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Why Did Republican Plans Backfire In This Election Cycle?

Democrats get way too giddy about immediate gains and take their eyes off the ball, while Republicans excel at playing the long game. Overused sports metaphors aside, that has been the conventional wisdom because there’s a lot of truth in it.

Want proof? After Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential win, it was Republicans who ignored predictions of a “blue” future. They went to work. While Sen. Mitch McConnell did not ultimately succeed in his wish to make Obama a “one-term president” in 2012, he and his party delivered a 2010 midterm “shellacking” — to use Obama’s own word — that won control of the House and gained seats in the Senate.

In 2014, the GOP won that Senate majority McConnell craved, and the country still lives with the result — a solid conservative block on the Supreme Court, one that overturned Roe v. Wade and seems intent on rolling back voting rights and other signature issues claimed by today’s Democrats.

Few who watched McConnell's block-and-delay strategy, one that shaped that court, would argue with his coaching skill and foresight. But after last week’s anemic midterm GOP showing, the wisdom of Republican guile and “Democrats in disarray” is looking a lot less conventional.

It’s Democrats who are being credited with thinking ahead.

So, was the blue team taking notes, or did Republicans get a little too cocky? Why did some of those best-laid plans backfire?

After the results of the midterms, the partnership with Donald Trump, who refuses to go away, has not aged well. He did win the presidency in 2016, but Republicans ignored a lot that was in plain sight — things like competence and character.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, was all in when he asked and answered his own question in an appearance on Fox News in 2021: “Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no.” He added, “I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.”

But remember, this was the same guy who tweeted in 2016: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it.”

He knew better. So did Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

The definition of a nanosecond is the time it took for the House minority leader to segue from condemning Trump’s complicity in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to a humiliating pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring.

McCarthy is now on the verge of finally fulfilling his dream of leading a House majority, and the prospect of herding his contentious crew may make that dream a nightmare. If he had sought advice from former GOP speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, McCarthy might have stiffened his spine and kept Trump at arm’s length. But those short-term gains were too tempting to ignore.

McConnell’s pre-midterm laments about “candidate quality” hint that even the master planner, who thought he could both use and control the former president, might be having some second thoughts. He survived a leadership challenge from Florida Sen. Rick Scott.

In the weeks before the midterms, the media paid way too much attention to the GOP flooding the zone with polls, meant to excite fans and demoralize the opposition, I suspect. But so did Republicans trapped in their own echo chamber, one devoid of solutions but chock-full of conspiracy theories, election deniers and jokes at the expense of the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he recovered from a brutal attack.

Did they not see there might be a few lines too indecent or unbelievable to cross?

In the meantime, it was Democrats who foresaw that voters could care about more than one issue at the same time (it’s the economy and abortion rights and democracy), who predicted that women might not easily forget the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision striking down Roe v. Wade, who appealed to young people who might not answer a poll-taker but who might care about climate change, gun reform and criminal justice reform.

Young voters are still an underrepresented percentage of the electorate, and in some areas they trended toward Republicans. But they made a difference for Democrats in college towns and swing states. And that student debt relief package proposed by President Joe Biden, something he was criticized for promoting, may have been one incentive.

While many pundits, including some in his own party, thought Biden naive for leaning into the survival of democracy as a topic worthy of speeches, it appears that making a final pitch to the head, heart and conscience of a nation actually worked.

You have to give him credit for seeing something many did not, for engaging in aspiration appeals many dismissed as too amorphous to capture the attention of bored and cynical citizens.

It would not be the first time Biden has been underestimated.

It is unfortunately true that grievance, a driving force for elections past, still attracts a sizable percentage of Americans who want to return to a nonexistent past, to a time when glory meant ignoring and oppressing others, thus the Make America Great Again refrain.

Razor-thin midterm margins reveal a still polarized nation.

But Democrats’ belief that Americans would choose policy solutions and a calmer political playing field instead of chaos held — at least in this election cycle.

Speaking of the past, Trump, awash in criminal investigations, has announced he is again running for president in 2024, ready to drag the Republican Party along with him. Knowing who and what Trump is and has always been, odds are pretty good he will always put himself, not his party, front and center.

Admittedly, the former president changed the GOP, remade it in his own image, and, even in this past week, had some successes in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere. You can never count him out.

But Republicans must be wondering if hitching their star and their future to such an unpredictable and uncontrollable force, if emphasizing culture wars, if elevating fear and suspicion, were wise choices if the goal is building a bigger and better GOP.

Have they dropped the ball?

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.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

This Time, Let's Honor The True Heroes For Saving Democracy

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp was rewarded Tuesday night with a win by voters, who approved of his policies and appreciated his stand against former President Donald Trump, who tried and failed to get Kemp to toss out ballots that contributed to Trump’s narrow 2020 defeat in the state.

But it always bothered me that Kemp and the similarly Trump-resistant secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, earned kudos and votes for simply doing their jobs, and that both, flush in the praise for standing up to Trump, went on to support more restrictive voting rules that were not needed in the first place, rules that disadvantaged voters like Jennifer Jones.

The Guardianrecounted the arduous odyssey of Jones, a Ph.D. student at Morehouse School of Medicine in Georgia, who, like any good American citizen, showed up to cast her early vote in her Fulton County precinct for the midterm elections.

She hit a roadblock.

Despite dotting every “i” and crossing every “t,” she was told she could not cast a ballot for the candidates of her choice — Stacey Abrams for governor and incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. Why? Someone she didn’t know and had never met had challenged her right to do the right thing.

The culprit was her state’s ironically named Election Integrity Act, supported by Kemp and Raffensperger, which allowed such a scenario and, in fact, invited it. Those who denied the results of the 2020 election of President Joe Biden, who were none too happy about the close election of two Democratic senators, Warnock and Jon Ossoff, enthusiastically used the law to cast doubt on the kinds of voters who made those results a reality.

Her mystery challenger might not have known her but probably knew a few things about her by following the clues and determining that Jones, a Black woman, was not quite “right” in some way.

It’s annoying, but not surprising, considering the history of Georgia and the country — white men of privilege taking two steps back for every step forward, when others doing the hard work don’t get much credit.

Remember, Georgia is the state where Black poll workers in that 2020 election were falsely accused of election mischief by Trump and friends, and hounded from their homes and patriotic duty. Mother and daughter Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss were still clearly shaken when they testified about their ordeal before the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021.

They were the true heroes of democracy in Georgia.

The results of Tuesday’s 2022 midterm elections are still uncertain. While the “red wave” predicted by Republicans, prognosticators and pollsters whose profession is becoming increasingly suspect did not emerge, control of the House and Senate is still up in the air.

One thing is certain, though. When results are this close, there will inevitably be rumblings about how Black voters could have done more to help Democrats, especially Black candidates who fell short. That was clear in preview stories that wondered if Democrats were doing enough, if Black voters expected too much, and whether or not Abrams was doing enough to appeal to Black men, in particular.

A Washington Post headline stated it pretty clearly: “Democrats count on huge Black turnout, but has the party delivered in return?” “Politicians need to mobilize Black male voters ahead of the midterms, experts say,” warned a story on NPR. Abrams spent an inordinate amount of time swatting down the narrative that Black men didn’t much like her.

I am already hearing whispers about the Senate race in North Carolina, which saw GOP Rep. Ted Budd defeat former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, an African American woman who campaigned across the state — one a Democratic Senate candidate had not won since 2008, and one once defined in the Senate by Jesse Helms and his opposition to civil rights.

I don’t think Black voters are the major problem for any of these candidates.

Missing has been much in-depth examination of white voters, and there are still more of them in this country than any other group, throwing support behind election deniers, reproductive rights hard-liners and those, like Budd, who refused to certify the free and fair election of President Biden.

How does that work? Give a pass to those who vote for those who like or look past the most un-American of actions, and place the blame on Black voters whenever Democrats or Black candidates fall short?

That’s asking African Americans to save democracy, a request we are used to, despite obstacles like the efforts of reelected Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, hailed as the new face of the Republican Party. His administration’s public arrests of formerly incarcerated Floridians, many of them Black, for breaking intentionally complicated election laws they had no idea they were violating, struck fear in prospective voters, even beyond his state’s borders, reported The Marshall Project, achieving the desired effect — voter hesitation and intimidation.

Certainly, those who choose not to vote earn my criticism. Any of today’s challenges, from voter ID laws to last-minute changes in the proper polling location, pale in comparison to the violence visited upon voting rights icons from Medgar Evers to John Lewis.

But I understand the exhaustion and occasional despair when, election cycle after election cycle, only some Americans are blamed for not doing the thing a lot of your fellow citizens don’t want you to do and construct barriers to stop you from doing.

In Abrams’ second loss to Kemp this week, it wasn’t Black voters who let her down.

In important ways, though, Stacey Abrams counted. When Jennifer Jones needed the information to correct misinformed poll workers, she knew who to call for help — Fair Fight, a national voting rights organization based in Georgia, founded by Abrams.

She is a winner, whether or not she gets credit.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

When Will Republicans Reject Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry And Smears?

Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine initially thought her GOP colleague Sen. Joe McCarthy might be onto something with his crusade to root out subversives in the State Department. After all, post-World War II, concern was high on issues of national security. But when she examined his questionable “evidence,” Smith instead worried that his bully-boy act would be the true subversion of American values.

Though her June 1950 “Declaration of Conscience,” delivered on the Senate floor and supported by six other Republican senators, never mentioned McCarthy by name, it was clear Smith meant the Wisconsin senator when she said: “Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism.”

And though Smith certainly wanted Republicans to win, she said, “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

While Democratic President Harry S Truman praised her words, retaliation was swift from McCarthy, who dismissed the effort from “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs” — proving inane name-calling did not originate with Donald Trump.

Smith was removed as a member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, replaced by an ambitious senator from California, Richard M. Nixon. But four years later, she got to cast a vote for McCarthy’s censure after the beginning of his end, the moment U.S. Army lawyer Joseph Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Cut to today, and the opportunity for members of today’s GOP to take a stand.

I’m talking, of course, about the horrific assault on Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was reportedly the target of a disturbed man who believed he was a patriot, a man fueled by a toxic brew of conspiracy theories about minorities, QAnon, the lie of a stolen election and what were once fringe ideas that are now manna for many in the Republican base.

You would think that every human being could agree that bashing in the skull of an 82-year-old man with a hammer is bad.

You would be wrong.

Power at all costs is paramount, with decency being kicked to the curb.

A Declaration of Cowardice would be more fitting for those who mumble condolences, but not too loudly or sincerely, or peddle absurdities that blame everyone and everything but refuse to admit that the violent rhetoric of Republican leaders and candidates might have had something to do with it.

The suspect’s calls for “Nancy” echo the feral howls of insurrectionists as they roamed and desecrated the halls of Congress on January 6, 2021, looking to harm her, the true patriot who took charge that day, whose goal was to protect her colleagues, her staff and the peaceful transition of power.

What the intruder to the Pelosi household planned, according to what law enforcement has said were his own words, was unimaginable — the torture and maiming of the third in line to the presidency. And apparently there were others on his to-do list.

It makes sense he would start with Nancy Pelosi, the supervillain of Republican fantasies and attack ads for decades, the subject of unhinged rants by the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, whose voice will gain legitimacy if the GOP gains control of the House of Representatives.

When House Minority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, Democratic leaders didn’t create memes or make jokes, as Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake did regarding the attack on Paul Pelosi, drawing approving laughs from audience members content to join her in the muck.

After the earlier attack, I don’t recall vile conspiracy theories like those retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. Maybe he learned it from Dad, who, not to be outdone, added his own lies to the conversation. Elon Musk, proving that he’s the fox guarding the Twitter henhouse he now rules, shared and then deleted misinformation. With the torrent of racist and antisemitic slurs flooding the platform, it’s pretty clear no one can count on him to reform political discourse.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was supposed to be a different kind of Republican, but his partisan swipe while Paul Pelosi lay injured in the hospital proved otherwise.

This from the crew that claims the mantle of a twisted caricature of Christianity. I last heard North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson at a conference sponsored by the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition, spewing insults at anyone who did not subscribe to his worldview.

He has resurfaced with a Facebook post with the message, “I’m sorry Paul I don’t believe you or the press!!!!” and the image of a Halloween “attacker” costume that was as crude and witless as you would imagine.

No one seems to be willing to stand up for the values that should be bedrock, but now, in some quarters, are for suckers.

Every time leaders sink lower, it becomes acceptable to try on depravity, like a rancid suit of clothing, and discover it fits quite nicely. That’s much easier than judging those of different races or faiths or political parties as human beings.

In the past week or so, a man has pleaded guilty to threatening Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and his staff, and three men have been found guilty of supporting a kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat running for reelection.

But by all means, Republicans, don’t think twice about pouring more millions into labeling Nancy Pelosi the root of all evil.

It’s ironic, considering it was Pelosi who on January 6 showed concern for Mike Pence, more than anyone in his own party or the crowds clamoring to hang him. Pence’s own boss wanted him to be a toady, rather than fulfill his duty as vice president.

Politically, I doubt Pence and Pelosi agree on much of anything. But, in that moment, Pelosi was being decent.

“I worry about you being in that Capitol room,” Pelosi told Pence. “God bless you.”

When asked about the legacy she would leave, Margaret Chase Smith correctly predicted that her speech elevating American ideals over party, a choice that cost her at the time, would rank high, and she seemed proud of that.

Will today’s Republicans ever be able to say the same?

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

As Midterm Tightens, Republicans Revert To Racist Rhetoric (Because It Works)

It’s no surprise that fear of the other — of what they want and what they might do to you and yours — is on the ballot in November.

Former President George H.W. Bush’s success in making Willie Horton the figurative running mate of his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, has nothing on race-baiting, the 2022 edition. In a close midterm election cycle, attack ads and accusations aimed at Black candidates, or any candidate that might be interested in restorative justice, are front and center, as Republicans running for office have returned to the playbook, one that unfortunately has worked time and again.

To many, Black people are viewed with suspicion straight out of the womb, and I’m only slightly exaggerating. Data backs me up. Just look at the greater percentage of Black boys and girls suspended or arrested for school infractions that earn white peers a lecture or visit to the principal’s office. Take note of the litany of unarmed Black people shot or choked by trained police officers who “feared for their lives,” with no benefit of the doubt to save them.

Even when the Black person under the microscope is educated and accomplished and has reached the highest of heights, the “othering” doesn’t go away. If the person can’t be tagged a criminal, he or she must be sympathetic to criminals. Guilt by historical association, you might say, because the tactic can be traced back hundreds of years, when dehumanizing Black people, connecting them to violence and crime, was the best way to justify murder, rape and lynching.

As Margaret A. Burnham, a law professor who founded the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, points out in her book By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners, throughout American history it was whites — bus drivers, store owners, ordinary people — who perpetrated random terror against Black people without consequence.

For the best example of predominantly white mob violence in the past few years, you need look no further than the videos and other evidence of windows and doors smashed, American institutions defiled, and law enforcement beaten and attacked on January 6, 2021. The goal was lawlessness, the overturning of a free and fair election.

I might add that it was left to mostly minority government employees to clean up the literal mess.

But stubborn facts won’t get in the way when there is political hay to be made.

At its most base level, there are attack ads that darken the skin of Black candidates such as Stacey Abrams, running against Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia, and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, taking on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. In their recent debate, Johnson accused Barnes of turning “against America” — and that was when he was asked to say something positive about his opponent. Not only are Black folks criminals, apparently, they are somehow not even American, a charge repeatedly faced by former President Barack Obama, whose relatively scandal-free eight years in office compares quite favorably to his successor, whose most recent reported grift was bilking American taxpayers by inflating charges at Trump hotels for members of the Secret Service.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio accuses his Democratic challenger, Rep. Val B. Demings (D-FL), of wanting to defund the police, to which the former Orlando police chief can answer, “I am the police.”

But, you might ask, what about Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate giving incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock a run for his money in Georgia? Doesn’t that prove Republicans have no problem with Black men, considering how many top leaders are defending the former football star?

When I see the GOP backing a man with Walker’s political, ethical, and personal failings, someone who has trouble with the truth as well as maintaining relationships with his many children and their mothers, I can’t help but think this is the kind of Black man his party is comfortable with, one that fits every negative stereotype, one who will follow their lead. Imagine the attacks on a Black Democratic candidate with that résumé.

When Walker stands with senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rick Scott of Florida, he looks as much a prop as the badge he flashed at his only debate with Warnock.

I witness that tableau and feel pretty angry for my late father, a quintessential American, who worked hard and did whatever he had to do to care for the wife and five children he adored. We would kid him that in his ideal world, we would all get married, have kids, and return home so he could be close — and he did not disagree. Dad, a Lincoln Republican, would not recognize what and whom his party elevates.

It would disgust him to hear Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the perfect GOP example of the playbook for this year’s midterms. Tuberville traveled all the way to Nevada for a Donald Trump rally to make the claim that Democrats are “pro-crime.” To make his racist intent clear, he threw in a reparations reference, adding, “They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that,” ending with a profanity for emphasis.

Reparations, of course, means compensation for the labor of the men, women and children who helped build this country under the most cruel conditions. It’s most galling when you remember the former football coach made his fortune and reputation on the backs of many young, unpaid Black men.

Yet Tuberville felt free to demonize Black people because there was no cost, no condemnation from others in his party, no drop in the polls for the GOP candidates he was stumping for — nothing. Some in his party even defended him.

And that’s the troubling thing. This kind of racist rhetoric, which has served as inspiration for young white men before attacks at a Charleston church and a Buffalo supermarket, is ramping up, and it will not end until enough people call it out — until it no longer works.

Former Iowa Rep. Steve King must be wishing he had only waited a few years before cozying up to white nationalism, endorsing “great replacement” conspiracy and tagging “the other” as criminals intent on destroying America.

Where once he was punished by his Republican Party, at this moment he and his brand would fit perfectly.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

At 'Faith & Freedom' Conference, Partisan Dogma Displaces Religion

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a Colorado church early this summer, one of that state’s Republican representatives, House member Lauren Boebert, spoke, as she always does, with definitive conviction: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. … I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.”

While many would and have disagreed, pointing to that document’s First Amendment — which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — Boebert was speaking for many Americans for whom that separating line has always been, if not invisible, at least fuzzy.

Boebert remains strong in her belief that faith and politics are inextricably entwined, as evidenced by brief, fiery remarks on Friday at the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Salt & Light Conference in Charlotte. There were warnings (“how far have we come when the word of God is not a part of our regular speech?”), bragging (“I am a professional RINO hunter,” when recounting her defeat of a longtime incumbent) and a prescription (“we need men and women of God to rise up”). In her words, she is someone who has been called by God, who “told me to go forward.”

At the gathering, which drew, according to organizers, about 1,500 over its two days, there was much talk of God, rivaled only by the many references to fighting and marching into battle, with the very future of America at stake. Though prayer was the primary weapon on display, and a voter registration table showing the way, there was also a raffle for a 17.76 LVOA rifle, only 500 tickets available, $20 each, six for $100.

America has heard similar exhortations before, including from the former head of the Christian Coalition, the founder of the national Faith & Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed. Despite Reed’s tight relationship with Republican Party politics — as senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in both 2000 and 2004, onetime chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, a GOP candidate himself, and more — the ambassador for the North Carolina organization insists his group is independent.

Paul Brintley, a North Carolina pastor who leads on minority engagement, told me, “Our forefathers made choices in laws from a foundation of the Bible” and “we don’t want to lose our saltiness” in continuing that charge, hence the “salt” in the conference name. Jesse Hailey, a Baptist pastor from Elk Point, S.D., said he, too, longed for a country that elevated biblical traditions, and he said he was very pleased with the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

But, “we don’t endorse candidates; we just educate people,” said Jason Williams, the executive director of the N.C. Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Was that a wink?

It was hard to miss the issue-oriented voter guides or the theme of the vendors’ room with tables for the Patriotic Students of America, which promotes clubs and believes “today’s education system has growing anti-American sentiments,” and Moms for Liberty, which has led the charge against what it labels critical race theory but in practice seems to be about banning books on LGBTQ families, six year-old Ruby Bridges integrating New Orleans schools, and girls who aspire to a career in tech.

Valerie Miller, 40, a member of the Cabarrus County Republican Party executive committee, touted “Blexit” — Black Americans leaving the Democratic Party — and her story of finding a home in the GOP. You could also learn about Patriot Mobile, advertising itself as “America’s Only Christian, conservative wireless provider,” and pick up a “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker.

All the while, a who’s who of conservative politicians, media stars and firebrands took the stage.

When it comes to what faith in action — political action — should look like, opinions have always varied in stark ways. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, after all, was a generous yet robust rebuke to fellow faith leaders who urged patience not action in pursuit of justice. Not even the Scripture they all preached could settle the argument.

It’s no different today, with people of faith preaching far different versions of how God’s vision is and should be reflected in the country’s policies. In Washington, D.C., last week, a diverse group of national, state and local faith leaders prioritized voting rights, the living wage, and the lack of health care as they joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in a briefing to urge Congress to act on issues that affect millions of vulnerable Americans.

“We’re in a moral crisis. Fifty million people are going to experience some sort of voter suppression because we’ve not restored the Voting Rights Act and passed the original John Lewis bill that the guy who amended the original John Lewis bill didn’t vote for it himself,” said co-chair Rev. William J. Barber II, who is also president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, in remarks I watched on video. “And 50 million people will experience continual poverty because we’ve not raised the minimum wage in 13 years. Thirteen years.”

Speaking of voting, back in Charlotte, was that featured speaker Mark Harris, the pastor and former GOP congressional candidate whose race had to be rerun — without Harris — after ballot irregularities?

The most anticipated marquee name was definitely the Day 2 Saturday closer, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the first African American to hold the office, and the Republican most expected to make a run for the top job in 2024 when term-limited Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper leaves. Robinson, as well as Rep. Ted Budd, locked in a tight race for U.S. Senate with Democrat Cheri Beasley, had a Day 1 conflict — Donald Trump’s Friday rally in Wilmington, N.C.

A Greensboro speech supporting the Second Amendment catapulted Robinson to prominence and office, and he has not lowered his decibel level since, making his views clear on LGBTQ rights, among other issues. I suppose I should have felt lucky to have been watching on video and not at Freedom House Church when Robinson swore he could smell members of the media in the dark — cue exaggerated sniff — because “they stink to high heaven.”

To the delight of the crowd, he called Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “nitwit” and sneered at academics before he segued to the Lord. “The essential element of our nation’s founding,” Robinson said, “is the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his word.”

Let us pray.

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.

System Of Injustice Fails Breonna Taylor -- And Protects Donald Trump

You can be sure the FBI and the Department of Justice dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” on the search warrant before they went looking for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the home of the former president of the United States, and hit the jackpot. Though I wasn’t there, I’m confident that no agent busted down doors or shot around corners.

According to reports, though not to the hysterical hyperbole employed by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, this was a professional operation, approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the federal judiciary.

Still, thanks to Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a special master must sort through and review 13,000 documents and items seized from Mar-a Lago before the investigation can continue. The ruling came after even Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr — who judged Cannon’s ruling “deeply flawed” — eventually came to the conclusion that the federal government had no choice but to act in the face of Trump’s defiance.

More delay, more court review, it seems, before the public gets any closer to finding out why a private citizen who used to be president took classified government documents to his private club or what national, perhaps damaging secrets Trump and company held on to despite entreaties to do the right thing.

I get it, though. I understand why the former president and his followers — the crowd current President Joe Biden accurately labels “MAGA Republicans” — believe that the rules apply only to some, while others get to make them up as they go along. Just look at the excuses they make for his behavior, and the twists and turns of spine and morality necessary to turn violent Capitol rioters into “patriots.”

To realize there really are different and inequitable systems of justice in a country that swears it isn’t so, look no further than the case of a woman who was given none of the protections or attention that those with wealth and power take for granted.

Breonna Taylor was defenseless. In fact, as we’ve found out from a guilty plea by someone tasked with enforcing the law, the search that ended in Taylor’s death was based on lies.

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett late last month pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting she helped falsify the warrant and conspired with another officer to concoct a cover story when the March 2020 killing of this young Black woman belatedly made national news.

I relate much more to Taylor’s plight than Trump’s, having been seen more than once during my growing-up years as more perp than citizen minding my own business by law enforcement patrolling my working-class Black neighborhood. Then again, I would think that most Americans struggling to get through each day would find more similarities with the emergency room technician who wanted to be a nurse than a former president who refuses to accept defeat in a presidential election.

Yet, one search garners the headlines and boiling outrage, while the other earns little more than a mention, unless you’re a friend or family member or anyone interested in an American system of justice that works fairly.

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. But with every day, every new Trump revelation and accompanying pushback by those who would rather not know the truth, it becomes depressingly clear that way too many Americans are not just fine with the status quo, but are willing to fight to make sure certain people get away with everything.

Imagine how any other ordinary citizen would be treated had they defied polite, then stern requests, then a subpoena to turn over documents that were never theirs to begin with, that contain information that could endanger the security of Americans and their allies.

To listen to his constant whining, to skim endless emails begging for cash, Trump doesn’t realize how lucky he is, or has been for his whole coddled life, one littered with bankruptcies and bailouts, lawsuits and settlements. Pain has been cushioned, often erased, by lawyers, toadies and loyal yes-men and yes-women who deflect and sometimes take the fall while he moves on, using his megaphone to spew grievance and claim victimhood.

At rallies, like his recent one in Pennsylvania, he name-called law enforcement, Democrats and anyone who fails to see things his way; he relishes stoking anger, not that he has to do very much. Like The Hulk in The Avengers movie, Trump’s acolytes are “always angry.”

While Breonna Taylor at first did not have millions of followers willing to defend her right to get a peaceful night’s sleep without police officers skating on thin legal ice precipitating a deadly encounter, many did take up her cause and marched to support it.

But I’d wager that some of the same folks who at the time shouted “back the blue” and blamed Taylor herself before all the facts were in now favor defunding the FBI and any other law enforcement agency whose goal is to keep the nation’s secrets out of the hands of random visitors at Trump’s Florida compound, where a fake Rothschild and a Chinese infiltrator have roamed the halls.

If you are truly intent on officers of the law following it, consistency would demand some support for the 26-year-old Kentuckian, now that it’s clear justice was not done in her case. But I don’t think many of the Jan. 6, 2021, crowd would ever link arms with those marching for accountability from authorities for one Black woman and others who fit her profile.

Alas, consistency has gone the way of the courage of mainstream Republicans, who now may not praise Trump but dare not criticize him.

It’s ironic that it fell to the same federal government that is the target of Trump and MAGA ire to seek just a bit of belated justice for Taylor, with the Department of Justice charging four officers involved in that botched Louisville operation, one that was as sloppy as the Mar-a-Lago search was certainly by the book.

In Kentucky, Attorney General Daniel Cameron has dodged responsibility, with his own grand jury speaking out about charges he failed to present. But despite pushback on how he handled or mishandled what happened to Breonna Taylor, the Republican rising star, with the support of Donald Trump and, he hopes, MAGA Republicans in his state, Cameron may yet gain the governor prize he craves.

Not my idea of justice, but maybe America’s.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

How America's Right-Wing Extremists Made An Innocent Child Disappear

I prayed for that 10-year-old child, raped and impregnated by a man who has confessed to the monstrous crime, a young girl who then had to travel from her home state to end that pregnancy.

Then, I prayed for America.

Just when you think things can’t get worse, that human nature couldn’t sink any lower, something happens to prove you wrong, to make you realize that the country is truly broken in ways that each day make the path to healing more difficult to imagine.

It is the case of the girl child who was quickly transformed from flesh and blood human being, used and abused by adults tasked to take care of her, to political cudgel, used and abused by a country that says it cares about its children most of all — and obviously doesn’t mean it.

If you cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the constitutional protection for those seeking and providing abortions, this is the ultimate nightmare. It’s not the vision of a post-Roe world you want to present to the world, this story of a 10-year-old abandoned by the courts and the country’s health care system, a child many would have forced to bear a child conceived in violence, no matter the physical and emotional costs.

So, does that mean the most extreme foes of abortion rights have started to rethink the wisdom of their plans to enact ever harsher and stricter abortion bans in the states?

Of course not.

Instead, the narrative quickly shifted from stories of the indecisive giving birth and feeling vindicated by the choice forced upon them — to be sure, an occurrence that does happen — to a harsher alternative: Erase a 10-year-old, or worse, turn her into a weapon dreamed up by abortion rights activists and the party whose members overwhelmingly support that right.

For those with blinders on, softening an anti-abortion stance might require compromise, which equals hypocrisy if you sincerely believe life begins at conception — no exceptions allowed. But that kind of compromise simply makes room for the complexity that is real life.

I can’t quite get over that Wall Street Journalheadline on an article that has since been corrected, though with heaps of hedging. The editorial, which was published before a suspect in the crime was named, expressed doubts about the anecdote about the child, shared by President Joe Biden, and pointed out that he didn’t name the victim. It was titled “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.”

To use the word “good” in any reference to the girl’s plight, even if you have doubts, means you’ve already moved from disbelief to picking sides, as in, concluding the only reason anyone would share the story is to score points.

In fact, while this case led the news, when the 10-year-old had to travel from her native Ohio to Indiana, which has, for now, more liberal abortion regulations, other young children have been and are in similar situations. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 52 girls under the age of 15 received an abortion in 2020, an average of one a week in just that state.

Those sobering statistics did not seem to move the attorney general of the state of Indiana, who, without proof or any facts on his side, wasted no time going after Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who, after satisfying every legal criterion, treated the child.

Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, had time enough to appear on Fox News to say his office was investigating the Indiana OB/GYN, and, for his wrong-headed accusations, may be the subject of legal action. This week, an attorney for the doctor filed a notice of tort claim against Rokita on behalf of her client for “false and misleading statements.” If concern was ever a part of his equation, it swiftly turned into a chance to grandstand on cable TV. One wonders if there is enough real crime to investigate in Indiana.

Does a child have a chance when Jim Bopp, an Indiana lawyer and general counsel for the National Right to Life, makes clear his wish in a call with Politico: “She would have had the baby, and as many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child,” turning a 10-year-old into a woman just like that? That’s a transformation to contemplate when global health experts, in a recent New York Times report, listed the life-changing and sometimes life-ending dangers to mother and child when young girls become pregnant and give birth.

Can a child stand up to Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, telling Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that her abortion wasn’t really an abortion, bending reality to ideological will?

More terrible scenarios are already showing up, from patients unable to get medication for illnesses and chronic conditions because effective drugs could also cause abortions, to a woman bleeding for 10 days after a miscarriage because doctors fear removing the fetal tissue.

Because practicing medicine and treating any patient is unpredictable, I expect situations few could imagine — followed by ever-shifting excuses and ingenious ways to diminish and deflect.

After all, a lot of the adults in the room have already made a little girl disappear.

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. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

For The Patriots Who Love A Country That Won't Protect Them

Just who deserves protection in America?

If you observe the folks this country chooses to protect and chooses to ignore, you may get an answer that doesn’t exactly line up with America’s ideals.

When Wandrea “Shaye” Moss bravely testified before members of the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, I was enraged, though I know my rage slips me into the stereotypical category of “angry Black woman.” I refuse to give up a full palette of emotions because of fear of judgment.

When I heard her mother, Ruby Freeman, speak of the horrors she has had to endure, I was sad for her and for America. “Lady Ruby” was the moniker she proudly used to display on her shirt until racist political operatives dragged that earned good name through the mud.

At an age when she should be comfortably enjoying life, lauded for her community service, Lady Ruby’s life has been forever changed. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” she asked. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American.”

She’s right, of course.


But Donald Trump never pretended to be the president of every American. And he has displayed particular animus toward African Americans, from famous athletes to those he stomps on just to get his way. In a call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger before the attack at the Capitol, Trump called Freeman, in reality a small business owner and mother, a “professional vote scammer and hustler,” dredging up hoary labels that apparently still infect his lizard brain and strike a similar chord with his followers.

I can’t help but remember and protect my own mother, the most honest and gentle person you would ever want to meet.

When she was alive and as long as she was able, she worked on Election Day at the polls. In fact, she held a position of authority over several polling places, making sure everything was correct — with Democratic and Republican representation — and making sure everyone knew how to make the voting experience positive.

She happened to be a Republican, back when the party had a “moderate” lane, with folks such as onetime Sen. Charles Mathias Jr. from our home state of Maryland easily driving in it.

I recall how seriously she took her duties, which is one reason I vote in every election and why I know how important it is to exercise the right that was so hard fought for African Americans.

The thought that she would be a ready-made target for a Rudy Giuliani — whose sleazy, bigoted delusions transformed the ginger mint handed between daughter and mom into a thumb drive of votes, passed “like they were vials of heroin or cocaine” — sickens me.

When, at last week’s hearing, Moss spoke of her joy at aiding elderly Americans and the sick to fulfill their right as citizens, she sounded exactly like my mom did.

Americans should be thanking them every day.

Instead, mother and daughter were crushed by lies, and deliberately hunted down by craven folks in “MAGA” world who knew there would be little punishment for cruelty to Black women.

The worst of it is, Moss blamed herself for the attacks on her son, mother and grandmother, who experienced thugs showing up at her home, eager to make a “citizen’s arrest.” That was Klan stuff. And her grandmother was old enough to know how it could have ended. One threat shared by Moss read, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”

I wondered, has anyone been arrested? That kind of thing is still a crime, right? If the grandmother had been armed, could she not have used the "Castle Doctrine" to blow unwanted intruders away? Somehow, I doubt she would have been considered the “good guy with a gun.”

Though the government they served seemed to desert them when they most needed its protection, it was quite a different story when Congress sprang into action with special protections for the families of Supreme Court justices. Do they deserve it? Yes. But shouldn’t the election workers who keep the wheels of democracy grinding also expect more than FBI advice to move out of their own homes?

Just this week, in the wake of the court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Sen. Thom Tillis took the lead on a letter, also signed by Sen. Richard Burr and GOP House members from North Carolina Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Patrick T. McHenry, Greg Murphy and David Rouzer. It asked the Department of Justice to “forcefully condemn the ongoing violence against pro-life and religious groups and prosecute the criminals engaging in these attacks to the fullest extent of the law.” I could admire their outrage, if only it weren’t so selective. The letter didn’t mention the violence visited upon clinics and doctors that perform abortions.

Just last week, during protests of the court decision, off-duty Providence, R.I., Police Officer Jeann Lugo, a Republican running for state office in Rhode Island, reportedly punched his Democratic opponent in the face. “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up,” tweeted his opponent, Jennifer Rourke.

After a video surfaced, Lugo dropped out of the race. But I haven’t heard Tillis and company advising their fellow Republicans to cool it. And, as far as I can tell, the North Carolina GOP congressional delegation has not acted as one to express concern for the well-being of folks like Moss and Freeman.

Republicans, for the most part, are ignoring the revelations about an assault on America and the efforts of Trump and his lackeys to set up permanent and unlawful shop in the White House.

Though they can’t have missed the message that fellow Americans risked their lives to shore up institutions that proved more vulnerable to corruption than anyone could have imagined, many in the GOP won’t even admit to peeking at the televised hearings. In this week’s installment, Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump was not concerned that some in the crowd could be armed. “They're not here to hurt me,” was his reaction, according to the onetime aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

It’s the apotheosis of a philosophy that seems to have taken hold — protect the tribe and leave the rest to fend for themselves.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you’d best forget so-called leaders and turn to Moss, who, despite everything, was hopeful and grateful in her message when recently honored by the JFK Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award.

“I want to give a special thank you to all the anonymous election workers out there. The ones that are doing the heavy lifting our democracy depends on,” she said, as reported by CBS. “Tonight, I represent all of them. All of those hard-working people with incredible courage to do the job and do it right.”

Now, that’s a proper message for the Fourth of July.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

What Hate Did To Birmingham Is A Vivid Warning For Us Right Now

In the 1950s, Atlanta and Birmingham were about the same size, with about the same population, problems and promise, John Archibald points out in his book Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution. But then, Atlanta fashioned itself the city “too busy to hate,” while Birmingham, “as the world would learn, was not that busy.”

I told Archibald I would reference that line, crediting him, of course, after he repeated it in a speech during the recent National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in that Alabama city, his home base, because it was both ruefully funny and soul-crushingly tragic — and most of all, because it provides a too accurate view of a cycle that continues, one you don’t have to travel to Birmingham to observe.

Those at the conference got a chance to witness the roots and results of what hate did to Birmingham, how it labeled the city and hobbled its progress, during a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Unfortunately, those who most need to learn its lessons would never have the sense or the courage to set a foot inside.

The museum certainly does not shy away from the horror, including everything about that Sunday morning, Sept. 15, 1963, when bombs methodically placed by Klansmen murdered Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins — all 14 years old — and 11-year-old Denise McNair at the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Exhibits and artifacts provide the history that proves the routine ordinariness of what happened that day.

They chronicle the violence woven into the daily lives of the Black residents of the neighborhood that became known as Dynamite Hill. Those pioneers were Black strivers who would go on to make history, but who were resented by the whites who felt they owned the neighborhood, owned humanity itself.

The museum recounts details many may not know, like the stories of Virgil Ware, 13, and Johnny Robinson, 16, two Black boys shot and killed that same day in September, one by a white boy who served probation for his crime and another by law enforcement. Police, often complicit or absent for the violence of whites, were more concerned about the protest of African American citizens than the depredations that made their anger justified and righteous.

Birmingham’s whites were steeped in privilege, painstakingly written into a state Constitution that elevated white supremacy. Some whites planted the bombs, others tacitly supported the violence, and still others realized the unfairness of the written and unwritten rules but stayed silent. The few who spoke up were swiftly punished or ostracized for questioning an oppressive way of life — and, too often, death — for the Black citizens who wanted only to live freely and completely.

I was still thinking about the exhibits, the photos and oral histories, as the country marked the anniversary of white supremacist violence that walked through the door of another Black church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015.

It was an event closer to my Charlotte, North Carolina home, and closer still because I had connections to several of the victims — as will all of us as the killings continue. The then-21-year-old white man, who sat and prayed with worshippers at Mother Emanuel before opening fire, was fueled by the racist ideology that blames Black people for everything wrong in his own or any white person’s life. He could not find the will to improve himself, but he wasn’t too busy to hate, and to act on it.

I was thinking of Birmingham as the news reported conspiracies about replacement, with stories like the recent arrests of 31 men in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, foiling, according to law enforcement, a plan to riot at a Pride in the Park gathering. It wasn’t keen investigation that revealed the plot, according to reports, but a tip from a “concerned” citizen and quick action from police who did their jobs, this time.

The men’s faces were obscured with white balaclavas, an almost too perfect metaphor for the white sheets Ku Klux Klan cowards would sometimes use to hide themselves, to avoid responsibility for the things they claimed to be proud of.

Just as then, there are some who would stay silent, or at least downplay just what it means for America when grown men travel from all around the country to rain hate-fueled mayhem on fellow Americans for merely being.

These little men — in Idaho or Buffalo or Charleston — see conspiracies everywhere, and more than anything fear not having all the power in ways so similar to those whites in Alabama, the ones who killed for fear of losing one scrap of it.

These modern-day descendants of the racist cowards of the past use labels claiming patriotism and pride and heritage, when true patriots were and are in plain sight, working for equality and liberty and all those ideals written but unfulfilled in America’s founding documents.

One of those civil rights heroes honored in the institute, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has his name on the Birmingham airport and a human rights award bestowed by the institute each year. It’s a wonder he lived to 89 years after the close calls, the beatings, the attempts on his life.

There have always been plenty of heroes, which is why a visit to the Institute, or to any museum that offers unvarnished American history, is more triumphant than tragic. There is often that mix when the truth is told, as gains never occur without struggle.

That’s why Juneteenth, celebrated for the second time as a federal holiday this past weekend, is more than symbolic. It’s a holiday for all Americans, part of the story this country must tell about itself, how justice delayed and denied did not stop progress.

This country has gone down this road before, and it was a rough one, with too many Americans not being too busy to hate and others either too busy or distracted or afraid to do anything about it.

That trip to Birmingham was a balm but also a warning, as those who would dismantle a multiracial democracy, with room for all, seem to be gaining volume and ground.

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. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

When Will Congress Call Domestic Terrorism By Its True Name?

I can’t imagine how Garnell Whitfield Jr. did it, how he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to demand some sort of action from the country’s leaders on gun violence and on the domestic terrorism wrought by white supremacy. But as I was riveted by his testimony, I realized the strength and courage he must have drawn from the memory of the mother he will never stop grieving.

Ruth Whitfield, at 86, was the oldest victim in a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people, all African Americans, dead. It was May 14, not even a month ago. Yet there have been so many shootings since, it sometimes seems as if the rest of the world has forgotten. An 18-year-old white man is accused of carrying out the racist attack, accused of driving hours to hunt and murder as many Black people as possible.

“I would ask every senator to imagine the faces of your mothers as you look at the face of my mother, Mrs. Ruth Whitfield,” Garnell Whitfield testified on Tuesday.

Would they be able to do that?

“Ask yourself,” he said, “is there nothing we can do?”

The track record isn’t great.

I’m not sure what Whitfield was expecting from lawmakers who have a hard time even naming what happened. How, then, could they put themselves in his shoes?

Garnell Whitfield is far ahead of our elected representatives, many of whom want, have always wanted, to distract and downplay, to accuse others of bad intentions, to look everywhere but into the eyes and the broken heart of a man whose life has been forever changed.

Whitfield’s plainspoken speech must have startled those reluctant to call out “domestic terrorism” and “white supremacy” for the dangers they are, despite the warnings from FBI Director Christopher Wray’s March 2021 testimony before the same committee about the connection between the January 6 attack on the Capitol and right-wing “domestic terrorism.”

They would rather, as Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have done and continue to do, point to acts of violence by those on the left and accuse Democrats of using any effort to counter domestic threats as an excuse to go after political opponents.

This is the same Cruz who walked back his comments earlier this year describing January 6 as a “terrorist attack,” a sign of how dishonestly hearings by the House Select Committee are going to be received in some partisan quarters.

In Buffalo, the intent was clear. Did the shooter want to terrorize more than the people he is charged with gunning down? Were Black people enjoying weekend shopping human beings in the shooter's eyes? Or were they merely players in his racist conspiracy theories about nonwhites in America usurping the white majority’s rightful place at the top? It is a hateful theory that is taking root, even in the rhetoric of some tasked with governing an increasingly diverse country.

“Be very afraid,” was the clear message in Buffalo to all African Americans. That’s the point of any hate crime, to target a group, especially when the hate is spelled out, chapter and verse.

It was the message of those who murdered Black Americans exercising the right to vote not that many years ago, or in the case of World War II veteran Medgar Evers in 1963, murdering an American hero just for daring to register fellow citizens, for insisting on being treated equally in the country he fought for.

Yet, despite a history with more cases of intimidation and violence than can fit in one or 1,000 columns — a history our leaders in Washington could view at the city’s museums open to all, if truth were the goal — Senate Republicans recently blocked a bill that would have the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI establish offices focused on domestic terrorism. This comes as five members of the far-right Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their role on January 6, with televised hearings promising much more.

Just as any gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was prohibited for more than two long decades because of an amendment to a bill that prevented using federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” a 2009 effort by the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration to report on increasingly radicalized and violent right-wing groups was ended before it began.

Republican members of Congress and right-wing media outlets led the charge then and now to reframe any such attention as an attempt to smear police and the military and shift attention away from the perceived more urgent threat of foreign actors. Echoes of that could be heard in GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky’s recent remarks about the 2022 proposal. “It would be the Democrat plan to name our police as white supremacists and neo-Nazis,” he said. Former President Donald Trump, the man who found “fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville, Va., moved the government away from any investigation of white supremacist groups during his time in office.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical. How do you distinguish between hate speech and free speech? I understand the reluctance, and am reluctant myself, of too many investigations, too much surveillance, and how easily that can turn into the monitoring of “certain” groups. Past federal crackdowns to stop hate too often have been subverted to instead persecute and spy on those fighting for justice.

But there is definitely both smoke and fire when so many law enforcement officers and military veterans were caught attacking the very government they were sworn to protect on January 6, when shooters bond online over lies and hate.

America has a white supremacy problem, despite the reluctance of members of Congress to admit it, with support across the political spectrum for “threatening or acting violently against perceived political opponents,” according to a recent poll from the Southern Poverty Law Center that spares no one.

In that context, Garnell Whitfield doesn’t seem to be asking too much when he tells the senators that his mother’s life mattered, and asks: “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?”

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. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

When Worries Haunt Jim Clyburn, It's Time To Fear For  America

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

I have always appreciated Clyburn’s wisdom, his passion, and his commitment to his constituents. But most of all, I have admired the optimism of this child of the South, who grew up hemmed in by Jim Crow’s separate and unequal grip, yet who believed in the innate goodness of America and its people. Clyburn put his own life on the line to drag the country — kicking and screaming — into a more just future.

He was convinced, I believe, that no matter how off balance America might become, the country would eventually right itself.

A lot has changed since that afternoon, when he sat at a long table, signing books and chatting in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, right beside his beloved wife. Emily Clyburn, a passionate civil rights activist, died in 2019, though Clyburn often references her wise words.That optimism, however, has lost its glow.

Clyburn’s worries drove our conversation in July 2021, the second of two times he was a guest on my CQ Roll Call “Equal Time” podcast. The topic was voting rights, and Clyburn had opinions about the Senate procedure that would eventually stall legislation to reform those rights and restore provisions invalidated by a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

“When it comes to the constitutional issues like voting, guaranteed to Blacks by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that should not be filibustered,” he said. And about restrictive laws being passed in states? “I want you to call it what it is. Use the word: nullification. It is voter nullification.”

“This isn’t about just voting; this is about whether or not we will have a democracy or an autocracy.”

With those remarks in the back of my mind, it was still startling to hear Clyburn last weekon MSNBC, talking about his GOP House colleagues, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and their waffling about complying with subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack.

When asked if the government and Capitol Hill could “be fixed,” Clyburn, known for his philosophical “this too shall pass” mantra, instead replied, “I don’t know.” He talked about threats to undermine democracy and said the country is “teetering on the edge.”

And that was before the shooting in Buffalo that claimed the lives of ten beautiful Americans doing something as routine as Saturday supermarket shopping. African Americans were targeted by an 18-year-old who wore his “white supremacist” label like a badge of honor in a heavily plagiarized racist screed, a man whose stated goal was to “kill as many blacks as possible.”

Is it any wonder Clyburn’s optimism has been waning in these times?

Among Clyburn’s current House colleagues sits Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the number three House Republican, whose Facebook ads echoed the “replacement” conspiracy theory swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Buffalo shooter. “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” was one message shared by the once moderate congresswoman, who replaced Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney in House leadership.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has said many Americans believe “we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans — to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), someone you can always count on to say and do the very worst thing, has co-signed the near nightly rantings of a Fox News host, once tweeting, “Tucker Carlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.”

While most Republican House members skirt the edges of the most incendiary claims, you don’t hear them loudly denouncing or disavowing them.

The accused Buffalo shooter was straightforward in his intentions as he found heroes in the racist and conspiracy-driven murderers who have cut a hateful swath through Norway, New Zealand, El Paso, Pittsburgh and Clyburn’s own home state of South Carolina, at places of worship, whether they be church, synagogue, or mosque.

The problem is much deeper than the availability of guns, and it didn’t surface in just the past few years, though the Obama family in the White House woke those uncomfortable with an evolving country and President Donald Trump cannily dug into a “Make America Great Again” slogan that looked back, not forward.

An accurate reading of history might have taught the shooter that scapegoating African Americans for his own emptiness and rot is not new, and that online conspiracies crumble when bombarded with truth. But many of the same people dismissing Saturday’s planned killing spree as the aberrant act of a disaffected and deranged “youth” would replace real history with rose-colored propaganda in the nation’s classrooms. Many Americans could use an education when polls show a third of them — and nearly half of Republicans — buy into the “replacement” lie.

It was the ugly truth, not fantasy, when President Joe Biden on Tuesday became counselor in chief, a role I’m sure he wishes he never had to play. When he and first lady Dr. Jill Biden traveled to Buffalo, the president blessedly took the time to note each individual — beloved wives and husbands, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters — emphasizing the humanity a shooter wanted to erase.

“In America, evil will not win, I promise you. Hate will not prevail. White supremacy will not have the last word,” he proclaimed.

But when it’s stoked by the rhetoric of fear and blame of the other, hate too often finds a way.

Maybe that is what’s haunting Clyburn, hero and longtime fighter, because he has seen so much. Now, when democracy is at stake, where will the pendulum stop?

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is currently a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

When Did Admitting A Mistake Become 'Weakness' For Republicans?

In 2002, Trent Lott of Mississippi tried, awkwardly, to make amends.

What did the then-Senate majority leader do to merit penance? Waxing poetic and perhaps feeling a bit nostalgic, Lott gave a speech honoring the 100th birthday of fellow Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the onetime Dixiecrat who once broke off from the Democratic Party with a group of the like-minded to form the States’ Rights Democratic Party, built on segregation and steeped in white supremacy.

“I want to say this about my state,” said Lott, harking back to Thurmond’s 1948 folly. “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

First, Lott backtracked by saying he did not mean what he clearly said, calling the celebration “lighthearted.” Next, the apology, “to anyone who was offended.”

“A poor choice of words conveyed to some that I embraced the discarded policies of the past,” he said in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

He resigned as majority leader after receiving criticism mostly from Democrats but also from some Republicans, worried they might lose support of Black conservative voters for whom whistling Dixie was a step too far.I’m not sure if Lott’s motive was genuine moral growth or reading the room. But at the very least, it acknowledged that longing for the bad old days was not a good thing.

For reasons exemplary or political or both, anything that name-checked the divisive and ugly politics of Dixiecrat days of glory was seen as a drag for a politician and his or her party. This was true even when the words honored Thurmond, a longtime senator, one whose hypocrisy moved front and center when his Black daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, in 2003 claimed her truth and her birthright.

Was 2002 really that long ago? In political years, apparently, yes.

Today, Lott’s apology would be seen as “weakness,” in GOP canon a deal-breaker, and his resignation a sign of capitulating to the “woke mob,” whatever that means. The savvy move would be for Lott to double down, make outraged appearances on right-wing news outlets and field as many fundraising pleas as possible.

Or, he could just deny having said the offensive words in the first place, since refusing to admit the provable, recorded truth is not only acceptable but also encouraged.

It’s not that by 2002, or at any time in American history, appeals to racial and cultural grievance — a wish by those on top that everyone else should “know their place” — had lost their ability to work.

But comparing then to now is an eye-opener for those who believe progress and justice move one way, forward. The landscape in 2022 is a reminder that the Southern strategy can morph into the tea party, which can morph into “Make America Great Again,” with hardly a tweak.

The fact of a two-term Black president doesn’t disprove that theory, and could actually be one reason for the politics of fear getting a reboot. After President Barack Obama, America elected President Donald Trump, still president of the Republican Party if not the United States of America, and his critic and slavish supplicant, Kevin McCarthy, a leader without apology, honesty or shame.

It’s become increasingly clear that House Minority Leader McCarthy — longing to change that “Minority” title to “Majority,” and seeing it within his grasp come the midterm elections — has no problem distinguishing right from wrong or truth from lies. We know that for a fact, thanks to the slow drip of tapes and reporting from New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns in advance of the official release of their book.

McCarthy’s own voice reveals this witness to the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol not only blaming Trump but also worrying that members of his own caucus would be complicit in undermining democracy and would put “people in jeopardy.”

In audio that contradicts his repeated denials, McCarthy name-checks Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and others, citing their incendiary rhetoric and verbal attacks on congressional colleagues such as Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the same House member McCarthy would force out of leadership when she stood up to Trump’s lies and castigated his involvement in January 6.

Gaetz, of course, responded this week, using the phrase “weak men” to describe McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, both of whom had questioned the legality of Gaetz’s posturing.

Back then, McCarthy fretted about the rantings of Alabama Republican Rep. Barry Moore, who added the obligatory racism, with tweets about supposedly fraudulent votes in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit, and comments on the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt, on the front line of rioters. “It was a Black police officer who shot the white female veteran.”

McCarthy understood everything, including the implications of members of his party excusing insurrection and violence.

But when the political winds drifted, McCarthy bent the knee to Trump in his Mar-a-Lago Xanadu. No wonder Trump has forgiven him.

McCarthy knew and knows better — and it doesn’t matter. Party, tribe and Trump over country and the Constitution.

If McCarthy gets his wish, he might have a devil of a time keeping his GOP caucus in line, though.

To start, there’s Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who was at the rally before the storming of the Capitol, as he is at Trump’s side whenever possible. Cawthorn is not much good at legislating but great at racking up traffic violations and toting loaded weapons into airports.

And, of course, there’s Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, so bold in her texts contemplating “Marshall law” to overturn the results of a free and fair presidential election, so timid with “I don’t remember” answers when questioned about the same under oath.

If McCarthy comes out on top in the fall, we’ll get to see how a House majority leader operates without a conscience.

In retrospect, Lott’s 2002 apology seems almost quaint, recalling a brief period when, even if you didn’t mean it, you acted as though you did, as though having character — and a soul — actually counted.

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. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3. Her Roll Call columns won the 2022 National Headliner Award.

For Republicans, Governing Is Just Another Chance To Incite The Base

With the votes counted, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is set to become our next Supreme Court justice. But members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who wanted to use her confirmation hearings for everything but the thing they were designed for are also walking away satisfied.

Republican senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Ted Cruz of Texas used their time to either talk down to Jackson or talk past her to make political points.

During the hearings, questions that criticized her sentencing philosophy as well as “empathy” were tailor-made for the African American Supreme Court candidate and a slew of negative ads to accuse her and every Democrat of being soft on crime in general and pornographers in particular.

In that, they were merely following the playbook that has become routine and is unfortunate for any American who wants to get anything done, especially, in this instance, for advocates of criminal justice reform. That Jackson had the support of major law enforcement groups and could boast of relatives with more time on the front lines of fighting crime than all those senators combined were facts to be ignored by those looking to set a narrative. That her sentencing record resembled that of Republican judges favored by the disagreeing and disagreeable senators were details to be brushed aside. Cotton, in fact, ramped up his attacks, saying, to the disgust of the Anti-Defamation League, that she would represent “Nazis.”

After listening to and watching the show along with the rest of us, three Republican senators explained their reasoning for backing the eminently qualified jurist while decrying the partisan grandstanding that has accompanied modern Supreme Court justice hearings. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, who actually voted against her last time around, had met with Jackson. They apparently saw her as she truly is, not the ridiculous caricature constructed by her interrogators.

What did that get the three? The label of “pro-pedophile” from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Along with that slander, she also tweeted, the proof was, “They just voted for #KBJ,” when the vote had not yet happened. But when has being wrong on fact or intention ever stopped the Georgia Republican?

It all fits in with the spectacle of Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee continuing their snarling and baseless accusations against Jackson this past Monday — the April 4 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The symbolism speaks for itself and points to a larger problem.

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has added another word to be weaponized, “groomer,” to stick to anyone who dares oppose the state’s vague and restrictive legislation limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, something I’m pretty sure was not rampant in Florida schools — less likely to happen, I believe, than the bullying of gay kids.

But in Florida, no person — or corporation, in the case of Disney — is safe from hyperbolic attack.

Compromise is out of the question, even though important issues face the American people. The goal is conflict rather than conflict resolution, with everything cast in black and white rather than shades of gray.

In the meantime, expect little progress on everything from criminal justice reform and immigration to the economy and education.

The “soft on crime” label, the red meat some senators questioning Jackson devoured, has everyone scrambling. No one on a ballot wants to be accused of being on the side of criminals, even as our justice system rests on the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

Say goodbye to reality-based reasoned discussion, with give-and-take from every side, and hello to filtering every issue through fear, feelings and optics.

Get used to terms such as “woke,” “socialism,” “critical race theory” and now “pedophile” in outraged statements and already surfacing alarmist election ads.

With violent crime rates rising — though data points to a complex set of causes, including a pandemic — and elections approaching, policymakers are pulling back on advocacy of criminal justice reform. To be sure, it shouldn’t be a crime to examine policies initiated in thoughtfulness and compassion, to make sure a balance is reached that combats crime in ways both effective and fair.

But political expediency, protecting the right flank, can play an oversize role when retreating from needed reform.

In President Joe Biden’s proposed budget, a wish list of political priorities, more funds for law enforcement are prominently placed. It would give police departments the resources they say they need and could also serve to neutralize “defund the police,” a slogan and belief few Democrats embraced but all were tagged with.

The money for local and state police would go to training and different approaches to public safety, and not just more police on street corners, the administration insists. But groups that oppose violence by police as well as toward them have reasons to be skeptical about the details, at least while the problems that reforms were created to erase have not disappeared. Just this week, for example, we learned the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid will face no charges, though Locke was not the subject of the warrant. Wasn't the shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky supposed to be a wake-up call for these kinds of searches?

The federal bill backed by police groups and developed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers once looked promising, until one of them, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), turned against it. Now, it doesn’t have a chance.

Is tangled immigration policy the fault of lawmakers of every party? Of course. But nothing will be done as long as the issue can be demagogued, with candidates such as North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd — running with Donald Trump’s blessing in the GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat from that state — broadcasting a scary ad with migrants breaching a border barrier. It doesn’t matter that the video in the Biden-bashing ad is from Trump’s presidency.

As midterm elections grow closer, expect more posturing for the camera, more setting up that killer sound bite.

As long as name-calling can raise blood pressure and drive voters to the polls, solving complicated problems Americans face will have to wait.

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. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

The Difficult Balancing Act Of Ketanji Brown Jackson

In a brief mention in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Joe Biden described his Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as a “consensus builder” and touted her support from the Fraternal Order of Police, before moving on to other topics.

That was understandable in a time of war and division, overseas and closer to home. But that doesn’t mean that Jackson’s spot is guaranteed. As she makes the rounds this week, visiting with senators from both parties, it’s a reminder of the tightrope she must walk, the challenges she must overcome even as the rules in this high-stakes game keep changing.

As an African-American woman who has achieved much, she’s proved she is up to the task.

Understandably, many Black women in America celebrated when Biden fulfilled his campaign promise and nominated Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court. She would be the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court, though there have been many who were deserving, one of the most obvious being the first Black woman appointed to the federal bench, Constance Baker Motley, whose life and work are chronicled in the new book “Civil Rights Queen.”

Black women formed a strong part of the coalition that put Biden in the Oval Office and have been stalwart citizens throughout American history, on the forefront of human rights, civil rights and voting activism through icons such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height and Shirley Chisholm and so many others who never received the recognition they deserved.

I have a hunch that if former President Barack Obama had nominated Jackson, who reportedly was on his short list, instead of Merrick B. Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the court, her almost-certain dis by Senate Republicans, led by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would have triggered a groundswell that would have carried Hillary Clinton into the White House.

Jackson, then and now, would have to be prepared for whatever might come her way during confirmation hearings, set to start March 21 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She’s already been subjected to a grilling from Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn. During her hearing last year for her spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Cornyn asked: “What role does race play, Judge Jackson, in the kind of judge you have been and the kind of judge you will be?”

Instead of rolling her eyes and asking if he’d ever asked that of a white judge looking for his approval, Jackson calmly answered, “I don’t think that race plays a role in the kind of judge that I have been and that I would be in the way you asked that question.” She added: “I would say that my different professional background than many of the court of appeals judges, including my district court background, would bring value.”

Cornyn still voted against her.

If past is prologue, Jackson’s interrogation will resemble the treatment of Sonia Sotomayor — who was questioned on her temperament by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, giving credence to anonymous quotes calling her “excitable” (translation, “hot-blooded”) — and not that of Amy Coney Barrett, who was gushed over as a “role model for little girls” by Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas.

And then there’s Brett M. Kavanaugh, who — in a performance that launched a thousand memes — did everything short of bursting a vein as he raged his way through his hearing but was never in danger of being labeled an “angry black woman.”

Work hard, study hard, go to an Ivy League school, and good things — like a Supreme Court seat — will come to you. Well, if you’re Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and almost every other judge on the Court.

In the case of Jackson, nominated to fill the seat of Stephen G. Breyer, the justice for whom she clerked, Graham dismisses Harvard and Harvard Law with a snarky comment that the “Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.” I do believe his votes have contributed to that train running for years.

But as many Black women have learned, those Ivy League bona fides, and more judicial experience than Roberts, Barrett, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan had before they joined the court, won’t shield Jackson from the affirmative action label that’s already been tossed around.

What should be an asset — a background as a public defender and criminal defense attorney on a court pledged to treat all fairly — is framed as a liability by Republican lawmakers who should know that our justice system counts on the accused having representation. Is innocent until proven guilty still a thing? That’s something I might ask Sens. Cruz (Harvard Law), Josh Hawley (Yale Law) and John Kennedy (University of Virginia School of Law).

Isn’t following in the footsteps of the late icon Thurgood Marshall something to be admired? Jackson’s perceived balance might add needed perspective and burnish the reputation of a Supreme Court the American public increasingly sees as partisan.

Probably what’s most frustrating to many Black women watching this process play out so predictably is the flattening of Jackson as a complex and complete human being.

Njeri Mathis Rutledge, who, full disclosure, I know and work with, attended Harvard Law School with Jackson, and besides describing her as someone with “a next-level focus and drive” in a column in The Hill, wrote about Jackson as a person. “She had a big, beautiful smile and a joyful laugh. She was kind and down to earth. … Judge Jackson treats people with respect and is a good listener, which are crucial attributes to persuasion.”

All the warm and fuzzies that greeted adoptive mom Barrett during her elevation to the court may not be visited on someone at least as deserving and a role model for girls of all races, as well. I’d love to be proven wrong on that count.

Jackson has worked for justice, whether it’s by serving on a sentencing commission to reduce unfair disparities or being an advocate for those who truly needed her. Her own words, standing near the president who nominated her, give a hint to why she believes all that, and helping raise a lovely family, has been worthwhile.

After honoring Motley, with whom she shares a birthday, for “her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law,” Jackson said that, if confirmed, “I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded will inspire future generations of Americans.”

While I cannot predict how her hearings will proceed, of one thing I am sure. Jackson will more than live up to the expectations many Americans are placing on her shoulders.

A lot of pressure? Yes. But this accomplished Black woman, relatable to many walking that same tightrope, is used to it.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

Yes, Mitch, Black Women Are Americans Too

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was shocked and, indeed, insulted that anyone would ascribe even a hint of racist intent to his recent statement that divided the electorate into African Americans and Americans: “If you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

On the one hand, that outrage was pretty rich coming from the man who treated the first Black president of the United States as an annoyance to be dismissed or ignored, especially when that president attempted to appoint a Supreme Court justice, one of the duties of — the president of the United States.

On the other hand, the Republican senator from Kentucky was just doing what a whole lot of Americans do: Treat “white” as the default and everyone else as someone or something “other,” and, by statement or inference, someone or something “less.”

Of course, McConnell being McConnell, he “misspoke” while explaining his stand against the shrinking voting rights of Americans who only began to fully share in the franchise after a law passed by Congress in 1965 — one that came only after fierce debate and the bloody sacrifice of civil rights workers.

It’s Black History Month, Senate minority leader. Read a book, watch “Eyes on the Prize,” examine your own party’s Southern strategy. And do it before bills that would ban teachers from talking about race in a way that could make anyone uncomfortable make their way through the legislature in your home state of Kentucky.

It could be any month, though, as the pending appointment of the next Supreme Court justice by President Joe Biden has ushered in yet another round of “Let’s pretend that all those white, male judges were perfect and perfectly qualified and these Black women on the short list with long résumés and years of experience could never measure up.”

Only white men on the Supreme Court, well, that was the way it was. If merit and good character were criteria, Black women — and representatives of Americans of every race and gender and creed whose fate has been decided by the highest court in the land — would have been appointed to the court long ago. But in those days, years, decades and centuries, the “white” was silent, and understood.

As it played out, the intentionally excluded were mere observers when the injustice the court sometimes meted out was cruel, and turned out to be so very wrong.

In one of the worst examples, the Court found 7-2 in the 1857 Dred Scott case, in the words of the majority decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, that Scott, as a Black man, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” And using a states’ rights rationale so favored by succession advocates then and supporters of restrictive voting bills being passed in states across the country now, the Taney-led court ruled Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories.

Nearly a century later, in Korematsu v. United Statesin 1944, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Fred Korematsu — a son of Japanese immigrants and an American citizen who was born in Oakland, Calif. — for having violated an order to report to be relocated to an internment camp during World War II. Korematsu lived long enough for his courage to be rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton.

There is no guarantee that a fairly assembled court would have rendered fair judgments. But who wouldn’t at least admit that a more representative Supreme Court, one that expands rather than excludes the list of eminently qualified candidates, is a good thing?

Well, that would be several Republicans looking to enrage a base that is threatened by any act that hints at racial progress and eager to weigh in on someone who has yet to be named. That is the point, really, as these premature commenters obviously see this “Black woman” not as an individual person but rather a vaguely threatening symbol.

I admit it can be tiring to those of us called to constantly prove or perform American-ness (or expertise, for that matter), defined by whomever is doing the asking, but it’s a ritual that’s as American as apple pie.

Unsurprisingly, count on Senate Judiciary Committee members Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, playing down to the crowd sizing them up as 2024 presidential material, to jump to the front of the ignominious line.

Hawley mumbled something about a “woke activist,” stringing together buzzwords sure to hit a nerve. I’m not sure why he would think Biden would use Hawley’s own strict litmus test when naming a justice, though the Republican from Missouri does think quite highly of himself.

Cruz, who also falls into that category, has managed to offend even some Republicans with his comment that Biden’s promise is “offensive.” And since the Texan never knows when to stop, he had to add that it’s “an insult to Black women.”

Of all the things Cruz has been called, I don’t believe “spokesman for Black women” has ever been one of them.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sounded quite reasonable as he endorsed a representative Supreme Court, and judged one of the women on the list, South Carolina federal District Judge J. Michelle Childs, as “fair-minded, highly gifted” and “one of the most decent people I’ve ever met.” That doesn’t mean she or any candidate would get his vote. But the fact that his calm and common sense made headlines shows how far the base sentiment of his party has fallen.

Maybe Graham remembers that there was no such hand-wringing when the GOP’s secular saint Ronald Reagan promised during his 1980 campaign to appoint a woman to the high court and followed through. Reagan, of course, did not have to say she would be white.

The fulfillment of Reagan’s pledge, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said she learned much from the court's first African American justice, Thurgood Marshall, with whom she served. Though they were far from politically aligned, when Marshall retired from the court in 1991, O’Connor said: “His was the eye of a lawyer who saw the deepest wounds in the social fabric and used law to help heal them. … His was the mouth of a man who knew the anguish of the silenced and gave them a voice.”

Amplifying rather than silencing a voice that might bring a different perspective to the highest court in the land is as American as it gets.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

Careless Adults Take Note: 'Children Will Listen, Children Will See'

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see

And learn.”

At his death late last month at the age of 91, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was praised for writing for character rather than the hit parade. Playwright Arthur Laurents, who worked with him on several productions, once said that Sondheim “writes a lyric that could only be sung by the character for which it was designed.”

However, the audience for his work is everyone.

At this moment, the words of “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods sadly resonate in a country where children are learning the wrong lessons from adults who should know better.

In Michigan, family, friends and classmates are mourning Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling, killed in an attack in a place that should be safe — high school. A 15-year-old was charged in the murders at Oxford High School, and in a rarity, his parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter for what prosecutors said was behavior that made them complicit.

Guide them along the way

Children will glisten

Children will look to you

For which way to turn.”

According to Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald and authorities, the parents bought a gun that their son called “my new beauty.” Mom spent time testing it out with him and texted him, “LOL I’m not mad at you … you have to learn not to get caught,” when teachers found him searching online for ammunition. Perhaps realizing too late the seriousness of the tragedy her son is charged with unleashing, she allegedly texted him, “Don’t do it.”

When the shooting started, Dad called authorities to tell them it could be his missing gun — and his son.

Both parents met with school officials the morning of the shooting and were advised that his behavior warranted counseling within 48 hours. But they apparently resisted taking him home or getting him the “help” the accused asked for in a disturbing note.

The teenage Kyle Rittenhouse was judged not guilty in Wisconsin and walked free after killing two men and seriously wounding a third. His mother, Wendy, was never charged and has said she didn’t really know what he was doing the night he traveled to Kenosha to patrol the streets holding a weapon. But where was the judgment of a parent who, according to prosecutors, accompanied her teen son to a bar where he and Proud Boys drank and celebrated? Come to think of it, where were the voices chanting “What about the culture?” and “Where is the father?” — questions always posed when a youth of color does far less than shoot and kill two people?

New Normal

For years, because of pressure from the NRA, gun rights groups and lawmakers, federal money for gun research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “advocate or promote gun control” pretty much dried up. Now, some research funding has been reinstated, just when studies are showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the impact of the U.S. gun violence crisis.

Very few Americans are denying anyone’s right to own a gun — for protection, for hunting, for target practice. But is common sense too much to expect?

Where indeed was the sense or the empathy when, just days after the Oxford High shooting, Rep. Thomas Massie posted a holiday photo on Twitter, with family members of all ages smiling while displaying guns. The caption: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.”

The Kentucky Republican’s tweet got some support but also criticism, including from Fred Guttenberg, a gun control activist whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the 2018 Parkland high school shooting in Florida. In response to Massie’s message, Guttenberg tweeted a photo he took of his smiling child and another image of her gravesite.

Bad Choices

One lawmaker moved to outrage by the Michigan school shooting was Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, whose speech just after he learned the news was certainly informed by his passion for stricter gun control laws and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in his own state that killed 26 people, including 20 little children. “It happens here, in America,” he said, “because we choose to let it happen.”

Will more parents and lawmakers be as outraged over school shootings that are becoming shockingly routine as they seem to be about teaching children anything about America’s sometimes violent history and teaching Americans to do and be better?

Acknowledging facts, it is charged, could ruin a child’s innocence.

These are children for whom active shooter drills have become as much a part of the curriculum as English, math and chemistry.

At Oxford High in Michigan, as a classroom of terrified students hid, there was a knock on the door, and from the other side came a voice indicating that he was a friend, not a foe. The suspicious students did not believe him and decided to take their chances by escaping out of a window instead.

It turns out it really was law enforcement knocking. But who could blame the high schoolers for their lack of trust in people who are supposed to know best, who have promised and failed to protect them?

These children — and to me they are children — lost their innocence a long time ago, if they ever had it.

“Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you.”

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer, and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. She is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project and host of the Equal Time podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.