Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Republican Party and civil rights: any update since 1924?

By Scott V. Sandford 
Justice Editor with 
Ethan Mendelowitz-Bradford, Social Media Aggregator Intern or whatever 

Those of you who enjoy wasting time on Twistagram or Snapbook have undoubtedly come across a species of reactionary agitprop the point of which is the Republican Party is the real friend of black Americans because – wait for it – the Democratic Party was in the past the party most associated with Southern racism and resistance to civil rights.

Thus there are endless bits about how most pre-Civil War slaveholders were Democrats, how Lincoln (a Republican!) freed the slaves (who knew?), and how past Democratic conventions were known as “Klanbakes.” We will admit that Abraham Lincoln was in fact a Republican and he did free the slaves, albeit in phases.

As for the rest of it, while we may not be the sharpest blade in the social media drawer, even we know that providing examples of this nonsense only gives it wider currency. It also provides free advertising for thirsty wingnuts, graduates of Dartmouth, and other dubious sorts, but here's one example of their debunking at the hands of real historians like Kevin Kruse and journalists like Jennifer Mendelsohn:

In any event, the racist past of the Democratic Party at least prior to 1960 is well known and as with so much else in American history, something to be ashamed of. And we would be the last person to deny the importance of understanding and learning from history. But the history of civil rights in America didn’t end in 1924. It goes on right up to and including last week.

What happened last week? We’ll get to that in 400 words or so, but to understand the significance of last week’s developments, we need to examine a little – history. [You’re starting to sound like Rachel Maddow here – Ed.].

From about 1876 until 1965, Southern states, admittedly run by Democrats, instituted a vast array of laws and other measures designed to deny the freed black slaves the voting rights that had been granted to them by the 15th Amendment and enforced by several divisions of the U.S. Army.

When the 1876 election was awarded to Rutherford B. Hayes – a Republican by the way – by Congress (the quid), he withdrew federal troops from the South (the quo). Jim Crow laws and terror followed, and soon from Virginia to Texas almost no people of color were able to vote, at least if they wanted to survive the walk home from the polling station.

By the sixties, black America had had enough and, despite calls for “unity” and “civility,” demanded their civil rights. They were met with bullets, police dogs, and truncheons, wielded in the name of law and order.  But, after Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964 against a Republican opponent who opposed civil rights legislation, the Democratic-dominated Congress passed the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The latter statute contained a number of effective and enforced provisions to prohibit state and local laws that made it more difficult for black people to vote or even to dilute their influence, by for example, changing district to at-large elections. The VRA included a provision requiring certain jurisdictions which suffered from low minority voting rates to seek pre-clearance from the Justice Department for changes to voting laws to ensure that Jim Crow would not rise again.

The Republican Supreme Court Justice who gutted
the Voting Rights Act, shown here with the
Leverett House Pre-Law Club, 1975
From 1965 to 2013, it worked pretty much as intended and was routinely re-authorized by huge bipartisan majorities. In 2013, in a decision written by Chief Justice John “the Bongmaster” Roberts ‘76, that pre-clearance provision was held somehow unconstitutional:

 [T]he Supreme Court ruled that the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act — which determines which jurisdictions are covered by Section 5 — is unconstitutional because it is based on an old formula. As a practical matter this means that Section 5 is inoperable until Congress enacts a new coverage formula, which the decision invited Congress to do. 

Since that time, Republicans (remember,the party of civil rights, according to their trolls) have blocked any effort to revise the coverage formula and revive the Voting Rights Act.

Which brings us to last week.  [Finally – Ed.]   Last Friday, the House of Representatives voted to fix and reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. According to The New York Times,

The House voted on Friday to reinstate federal oversight of state election law, moving to bolster protections against racial discrimination enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights statute whose central provision was struck down by the Supreme Court. 

54 years later, John Lewis was wielding the hammer
Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who was beaten in 1965 while demonstrating for voting rights in Alabama, banged the gavel to herald approval of the measure, to applause from his colleagues on the House floor. It passed by a vote of 228 to 187 nearly along party lines, with all but one Republican opposed. The bill has little chance of becoming law given opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and by President Trump, whose aides issued a veto threat against it this week. 

All but one Republican opposed?

It turns out that if you stop learning history past the year 1924 you miss quite a bit in terms of where the two parties stand when it comes to advancing civil rights and equal opportunity.

We would go so far as to say that if 99% of House Republicans oppose the Voting Rights Act, if the Republican Senate won’t even bring up the bill for a vote, and if the Republican Pussy-Ass Grifter of a President would veto it, it seems reasonably clear that it is the Republican Party that opposes civil rights today.  This strikes us as a more compelling matter for voters of color (and wypipo too) to consider before voting in 2020 than the admittedly disgraceful history of white racist Southern Democrats before they embraced the Republican Party in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Indeed, the suspicious among us might think that the whole social media trolling about Democratic slaveholders in 1856 and Klansmen in 1922 might just be an effort to distract us from recognizing that the Republican Party since 1964 has transformed itself into the party of white racism and privilege.

You might respond that the Republican social media trolls don’t sound like they have the wit to contemplate such a massive disinformation campaign, but we would note that the leader of these trolls went to Dartmouth, so you’d certainly have to regard him as, at the very least, a half-wit.

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