Tag Archives: Georgia

The Beginning Of The End?

These days, optimism comes hard. But there are reasons for hope.

For one thing, despite the incredibly discouraging fact that upwards of seventy million Americans voted for a racist incompetent who posed an obvious danger to the stability of the entire world, eighty-one million voted otherwise.

And despite the fact that we are seeing something akin to a civil war between Americans who take the country’s aspirations for equality seriously and the White nationalists and their fellow-travelers who fear loss of unearned privilege, Georgia has elected a Black Senator. (It is equally notable that Georgia also elected a Jewish one, since–as the photos coming out of the insurrection at the Capitol illustrated–racism and anti-Semitism are inextricably entwined.)

An article in Time Magazine, published a mere two days after the assault on the Capitol, insisted that Southern resistance to Black equality is on the wane–that the South deserves a “New Political Story.”

The author referenced the fact that Ted Cruz–aka “Mr. Despicable”– had modeled his performative “objections” to the receipt of Electoral College votes on the “infamous and racist” Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1876.  That “compromise” ended Reconstruction; it gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops protecting Black citizens in the South.

That agreement led to a nearly century-long reign of racial terror that reinvigorated the Ku Klux Klan, subjected Black people to quotidian forms of racial terror and mob violence, violently ejected Black men from both government office and the public sphere through lynching and the threat of it, and subjected Black women to rape at the hands of ravenous white men.

The author says that it is this violent racial past–a past that I’m pretty confident is not taught in our nation’s history classes–  makes the Georgia Senate elections of Warnock and Ossoff so significant, and she counsels against accepting “the narrative that retrograde 19th and mid-20th century racial politics are winning.”

They are not. Do not mistake the death rattle for a victory cry. And do not let the war cries of angry white people drown out the resounding and clarion calls from Black women organizers and strategists and voters of color who have made clear that Trump’s America is not their America.

The article surveys other deep-south states and finds Black elected officials in previously unlikely places. And while she concedes that White backlash has often won the day, she insists that grassroots organizing and GOTV campaigns can prevent that result this time around.

The article made me think about the Darren Walker observation I shared previously, to the effect that democracy is the antidote to inequality. I truly believe that if every citizen who is entitled to cast a ballot is allowed to do so, White nationalists will lose. It isn’t simply because the ranks of Americans of color are growing, it’s because Americans of good will–Americans who embrace the unrealized aspirations of our constituent documents–outnumber those who are desperately clinging to their privileged status.

I want to believe that the ugliness we are seeing truly is a “death rattle” of a tribalism based on skin color, gender and religion. But I also know that people who fear a loss of status will not be defeated by warm thoughts, by sermons from authentic Christians, or by appeals to their own material self-interest. (Most of them define self-interest culturally, not economically.)

Stacey Abrams and other Black women in Georgia have demonstrated the way forward. Those of us who live in other “Southern” states (I would include Indiana in that cohort) need to take a page from her book. We need to identify the people of good will–of every color, gender and religion/non-religion–and get them to the polls. But we also need to abolish all of the structural impediments that have been erected to prevent or discourage people from voting–starting with gerrymandering.

As I keep saying, we have our work cut out for us.

 

Lessons From Georgia

If Jews recognized saints, I’d lobby for Stacy Abrams.

Readers of this blog undoubtedly know the impetus for “Fair Fight,” her organization dedicated to combatting vote suppression and increasing registration of previously unregistered/unmotivated citizens. Abrams ran for Governor against Brian Kemp, who was then the Secretary of State administering that same election, a glaring conflict of interest. Kemp threw out some fifty-thousand registrations–most of which were from Black voters–on what observers called thin pretexts, which helped him win that election.

Abrams, formerly minority leader of the Georgia Statehouse, did what far too few of us do in such circumstances. She didn’t retreat to lick her wounds; instead, she created a movement to challenge vote suppression, engage the previously disengaged, and make the system work properly.

As an article in the New York Times yesterday put it, Abrams is currently one of the most influential American politicians not in elected office.

Abrams conceived the strategy and built the political infrastructure its implementation required. As a result, turnout among the state’s Black, Latino and Asian voters increased substantially. Her work was pivotal to Biden’s presidential win in Georgia, and in yesterday’s Senate run-offs.

Of course, yesterday’s stunning results also owed a debt to our insane President, whose illegal, embarrassing and unhinged attacks on the Republicans running Georgia’s election apparatus evidently depressed turnout in areas that were previously heavily pro-Trump. (As one Republican official reportedly noted, the GOP had to overcome the burdens of unappealing candidates and a maniac President..)

So–improbable as it may seem, the very southern State of Georgia will send a Black man and a Jewish man to the U.S. Senate. (File under “Miracles Happen.”)

Aside from the depressing fact that some 70 million Americans cast  ballots for the maniac, and the even more horrifying sight of a mob of goons, thugs and White Supremacists storming the Capitol yesterday in an attempted coup to support that maniac (more about that tomorrow), what lessons can we take from the ways in which this election cycle has played out thus far? 

The most obvious lesson–courtesy of Stacy Abrams–is the importance of grass-roots organizing. Whether a similar effort in Indiana would be effective is debatable, since our state lacks the substantial minority population on which Abrams built. But it certainly seems worth a try.

There is also a less obvious, but equally important lesson, and it is the extreme damage done by the way the electoral college operates today,and gives oxygen to the Trumpian mobs.

The linked op-ed, co-authored by Trevor Potter and Charles Fried, makes that case. Potter is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, appointed by George H.W. Bush.  Fried was solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. (Hint: They aren’t among those “socialists” that Republicans see everywhere.)

Potter and Fried argue that the 2020 presidential election has been a disaster for people who think the Electoral College is still a good idea.

The presidential election is really 51 elections, each conducted and certified by its jurisdiction. Those who support the continued use of the Electoral College system say that the states “speak” to one another through it and so it performs a vital role in promoting national unity and the constitutional system…

But the multiple challenges to the votes of the people this year — expressed through the states and their votes in the Electoral College — teach us that the Electoral College is a fragile institution, with the potential for inflicting great damage on the country when norms are broken. Many of the attempts to subvert the presidential election outcome this year are made possible by the arcane structure and working of the Electoral College process and illustrate the potential for the current Electoral College to promote instability rather than the stability the framers sought.

Actually, I agree with the historians and constitutional scholars like Akhil Reed Amar, who argue “stability” had nothing to do with it–that the Electoral College was the price paid to keep slave states in the newly formed union. But Potter and Fried are certainly correct when they assert that this election cycle has provided a roadmap to politicians of either party who want to change an election’s outcome through postelection manipulation of the Electoral College, and that the mere existence of such a roadmap is destabilizing.

All of this will, and should, propel calls for modernization of the Electoral College. Many will seek its abolition and replacement by a single nationwide poll. But at the very least, the irrational intricacies of the 1887 Electoral Count Act should be replaced by a uniform system guaranteeing that the popular vote in each state controls the ultimate allocation of that state’s electors. The 2020 election has highlighted the destabilizing tendencies in the current system and the need for reform.

Americans have a lot of work to do. In the interim, I plan to light a candle to Stacy Abrams…

 

Ladies And Gentlemen, I Give You Today’s GOP

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be his running mate.

Harris is a walking, talking embodiment of the America that so terrifies white nationalists: an Indian mother, a Jamaican father, a Jewish husband. She’s also a whip-smart lawyer and a seasoned public servant. Harris is one of a new generation of highly accomplished, very diverse Democrats–and by “diverse” I don’t simply mean that their ranks include many men and women of color; they are also ideologically, religiously and geographically diverse.

Then there are the Republicans.

Yesterday also saw primary elections in a number of states. In one of those, in Georgia, a white loony-toons conspiracy theorist handily  won the GOP nod for Congress. (In all fairness, it was a female loony-toons conspiracy theorist, so maybe that’s progress.)

Conspiracy theorists won a major victory on Tuesday as a Republican supporter of the convoluted pro-Trump movement QAnon triumphed in her House primary runoff election in Georgia, all but ensuring that she will represent a deep-red district in Congress.

The ascension of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who embraces a conspiracy theory that the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat, came as six states held primary and runoff elections on Tuesday.

Greene has also made a series of videos in which she complains of an “Islamic invasion,”  claims Black and Hispanic men are held back by “gangs and dealing drugs,” and pushes an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. After her win was announced, Trump gave her his “full-thoated support.”

The Brookings Institution , as well as the FBI, has confirmed that (despite Trump’s rants about “antifa” and Black Lives Matter) members of white supremacist organizations and adherents of widespread conspiracy theories like QAnon (largely embraced by white nationalists) are responsible for most of the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In the last four years, violence linked to white supremacy has eclipsed jihadi violence as the predominant form of terrorism in the United States. Beyond high-profile terrorist attacks in the United States like the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue and 2019 El Paso Walmart shootings, white supremacists have also tried to seize on the protests following George Floyd’s death to foment chaos.

In the Georgia GOP primary, Ms. Greene defeated a neurosurgeon described as “no less conservative or pro-Trump.” She held a lead of nearly 15 percentage points early Wednesday.

The New York Times story, linked above, reported that Greene’s victory “is likely to unsettle mainstream Republicans.”  But there really aren’t many–if any– “mainstream” Republicans left, a reality that seemed to escape the authors of the report (and continues to escape most of the Times political reporters).

The reality–especially painful for those of us who spent years working for a very different Republican Party–is that Donald Trump is not an anomaly, and today’s GOP is no longer a political party connected to a set of governing principles and policies. Today, to be a member of what is now the GOP cult is to adopt a tribal identity –an identity characterized by white grievance and a furious rejection of scientific, demographic and moral reality.

Not to mention sanity.

QAnon is a wild, unfounded belief that Donald Trump, of all people, is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media–a war that will lead to a day of reckoning on which prominent people like Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed. A troubling percentage of today’s GOP base believes it.

I keep thinking back to that great–and prescient– speech from the 1995 movie An American President, when Michael Douglas, playing the President, thunders

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. 

Today’s Republican Party has become a cult composed of lightly-tethered-to-reality know-nothings who have uncritically and enthusiastically embraced the party’s only consistent, remaining message:  “You should fear ‘those people’ –the ones who don’t look or worship like real (i.e.white Christian) Americans. They are to blame for all of your problems and disappointments.” 

And so it goes….

 

 

Balanced Budgets And Tax Caps

For years, it has been a GOP article of faith that the United States should pass a balanced budget amendment. Here in Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels was the driving force behind the “constitutionalization” of tax caps–adding a measure to the state’s constitution limiting state and local government’s taxing power.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed in Congress, and the federal government retained authority for the massive deficit spending needed to ease what will certainly be a major recession or a depression in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Indiana, we weren’t so lucky; Mitch Daniels successfully curried voter favor by decimating the ability of cities to adequately fund services and hobbling the state’s ability to meet unanticipated crises.

The average voter doesn’t recognize the different functions of constitutions and statutes, or understand why specific tax provisions of this sort don’t belong in the former.  Most Hoosiers thought it was a good idea to place tax caps in the state’s charter, making it difficult–if not impossible–to change direction if the need arose. Now, the state of Georgia–which has a similar restriction–is demonstrating just how short-sighted and damaging it is to elect people who are more concerned with politics than good policy.

From Heather Cox Richardson’s daily “Letter,”(no link, but her URL is heathercoxrichardson@substack.com) we learn about an investigation by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.

Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.

Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.

The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.

By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls. (Emphasis supplied.)

We already knew that Kemp was despicable; a man for whom the word “ethics” is clearly meaningless–as Secretary of State, he refused to recuse himself and oversaw the Gubernatorial election in which he was a candidate. By throwing out some 50,000+ registrations from African-American voters, he narrowly deprived Stacy Abrams of a victory in that race.

This effort to deprive low-income workers in Georgia of the ability to claim unemployment is equally contemptible, but it is also equally attributable to the restrictive provisions in Georgia’s constitution.

Indiana’s constitution requires a balanced budget. That requirement need not be debilitating–if the state and its subdivisions can raise taxes to meet unanticipated challenges. Thanks to Mitch Daniels, his successors in the Governor’s office are unable to do that. Governor Holcomb thus far seems like a pretty solid guy–a throwback to the kind of Republicans I used to know–so I am hopeful he won’t emulate Georgia’s Kemp.

When rightwing Congress-critters bloviated about a Balanced Budget Amendment, cooler heads pointed to the perils and prevailed. When Republicans in the Indiana statehouse crowed about putting tax caps in the constitution to “protect” taxpayers, warnings by fiscal and tax policy experts were pooh-poohed.

Politics won, sane and informed policy lost.

Isn’t there a song called “Georgia on my mind”?

Georgia On My Mind

Can we talk about Americans’ widespread confusion over religious liberty?

Georgia lawmakers recently approved a bill that says church officials can refuse to perform gay marriages. (Evidently, supporters of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” do know that religious leaders already have that protection under the First Amendment, but they argue that passage of the measure will “reassure them.”)

The “Pastor Protection Act” was one of at least eight other bills pending in the Georgia legislature sponsored by opponents of same-sex marriages. They included Georgia’s very own RFRA, which is headed for passage over the vocal objections of state business leaders. Georgia’s RFRA already prompted 373k, a Decatur-based telecom startup, to announce it would relocate to Nevada; yesterday, it generated an editorial about state-level RFRAs in the New York Times:

These brazen measures, going beyond the Indiana law, would create blanket protection for discrimination. That these states would consider such legislation is all the more remarkable given the damage Indiana’s image and economy suffered in the national backlash to its law.

One of the most alarming bills comes out of Georgia, where state lawmakers have cobbled together a dangerous piece of legislation that would prohibit the government from punishing anyone or anything — individuals; businesses; and nonprofit groups, including those that receive taxpayer funds — for discrimination, so long as they claim it was based on their religious views of marriage.

 We’ve seen this movie before.

Decades of foot-dragging in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education was nothing short of scandalous; resistance to the 1964 Civil Rights Act continues to this day, and now, in the.wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, states like Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana—among others—are engaging in the same sorts of behaviors that followed those previous extensions of equal rights.

In fact, what we are seeing from “religious” folks today is strikingly similar to “religious” arguments against civil rights protections for African-Americans in 1964. Then, the argument was “my religion teaches that the races are to be kept separate, so requiring my bakery or shoe store to serve black customers would deny me religious freedom.”

So what is the First Amendment right to religious freedom? How extensive is it? What does it protect?

As I tell my students, religious freedom means you have the absolute right to believe anything you want. Jesus, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or nothing at all—it’s entirely up to you. And your church or synagogue or coven can preach about those beliefs, reject participation in events offensive to those beliefs, and even hire and fire certain employees based upon religious doctrine.

When it comes to acting on the basis of your beliefs, however, the law erects some limits. You can sincerely, deeply believe that you should sacrifice your first-born, or that prayer, not medical intervention, will cure your child’s serious disease, but you are not allowed to act on those beliefs. (You can refuse medical care for yourself, but not for your minor child.) You can believe that your God wants you to rob that bank, or use drugs, or copulate in the middle of the street, but no matter how sincere your belief, government isn’t going to go along.

Except in very rare cases, religious belief does not exempt individuals from what the courts call “laws of general application.”

Here’s the deal: when you open a business, government provides the streets and sidewalks your customers use to access that business. Police and fire departments protect it from harm. When your toilets flush, government sewers remove the excrement.  In many areas, government picks up your trash and provides public transportation for your customers and employees. In return for these and other services, government expects you to do two things: pay your taxes and obey the laws.

Including civil rights laws. Even if you live in Georgia, or Indiana.