Over the past two weeks the Trump campaign has been pivoting, but not to the middle. He has made claims of a “rigged” election the centerpiece of his campaign. These assertions reflect a dangerous tendency among Republicans to use false rumors of voter fraud to disenfranchise people of color and to delegitimize Democratic officials. Sainted John McCain, supposedly a representative of a less vicious GOP, claimed that ACORN was going to engage in election fraud back in 2008. In the years since, those accusations have led to increased voter requirements and a pliant Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act.
One thing that has bugged me about the reaction to Trump’s execrable comments is the assertion that "America has always had free and fair elections.”
Until 1968, there was not a single election where everyone could vote. There was a brief period in Reconstruction where black men could vote, but women still could not. Until 1920, women could not vote. Until 1965, voting rights were still contingent on race. Considering that African American voter registration rates in the South were disproportionately low in 1968, even that election might not be able to be classified as the first free and fair presidential election in American history. But for the sake of argument, I’ll say that there were merely twelve presidential elections in this country’s history, from 1968 to 2012, that count. That’s out of 58 total.
It is the rule, not the exception, for the vote to be limited in American history. And since the Shelby decision, it looks like we are turning back the clock to before 1965. And yet the candidates were not asked about voting rights during the presidential debates. It is a vital problem that isn’t being dealt with by the political media, who cannot cram it into their fatuous “both sides do it” narrative. This is a case where Republicans are just blatantly trying to deny the vote to groups of people who tend to vote against them. The stenographers then report the "voter fraud" rationale and refuse to call voter suppression what it really is, since that would be taking sides.
A big part of the reason for this suppression, and for Trump's "rigged" rhetoric, is that a whole lot of Republicans simply will not accept the legitimacy of any Democrat in the White House. We saw this with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and we will certainly see it with Hillary Clinton, too. They assume that they are the "real Americans," and that if their preferred candidate is not elected, it must be due to chicanery on the part of the left, particularly with voters of color.
As I mentioned, the Voting Rights Act only held sway over the presidential elections from 1968 to 2012. During that time each Democrat elected president has done so without a majority of the white vote. The attempts to limit the vote seemed rooted to me in an assumption as old as the "Redeemers" who violently ended Reconstruction: a government without the support of a majority of whites is de facto illegitimate. This year Trump has merely made the subtext into text. Time will tell if this energizes white supremacy or if it helps expose its machinations to those previously blind to them.