The racial ghosts of the past

By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
November 02, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI place myself in the category “too scared to believe it even though I wish for a positive outcome”.

I refer to Tuesday’s US presidential election and what the polls wish us to believe. In spite of what the polls say about Joe Biden’s lead, I can’t get over the 2016 presidential election where Hillary Clinton was supposed to make mincemeat out of Donald Trump.

Hillary is a Wellesley College graduate. Hers was supposed to be a glorious occasion for women and the college. A woman winning the presidency was supposed to be the final crack in the glass ceiling. This would have been achievement indeed, coming after the election of the country’s first black president. George Washington, the first president of the United States, was elected in 1789.

Hillary’s victory would have been a part of the college’s contribution to American electoral politics: a women’s college in the North­east to produce the US’ first woman president. That would have been historic since Wellesley College was established in 1875 to educate women who were not allowed to attend the nation’s colleges and universities.

On election night, 2016, Wellesley alumnae poured in from various parts of the country to celebrate what we thought would be a remarkable occasion. The Nan Koehane Center, site of the festivities anticipatory of victory, was gaily decorated and with food galore. All eyes were set upon the giant screen that was relaying the election results.

Things started out rocky, but we were all sure Hillary would prevail. Around 10.30 p.m., Ohio was called for Trump. That was not part of the script. At 11 p.m., North Carolina was also called for Trump, as was Pennsylvania around 12.30 a.m. We knew it was all over then. At the White House, president Obama called his troops together in the Oval Office and declared: “This is not the apocalypse.” He was wrong. Trump’s victory felt as though it were an apocalypse, and nothing since then has changed our minds.

As I write, the national polls show Biden leading Trump 51 to 44 per cent. Biden is leading Trump in seven (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Iowa) of the eight battleground states. Eighty million Americans, or 60 per cent of those who voted in 2016, had cast their vote by Friday. More than nine million Texans have voted already, surpassing the total number of those who voted in 2016.

Although most polls have Biden leading, why the fear, one might ask? The Republicans have done everything to prevent the wishes of the electorate from being heard and counted. They have engaged in massive voter suppression: that is, legal and illegal efforts to prevent eligible voters (read blacks and Latinos) from exercising their right to vote.

Two years ago, Stacey Abrams narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, who removed hundreds of thousands of voters from the official rolls to ensure his own victory. Abrams was seeking to become the first black woman ever to be governor of a state, and she was robbed.

James Rainey observed that “the long American tradition of threatening voting access—often for black people and Latinos—has dramatically resurfaced in 2020, this time buttressed by the record-setting wave of litigation and an embattled president whose re-election campaign is built around a strategy of sowing doubt and confusion.”

He continues, “A Memphis, Tennessee, poll worker turned away people wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, saying they couldn’t vote. Robo calls warned thousands of Michigan residents that mail-in voting could put their personal information in the hands of debt collectors and police. In Georgia, officials cut polling places by nearly ten per cent, even as the number of voters surged by nearly two million.” (Los Angeles Times, October 24.)

In June, Gail Welch, a Jones County election commissioner, posted a social media comment, “I am concerned about voter registration in Mississippi. The blacks are having lots of events for voter registration. People in Mississippi have to get involved, too.”

In Texas, the Republicans closed down many voting places, making it difficult for blacks and Latinos to vote. One report notes, “The 50 counties that experienced the greatest increase in African American and Latino voting populations had 542 polling stations closed between 2012 and 2018 while those with the lowest increases had only 34 closures.”

Republicans are determined to use the courts to supplement their thievery. They are determined to litigate the election results to the full, which explains President Trump’s frantic efforts to place another justice in the Supreme Court.

Republicans are also trying to prevent ballots that arrive after November 3 from being counted in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. An appellant court in Georgia “rejected a plea to allow ballots received after 7 p.m. on election day to be tallied” (LA Times). The list goes on.

So the fix is on. No matter what the polls say, some of us still believe the Republicans, with the aid of the courts, could steal the election from the Democrats—something they could do with impunity.

Most of us should be guarded when Americans say the US is the most democratic country in the world and that their elections are free and fair. We should also be sceptical when the opposition forces in T&T demand that we import election observers from the US to give the imprimatur of fairness to our election. None of these propositions should be taken for granted.

America is still dealing with the racial ghosts of its past which are doing irreparable harm to its democracy. Although I hope for the best, I can’t get rid of the feeling that the worst might just occur.