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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Uexpress.


Symbols are powerful, conveying profound messages with the simplest images.

Soldiers carry a flag into battle and face death to hoist it aloft. Christian churches are identified by T-shaped pieces of wood or metal affixed to prominent places. In some ancient Eastern religions, the swastika represented peace, but it is today universally recognized as a sign of racism and anti-Semitism, violent repression and genocide. Each of those symbols carries a deep meaning recognized by those who display it.

During his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump launched his own symbol — a baseball cap with the words “Make America Great Again” emblazoned on it. Because of the incendiary rhetoric he spewed during his rallies, the MAGA cap quickly became associated with a bundle of prejudices — xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia. If you wear the cap, you aren’t just a fan of Trump; you’re also a bigot who wants to build a wall on the southern border.

Or so the thinking goes.

That helped to make last weekend’s encounter between the Covington Catholic High School teens and a Native American man on the Washington Mall especially fraught: Several of the Covington students were wearing MAGA caps. (And regardless of what you’ve heard about the students being misrepresented, some of them can indeed be heard sarcastically whooping Hollywood versions of Indian war cries and miming a tomahawk chop.)

Regardless, is it true that every man, woman or child who wears a MAGA cap is a right-wing racist?

Having grown up in Alabama, I know how crazily complex issues that swirl around race can be. As much as I detest the St. Andrew’s cross and stars — the symbol of the Confederacy’s treason and dedication to slavery — I’ve been generously assisted by strangers whose trucks were festooned with Confederate flags. A man with just such a pickup truck, complete with gun rack, once jump-started the dead battery in my car, addressing me as “ma’am.” I was so grateful for his help.

Yet, years later, I still recoil from similarly decorated trucks, never sure what sort of encounter I might have with their drivers. They cover their vehicles with the symbol of Southern secession for a reason, and I can only guess that the reason aligns with deep-seated racial prejudices, pride in the so-called Lost Cause and a defense of slavery and its violent aftermath. Why else would they go out of their way to identify with the Confederacy?

We are responsible for the ways in which we represent ourselves in public and the symbols with which we choose to associate. Those who wear “Make America Great Again” caps are allying themselves with Trumpism and the bigotry that was always at its core. Whatever their initial reasons for supporting Trump, his constituents surely now understand that he represents a crude nationalism that asserts white privilege, condones violence against people of color and recoils from cultural change.

Perhaps the teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School don’t fully understand all that. Perhaps they were just doing what adolescents often do: running as a pack, wearing the most interesting souvenir from their trip.

If so, let this be a teaching moment for them. Their chaperones should have been the ones to explain that the MAGA caps have become a symbol of exclusion, bigotry, xenophobia. What does “Make America Great Again” mean, anyway? The country was great until it elected a black president? Or before the civil rights movement?

Adolescents rebel against authority, of course; several might have worn the caps anyway. But this was a school field trip. They left Kentucky to participate in the anti-abortion March for Life, held annually around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Since they were representing their school, they could have been compelled to conform to its standards. (Of course, the MAGA hats may represent Covington’s standards perfectly. Many conservative Christians have fully embraced Trump, with all his crude excesses and explicit prejudices.)

I’ve yet to personally see a black or brown youth in a MAGA hat. They certainly know what the Trumpish symbol is meant to represent. Indeed, around the country, black and brown students have been subjected to threatening taunts and racist slurs by people wearing just such MAGA paraphernalia. That’s no coincidence.

If the Covington kids want to associate themselves with that, they deserve the assumptions that many Americans will make about them.



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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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