclusive; both are probably correct.

So, what do we have to look forward to from Trump and his Republican enablers?

  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act without anything approaching an adequate replacement. Trump and the congressional Republicans will almost certainly take their cues from the insurance industry and big pharma, making healthcare less available and more expensive for the vast majority of people. Probability: Virtually certain. 7-stars-72

 

  • Assaults on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Congressional Republicans will push for “entitlement reform” (never mind that people paid for these things through payroll taxes), which will amount to at the very least reduction in cost-of-living increases for Social Security and reduction of benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and more stringent eligibility requirements for Medicaid recipients. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Full-scale privatization of Social Security and Medicare. The more ideological (read Ayn Rand worshiping) Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, will push hard for this. If this happens, they’ll likely sell it by leaving a weakened Social Security system and Medicare in place for those over 45 or 55, and privatizing both for those under those age limits. This would result in not only younger people losing those benefits in decades to come, but also resentment among them at paying for benefits for older people which they themselves won’t get. Probability: All too possible. 
    4-stars-72

 

  • Increased voter suppression. The Republicans have used entirely manufactured scare stories about “massive voter fraud” at the ballot box, while providing no evidence whatsoever of it, to push through restrictive laws in states across the country that make it more difficult to register to vote (e.g., among the elderly without photo ID and the poor who don’t have cars who’d have to travel to get state ID) and to cast ballots (restricting early voting). This has resulted in the disenfranchisement, at minimum, of hundreds of thousands of voters, and more likely millions of voters. Now, the Republicans seem poised to do this on a national scale. They’re unpopular (look at their approval ratings), desperate to hang onto power, and are very obviously willing to do anything to retain it, including betraying America’s (supposed) democratic principles. Probability: Very, very high. 
    6-stars-72

 

  • Use of a terrorist incident to suppress civil liberties. The chance of Trump creating a “false flag” terrorist incident are low, simply because of Trump and accomplices’ overall incompetence and the outright loathing the intelligence agencies have for Trump; they very probably wouldn’t allow him to get away with this. On the other hand, if there’s continued instability in the Trump Administration, and continued appointment of the grossly incompetent to decision-making positions, it’s all too possible, in part because Trump is playing into ISIS’s and Al-Qaeda’s hands through his fear-mongering rhetoric and Muslim ban. If there were a major terrorist incident, we can expect demonization of all critical voices and opposition movements, legislation restricting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. Probability: Likely under 50/50, but only because of the professionals in the intelligence agencies. 3-stars-72

 

  • Worsening economic inequality. Trump’s economic policies overall, basically trickle-down economics (or as Jim Hightower puts it, “tinkle-down” economics), will result in continued and worsening economic inequality. Lowering taxes on the rich and corporations will do nothing to create new jobs, because demand creates jobs, not “job creators.” When low- and middle-income people receive more money, they spend almost all of it on food, consumer goods, utilities, and services — they have to. This creates jobs. When the rich receive more money, they spend it on stock buybacks, real estate (among other things, driving up the cost of housing), and luxury goods, such as yachts. This creates very few jobs. And this is the direction in which billionaire, entitled-heir Trump is headed. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Continued scapegoating, fear-mongering, and demonization of all opposition. The Clintons, Barack Obama, and the other corporate Democrats paved the way for Trump’s success through their betrayal of those who elected them, through their abject servility to the corporate elite; this resulted in long-simmering anger among working and middle class people. Trump has taken full advantage of this anger and will continue to do so. Probability: Certain. 7-stars-72

 

 


Anarchist Cookbook front cover(from The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, Introduction by Chris Hedges, scheduled for October 2015)

 

Politicians, the corporate media, and the miseducation system routinely present voting as the only legitimate route to political and social change.

But is it? Because of if its very nature, voting cannot lead to fundamental change. No matter who you elect, no matter if you elect “better people,” there will still be some giving orders and others forced to take them, because of the threat, and often the application, of institutionalized violence (police, prisons, the military). When you vote, all you’re doing is choosing who’s in charge of the inherently repressive state apparatus. If your goal is a noncoercive, free and equal society, you cannot get from here to there; you cannot get there through voting.

A brief glance at the Western democracies confirms this. No one in his or her right mind would contend that centuries of electoral politics have brought anything approaching full freedom and equality to the US or the UK. The best that voting seems capable of producing is the social-democratic systems of the Scandinavian countries. But even there, you still have government (organized coercion) and capitalism–an ecocidal system of economic inequality, with some giving orders and others forced to take them–overlaid by a veneer of social welfare measures.

Of course, this veneer matters. It reduces–but doesn’t come close to eliminating–the economic inequality inherent to capitalism. Publicly funded healthcare, education, childcare, food assistance, public transit, unemployment benefits, and retirement benefits all make the day-to-day lives of poor and working people in capitalist countries much more bearable than they would otherwise be. But at the same time, such social welfare measures are almost certainly at the outer limit of what electoral politics can deliver. Centuries of cumulative experience in dozens of electoral democracies strongly suggest this is so.

If you’re content with that, fine. But don’t pretend that that’s freedom and equality. Even in the best social-democratic system, you’ll still have a relatively small number of politicians, bureaucrats, and capitalists giving orders and the vast majority of people forced to take them. In other words, you’ll still have ruling elites.

Given this, is voting a useless or worse-than-useless activity? No. It’s silly to pretend that it is. The social welfare programs mentioned above are worthwhile, and were achieved in good part through the electoral process. As well, initiatives and referendums–for example, on marijuana legalization–can clearly be of public benefit. One might also ask, if voting is useless, why are theofascist Republicans so intent on denying black people, latinos, the poor, and young people the right to vote?

At the same time, belief that voting is the sole legitimate means of social change is harmful. It induces many idealistic young people to waste huge amounts of time on political campaigns. A great many, probably most, eventually recognize the ultimate futility of electoral politics and burn out. Believing that there are no other means to social change, they lapse into cynicism and inactivity. This cycle repeats decade after decade after decade.

But that’s not to say voting is entirely useless. It can produce limited reforms. Recognizing its marginal utility, Howard Zinn once remarked that voting takes five minutes, so why not?

Just don’t waste much time on it, and don’t expect it to fundamentally change anything.