Political Animal

Are You Surprised That Georgia is Going Back to Jim Crow Tactics?

It’s getting old detailing all the crappy ways that Republicans try to game elections rather than just going out and trying to win them. The latest comes from Georgia, where the game is to hold down black turnout by closing the polling places most convenient to black folks:

Civil rights advocates are objecting to a proposal to close about 75 percent of polling locations in a predominantly black south Georgia county.

The Randolph County elections board is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a proposal that would eliminate seven of nine polling locations in the county, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. Included in the proposed closures is Cuthbert Middle School where nearly 97 percent of voters are black.

“There is strong evidence that this was done with intent to make it harder for African Americans,” ACLU of Georgia attorney Sean Young said. The ACLU has sent a letter to the elections board demanding that the polling places remain open and has filed open records requests for information about the proposal to close the polling places.

This is the kind of stuff that the Voting Rights Act was supposed to prevent. A state like Georgia with a history of black disenfranchisement isn’t supposed to be able to move around polling places without getting preclearance from the Department of Justice. But that all ended when the pre-Gorsuch, pre-Kavanaugh Roberts Court decided it was conservative enough to declare racism obsolete.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back Voting Rights Act requirements that required many jurisdictions to receive permission before changing ways people are allowed to vote. They used to have to prove the voting changes weren’t discriminatory, but that’s no longer the case.

“This is an example of what localities are doing without the pre-clearance requirement,” Andrea Young said.

In addition to statewide offices, Randolph County voters will also vote for state legislative seats in November. All nine polling locations were used during this year’s primary and Republican run-off, so it is unclear why the locations would be closed down, Andrea Young said.

Since the Democrats nominated a charismatic black woman as their gubernatorial candidate, the Good Old Boys are naturally tapping into their inner Lester Maddox.

But they’ll just say that Lester Maddox was a Democrat and the Democrats are the real racists. And, in any case, would Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III really do anything to protect black voting rights even if he actually needed to make a decision?

Republicans to Women: Don’t Run This Year

The story coming out of the primaries so far is that women are running for office in record numbers, that they’re doing it their own way, and that they’re winning. But that is only true for Democrats. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, only about 14 percent of Republican House candidates are women, compared with about one-third of Democratic candidates.

Here’s something Kate Zernike reports in an article about the challenge facing Republican female candidates, during the time of a woman-powered resistance:

“We’ve told a lot of women, ‘Don’t run this year,’” said Meghan Milloy, the co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, which helps to promote moderate female Republicans. “We’ve told them, ‘You’re a great candidate, if it were any other year you would win.’ We don’t want these women, who have such potential, to lose and get down and get out of politics.”

Personally, I’d love to hear more from Ms. Milloy about why these women with so much potential shouldn’t run for office this year. In some ways, it reminds me of what happened after the Republican National Committee released their 2012 autopsy suggesting that the party needed to do a better job reaching out to Hispanic voters. Their response, however, was to dig deeper into anti-immigrant sentiments and elect a president who launched his campaign by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists.

What Republicans could be doing at this point is crafting a message that actually resonates with women and encouraging them to not only join their party, but run for office. Instead, they are all but ceding the ground to Democrats and further entrenching themselves as the party of straight white men.

There’s one other thing I’d like to explore with Ms. Milloy–what she expects to change, given the current dynamics of American politics, that might lead to the possibility of talented Republican women running for office in the future.

Amid changing demographics this country and the fact that women are stepping up to claim their power, the  Republican Party’s decisions these days don’t make any logical sense. Unless they change course, the best they can hope for is to delay their inevitable demise in the short term. That’s why it’s pretty clear that none of what they’re doing is a rational strategy. Instead, it is based on a fear of what happens when women and people of color are equal participants in the political process.

Trump Rallies Are Spiritually Debased, Not Spiritually Elevated

I get what Alex Wagner is trying to say about Trump rallies, but I think she’s off on several points. For starters, there’s really nothing surprising or especially meaningful about the fact that you can find genuine joy at a Trump rally. Wagner points out that Trumpism is an invitation for people to unmask themselves, but there’s an element of unmasking and discovery in many, if not most, mass gatherings. I’ll give you three examples from my own life.

Back when I was on Dead Tour, I’d routinely have people pull up alongside my car and give me a big smile or a double thumbs up. It often took me a moment to understand that they’d seen my Dead bumper sticker and assumed that I’d be a friendly member of the tribe. The actual concerts were like this on a large scale, with people from all corners of the world converging for a common purpose and then creating a temporary micro-culture filled with extraordinary good will and its own transgressive set of rules and values. The music was the organizing event, but the ability to impose our will and overwhelm the cops for three days in this city, and then three days in that city? That gave us a feeling of real solidarity and power that we lacked when we were back home and atomized across the country.

Another example was the memorial service for my close high school friend Bobby Sheehan, the bass player for Blues Traveler, who passed away in 1999. The service was held in a large church in Brooklyn, and the whole surrounding neighborhood became its own culture for about six hours that day. The occasion couldn’t have been sadder or more tragic for the people involved, but it wasn’t long before everyone was walking around with giant smiles on their faces, ecstatic to see old friends and genuinely elevated by the discovery that there were thousands of people sharing their grief. There was something transgressive about feeling so much happiness on such a properly somber occasion, but that didn’t prevent it from happening on a wide scale.

The last example I’ll provide is the Yearly Kos convention that was held in Las Vegas in 2006. Most of the conventioneers in that inaugural conference had only known each other previously by pseudonymous usernames. We actually had both our usernames and real names on our badges, so we were doubly unmasking ourselves. It seemed like half the attendees were skipping or walking on air, and that was the result of finding like-minded people in a country still in the grip of the Big Post-9/11 Fear. Two years earlier, we had been isolated, shouting impotently at our televisions. Now we were getting down to work to win Congress back from Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay–and bring an end to the war. When we had been alone, they picked us off as unpatriotic, but now we had strength and support in numbers. It felt like our transgressions had been washed away.

In all these cases, people came together, revealed themselves and discovered fellow travelers, and then acted in ways that were frowned upon in the broader culture. In the first and third examples, the transgressive behavior was half the point.

A Trump rally isn’t really any different. People come together and act like assholes. They don’t mistreat each other. They take joy in finding people who won’t judge them for making racist jokes. They discover they’re not alone. They build a temporary culture where transgressive behavior is rewarded rather than punished.

But should we accept Wagner’s summation on this point?

To deconstruct the complicated and visceral relationship between Trump and his supporters, those on the outside must begin to grapple with the oddness of the proposition itself: Trump, in all his baseness, offers his believers something that is, strangely, spiritually elevated.

Again, there is certainly something that raises the spirits when you find yourself in a newly permissive space where you can share sins without judgment. It’s Dionysian in that respect, like an orgy or house party filled with booze and drugs. It doesn’t surprise me that the QAnon cult is now attaching itself because that creates the familiar aspect of a mystery only known to initiates. Only Deadheads truly understood Dead shows and only Blues Traveler fans understood what had been lost when Bobby Sheehan died. Only readers of the comment threads at Daily Kos knew what those name tags meant at the first Yearly Kos conference.

These are all familiar things we encounter whenever we engage in spiritual or in-group activities. But there’s a big difference between a Trump rally and the ethos of celebrating the life of a lost friend or trying to stop a war or strangers-stopping-strangers-just-to-shake-their-hand. The latter are examples of naturally uplifting and life-affirming collective actions. The former is about forming an in-group for no larger purpose than to disparage those who remain outside.

I refuse to call a Trump rally “spiritually elevated.” Anyone who has ever watched a public rally led by Hitler or Mussolini knows that people were enraptured and transformed. But this was a manifestation of man’s worst impulses frothing out of the depths of hell. It wasn’t elevated in any proper sense.

Wagner isn’t wrong to urge us to better understand how Trump maintains his support. There is definitely a joy in transgression, and Trump never stops transgressing and giving his supporters permission to do the same.

Donald Trump Thinks He Can Bully Robert Mueller

In light of all the other news this week, a statement from Rudy Giuliani didn’t get enough attention:

In an interview Tuesday, Giuliani said, “If [Mueller] doesn’t get it done in the next two or three weeks we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks.” He added, “Write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it.”

That is the personal lawyer of a president, who’s the subject of a federal investigation, threatening to “unload” on the special prosecutor if he doesn’t wind down his probe soon. Does it get any more obstruction-y than that?

Meanwhile, the president just revoked the security clearance of the former CIA director. The actual impact is that John Brennan will no longer be available for consultation to this administration—which wasn’t likely to happen anyway. The White House issued a statement defending their rationale.

Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this Administration. Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is inconsistent with access to the Nation’s most closely held secrets, and facilitates the aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.

The first thing that jumped out at me from that portion of the statement was to ask, “Can you spell p.r.o.j.e.c.t.i.o.n?” The absurdity of this president criticizing someone for outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet, lying and frenzied commentary won’t be lost on anyone. Basically, Trump admitted that he is attempting to intimidate a critic. The president later extended that threat to other critics, including James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

During an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump took it one step further and made it a direct threat to the Mueller investigation.

Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation …

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “And these people led it!”

He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

As Greg Sargent points out, this is a repeat of what the president did with the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Trump originally floated as his fake rationale the memo authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, which criticized Comey’s unfairness to Hillary Clinton during the email investigation. This was absurd — Trump seized on Comey’s public July 2016 criticism of Clinton as ammunition against her — but then Trump admitted on national television that he had actually fired Comey over anger at the Russia investigation.

Someone with Trump’s limited capabilities probably won’t connect the dots and realize that it was his firing of Comey that sparked the appointment of a special counsel in the first place. But that’s the likely outcome of a direct threat to a federal investigation. People who have experience being in charge of these probes have dealt with some of the most world-renowned bullies–and they don’t tend to take kindly to threats. Based on what we’ve seen from Robert Mueller, this will all just get added to the case he’s building.

I can’t say that I have any direct knowledge of how mafia bosses and New York real estate moguls do their business. Perhaps these kinds of threats work in those circles, and Trump doesn’t know any other way to handle the fact that he’s about to be exposed for the criminal he’s always been. The one thing I’m pretty sure of, though, is that Mueller and his team aren’t the kind of people who surrender to bullies.