Remember the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago rolling back the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Back then, Chief Justice John Roberts was claiming “things have changed dramatically” in favor of no longer needing electoral safeguards in states with a history of racial bias. Well, Roberts’ rationale is looking more ludicrous by the day. For one thing, isn’t it odd how most conservatives didn’t object to that ruling as another case of “activist judges” mandating from the bench? I guess re-activist, reactionary judges are okay.
For another, consider the U.S. Senate race just concluded in Mississippi. First, the Republican candidate, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, espoused the view that it’s a “great idea” to make it harder for “liberal folks” to vote. Then she was photographed wearing a Confederate hat and brandishing a rifle before being filmed at a campaign event lauding a campaign supporter with the words, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be in the front row.” Who might be victimized? (Hyde-Smith’s opponent is, by the way, Mike Espy: the first African-American elected to Congress from the state since the Reconstruction era.)
Welcome to Mississippi, a place where over 600 lynchings of black people took place between 1877 and 1950 (more than any other state). With the election next Tuesday, the one and only debate was held earlier this week at an event where an always-nervous looking Hyde-Smith came to the lectern with a massive pile of notes to guide her through the evening. Now at last the Senator was ready to make an apology for her “public hanging” remarks by seeming to read her apology verbatim from her pre-assembled notes.
“For anybody that was offended by my comments” (in other words, anybody not part of my base), “I certainly apologize,” Hyde-Smith began. “There was no ill-will, no intent whatsoever in my statements.” How fortunate it is that the Senator didn’t, at least, say she was sincerely apologizing. Nothing would have been farther from the truth. From her apology, note the flared upper lip (indicative of contempt for feeling forced to issue an apology); followed by closed-eyes (I can’t believe I’m saying this) and a lip pushed downward in disgust while affirming there “was no ill-will.”
Let nobody be fooled—not even you, Judge Roberts. Notice a pattern? Disenfranchised voters may have made the difference in Georgia’s governor’s race, and in Florida the Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob DeSantis issued a warning during the campaign for voters not to “monkey it up” by supporting his African-American opponent Andrew Gillum.
In her excellent, penetrating book, Democracy in Chains, Duke University professor Nancy MacLean unearths how the billionaire Koch brothers game plan for re-imposing robber baron capitalism in America took its legal impetus from the writings of an obscure economist, James McGill Buchanan. What got Buchanan’s goat? Why, it was the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that called for the dismantling of segregation in public schools. A way of life was threatened. For the rest of his career, Buchanan looked for ways to neuter the federal government’s power and thereby limit equality and fairness. Long live Dixie? I certainly hope otherwise.