Save Democracy, End the Filibuster

“We shall overcome.”

– Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, 1951 (Anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement, based on a gospel song by Charles Albert Tindley, 1901.)

Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a frustratingly bitter tug-of-war over laws that give them the power to set the rules we live by. Liberal Democrats are trying to stop conservative Republicans from enacting those laws that undermine democracy and return America to the segregationist era.

The contrast between the two parties couldn’t be starker. President Joe Biden traveled to Tulsa, Okla., to mark the 100th anniversary of Whites killing an estimated 300 Blacks by looting and setting fire to a prosperous Black neighborhood that destroyed 34 blocks.

Two days earlier, the Republican-led Texas legislature tried to pass the most restrictive laws affecting minority voting since Jim Crow, which legalized segregation from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 until the 1960s civil rights movement.

Jim Crow was named after a Black minstrel show performed beginning in 1828 that became a derogatory epithet for African-Americans, says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Texas Democrats shut down the most repressive voting legislation of any other Republican-controlled state by walking out as the deadline for ending the legislative session approached, killing the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott said he would call a special session of the legislature to resurrect it.

“This sacred right is under assault with incredible intensity like I’ve never seen,” Biden said in Tulsa.

Texas sought to follow 14 states that have enacted 22 laws suppressing voting since January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. But the Texas bill is stricter, giving more authority to partisan poll watchers; banning drive-through and 24-hour voting; curbing absentee voting; and leveling harsh penalties for errors by election officials.

Fully 61 measures are moving through 18 state legislatures and lawmakers in 48 states have introduced 389 restrictive bills in 48 states this year, it said

Why? Because Donald Trump claimed the “rigged” election was stolen from him based on mail-in and absentee voting. Neither election officials or the courts believe him. But he and his followers persist in broadcasting his message, believed by an untold number of voters who Republican politicians are frightened of abandoning by telling the truth and persuading their followers of it.

The truth shall make us free,
The truth shall make us free,
The truth shall make us free someday…

Nor does about 100 worried academics believe Trump, siding with the Democrats in a four-page “statement of concern” published by New America, a Washington, D.C.,-based policy organization.

The country is at a crossroads, the most dangerous intersection for racial equality since the elimination of Reconstruction.

Either “we the people” officially finally accept people of all colors as equal to Whites – that we are together with the same rights as all Americans – or we forsake the immortal words, “all men are created equal,” as enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, until a more enlightened and egalitarian generation replaces what certainly historians will label a racist one.

It’s up to obstructionist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and how he will order his colleagues to vote for the House-passed For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both will give the federal government the authority to override what essentially are unashamedly racist and cowardly laws in some Republican-led states. There are 27 GOP-led states.

The John Lewis bill would restore sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were deleted by a conservative Supreme Court decision in 2013 led by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He said during oral arguments that provisions in the law would perpetuate “racial entitlement.” This was after Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that Congress believed voting rights still needed to be protected.

If McConnell cannot end this travesty of justice, to use a hackneyed but all-too-true phrase in this case, the majority Democrats must take matters into their own hands and end the filibuster so it won’t take 60 votes to halt debate on both of these ultra-significant pieces of legislation.

What could be more pressing than saving American democracy from the “slings and arrows” of a hate-filled and revenge-bent Republican minority striving by whatever means necessary to return to power by slavishly following the whims of its unhinged leader. That’s not a question.

If the Republicans can’t win with votes, it seems, they’ll stoop to the lowest legal level to eliminate voters such as Blacks and Browns who generally cast ballots for Democrats.

“We urge members of Congress to do whatever necessary – including suspending the filibuster – in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want,” wrote the academics, who refer to themselves as “scholars of democracy.”

“Our democracy is fundamentally at stake,” they wrote. They include many history professors.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose abolishing the filibuster. Both favor bipartisanship. But it’s not always possible to achieve it. Republicans apparently don’t; they filibustered to kill the Jan. 6 commission to investigate the Trump-inspired storming of the Capitol so they won’t look bad.

Senate Democrats need the support of both senators to end the filibuster, especially if they can’t get any Republicans to vote with them. So both need to be persuaded that nothing less than saving American democracy is at stake.

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.

 

Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.