Point Austin: Circle the Firing Squad
When you look for villains, look in the right direction
Although most of us on the progressive side of the U.S. political spectrum remain a little shell-shocked by the presidential election results, we've found plenty of time and energy for one of our favorite occupations: blaming each other for what went wrong. Everybody's got a pet theory: Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate (multiple sub-reasons); she spent too much time in (pick your states) Nevada instead of Michigan; the Dem campaign lost connection with the working class (reflexively presumed to mean "white" working class); the ground campaign didn't sufficiently boost the turnout; and of course, we shoulda nominated Bernie ....
Take your pick. There's some justification for each of those rationales, although each could just as easily be picked apart. As of Wednesday (according to several sites monitoring the still-ongoing counts), the "wrong candidate" was leading her opponent nationally by more than 1 million votes, and on pace for a larger final margin than John Kennedy over Richard Nixon (1960) or Nixon over Hubert Humphrey (1968), and likely the largest margin of any presidential candidate who "lost." As for the working class: Voters who annually earn less than $50,000 broke for Clinton – higher on the scale, the (white) vote went the other way. I won't re-litigate in full the Sanders argument, still raging online – but will only ask, does anybody truly believe that Sanders would have motivated higher (and absolutely necessary) turnout among minority voters, by whom he was soundly rejected in the primaries?
That rhetorical question in fact leads in a different direction. Whatever these other factors, the overwhelming reason the Democrats lost this presidential election is that in matters of voting rights, the other side is completely unscrupulous – and publicly so. The Republican Party has engaged in a decades-long project of official voter suppression accompanied by radical gerrymandering, with the result that in most states, its designated candidates (presidential, congressional, or state) never have to engage on a level playing field. To call such elections "rigged" is a simple statement of fact – and the rigging takes place out in the open.
How to Steal Elections
Consider only Wisconsin, where Donald Trump's margin of victory was roughly 27,000 votes. According to The Nation's Ari Berman, who has been following the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 2013 rejection of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, new Wisconsin regulations meant that 300,000 registered voters lacked the newly required IDs, and turnout was the lowest in 20 years, down in heavily minority Milwaukee by more than 50,000 votes. In all, 14 states had instituted new, more restrictive voting laws (including Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and of course Texas), and where court rulings had overturned some of those rules (e.g., Texas), many poll workers (to be charitable) apparently hadn't gotten the word.
And that's if the voters could find a poll. In swing-state North Carolina, there were 27 fewer polling places than in 2014 (a void that especially affected African-American neighborhoods); in Arizona, 212 fewer polls; in Texas, where Dems briefly hoped for better results, there were 403 fewer polling places. Virtually all these voting restrictions – and I've specified only a few of them – fall most heavily on young voters, poor voters, minority voters – groups that traditionally vote Democratic.
Think that all this intentional, "legal" voter suppression might have affected the ultimate outcome? As Democrats circle to shoot each other for their myriad sins of omission, they might occasionally take a moment to consider the actions of their real enemies: Republican officials from the local to the federal level, who have long understood that to "win" democratic elections, their best weapons are to divide and shrink the electorate.
The Zimmerman Rules
In that context, let's all take a moment to bid farewell to City Council Member Don Zimmerman, soundly defeated by CM-elect Jimmy Flannigan. Zimmerman's 2009 lawsuit against the Voting Rights Act (then representing the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1, better known locally as his home suburb, Canyon Creek), while not entirely victorious, helped set the stage for the undermining of the VRA. Ultimately, the Supremes would later rule (in Chief Justice John Roberts' words) that "the South has changed," and the Department of Justice no longer needs to "pre-clear" procedural voting changes likely to adversely affect minority voters. After all, President Barack Obama's election reflected the end of racism, right?
Perhaps we're learning differently under the Trump regime, which is about to install a white supremacist as "presidential strategist." As I wrote last week, Texans wondering what life under Trump might be like should look around them, where the hard-right GOP has been in charge for many years. You'll see underfunding of education and health care, environmental negligence, bristling militarism at the border, scapegoating of refugees and immigrants – all reactionary policies that most heavily affect minority populations.
We can go on blaming each other, or we can resume the fight against those – from Trump on down – who have rigged the system against us all.