Bloom Briefing 25: Attack on Voting Rights; Evidence of Attempted Collusion; NRA Declaration of War

Hello and welcome to the twenty-fifth edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. There are three major pieces of news which simply must be discussed this week: the administration’s attempted assault on voting rights; the first hard evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia; and the NRA’s declaration of war on the entire “other.” Links to other good reading are at the bottom.

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Voting Rights are Under Attack

There has long been a mountain of evidence that Trump is hostile to voting rights. His appointment of Jeff Sessions, a man with a history of persecuting black voting rights activists, to the position of Attorney General was a sign of this hostility. So too was Trump’s insistence on repeating the patently false claim that millions of Americans voted illegally (only for Clinton).

Shortly after assuming the presidency, Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity. Was this commission, you ask, tasked to investigate whether Russia had committed a serious breach of American electoral integrity? Sadly and predictably, it was not. It appears, if this week’s announcement is any indication, that this commission is tasked principally with the fabrication of evidence for Trump’s false claim that millions of people voted illegally (again, only for Clinton) in the election.

Kris Kobach, the secretary of state for Kansas, was appointed to vice-chair the Commission, which is formally chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. As Ari Berman’s profile of Kobach in the New York Times Magazine leads, Kobach “likes to bill himself as ‘the A.C.L.U.’s worst nightmare,’” Kobach’s own language, not Berman’s. Berman does, however, contextualize Kobach well:

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed tactics that prevented blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups from voting. But for decades, Republicans have fought to circumvent the law by describing their proposed restrictions – requiring specific forms of identification to vote, preventing early voting, purging voting rolls – as colorblind security measures, even though there is little evidence of any individual voter fraud in the United States…

No state has been as aggressive as Kansas in restricting ballot access, and no elected official has been as dogged as Kobach… For years, Republicans have used racially coded appeals to white voters as a means to win elections. Kobach has inverted the priorities, using elections, and advocating voting restrictions that make it easier for Republicans to win them, as a vehicle for implementing policies that protect the interests and aims of a shrinking white majority. This has made him one of the leading intellectual architects of a new nativist movement that is rapidly gaining influence, not just in the United States, but across the globe."

This week, the Kobach-vice-chaired Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity sent a letter to all 50 states requesting the following: names, addresses, birthdates, political party (if recorded), last four digits of the voter's Social Security Number and which elections the voter has participated in since 2006. Kobach, when asked, said that he doesn’t have plans for how the commission will use the data.

To recap: Kobach, a guy with a long history of deliberately trying to disenfranchise the young, people of color, and immigrants, has been backed by a president hostile to voting rights to ask for all voter data from every state in the country. That’s legitimately terrifying for democracy.

In my estimation, the Republican Party’s antagonism toward voting rights (and Kobach’s now-dominant version in particular) divulges the Party’s depravity. Hostility to voting rights makes any commitment to be purely superficial. By actively making it harder to vote for populations they know vote largely against them, Republicans betray their true calculus: they would rather win undemocratically than lose democratically. Outcome is more important than process; policy victories are more important than democracy itself.

For this strategy to be successful, Republicans must codify voting exclusivity. The populations they are seeking to keep away from the ballot box are voting against them in record numbers. As a short-term play, it may have helped them win the presidency this year (see: Wisconsin), but as a long-term play, it requires a doubling-down on the same strategy to be effective.

Rather than trying to craft policies that appeal to minority voters (or just ending their demonization of minority voters), Republicans opted to just try and prevent them from voting. As the minority share of the voting population grows, the only way for this to work is for Republicans to permanently keep minority voters away from the voting booth. Otherwise, the backlash will be severe enough to make Republicans a permanent minority.

This logic is why the descent to authoritarianism is short and steep. Once a party starts marginalizing a group of voters to the extent that they vote overwhelmingly for the other side, the only electoral strategy remaining is to prevent them from voting by whatever means possible. Remember, this is the path that the Republican Party has chosen; Trump is merely the person implementing this strategy at a national level to a new extreme.

It is my belief that #TheResistance must place resisting this assault on voting rights at the forefront of its mission. Republicans are trying to take away poor people’s healthcare, and this is bad. They are trying to privatize public education, and this is bad. They are trying to increase the rate at which we send people to prison, and this is bad. They are trying to give a tax break to the wealthy, and this is bad. But none of these things is irreversible in the way that an assault on voting rights has the potential to be.

If Republicans effectively curtail the right to vote for millions of Americans who won’t vote for them, there is little hope of winning the election that the left would have to win in order to undo the myriad bad policies Republicans are currently attempting to enact. Voting is the mechanism by which power can be wrested back from those who would seek to impose regressive draconian policies. Without free and equitable access to the voting booth, the route back towards democracy may be permanently blockaded.

This situation does not leave the left without a predicament. When the righteous option and the self-interested option are in alignment, there is the possibility for a critique of motivation – that one’s pursuit of the righteous is merely the pursuit of self-interest. The left’s support of voting rights is certainly open to this critique. The best form of this critique usually comes in the form of the left wanting black and brown votes in exchange for simply not being overtly racist.

It’s important that the left not just speak against racism but actively promote and effectuate policies that are designed to benefit black and brown voters. This means being for reparations for slavery, amnesty for the undocumented, an end to mass incarceration, and more funding for local organizations that do the day-to-day work of building community in black and brown neighborhoods.

The left should be working for all these things, but I reiterate that none of this is possible without fair and free elections. A national entity working to suppress the vote may put us on an irreversible path towards authoritarianism.

For more on the administration’s assault on voting rights from Ari Berman, read this piece in The Nation. Also, consider giving him a follow on Twitter: There’s no one better on voting rights in America.

Trump Campaign Sought Hacked Clinton Emails

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that associates of Michael Flynn attempted to retrieve the hacked Hillary Clinton emails from the Russian hackers. Simultaneously, there is evidence that the Russian hackers were looking to find an intermediary through whom they could the hacked emails to Michael Flynn. Since the WSJ article is behind a paywall, here is the AP recap on the New York Times website. If you have a WSJ log-in, you can access the original article here.

This is the first hard evidence that the Trump campaign and its associates attempted to coordinate with Russians regarding the exposure of Clinton’s hacked emails (or any matter). There had previously been plenty of evidence of contacts (from Manafort, Flynn, Sessions, Stone, and others), but there had been no evidence of what had been discussed during any of these Russian rendezvous. It had only the appearance of coordination; this now is bona fide documentation of attempted coordination.

These actions, surely, are in the scope of Robert Mueller’s inquiry into any Trump-Russia activity. Mueller will take his time, and his report will be thorough, but treating this government like any other legitimate government in the meantime is a non-starter.

Any elected official serious about making sure that our entire democracy hasn’t been taken over by Vladimir Putin should be obstructing all government action not necessary to the continued functioning of the state until the truth about Trump’s relationship with Russia can be ascertained. This is their job. Our job is to hold them accountable. If they are not willing to bring government to a halt to figure out if we are under severe attack by a hostile foreign power, we should vote them out regardless of their political affiliation.

For more on this episode from one if its participants, I *highly* recommend Matt Tait’s article at Lawfare. Seriously, read it.

The NRA Promotes Violence

The NRA released a new ad this week. The ad, unsurprisingly, states that liberals are destroying the country, though it does so by referring to an ambiguous “they.” Here’s a transcript:

“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”

All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.

And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.

I’m the National Rifle Association of America. And I’m freedom’s safest place.”

Just two weeks ago, Republicans were blaming Bernie Sanders and left-wing media for bringing about the attack on Representative Steve Scalise, conveniently forgetting that Sarah Palin had published a map of legislative districts Republicans should target using gun cross-hairs, and that one of those districts happened to be Gabby Giffords’s.

Now, one of the staunchest pro-Republican groups is implicitly calling for violence against a “they” that was left intentionally undefined so as to take the form of whatever group the viewing gun-owner most hates. Urbanites, people of color, millennials, Democrats, leftists, anti-gun advocates, and many more have reason to be more fearful now that right-wing violence (the most common form of terrorism in the United States) will become more frequent, and that they will become more frequent targets.

Notably, the ad turns the concept of freedom on its head. The freedom to “protest”, the freedom of the press (“their media”), the freedom to speak out against injustice (“scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia”) – these freedoms are the threat from which a gun will protect you. Literally. The NRA wants the police to shut down these freedoms because that’s only way that freedom can be maintained.

If you’re wondering how freedom and freedom can be opposite sides of the same coin, you’re probably not alone. The NRA’s idea of freedom isn’t the freedom enshrined in the first amendment, it’s a kind of cultural liberation – the freedom to be a (white) gun-toting bigot free from being denounced for being that bigot.

This is a common perversion in conservative arguments of the day. Labeling someone a racist (which is a form of speech) is an assault on free speech. Protesting in the streets is a threat to democracy despite being one of the first freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of the press is subverting democracy because it is speaking out against the government (exactly what it is supposed to do).

The NRA isn’t just an advocacy group for gun-owners; it’s an advocacy group for whiteness. It’s the political organization most aligned with the concept of #MAGA. This is why Philando Castile’s murder got virtually no comment from the NRA, but a bunch of people protesting Trump is labeled un-American. David Graham has written about the NRA’s double-standard on race at The Atlantic.

It is not the protesters, the critics, or the media who are the gravest threats to democracy; political organizations actively inciting hatred of “them” are much graver threats. When this incitement is directed at gun-owners, the appeal comes perilously close to a direct call for violence.

Additional Reading:

If you didn’t click on the link to Ari Berman’s profile of Kris Kobach above, you should do so here. It’s my top recommendation this week.

My number two recommendation is Matt Tait’s Lawfare article refrenced above about attempted collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers.

A few months ago, Kevin Baker made a lengthy (half-serious?) argument for “bluexit,” the secession of the blue states from the union. I may have more on the relationship between states’ rights, federalism, and the concepts of secession and nullification in future briefings, but this is worth a look now. (The illustrations are also creative.)

I stumbled upon an old Medium post by Michael Mark Cohen, an American Studies professor at UC-Berkeley about the word “douchebag” and its place in the lexicography of American insults.

At the New York Times, Lindy West goes after the racists and sexists who cloak their hatred behind a façade of free speech activism. It relates well to the last section on the NRA ad.