Opinion | Supreme Leader of Voter Suppression


Regardless of what has happened since the election two months ago, or what may happen in the next few weeks, Joe Biden will almost assuredly be inaugurated the president on Jan. 20, and Donald J. Trump’s official reign of presidential terror will end that day.

But, that is cold comfort, as we have trudged through these last months of President Trump trying, at every turn, to overthrow the will of the people by overturning the election he lost in November. Even if his ultimate loss is inevitably secured, it seems as though he is burning down the village as he retreats.

Trump has essentially claimed that fraud occurred during the election in large swing-state cities within counties that have large African-American populations — cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. But there’s a problem with that implicit theory, as The New York Times pointed out in November: “All three cities voted pretty much the same way they did in 2016. Turnout barely budged, relative to other areas in these states. Joseph R. Biden Jr. saw no remarkable surge in support — certainly nothing that would bolster claims of ballot stuffing or tampered vote tallies. Mr. Trump even picked up marginally more votes this year in all three cities than he did four years ago.”

Trump didn’t lose this election in the cities, he lost it in the suburbs. But that thought is antithetical to the war Trump wants to wage in America between the suburbs and what he deems problematic “inner cities” and “Democrat-run cities” — code for where concentrations of Black people and other people of color live. That prevailing racialized perception in conservative politics is part of the danger that Trump’s campaign to undermine the election poses: It threatens to strengthen efforts to disenfranchise Black voters and other voters of color who disproportionately vote for Democrats in the future.

Trump has contended that his challenge to the election is about “ensuring that Americans can have faith in this election and in all future elections.” As Jay Willis pointed out in The Washington Post, “Even after Trump’s presidency ends, that message will pave the way for G.O.P. politicians and judges to further one of their party’s and the conservative movement’s most important ongoing projects: restricting voting rights.” He continued: “Trump lost this election, but he can still help Republicans win in the future.”

Conservatives in America — whether they were acting under the banner of Democrats a hundred years ago or under the Republican one today — have engaged in a campaign for racial exclusion at the ballot ever since Black people — only Black men at first — gained access to the franchise.

Trump not only attempted to erase Black votes after they were cast, he attempted to suppress them before they were cast. This is nothing new among conservatives, but Trump has dragged the practice out of the back rooms and into the light of day once again, giving it a telegenic, digitally contagious persona.

And the Republican Party, or at least large portions of it, seems to have embraced Trump’s approach of making voter suppression a front-and-center, out-in-the-open central tenet of their electoral strategy.

As Eric Levitz pointed out in New York Magazine: “The G.O.P. is now a party that has no compunction about nullifying the voting rights of its opposition to retain power. And once a party has liberated itself from the shackles of respecting its detractors’ rights, much else becomes permissible.”

We have heard much talk about how Trump’s bogus battle weakens democracy by causing people to lose faith in elections. But we don’t talk enough about how for Black people and other racial minorities, this isn’t only about faith. For them, it’s about being able to participate in elections at all.

Now Trump’s battle moves to Congress, where a group of Republicans plans to challenge the counting of state Electoral College votes. This effort, too, is expected to fail. But it will provide yet another spectacle on a grand stage for the lie that Trump and his sycophantic courtiers have sown: that the political machine in liberal cities full of Blacks, hipsters, gays and gangs stole elections from the real Americans in the hinterlands.

What we are seeing unfold before our eyes is not about building trust in elections, it is anti-patriotic. It is not about ensuring that every legal vote is counted. It’s about attempting to legally limit whose ballots can be counted.

Trump is attempting to drag Jim Crow into the Twitter era.

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