The term Jim Crow is rightly loaded down with racial connotations, but it’s important to recognize that, at its core, Jim Crow was a political system. Yes, a central byproduct was a social system that consigned black folk to second/third class citizenship. But this social construct was enabled and perpetuated by overarching political power. At its elemental core, Jim Crow was a system of voter suppression and nullification that allowed a political minority of white southerners to wield unchecked political power and maintain a culture of white supremacy in their respective states — not merely election to election but for a period of some 100 years.
With this in mind and the November elections behind us (pending a few recounts and lawsuits — you were always a rank choice, Bruce), Republican-controlled legislatures today are busy trying to similarly subvert the will of voting majorities while they still can, however they can. Accordingly, it’s high time we bestowed the next Harris Nightmare Award (HNA) for nakedly self-hating political mendacity.
Our choice for the 2018 post-electoral HNA: The GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature, which, in the face of U.S. Circuit Court rebukes and the failure of state and federal investigations to identify meaningful in-person voter fraud, have succeeded in amending the state constitution to permanently suppress the vote via strict voter ID requirements.
This effort alone would not distinguish the NC legislature from dozens of other Republican-controlled bodies across the nation, but for the fact that November’s election in North Carolina did manifest what appears to actual voter fraud — of a kind that 1) the newly ratified amendment would not begin to address; and 2) appears to have been perpetrated entirely by consultants directly employed by Republican Mark Harris, a U.S. Congressional candidate whose razor-thin victory over opponent Dan McCready was apparently enabled by brazenly illegal efforts centered on absentee ballot vote suppression.
Republicans generally and the North Carolina legislature in particular have cited rampant in-person voter fraud as foundational to their arguments for requiring photo ID. There’s still vanishingly little evidence of such fraud; these claims are rhetorical cover for efforts (in the shameful tradition of Jim Crow) to hold down or nullify the votes of Democrats and independents.
But lo and behold, we’ve finally identified actual voter fraud and it’s specific to NC Republicans themselves!
In a striking note of bipartisan resistance, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement — a body comprising four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent — has unanimously voted to postpone certification of the Harris election (which he won by 905 votes) pending an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Dec. 21, 2018.
Named for Dr. Thomas Harris, author of the 1969 pop-psychology treatise I’m OK—You’re OK, The Harris Nightmare Awards call out the cynical, pre-emptively tit-for-tat nihilism that has informed Republican politics since the mid-1990s. In the Age of Trump, this phenomenon has been raised to high art. Hence the need for suitable commendations, like the HNAs.
Most folks will be familiar with the title of Harris’ book, which refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day-to-day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates the good doctor’s coinage, but they go together: For one cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one does not possess a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.
There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK—You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK—You’re OK).
It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Go here for a more lengthy treatment of why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that supports it. In short, right wing media have decided there is more to gain politically, in the long run, by asserting the rampant political motivation and outright fakery of all media. By doing so, they stake out their own position and self-worth quite clearly: “We’re fake; they must be fake.” Or even, “We’re fake because they’re fake.”
I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.
But this phenomenon extends well beyond right-wing media circles. Hence the need for the Harris Nightmare Awards, our humble attempt to shame the unshameable.
Since 2013, The Tar Heel State has, in fits and starts, been home to the nation’s strictest voter ID laws, implemented to curb what Republican backers termed “widespread” voter fraud. Again, fraud of the voter impersonation variety (i.e., fraud presumably addressed by laws requiring photo ID) is so vanishingly rare as to be non-existent. Opponents were quick to point this out, adding that the true goal of this statute was a form of voter suppression, as many of the state’s African-American citizens (who tend to vote Democrat) did not possess such photo ID. Indeed, the 2013 statute also markedly curbed early voting practices — for the simple reason that African-American citizens in N.C. tend to vote early at higher rates than whites.
In July 2016, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down these key provisions of the law, ruling they effectively (and unconstitutionally) “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
In April 2017, the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 election. It found that out of nearly 4.8 million votes cast, a single fraudulent vote “probably would have been avoided” with a photo-reliant voter ID law.
In January of 2018, a federal commission formed by President Donnie Trump and administered by serial voter-fraud evangelist Kris Kobach was disbanded after finding similarly vanishing evidence of voter fraud nationwide.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal of the 2016 4th Circuit decision, in 2017, the Republican led legislature in North Carolina went to Plan B: a “legislatively referred” constitutional amendment, whereby the same voter ID provisions were put before voters as a single ballot question. Voters passed that ballot initiative, thereby amending the state constitution, on Nov. 6, 2018, 54-46 percent.
Enter Harris and McCready, whose race would appear to have been crucially affected by voter fraud of a very different stripe, a stripe completely unrecognized by the state audit or federal commission, a stripe left unaddressed by the voter ID law added to the state constitution in November, a stripe that leads directly to the NC Republican Party’s Jim Crow-style determination to rule the state indefinitely, even from a minority position.
The voter fraud alleged to have underpinned Harris’ thin victory is nearly as complicated as it is sordid. See here a thorough roundup of what we know. Suffice to say, according to The New York Times, “Mr. Harris won 61 percent of submitted absentee ballots in Bladen County, even though registered Republicans accounted for only 19 percent of the ballots submitted. To do that, he would have had to win essentially every independent who voted absentee, as well as some registered Democrats. In every other county in the district — even strongly Republican ones — Mr. McCready won the absentee vote.”
Harris’s campaign has express shock, SHOCK at this development, a supremely misplaced emotion because it paid more than $400,000 to the consulting firm Red Dome to administer a “get out the vote campaign” that concentrated specifically on absentee ballots. Apparently, this effort involved going door to door and intercepting those ballots, which must, by law, be mailed. Where the intercepted ballots supported Harris, apparently, they were posted to the clerk’s office. Where they did not, ballots were discarded.
At first, Republican legislators in North Carolina fell all over themselves to respond, while resisting the idea that Harris’ victory should not stand. Now they have indicated openness to an entirely new election pitting Harris against McCready — which tells you just how firm the case must be against Red Dome and Harris.
More important to the NC electoral system, GOP legislators have floated the idea of addressing this Republican-style absentee ballot fraud via more stringent voter ID requirements — because that’s the only dog whistle these one-trick ponies seem to know! Whatever is sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is sure to be vetoed. The legislature’s Republican super majority, achieved via hardcore gerrymandering techniques, is sure to override that veto and amend the state constitution to reflect its political will.
Again, this is the essence of Jim Crow: reducing, disallowing or otherwise invalidating the political will of your opponent, to ensure that your own minority will continue to govern/rule. If you thought the above gerrymandering sentiment was harsh, consider this: According to the State Board of Elections there are 2,694,556 registered Democrats in North Carolina, as of Dec. 1, 2018. There are 2,119,956 registered Republicans (and 2,261,637 unaffiliated voters). Somehow, this mix has resulted in a Republican super majority in both the state House of Representative (75-45) and Senate (35-15). This is a state where the governor is a Democrat; Cooper’s thin, statewide victory 2016 illustrates the extent to which North Carolina is purple, split right down the middle. And yet, the Legislature is administered by Republicans holding super majorities in the upper and lower houses. This is all the evidence one needs to prove state legislative districts have been massively gamed by Republicans, to favor Republicans. Indeed, so ruled the Supreme Court of the United States, in June 2017, when it affirmed a federal district court decision finding that 28 state legislative districts had been subject to an illegal racial gerrymander — a decision that has been the subject of enough stays to get this 2018 election completed.
Republicans in North Carolina don’t care about any of the niceties involved in heeding Supreme Court decisions, just as James Calhoun and the Nullification Movement didn’t care, just as late 19th century southern whites didn’t care. I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.
Fans of the Harris Nightmare Awards will recall that our previous recipient, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, was defeated in November by Democrat Tony Evers. In response, the gerrymandered Wisconsin state legislature has voted into law several measures that effectively restrict the power of the incoming governor — just as the North Carolina legislature did to Cooper upon his election, in 2016. (Among other things, the bill blocks Evers’s ability to alter state welfare policy, or withdraw the state from a lawsuit opposing the Affordable Care Act — two things Evert campaigned on, two things a majority of voters demonstrably supported). It also limits the state’s early voting period, a move that would make it harder for Democrats to win future elections in Wisconsin. The Assembly in Madison is another body that, on account of brazen Republican gerrymandering, maintains a 63-35 majority in the Assembly, and a 17-16 majority in the Senate — despite the fact that Democratic Assembly and Senate candidates together garnered 55 percent of the overall state vote in November.
The same thing is happening in Michigan. We have entered a new, modern era of nullification.
I read a very interesting interview last week with Russian-born Gary Kasparov, the political activist and former world chess champion. Kasparov is vehemently anti-Putin and quite apart from any role the Russians may have played in affecting the 2016 U.S. elections, he sees in this country the slow erosion of voting rights and a gathering disillusion with the entire democratic process. These strike Kasparov as Putinesque developments, which is to say, our will to vote and our trust in the vote are degenerating to the point of indifference.
“Putin’s great advantage is that, unlike Soviet propagandists, he is not selling an ideology,” Kasparov said. “I call him the merchant of doubt. His message is, We are shit, you are shit, and all of this is bullshit. What democracy?”
Dr. Thomas Harris could not have put it better, had he awoken from a nightmare and screamed it out loud.