If we’re completely honest with ourselves, this election season is a mess. The messiness is a result of several converging factors, chief among them the voter suppression efforts and the Donald Trump effect.
Recent voter suppression legislation is a direct backlash against the diverse electorate that turned out for the 2008 presidential election. Since then states across the country have passed measures making it increasingly difficult for vulnerable populations to exercise the right to vote — particularly black people, students, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities. This disenfranchisement has come in the form of voter identification laws, gerrymandering, the elimination of early voting, and purging the voter rolls.
In fact, according to the ACLU, since 2008 there were 27 measures in 19 states that made voting more difficult. And in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the “pre-clearance” requirement that acted as a check on states with a history of discriminatory practices.
The court was divided and Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, stating:
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that the evidence of less discrimination in the electoral process meant that the VRA was working as intended. She cited hundreds of rejections of proposed amendments from various states that the Department of Justice deemed to have discriminatory intent. She wrote further:
“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRAs eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer necessary… With this belief and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”
Indeed, the 2013 decision had an immediate impact. Texas immediately implemented a voter identification law that had previously been blocked, and most recently, Alabama has come under fire for requiring specific identification for voting, then closing the issuing bodies in prominently poor, black jurisdictions.
Now that the election season is in full swing, we can truly see the impact of voter suppression, particularly in the supposed low turnout of Democratic voters. According to author and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the aforementioned voter suppression strategies have been successful by limiting absentee ballots, purging students and veterans from the rolls, and reducing the number of polling places available in Democratic precincts.
What’s worse, during the March 15 primaries, there were reports of ballots shortages from Michigan to Illinois, to Florida with some precincts refusing to extend polling hours. Ironically, the shortages were, blamed on uncharacteristically high voter turnout, but there’s also evidence to support the claim that the low turnout is most severe in states with strict new voter ID laws.
And then there’s the Trump effect, which seems to have the political world completely baffled. In the same post where he discusses the low Democratic voter turnout, Reich also notes that “[T]rump’s incendiary candidacy has excited some Republicans who rarely if ever turnout for primaries and caucuses.”
But it’s not the Trump supporters showing up at the polls contributing to the current primary election circus; it’s how they behave at rallies around the country. In recent months, Trump supporters have become increasingly violent, including shoving a University of Louisville student around at one event, and a protester getting “sucker punched” while being escorted from another. A recent Chicago rally was even canceled because of a “clash” between protesters and Trump supporters.
By most accounts (except Trump’s, of course), the violence at Trump rallies can be traced back to the man himself. Not only has he encouraged supporters to “rough up” protesters, he even offered to pay their legal fees. Check out the video below where MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow outlines exactly how the violence has escalated over the last few months.
“Anybody who tells you there is no connection between the behavior of the mob at these events, and the man at the podium leading the mob at these events, is not actually watching what he has been saying at the podium. And what what he has been saying and the way he has been egging this thing on… it is escalating.”
Indeed, the violence is escalating at Trump events and none of this is happening in a vacuum. Analysts attribute the political power Trump currently enjoys to a general rise in American authoritarianism driven by neoliberal economic policy and the racist backlash against President Barack Obama perpetuated by the Republican party.
The growth in income inequality has caused opportunities and privilege among working class White Americans to shrink. At the same time the GOP reaction to the first African American president stoked racial frustrations that turned him, and people of color generally into scapegoats for political discord.
Jamelle Bouie, political correspondent for Slate notes:
“In a nation shaped and defined by a rigid racial hierarchy, [Barack Obama’s] election was very much a radical event, in which a man from one of the nation’s lowest castes ascended to the summit of its political landscape…The Obama era didn’t herald a post-racial America as much as it did a racialized one, where millions of whites were hyperaware of and newly anxious about their racial status.”
Ultimately, people are afraid and hurting. They feel their power slipping away, both politically and economically. However dangerous and hateful, Donald Trump has legitimized and given them an outlet for expressing this fear. These are the same frustrations powering the Bernie Sanders campaign, only Sanders focuses on addressing the root causes such as socio-economic inequality, rather than stoking the flames of hatred.
So here we are, halfway through primary season, with American citizens across the board looking around hoping the 2016 election will end in some kind of order and with anyone besides Trump in the office of the president. For those who live in states that haven’t passed restrictive voter suppression laws, our votes for both president as well as Congressional representatives are that much more crucial. At this point, our vote is the only thing that can bring order to the chaos — our votes and the hope that the GOP won’t reap what it has sown at the cost of the American people at large.
Image Credits: AFP