|Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump|
Hillary Clinton, the only remotely qualified candidate running, is expected to win the presidency -- and let's pray to God she does, or we are likely to wake up soon to an American many of us don't recognize, and I don't mean that in a good way. Clinton, in fact, probably has the most solid credentials (on paper) of any candidate since George H. W. Bush, and yet Donald Trump -- whose only qualification is that he makes for compelling reality TV -- is turning it into a real race, according to most polls.
That reminds us you could call this "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly campaign," with emphasis on the last two categories. And yes, Clint Eastwood piped up just the other day to say something ignorant about politics. (How could a man who has directed and acted in so many top-notch motion pictures, be such a political putz? How could a man known for going almost entire movies without saying a word now open his yap regularly to reveal that, in terms of national governance, he makes you root for the serial killers in those old Dirty Harry movies?)
With Eastwood in mind, let's consider three lessons that likely are to come from this election -- and they all involve the South:
I've probably said this on the blog before, but it bears repeating: Alabama has the most unrealized potential of any state in the country. It has extraordinary beauty, with majestic mountains to the north and the Gulf of Mexico (with some of the world's most gorgeous beaches) to the south; it has ample natural resources, from coal to fertile crop land to stunning rivers and streams (plus an ocean, did we mention an ocean?); it's got one of the nation's most prime locations, roughly between New Orleans to the south, Memphis to the west, Nashville to the north, Atlanta to the east, and Jacksonville/Tampa/Orlando/Miami to the south.
So why does Alabama rank in the bottom 10 of almost every quality-of-life survey taken in the past 30 to 40 years? Why does Alabama rank high when it's good to rank low, and low when it's good to rank high? Only one answer comes to mind -- Alabama is home to too many stupid people.
To be fair, Alabama is home to some of the finest, brightest people I've known. But they seem to be offset by yahoos who jump out from behind every magnolia and pine tree at voting time. That's how we end up with a former Speaker of the House, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, and a governor (who hopefully will be former soon) who have been convicted, suspended, and investigated for a variety of improper/unlawful acts. And that doesn't even count the most corrupt former official in the modern era -- Governor Bob Riley, with assistance from his son, Rob "Uday" Riley.
Some polls have shown that Alabama is likely to go stronger for Trump than any other state. The "thinking" among many in "The Heart of Dixie" seems to be; "He's the most unqualified and dangerous presidential candidate in American history -- with ties to Russia that make even me nervous -- but he plays to my white nationalistic pride, so by God, he's my man!"
Historians will spend years trying to figure out how any individual American could vote for Donald Trump -- and how any state could go for him overwhelmingly. Look for historians to be spending a lot of time on the back roads of Alabama, posing a question that has only one answer: Alabama would be one of our top 10 states in all meaningful categories, except it is home to a disproportionate share of stupid people; that's why Donald Trump will cruise to victory there today.
A report just four days ago shows that we have 868 fewer polling places since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in a June 2013 case called Shelby County v. Holder. Almost half of counties that once had to approve voting changes with the federal government have cut polling places.
The Shelby County in the court case's title is in Alabama. In fact, it's the place my wife, Carol, and I called home for roughly 25 years -- until deputies beat me and threw me in jail and forced us into a bogus foreclosure, all because I unmasked legal and political corruption on this blog. Yes, I was thrown in jail for blogging -- a story that always made my fellow inmates howl with laughter -- but that's the kind of place Shelby County can be. Just south of Birmingham, it generally is considered the fastest growing county in the state, and one of the fastest growing in the country. But its government base is in a backwoods town called Columbiana, and it is so right-leaning that many local elections don't have a single Democratic candidate.
Shelby County is the place where white nationalism and race-based political fears have come to thrive. It's also the place where almost all white officials -- and many white residents -- cannot tell (or even see) the truth, no matter the circumstances. For example, veteran Shelby County attorney Frank "Butch" Ellis (or his surrogates) argued key provisions of the Voting Rights Act no longer were needed because people in places like Shelby County had grown up enough to finally eat at the adults table come election time, giving everyone a fair chance to vote for the candidate of their choice. Butch Ellis, unfortunately, has family ties to the segregationist Dixiecrats of the late 1940s and notoriously racist Birmingham public safety commissioner Bull Connor.
No one should be surprised that Ellis' words were a lie. It's clear now the goal was to suppress voting opportunities, especially for minorities. From an article at The Nation, focusing largely on Texas:
Texas has closed more than 400 polling places, more than any other state in the study. “Almost half of all Texas counties in our sample closed polling places since Shelby, resulting in 403 fewer voting locations for the 2016 election than in past years,” according to the Leadership Conference.
Medina County, a heavily Republican area in South Texas, closed a polling place in the town of Natalia, which is 75 percent Latino and the only Democratic-leaning part of the county. “We’ve had a polling place for at least the last six decades,” Emilio Flores, a local activist and registered Republican, told me. When Flores asked the county elections administrator, Patricia Barton, how low-income and disabled Latino voters were supposed to vote without a polling place in their town, he said she told him, “If you think it’s such a big issue, why don’t you shuttle them yourself?” Last week the county commission approved a polling place in Natalia for Election Day after local activists like Flores raised alarms, but Medina County will have only eight polling places in 2016, down from 14 in 2012.
That clearly is the result right-wingers in Shelby County, Alabama, wanted. It might be the most important issue to come out of the 2016 election, and it likely will require Congressional action to override the U.S. Supreme Court. Butch Ellis and his ilk have proven they still have the mindset of children when it comes to voting rights.
Could the GOP's stranglehold on the South be loosening? A report yesterday from ThinkProgress suggests the answer is yes -- and the right-wing's vice-like grip might even take a slight hit today.
Demographic shifts -- especially in North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas -- indicate the South might be moving, oh so slowly, to the political left, or at least toward the center. ThinkProgress notes that Barack Obama and his supporters had to wait almost two days in 2008 to learn they had held off John McCain in North Carolina, by less than half a percentage point.
In 2012, Obama lost the South by a resounding 7 points. Hillary Clinton heads into today's elections trailing in polls by 1 point across the region. From ThinkProgress:
Now, in the final days of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are virtually tied in North Carolina. But what began as a “moment” has, since the 2008 race, matured into a movement.Trump still has an overall lead in the South, but his polling advantage is shockingly slim compared to those of prior Republican candidates. Whereas Obama lost the region by a solid seven points in 2012, Clinton is behind by just a single percentage point, and conservative states long thought to be GOP strongholds are now securely in the “toss-up” column.
Naysayers will dismiss this year as a fluke, brought on by the unprecedented weakness of the current Republican nominee. But although Trump’s unpopularity has no doubt helped to put more of the South in play, deeper structural forces are also driving the region’s political evolution. Demographic trends and grassroots organizing have been nudging the South left for years. The same forces that turned Virginia into a reliably Democratic state and delivered North Carolina to Barack Obama in 2008 carried then-Texas State Senator Wendy Davis through a now legendary 11 hour abortion rights filibuster in 2013.They also drove scores of Southern racial justice activists to rally against white-on-black violence; in Charlotte, North Carolina, following the killing of a black man by police, and in Charleston, South Carolina, after the murder of black churchgoers by a white supremacist.
As dreadful as this election season has been -- and it's been plenty dreadful -- perhaps it will bring positive change in its wake. Perhaps Congress will reinstate the guts of the Voting Rights Act that were decimated by Shelby v. Holder. Perhaps today's results will add to the signs that the GOP no longer holds a complete lock on the South.
It's clearly too much to ask that Alabama lead any kind of progressive change in the South. But North Carolina, Georgia, or Texas might do it; if just one of them goes blue, that would signal progress -- and maybe it will be the kind that not even James Comey and his dubious FBI can stop.