A little context is critical here. It would be too easy to dismiss Donald Trump’s Commission on Electoral Integrity as superfluous evidence of the intellectual erosion of the Republican Party. As a Twitter observer who styles himself LOLGOP quipped last week when the commission held its first meeting: “All the evidence in the world won’t get the GOP to accept climate change but no evidence is necessary to stop black people from voting.”
And yes, the hypocrisy is staggering. Scientific consensus, Miami Beach flooding, record heat and a chunk of ice the size of Delaware breaking off the Antarctic ice shelf are not enough to convince President Dumpster Fire and his party to get serious about climate change. Meantime, a few dubious anecdotes of voting irregularities get us a presidential commission furrowing its brows over a “problem” that does not exist.
But the truth is, hypocritical is the least bad thing this is. Which brings us back to context.
Consider, for instance, the rise over the last 10 years of photo ID laws, putatively designed to keep ineligible people from voting. Never mind that this happens only slightly more frequently than Darth Vader dances the Macarena. Never mind, too, the alarms raised by observers who point out that poor people are less likely to have — or be readily able to obtain — such IDs.
Further context is found in the Supreme Court’s 2013 evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. The VRA, enacted to fight the systematic denial of the ballot to African-American voters, required states that had engaged in this practice to get federal permission before changing their election laws. The Republican appointees on the court united to strike this provision down.
Still more context: the ongoing resistance in Republican states like Florida, Kentucky and Iowa to allowing ex-felons to vote. Mind you, having once served time does not exempt you from a duty to pay taxes, but in many places, it does rob you of the right to have a say in how those taxes are spent.
It is no mystery who these and other restrictions are designed to hurt. After all, the populations most likely to be affected, including African Americans and the poor, are those most likely to vote for Democrats. But if deductive reasoning is not enough to sway you, there’s also the fact that a Republican is occasionally impolitic enough to admit the chicanery outright.
As in a party official from North Carolina who bragged in 2013 that the state’s photo ID law would keep “lazy blacks” and others from voting. “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” Don Yelton told “The Daily Show.”
In a sense, you can’t fault Republicans for this. The GOP is built on appealing to the anger and resentment of older, straight, white, Christian voters. What do you expect the party to do when faced with a rising electorate of rainbow colors, ages, religious philosophies and sexual identities? Change? Broaden? Be serious.
It is only mildly hyperbolic to describe what is happening here as a soft coup — the theft of legitimate power by illegitimate means. The GOP has inflicted calculated violence on a core American creed that says we all have a voice and all our voices deserve to be heard.
Apparently, that’s something Republicans no longer believe. And this new panel cannot help but have a chilling effect on non-GOP voters — precisely what it is intended to do. Too bad the party is not serious about ferreting out threats to the integrity of our elections.
It would not have to look far.
NOTE: In a recent column, I misstated the year of Philando Castile’s death. He was killed in 2016.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.