Originally Published on Medium
There are two types of centrists in U.S. politics. Some would convincingly argue poor White people are being left behind along with Black people and people of color and they require uplifting along with other groups — as in West Virginia with a whopping 16% poverty rate. Then there are others that would ignore those constituents to appease the White power structures that keep those people poor in an attempt to achieve the ever-elusive bipartisanship with those who want to maintain White supremacy.
It’s clear where Sen. Joe Manchin falls among the two.
Recently, Latino Rebels’ Capitol reporter Pablo Manríquez questioned Manchin about people saying he’s making it so that voters of color are not going to be able to vote in the next election. Manchin responded by saying: “The government will stand behind them to make sure they have a right to vote… We act like we’re going to obstruct people from voting. That’s not going to happen.”
It’s easy to see the point the senator was trying to make. However, in a seemingly purposeful act, his statement failed to address the many Republican-led states that have taken actions to suppress the vote of non-White groups. It’s less coincidental every day the political right takes such measures. People see what they’re doing. After the 2020 elections, when the country saw the largest voter turnout in U.S. history, it cost Republicans the type of control over the government they have been salivating over for decades. They are keenly aware that their losses were due to massive numbers of non-White voters showing up at the ballot box.
As long as there are no federal laws protecting voting rights, people like Manchin seem content with letting states limit those rights; a point that makes him and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema no better than the political extremists who’ve been taking over the courts. A strategy Karl Rove once referred to as having a “durable” Republican majority; the idea of maintaining conservative control over the government for decades using the courts to defy voters.
In the U.S., we’ve taken our representative democracy and the institutions that protect it for granted. Because of that, the last stronghold of the republic has become infested with far-right ultra-conservative ideologues sitting in lifelong federal judgeships. When challenges to the constitution emerge in the federal courts, they preside.
The political extremism adopted by the vast majority of conservatives has them believing that their dubious voter suppression laws stand a chance of surviving the courts. By denying Barack Obama’s nominee and forcing three Supreme Court judges through during Trump’s reign of terror, their chances of success are high. With Manchin and Sinema as staunch protectors of the White supremacist ideologies Sen. Mitch McConnell represents, no protections are in sight.
The Courts Won’t Save Us
If you know anything about U.S. history and its so-called property rights, (which inevitably led the country to civil war), then the inaction and shoulder shrugging by senators in Washington, D.C. probably feels eerily similar to the arguments that led to the nation’s costliest conflict. Currently, senators who represent a minority of the U.S. population are allowing states to have their way with voters’ rights. When Manchin says they’re not taking anything away from anyone, what he’s actually saying is that he sees what states are doing and it’s fine.
Sinema and Republicans are all saying the same things as Manchin. What they’re not saying is important: 19 states passed 34 laws limiting access to voting in 2021. According to the Brennan Center, more than 440 bills restricting voting access were introduced in 49 states during the 2021 legislative sessions. The Brennan Center also warns that “efforts to restrict and undermine the vote will continue to be a serious threat in 2022,” citing at least 13 bills restricting access to voting that were prefiled as of December 2021.
Republicans have been working in the background for decades to undermine the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA). In 2013, they succeeded in usurping the former when the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the VRA in a 5–4 decision. In a challenge to Congress, the staunch ultra-conservative wrote: “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Justice Roberts has been at the forefront of attacking voting rights since the 1970s. He began clerking for Justice William Rehnquist three months after the Supreme Court decided in a 6–3 decision that the VRA, in the words of Justice Potter Stewart, “does not entail the right to have Negro candidates elected, but prohibits only purposefully discriminatory denial or abridgment by government of the freedom to vote ‘on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’”
In 1952, Rehnquist clerked for Justice Robert Jackson. At the time Rehnquist, a segregationist, wrote a memo as the court was preparing to hear Brown v. Board of Education. He wrote: “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”
The next year Rehnquist urged Jackson to uphold an all-White primary for Texas Democrats saying: “It is about time the court faced the fact that the white people of the South do not like the colored people. The Constitution restrains them from effecting this dislike through state action but it most assuredly did not appoint the court as a sociological watchdog to rear up every time private discrimination raises its admittedly ugly head.” In the next decade, Rehnquist would go on to write a major speech for Barry Goldwater and urge him to oppose the CRA.
This is all worth mentioning because it’s indicative of who current ultra-conservative justices learned from; how willing they are to tow the party line instead of doing what is constitutionally just; how generational White supremacy maintains control of the levers of power. It’s no wonder why justices are hand-selected by the representative minority to sit on the highest court in the United States. Unlike the state’s rights plot preceding and succeeding the civil war, this is more sinister. On the state level, Republicans are codifying some of the strictest voting legislation since Jim Crow while senators in Congress play political games.
It’s Not Just Manchin and Sinema
Laying the blame solely on Manchin and Sinema without discussing the institutional problems in Congress is troublesome. Conservatives are bolstered by their cohorts on the courts and are poised to continue allowing states to restrict our civil liberties. However, money in politics, institutionally racist processes, and the actors behind them are all major issues we don’t discuss enough during tumultuous times such as these.
For Manchin and Sinema, it’s clear what they’re doing is self-serving. Aside from having questionable donors that put the senators in unethical positions, it’s about more than the money for them. It’s about ego. It’s about reelection. It’s about maintaining power and dominion over others and against the representative majority.
Manchin doesn’t get elected without conservative votes. His constituents know that he speaks for them. Never in his career has he received so much attention for simply doing what he’s always done. That’s why he’s so nonchalant about everything. He’s had a ton of practice just waiting for this day. For Sinema, the strategy is likely going to be the same moving forward. Her positions will assuredly allow her to gain traction with Republicans in Arizona. They will assure her victory if she can lock them down.
Aside from ego for the two Democrats, Republicans have adopted an ideology based on the hate and “othering” that built this country. Whether they want to admit it or not, what they stand for upholds White supremacy and White power structures. For centuries, many conservatives have said the quiet part out loud. While they typically work in silence, they always find ways to remind us of just what their intentions are. As McConnell recently did.
Responding to Manríquez of Latino Rebels, McConnell was the latest to inform us of the views dictating conservative action. McConnell said, “the concern is misplaced because, if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.” A statement that suggests Black voters aren’t American enough to them.
But that’s not the worst of what he said. His statement was a clear dog whistle that labeled Black people as less American to extremists. When he continued to say that most voters claimed voting was “easy,” it acted as a signal that is being received as one that suggests we should make it more difficult. Including the mobilization of extremists to monitor polling sites as “poll watchers” and to harass and intimidate Black voters and voters of color.
McConnell would later try to explain his way out of his comment by creating confusion with the suggestion that he left out a word. The confusion was then exacerbated when reporters tried to determine if the omitted word was “all” or “almost,” which McConnell later clarified. By then, the conversation around the story had become so diluted it got lost in a sea of political extremism.
All indicators point to Republicans taking action on the state level to suppress the vote along with other attacks on civil liberties while Congress maintains its complacency. What has become clear is McConnell, Sinema, and Manchin are one and the same. The only differences between them come in the form of overt versus covert racism and bigotry. The latter is bolstered by the vast majority of the population showing a lack of concern for non-White groups.
Silence Was Never An Option
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” There is no denying the importance of being persistent when calling out White power structures. There are no “two sides” to hate. Not in journalism, nor in life. The silence from members of the Senate is a weapon for political extremists just as the silence and complacency from the public are seen as approval.
If there is no protest by the majority population against the representative minority then it allows them to move in silence. Manchin and Sinema represent that lack of protest. The silence King warned us about. With regards to language, political oppression against non-White groups, and growing extremism in the nation’s policing apparatus, the United States has come full circle to the era preceding the Civil Rights Act.
Voting rights and free speech go hand in hand. A point the Supreme Court made clear with the Citizens United decision that declared corporations as people and their campaign donations as free speech. If a corporation’s “voice” is being silenced by disallowing exorbitant campaign contributions, is a person’s voice not being silenced by making it harder to vote? The United States makes everything easy for corporations while making life harder for everyday people.
When conservatives attack free speech and voting rights simultaneously, they’re attempting to silence dissent against the “durable” Republican majority Karl Rove has been waiting for. Book bans, attacks on fact-based American history (without omission), and denying people the right to speak on these issues are all invariably intertwined with the attack on voting rights.
You could argue that Sinema, Manchin, and other Senators don’t see it this way but, it’s clear they understand the ramifications. They just don’t care. These attacks on our civil liberties benefit the conservative minority and no one else. They ensure that smaller populations in rural America have more of a say than the rest of us. These are policies based on fears of the racist “White extinction” conspiracy theory, among many others. Fears that drive hate.
They lead to verbal and physical attacks against Black people, Latinos, Jews, Asian Americans, and other non-White groups. We watched it happen for more than five years thanks to a wannabe dictator who emboldened extremists. His support of them is what drove the huge spike in their recruitment numbers. Even cops, judges, and politicians joined such groups.
Many remain in positions of power today.
This is where we are in American society. While it may seem too deep to navigate for most, the population can no longer turn a blind eye to the problem. It starts by calling it out more than once. Sustained efforts and campaigns against hate are what brings change. Look to all those who preceded us and see how they did things. None were silent.
Silence only serves the oppressor. It also lets others in your proximity know what is okay and what isn’t. Therefore, it behooves every American to take everyday actions to suppress hate. It starts with calling it out wherever you see or hear it. This will not end with your silence.
Race-based attacks haven’t slowed down, they’re increasing in number. All of this can only end when Americans collectively say enough is enough. The goal of the current conservative movement is to disenfranchise as many people as possible with fear. The attacks on the right to vote are simply one battle in an effort to completely silence non-White populations.
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