Last time I discussed how voter ID laws disproportionately affect poor people - the elderly, the working poor, and people of color - and cases of GOP politicians admitting (or facing proof) that their initiatives were meant to favor their own party in elections, because those affected adversely the most were in groups that voted Democratic - especially African-Americans. I also pointed out a Supreme Court ruling, in 2013, that removed protections against discrimination enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The conservative judges who voted in favor of that action explained that racial discrimination is no longer an issue in the 21st century, since, after all, we had a black president at the time, so those laws were no longer needed. Like dominos, red state legislatures immediately started passing laws restricting voting that primarily affected African-American voters and districts.
At around the same time, conservative politicians and media started raising a cry about another alleged problem: “illegal aliens” in large numbers voting in national elections (which, of course, is illegal). This cry has persisted; just recently I have seen several headlines claiming Democrats are soft on immigration because they want to let in a huge number of undocumented immigrants whom they encourage to vote illegally. Statistics have shown that, from 2000 to 2011, there were just 56 cases of non-citizens voting - again, a matter of calling for solutions to a problem that does not exist. I don’t know about you, but every undocumented immigrant I’ve ever known would bend over backwards to avoid drawing attention to themselves or doing anything risky, like brazenly going down to the polling station knowing it was illegal. There have been a lot of conservative claims in the last few years of huge numbers of such incidents, but without any documentation (ironically). Sure, there are a few individual cases you can point to but no evidence of it happening in significant numbers. I’ve probably seen as many reports of Republicans getting caught double-voting for Trump.
Numbers don’t seem to matter, though, as the goal is to evoke fear in the Republican base AND to erode faith in the voting process, all with a view to restricting the vote of minorities who might vote Democratic. Notice that the swing-state cities that Trump targeted as centers of massive voter fraud, whose votes should not count, were primarily cities with large black populations (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit). Again, I remind you of those Jim Crow tactics we discussed earlier.
Since I brought up the T-word, let’s discuss Donald Trump: he took all the dog whistles and plausible deniabilities that Republicans had been using since Nixon and amplified them, taking direct aim at the integrity of the American voting process. Remember when every Republican candidate was willing to swear that they would accept the results of the primary… except Trump? He believes that the only possible way he could lose any election is if the other side cheated. By announcing ahead of time that he would never concede any election, because his loss would be proof of voter fraud, he was priming his supporters, too, to refuse to believe the numbers if he lost. This goes against a long tradition of the losers in very close elections conceding defeat to avoid dividing the country. This divides the country in advance.
The day before the election, in November 2016, polls said Hillary Clinton was going to win. This enraged many Trump voters, because it was proof to them that the election was being “stolen.” I made a mild comment on a friend’s Facebook page that day, and I received physical threats. Someone I knew personally and thought of as a friend said that if Trump lost the next day he would lead a group of people to my house to beat me up. Another, whom I barely knew, threatened to come after me with a gun.
This was only the beginning.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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