Trump’s racist attacks on democracy open Pandora’s box for future suppression
It's about Black votes: Trump's frivolous lawsuits claiming voter fraud have centered on throwing out Black votes in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Despite their dubious courtroom credibility, the cases are setting a precedent for future voter suppression. In this photo, election worker Fran Ison helps voters at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. | Darron Cummings / AP

The nation is not out of the clutches of Trumpism just yet, and it may not be for some time. Although the Donald Trump-appointed General Services Administration (GSA) head, Emily Murphy, finally formally acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s win over Trump in the Nov. 3 election, the maneuvers by the outgoing president and his Republican allies to undermine the people’s vote at every turn has set a dangerous precedent for the future of democracy.

In the weeks following the election, we have seen measures taken by those in power that have been nothing short of testing the waters for a soft coup. This action has been steeped in far-right conspiracy theories and racism. These measures did not sprout up from nowhere. Instead, the groundwork was laid months in advance to make these actions possible in the first place.

Setting the stage for suppression

In the midst of a global pandemic, one that his administration greatly exacerbated, Trump began to sow seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots long before a single one had been cast. He often boasted on his infamous Twitter account and in press conferences that the only way he would lose the election was if it were rigged. Trump then went on to make baseless claims of potential fraud and mishandling of votes cast by mail.

None of this was done in good faith or with the idea of protecting the people’s right to pick the next president or Congress.

There was a more insidious reason for his opposition to vote by mail. Months ago, he said out loud what many Republicans secretly feared, that mail-in voting would drive up turnout among people of color and other demographics that produce Democratic victories.

Leading up to November, Trump, along with his Postmaster General, Republican Louis DeJoy, deliberately delayed the delivery of mail across the country as a precursor to delay mail-in ballots from reaching their destinations by Election Day. The Republican Party as a whole joined hand in hand with this scheme by committing $20 million to fund election-related lawsuits challenging voting rights.

The crosshairs of those millions of dollars were set on shooting down people’s ability to vote safely from home during the COVID-19 crisis. This was part of a play to also make sure mail-in ballots would not be counted until after Election Day in key battleground states, even if they were postmarked by Nov. 3.

Despite this wave of obstruction, the 2020 elections turned into an historic working-class electoral uprising that rebuked Trump and the GOP. It built on the momentum of the 2018 midterm elections that saw a historic turnout of youth, Black voters, and other marginalized communities.

In the face of this uprising, Trump and his GOP allies have pushed the boundaries of their malice to new bold extremes.

Racism and violence

As the election results showed, the usual Republican tactics aimed at keeping people of color away from the polls didn’t work. So the GOP resorted to trying to throw out Black votes already cast in many states. Electoral uprising: In this Oct. 1, 2020, photo, hundreds of people wait in line to early vote in Chicago. That was the week that Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacists during the presidential debate. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Chicago Sun-Times via AP

As they continue to push the false narrative of fraud, Trump’s team has targeted their accusations at majority African-American cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Atlanta—without presenting any verifiable evidence in court to back up their claims.

These attacks have gotten so overt that some Black voters are countering with legal action. Monique Lin-Luse, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign on behalf of Black Michigan voters, stated in an interview with CBS News that Trump is sending a message that, “the will of those [Black] voters is not to be seen as legitimate; their political will as expressed at the ballot box doesn’t have the same weight [as white voters].”

The lawsuit filed in Michigan states that the Trump administration’s tactics “repeat the worst abuses in our nation’s history, as Black Americans were denied a voice in American democracy for most of the first two centuries of the Republic.”

This push to connect “fraud” and “theft” to Black Americans is not accidental.

Black voters are a powerful demographic when it comes to organizing and voting for progressive change in the United States. This has been true before this year’s elections and will remain so for many elections to come. It has been shown that when Black voters turn out, Republicans lose out.

Trump initially tried the old GOP playbook centered on Black voter suppression before the election. Those tactics have been around for decades—from the Black Codes used to keep newly-freed Black people after the Civil War from voting to the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

Since that initial ploy to stop Black people from getting to the ballot box wasn’t enough this year, they are now outright demanding the disqualification of Black votes already cast. The suppression has always been there, but now it’s been reshaped under the guise of demanding “electoral integrity.”

We can create online jokes about the embarrassment of Trump’s legal team all day long, but they are part of a base that is now getting to debate on a national platform the question of whether or not the votes of Black Americans are actually valid. Although the cases filed by the Trump campaign are constantly being dismissed and thrown out, they are being allowed to put into public discourse an eye of suspicion toward a powerful voting demographic that continuously shows up for real change.

This attack also emboldens segments of Trump’s base that adhere to his racist rhetoric and bigotry. Trump helped to create violence and division by vilifying the Black Lives Matter movement as “thugs” and “looters.” So why not extend it to making it seem that Black people can also “steal” an election?

Trump has made it clear on more than one occasion that he doesn’t think Black lives matter, and now his legal team is proudly exclaiming that neither do Black votes. This is a dangerous game as domestic terrorism steeped in white supremacist ideology is on the rise.

That is cause for alarm; the danger goes far beyond this or that particular Trump court case.

Criminal coercion

The conspiracy theories and absurd claims offered by Trump’s legal team may seem laughable on the surface, but the president’s legal challenges have made Black people’s right to vote a matter for public debate, setting a dangerous precedent. Here, Rudy Giuliani, head of Trump’s election theft legal team, conducts a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on lawsuits on Thursday, November 19, 2020. Trump attorney Sidney Powell is behind Giuliani. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

We can discuss how the criminal justice system often has a lack of justice in it, as the wealthy regularly find loopholes that give them a way around following the law. Yet there are rules and a Constitution in place that Trump’s administration has continuously disregarded.

Sen. Lindsey Graham made a coercive phone call to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, urging him to toss ballots that favored Biden. Trump reached out personally to Republican officials in Michigan who play a role in certifying state votes.

These incidents are just two examples in a long list of criminally coercive tactics by Trump and his GOP allies to undermine the will of the people.

These aren’t loopholes or grey areas; these actions are straight up criminal. If they are not held accountable for this it could open the door for others to do more of the same—and worse—in the future.

Doesn’t end with Trump

There is no doubt, given the countless frivolous lawsuits, criminally coercive activities, and racist fear-mongering, that Donald Trump is trying to steal a legitimate election that he lost by a wide margin. It is also clear that the lackluster response by a majority of Republicans to condemn his actions shows their complacency with this attempted theft. In fact, they helped to make it possible.

The GOP is no stranger to using voter suppression tactics, and their wait-and-see approach to Trump’s actions gives a preview of what obstructive measures may be added to their playbook in the near future. The reason why so many Republican officials have been late to the party in condemning Trump’s actions is not due to cowardice; rather, it has more to do with them wanting to see whether he actually succeeds.

This is what working people and activists will have to keep an eye on as we march towards the run-off elections in Georgia in January—and when the 2022 midterm elections come around.

Given the extreme lengths to which the far-right has gone to suppress it, there should now be no doubt about the power of electoral activism. Trump has expanded the field of suppression, but it won’t end when he leaves office in January. He was but a player in a larger systemic fight, and one of the ways we win this fight is by continuing to defend the people’s vote.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.