Sacrificing democracy to belong to a shrinking ‘club’
Trump voters still fear 'others,' a club our columnist is happy to join
It was a scene both disturbing and expected: former President Donald Trump embracing one of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with the intention of overthrowing the results of the 2020 election.
Micki Larson-Olson was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of resisting police as they tried to clear the grounds that day. Yet, apparently, there are no hard feelings against Trump. In fact, quite the opposite. After driving from Texas to the New Hampshire campaign stop of the current candidate and former president, Larson-Olson got emotional over the recognition, the photographic record of her meeting with him, and his autograph on her backpack.
“And he gave me the pen,” she said, according to a Washington Post report. That she belongs to a QAnon offshoot is also no surprise.
She was thrilled to be a member of the club, one that is losing the culture and has been rejected at the ballot box, but needs to feel special, as special as the insecure little boys who once locked their ramshackle clubhouse before scrawling “no girls allowed” on the door.
All those Washington invaders who throw around the word “patriot” as they trash America’s ideals — all those “true believers” in election fraud myths, the Kari Lakes and Mike “My Pillow Guy” Lindells of the world, the veterans and police officers who found themselves on the wrong side of the law that January day — I suspect they realize in their heart of hearts that Joe Biden tallied the most votes in the last presidential election.
Their beef is where many of those votes came from.
Democratic candidates Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Biden may have won the presidency fair and square, but each failed to gain a majority of the white vote. That means a coalition of, in Trump loyalists’ eyes, “other” voters put them over the top — and that breaks the brains of a lot of folks.
A fantasy world of election-rigging schemes attempts to cover up their resentments, but instead it shines a spotlight on them.
While entertaining Fox News host Sean Hannity’s musings after the 2020 election that something nefarious was going on in Pennsylvania’s election results, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said, without evidence but with certainty: “Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake.”
What was it about Philly, I wonder?
This was the same Graham who, in a 2020 conversation with South Carolina political rival Jaime Harrison, an African American, said: “If you’re a young, African American or an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative, not liberal,” clarifying the tired rhetoric from members of the GOP about African-Americans trapped on the “Democrat” plantation. Turns out the endgame isn’t freedom for Black people, but a change in address to the Republican “plantation” across the street.
Holy war rhetoric
Acceptance, however begrudging, comes at a price — that price being obedience.
And there are plenty more where Graham came from, eager to throw out Michigan votes, but only the ones from the Detroit area, or to torment Black election workers in their offices and homes.
If I’m pessimistic, it’s because a lot of Americans — particularly white, Christian, evangelical ones, whose support of Trump has barely wavered through impeachments, rape trials, hush-money payments to adult film stars — are not even bothering to hide the reasons for gerrymandering districts, curbing voting rights and barring former felons from the voting booth.
Some people count and some don’t.
GOP activist and lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who happened to be on that January 2021 Trump call pleading with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find thousands of favorable votes, showed her disdain for young voters in a recent presentation for Republican donors.
“What are these college campus locations?” she questioned, while expressing no such skeptical sentiments about efforts to ease voting at senior centers.
Some, including Trump’s former chief of staff and the wife of a Supreme Court judge, have invoked the language of a holy war, with the 45th president on God’s side.
What’s a little bit of blasphemy if it helps uphold a crumbling hierarchy, as Americans who have always called the shots are forced to contend with racial and religious minorities, young people, immigrants, LGBTQ Americans advocating for basic civil rights in voices always judged a little too insistent, a little too loud?
No longer do they bother to pay lip service to the notion that elected officials represent everyone, including those who did not vote for them.
The point is to appeal to the base, and to not only disregard but also disrespect anyone and everyone else. It’s why there is a rash of silencing and censuring state legislators across the country. In Montana, a giveaway was the statement that made a point of misgendering Zooey Zephyr, the Democrat who is the state legislature’s first transgender lawmaker, while hypocritically calling for “civil discourse.”
After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there was an exodus of white voters from the party of the president, Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed them. We've since seen that with every law comes tactics to circumvent them, to give power to a shrinking minority, from raising the percentage of votes needed to pass ballot initiatives and constitutional changes, as Ohio is trying, to passing laws limiting abortion rights after voters have registered their opposition, in Kansas.
Gone is any notion of expanding the big tent, of inclusive outreach, which was Republicans’ future playbook after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to Obama — for about a minute.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has constructed the model, humiliating mostly minorities with his “election integrity” dragnet, eliminating two majority-Black U.S. congressional districts, almost inviting LGBTQ families to abandon hope and the state.
That DeSantis is the architect of so many rules that exclude points to the difficulty of making alliances; so many clamor to join the club rather than stand up as individuals for justice. His family tree boasts great-grandparents born in southern Italy, yet he uses immigrants as pawns, sending them off in buses to make a political point.
Joining the ranks of the powerful is an enticing prize when the only cost of admission is leaving others behind, including members of your own, once disenfranchised, group.
Whether it’s fear of changing demographics, the sight of other Americans in positions once thought unattainable (and the competition that comes with it), or an intangible feeling that things aren’t the way they used to be, more and more look to slow up the change or turn back the clock.
Isn’t that what MAGA was all about?
It’s that desperate clinging to the edge of the cliff with everything you’ve got when you think you have everything to lose.
It’s why the time we’re living in seems so intense — and scary, especially if you’re on the receiving end of inchoate wrath.
The “others,” though, are hardly silent. Despite losing her court case to be seated to represent her Montana constituents, I’m confident Zooey Zephyr will keep speaking up and speaking out, so much braver and stronger than the bullies who stand in the way.
That’s a club I want to join.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.