Tag Archives: Georgia

“Southern Culture” Is A Euphemism..

Sometimes, the subhead on a headline, or a quotation in an article, strikes a definite chord with me. That happened when I was reading about the recent destruction of some mysterious  granite markers, the Georgia Guidestones (sometimes referred to as America’s Stonehenge). As several recent articles reported, those stones are “no longer casting a shadow in rural Elbert County, Georgia.” Early on July 5th, one of the six slabs of granite comprising the display was destroyed by what the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports was an intentional explosive.

The quotation that caught my eye was that of a local pastor and historian, who said that the stones would probably have survived a nuclear war, “but they could not survive Southern culture.” 

“Southern culture” in this context is a euphemism for deeply-rooted superstition abetted by a generous dollop of ignorance.

The linked article gives the background: In 1979, the president of a local granite company was asked to create the monument by someone identifying himself as Robert Christian (later R.C. Christian–probably a pseudonym), who claimed to represent a group of concerned Americans. Christian obtained funding for the massive project, and the granite company proceeded to create it.

The stone structure was revealed to the public on the spring equinox in 1980. Together the 951 cubic feet of granite weighed 237,746 pounds. The center slab was surrounded by four standing stones of similar height, and the entire structure was capped by a sixth stone 6 ½ feet wide, 10 feet long and 7 inches thick.

The impressive size of the structure was only part of its allure. Carved on each of the four outer slabs were 10 precepts — a message to humanity — repeated in English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew, Russian and Arabic. Translators from the United Nations assisted Christian with the translations.

Inscribed in the capstone was the phrase “Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason,” written in ancient Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sanskrit and Babylonian cuneiform.

The center slab and capstone also acted as an astrological calendar, with carefully cut holes for observance of the moon, sun and North Star. Astronomers from the University of Georgia assisted in refining this part of the project.

While Christian’s identity is still a mystery, his purpose is not.

An “Age of Reason.” If only…

At the time, there was widespread fear of a global nuclear war, and the stones were intended to be a beacon of sorts for those who would survive–a prescription for a more peaceful world.

Criticism of this project could certainly be mounted on many grounds: a vanity project, a waste of money, an ineffective indulgence…But of course, none of those reasonable quibbles prompted the fierce opposition to–and fear of– this monument. 

Idiocy did.

Nearly immediately, local pastors decried the stones as satanic. “We don’t think Mr. Christian is a Christian,” said the Rev. James Traffensted of the Elberton Church of God after the 1980 ceremony. “Look what it says about the unity of the world. That’s where the Antichrist will unite the governments of the world.”

I didn’t realize that world unity and peace was a sign of the Antichrist, but given the behavior of so many so-called “Christians,” perhaps I should have.

Since there is no conspiracy theory or bizarre “religious” belief that today’s Republicans won’t embrace, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the following passages from the report.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor made demolishing the stones part of her 2022 campaign. On May 2, she tweeted: “Elect me Governor of Georgia, and I will bring the Satanic Regime to its knees— and DEMOLISH the Georgia Guidestones.”

After the stones were destroyed Wednesday, she tweeted, “God is God all by Himself. He can do ANYTHING He wants to do. That includes striking down Satanic Guidestones.”…

The bombing was not the first time the monument was targeted. In 2008, a masked man calling himself an “American patriot” defaced the monument as a warning to the “global elite.” He tied the Guidestones to a coming new world order, a conspiracy theory perpetuated by QAnon followers and expressed by personalities such as InfoWars founder Alex Jones.

Conversations on this blog often include efforts to describe Americans’ current divides: Red versus Blue, urban versus rural, educated versus uneducated…The steady growth of incidents like this one suggest a more accurate division might be: reasonably sane versus bat-shit-crazy.

If humanity actually survives this period–increasingly characterized by the rejection of logic, science and empirical evidence– historians will probably describe these times as “the age of insanity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Suppress The Vote

I recently moderated an online discussion about vote suppression; it followed the showing of “Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary that was eye-opening. It turns out there are lots of ways to suppress votes that most of us don’t think about. The documentary illustrated a number of ways in which vote suppression has become more sophisticated—and less visible—since Reconstruction.

There are two main methods of discouraging the vote. The first is primarily aimed at minorities and poor people, who tend to vote Democratic, and focuses on making it as inconvenient as possible for the targeted people to cast ballots. The second is gerrymandering, which—among other pernicious things—suppresses the votes cast for whichever party is in the minority in a particular district, by convincing people in that party that their votes won’t count, so why bother.

And recently, just in case those methods don’t work, Trump partisans have come up with another tactic, triggered by belief in the “Big Lie.”

The film focused primarily on the first method, just making it more difficult to vote. Some of those tactics included shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots, making it harder to remain on the voter rolls, not sending mail ballots unless people specifically requested them, limiting drop boxes and early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods…and ensuring that the ones that do remain open will have interminable wait times by sending them an insufficient supply of voting machines. (The film showed the enormous disparity in the number of voting machines available at polling places in minority neighborhoods versus white suburban ones.)

There are also a wide number of bureaucratic moves and “inadvertent errors” that can make it more onerous to cast a ballot if you are in a targeted community.

The second method of vote suppression is gerrymandering, which is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

Gerrymandering, as you undoubtedly know, is the process of creating as many districts as possible favoring the party that controls the state legislature during redistricting. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans, and they’ve done a very good job of it; Indiana has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states. Indiana doesn’t have “one person one vote” because our districts have been drawn so that the rural areas where  most Republican voters live are vastly overrepresented.

As a result, in a depressingly large number of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed even by a token candidate. If you don’t have a candidate to vote for, why go to the polls? Indiana isn’t unique; In 2021, the Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a competitive Congressional District.

If all that wasn’t enough, in several states, Republicans pushing the Big Lie have embarked on yet another method of ensuring the victory of their candidates—placing partisans in the offices responsible for counting the votes. The GOP argues that vote fraud is widespread, despite reliable data showing that it is in fact extremely rare– and that the few scattered incidents that do exist don’t change results. (We also know that, despite hysterical accusations, non-citizens aren’t descending on polling places and casting votes for “the other side.”)

The real danger isn’t coming from people casting improper votes. The threat is that the people controlling the voting rolls and counting those votes will be dishonest, which is why a recent report from the Brennan Center is so concerning. This year, races for Secretary of State—the offices charged with administering the vote– are attract­ing far more atten­tion than in recent memory. And in state after state, including Indiana, those campaigns are focusing on elec­tion denial—Trump’s “Big Lie” as a cent­ral issue.

Money is flow­ing into these races at a rate not seen in recent memory–more than two and a half times the amount raised by the analog­ous point in 2018, and more than five times that of 2014. Brennan reports that elec­tion deniers in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Nevada are currently either in the lead or running a close second in fundrais­ing. National groups and donors are spend­ing on these races, includ­ing Donald Trump’s lead­er­ship PAC and others with ties to efforts to chal­lenge the 2020 result. Donors who haven’t previously given to secret­ary of state candid­ates are suddenly making major contri­bu­tions.

All of this activity is inconsistent with the notion that “We the People” elect our representatives. Instead, partisans—who are mostly but not exclusively Republicans these days— decide which people deserve to have their registrations honored and their votes accurately counted.

Something to think about in the run-up to the midterms…..

 

The Beginning Of The End?

These days, optimism comes hard. But there are reasons for hope.

For one thing, despite the incredibly discouraging fact that upwards of seventy million Americans voted for a racist incompetent who posed an obvious danger to the stability of the entire world, eighty-one million voted otherwise.

And despite the fact that we are seeing something akin to a civil war between Americans who take the country’s aspirations for equality seriously and the White nationalists and their fellow-travelers who fear loss of unearned privilege, Georgia has elected a Black Senator. (It is equally notable that Georgia also elected a Jewish one, since–as the photos coming out of the insurrection at the Capitol illustrated–racism and anti-Semitism are inextricably entwined.)

An article in Time Magazine, published a mere two days after the assault on the Capitol, insisted that Southern resistance to Black equality is on the wane–that the South deserves a “New Political Story.”

The author referenced the fact that Ted Cruz–aka “Mr. Despicable”– had modeled his performative “objections” to the receipt of Electoral College votes on the “infamous and racist” Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1876.  That “compromise” ended Reconstruction; it gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops protecting Black citizens in the South.

That agreement led to a nearly century-long reign of racial terror that reinvigorated the Ku Klux Klan, subjected Black people to quotidian forms of racial terror and mob violence, violently ejected Black men from both government office and the public sphere through lynching and the threat of it, and subjected Black women to rape at the hands of ravenous white men.

The author says that it is this violent racial past–a past that I’m pretty confident is not taught in our nation’s history classes–  makes the Georgia Senate elections of Warnock and Ossoff so significant, and she counsels against accepting “the narrative that retrograde 19th and mid-20th century racial politics are winning.”

They are not. Do not mistake the death rattle for a victory cry. And do not let the war cries of angry white people drown out the resounding and clarion calls from Black women organizers and strategists and voters of color who have made clear that Trump’s America is not their America.

The article surveys other deep-south states and finds Black elected officials in previously unlikely places. And while she concedes that White backlash has often won the day, she insists that grassroots organizing and GOTV campaigns can prevent that result this time around.

The article made me think about the Darren Walker observation I shared previously, to the effect that democracy is the antidote to inequality. I truly believe that if every citizen who is entitled to cast a ballot is allowed to do so, White nationalists will lose. It isn’t simply because the ranks of Americans of color are growing, it’s because Americans of good will–Americans who embrace the unrealized aspirations of our constituent documents–outnumber those who are desperately clinging to their privileged status.

I want to believe that the ugliness we are seeing truly is a “death rattle” of a tribalism based on skin color, gender and religion. But I also know that people who fear a loss of status will not be defeated by warm thoughts, by sermons from authentic Christians, or by appeals to their own material self-interest. (Most of them define self-interest culturally, not economically.)

Stacey Abrams and other Black women in Georgia have demonstrated the way forward. Those of us who live in other “Southern” states (I would include Indiana in that cohort) need to take a page from her book. We need to identify the people of good will–of every color, gender and religion/non-religion–and get them to the polls. But we also need to abolish all of the structural impediments that have been erected to prevent or discourage people from voting–starting with gerrymandering.

As I keep saying, we have our work cut out for us.

 

Lessons From Georgia

If Jews recognized saints, I’d lobby for Stacy Abrams.

Readers of this blog undoubtedly know the impetus for “Fair Fight,” her organization dedicated to combatting vote suppression and increasing registration of previously unregistered/unmotivated citizens. Abrams ran for Governor against Brian Kemp, who was then the Secretary of State administering that same election, a glaring conflict of interest. Kemp threw out some fifty-thousand registrations–most of which were from Black voters–on what observers called thin pretexts, which helped him win that election.

Abrams, formerly minority leader of the Georgia Statehouse, did what far too few of us do in such circumstances. She didn’t retreat to lick her wounds; instead, she created a movement to challenge vote suppression, engage the previously disengaged, and make the system work properly.

As an article in the New York Times yesterday put it, Abrams is currently one of the most influential American politicians not in elected office.

Abrams conceived the strategy and built the political infrastructure its implementation required. As a result, turnout among the state’s Black, Latino and Asian voters increased substantially. Her work was pivotal to Biden’s presidential win in Georgia, and in yesterday’s Senate run-offs.

Of course, yesterday’s stunning results also owed a debt to our insane President, whose illegal, embarrassing and unhinged attacks on the Republicans running Georgia’s election apparatus evidently depressed turnout in areas that were previously heavily pro-Trump. (As one Republican official reportedly noted, the GOP had to overcome the burdens of unappealing candidates and a maniac President..)

So–improbable as it may seem, the very southern State of Georgia will send a Black man and a Jewish man to the U.S. Senate. (File under “Miracles Happen.”)

Aside from the depressing fact that some 70 million Americans cast  ballots for the maniac, and the even more horrifying sight of a mob of goons, thugs and White Supremacists storming the Capitol yesterday in an attempted coup to support that maniac (more about that tomorrow), what lessons can we take from the ways in which this election cycle has played out thus far? 

The most obvious lesson–courtesy of Stacy Abrams–is the importance of grass-roots organizing. Whether a similar effort in Indiana would be effective is debatable, since our state lacks the substantial minority population on which Abrams built. But it certainly seems worth a try.

There is also a less obvious, but equally important lesson, and it is the extreme damage done by the way the electoral college operates today,and gives oxygen to the Trumpian mobs.

The linked op-ed, co-authored by Trevor Potter and Charles Fried, makes that case. Potter is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, appointed by George H.W. Bush.  Fried was solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. (Hint: They aren’t among those “socialists” that Republicans see everywhere.)

Potter and Fried argue that the 2020 presidential election has been a disaster for people who think the Electoral College is still a good idea.

The presidential election is really 51 elections, each conducted and certified by its jurisdiction. Those who support the continued use of the Electoral College system say that the states “speak” to one another through it and so it performs a vital role in promoting national unity and the constitutional system…

But the multiple challenges to the votes of the people this year — expressed through the states and their votes in the Electoral College — teach us that the Electoral College is a fragile institution, with the potential for inflicting great damage on the country when norms are broken. Many of the attempts to subvert the presidential election outcome this year are made possible by the arcane structure and working of the Electoral College process and illustrate the potential for the current Electoral College to promote instability rather than the stability the framers sought.

Actually, I agree with the historians and constitutional scholars like Akhil Reed Amar, who argue “stability” had nothing to do with it–that the Electoral College was the price paid to keep slave states in the newly formed union. But Potter and Fried are certainly correct when they assert that this election cycle has provided a roadmap to politicians of either party who want to change an election’s outcome through postelection manipulation of the Electoral College, and that the mere existence of such a roadmap is destabilizing.

All of this will, and should, propel calls for modernization of the Electoral College. Many will seek its abolition and replacement by a single nationwide poll. But at the very least, the irrational intricacies of the 1887 Electoral Count Act should be replaced by a uniform system guaranteeing that the popular vote in each state controls the ultimate allocation of that state’s electors. The 2020 election has highlighted the destabilizing tendencies in the current system and the need for reform.

Americans have a lot of work to do. In the interim, I plan to light a candle to Stacy Abrams…

 

Ladies And Gentlemen, I Give You Today’s GOP

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be his running mate.

Harris is a walking, talking embodiment of the America that so terrifies white nationalists: an Indian mother, a Jamaican father, a Jewish husband. She’s also a whip-smart lawyer and a seasoned public servant. Harris is one of a new generation of highly accomplished, very diverse Democrats–and by “diverse” I don’t simply mean that their ranks include many men and women of color; they are also ideologically, religiously and geographically diverse.

Then there are the Republicans.

Yesterday also saw primary elections in a number of states. In one of those, in Georgia, a white loony-toons conspiracy theorist handily  won the GOP nod for Congress. (In all fairness, it was a female loony-toons conspiracy theorist, so maybe that’s progress.)

Conspiracy theorists won a major victory on Tuesday as a Republican supporter of the convoluted pro-Trump movement QAnon triumphed in her House primary runoff election in Georgia, all but ensuring that she will represent a deep-red district in Congress.

The ascension of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who embraces a conspiracy theory that the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat, came as six states held primary and runoff elections on Tuesday.

Greene has also made a series of videos in which she complains of an “Islamic invasion,”  claims Black and Hispanic men are held back by “gangs and dealing drugs,” and pushes an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. After her win was announced, Trump gave her his “full-thoated support.”

The Brookings Institution , as well as the FBI, has confirmed that (despite Trump’s rants about “antifa” and Black Lives Matter) members of white supremacist organizations and adherents of widespread conspiracy theories like QAnon (largely embraced by white nationalists) are responsible for most of the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In the last four years, violence linked to white supremacy has eclipsed jihadi violence as the predominant form of terrorism in the United States. Beyond high-profile terrorist attacks in the United States like the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue and 2019 El Paso Walmart shootings, white supremacists have also tried to seize on the protests following George Floyd’s death to foment chaos.

In the Georgia GOP primary, Ms. Greene defeated a neurosurgeon described as “no less conservative or pro-Trump.” She held a lead of nearly 15 percentage points early Wednesday.

The New York Times story, linked above, reported that Greene’s victory “is likely to unsettle mainstream Republicans.”  But there really aren’t many–if any– “mainstream” Republicans left, a reality that seemed to escape the authors of the report (and continues to escape most of the Times political reporters).

The reality–especially painful for those of us who spent years working for a very different Republican Party–is that Donald Trump is not an anomaly, and today’s GOP is no longer a political party connected to a set of governing principles and policies. Today, to be a member of what is now the GOP cult is to adopt a tribal identity –an identity characterized by white grievance and a furious rejection of scientific, demographic and moral reality.

Not to mention sanity.

QAnon is a wild, unfounded belief that Donald Trump, of all people, is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media–a war that will lead to a day of reckoning on which prominent people like Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed. A troubling percentage of today’s GOP base believes it.

I keep thinking back to that great–and prescient– speech from the 1995 movie An American President, when Michael Douglas, playing the President, thunders

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. 

Today’s Republican Party has become a cult composed of lightly-tethered-to-reality know-nothings who have uncritically and enthusiastically embraced the party’s only consistent, remaining message:  “You should fear ‘those people’ –the ones who don’t look or worship like real (i.e.white Christian) Americans. They are to blame for all of your problems and disappointments.” 

And so it goes….