I’m old enough to remember 1965. A year when Americans were churning cream into butter, learning the alphabet and singing “All the colors that I know/Live up in the rainbow.”
Oh wait, that was just me, in Miss McCloud’s kindergarten class. The most significant event for the rest of our country in 1965 was passage of the Voting Rights Act.
When the media revisits Selma, it’s too bad we focus on state troopers attacking marchers with their nightsticks and dogs but skate past the reason the protesters are there in the first place: trying to give Black Americans the ability to vote. They already had the right, by law, thanks to the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.
But what the law allows and what people are actually permitted to do can be two very different things. African Americans were turned away from voting by all sorts of sham literacy tests and poll taxes. For 100 years.
Today “voter fraud” is the 2020 version of literacy tests, and restricting vote-by-mail and ballot drop boxes was the latest incarnation of poll taxes: vehicles for disenfranchising voters. Turns out that the same folks who so adore the 2nd Amendment don’t care at all about the 15th.
As we blink into the roaring cyclone of lies that is the Trump administration, it’s easy to overlook the ever bolder racism. But where in Pennsylvania does Trump lie about, over and over, as having a corrupt voting process? Philadelphia. And what is the largest racial group in Philadelphia? African Americans, at 44 percent.
The ridiculousness of Rudy Giuliani’s press conference last week at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, like police violence in Selma, overshadowed the giveaway in Giuliani’s remarks: “I know this city has a sad history of voter fraud. After all, Joe Frazier is still voting here.”
Giuliani repeated the lie, adding Will Smith’s grandfather.
You have to wonder: When conjuring up imaginary voter fraud, why pick those two particular Pennsylvanians? Why not Kevin Bacon and Taylor Swift? Oh right, because Frazier and Smith’s grandfather, one assumes, were Black, and thus terrifying to MAGA world.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John Roberts mused.
We haven’t changed. Obviously. That’s a key takeaway from the Trump years, assuming they’re almost over. The demons we fancied had been conquered were merely nestled under a rock, waiting for it to be flipped over.
After 2013, Southern states began busily constricting the rights of citizens to vote, under the guise of preventing nonexistent voter fraud, a banner that Trump greedily seized.
It’s too early for a Trump post-mortem. We got to get rid of him first. But his era is not without value. It forced us to confront where we’ve been and where we are, and offers a warning of worse to come.
Trump didn’t invent voter suppression. He found the country this way. To be honest, Trump may ultimately be responsible for more progress than Barack Obama ever achieved.
How so? Obama offered hope and an illusion of racial progress at the very moment the most fundamental right of Black citizenry, the right to vote, was being kneecapped. Trump put a lie to all that, exposing systemic racism — inadvertently, of course — plus, as a bonus, giving white Americans a taste of what having their vote quashed feels like.
“Illusions will not save us,” Eddie S. Glaude Jr. writes. “They have to be smashed.”
To do that, we first must see them. Take a good look: Republicans do not believe in democracy, because they are a minority and can only rule by sabotaging elections.
If Trump manages to steal a second term, our country will not change fundamentally but rather, revert to form. If he doesn’t, we have a chance — another chance — to do what we should have done from the start: guarantee that every American has the right to make his or her choice known in the voting booth.
My radical agenda is to ensure every citizen can vote, safely and easily. Too many Americans were denied that right, historically. Too many do not have it now. Achieving it won’t be easy. I’m old enough to remember when Americans were kept from voting because of the color of their skin. That was 1965. And 2020. And every day in between.