US Opinions | This year’s elections will decide if America witnesses a third Reconstruction
He fought for Black voting rights after the Civil War. He was almost killed for it.
Elected to the Georgia state Senate in 1868, Tunis G. Campbell spent his life championing the rights of Black people, meeting with fierce resistance at every step. During the course of his political career, he would be threatened, suffer an attempted assassination, see his house burned down and even be imprisoned and put on a chain gang. Despite grave danger to his health and family, Campbell dedicated his life to ensuring that freedmen would be free in every sense of the word: safe from physical violence and exploitative labor practices, while being able to practice their constitutional rights.
The United States has experienced two periods of Reconstruction — in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and during the 1950s and 1960s. During these two eras, the nation attempted to confront a history of racial injustice and exploitation, correct past wrongs and shift its trajectory toward inclusion and equality. Addressing the original sin of slavery and allowing Black people full citizenship rights, however, have proven elusive.
The presidency of Donald Trump was made possible by the promise to “Make America Great Again” — a regressive mantra alluding to a return to the mythical glory days of White America. It was a repudiation of the first Black president, and punishment for people of color. Nearly exclusively White, male cabinet members and judicial appointments under Trump have symbolized White restoration, along with policies designed to address White grievance such as the border wall, restrictions on immigration and attacks on civil rights — including voting rights. Policies aimed at curtailing immigration, including Trump’s, shutting the door to asylum seekers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids are efforts to stem demographic change and entrench White rule.
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Republicans are hoping for, and Democrats are dreading, the possibility Donald Trump could repeat history and overcome dismal mid-October polls to gain an electoral college victory. But much has changed in four years, as Thursday's debate showed.The ghost of 2016, when Donald Trump overcame dismal mid-October polls and eked out a surprise Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton to become president.
The 2020 presidential election is the most consequential in modern times, as the battle lines are drawn over whether America will allow space for a multiracial democracy to grow and thrive, or revert to Whites-only rule and the authoritarianism of the plantation state. A Third Reconstruction may be needed to address the persistent problem of anti-Black racism, correct the historic injustices and inequities and seek redress. The First and Second Reconstruction eras sought to realize the promises of the, yet failed to achieve this. A Third Reconstruction would seek to bring true that comes with citizenship.
In a nation where rights are conditional, provisional and never guaranteed, progress for Black people has consisted of false starts and reversals, with two steps forward — as during our two Reconstruction periods — one step back. White right-wing populism — based on racial animus and fear, and a desire to return to an old racial order — has remained the impediment to Black aspirations.
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The first Reconstruction (1863-1877) reintegrated the former Confederate states, and empowered and emancipated Black people with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, civil rights laws and the Freedmen’s Bureau. Federal troops were sent to the South to protect Black people. Black and White political coalitions controlled state legislatures and, and 2,000 Black elected officials served throughout the country.
White backlash paved the way for Jim Crow segregation and restoredunder the old Confederate establishment and the violence of Ku Klux Klan terrorists to once again economically exploit and socially control Black people, and render them civilly dead through wholesale voter disenfranchisement. The , which resolved the 1876 election and made Rutherford B. Hayes president, withdrew federal troops from the South. The U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated Black rights with the (1883), which ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 — which prohibited racial discrimination in public places — was unconstitutional, and determined the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments did not bar racial discrimination by private actors. In (1896), the high court legally sanctioned “separate but equal” segregation in public facilities.
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The survey showed a significant partisan divide, too. Those supporting Biden are more likely to say they plan to vote by mail than those who support Trump.When combining those who are voting by mail (42%) and those who voting early in-person (26%), nearly 2 in 3 voters will be casting their ballot ahead of Election Day, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project.
White pursuit of racial suppression always meant death. In 1898, a White supremacist coup and bloody massacre overthrew the government of Black and White elected leaders in the progressive majority-Black city ofDuring Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan terrorists lynched Black people and civil rights workers who dared attempt to vote or register to vote, and bombed their houses and churches. These practices extended well into the 20th century.
The Second Reconstruction — most commonly known as the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s — was an effort to halt a century of legal segregation and racial discrimination. A foe of Black rights for most of its history, the Supreme Court was a force for justice and equality with thedecision finding segregated public schools unconstitutional and overturning Plessy, and the Loving v. Virginia decision outlawing anti-miscegenation laws. Further, the movement bore tangible legislative fruit, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start.
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Key states to watch include not only perennial toss-ups but also states Trump won solidly four years ago, including Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.Yes, voters in each of the 50 states participate in the presidential election. But, like past elections, it will be key blocs in a dozen battleground states that are likely to decide who occupies the Oval Office in January.
The gains of the civil rights era, earned through mass protest and the blood of martyrs, again prompted a conservative backlash. Through the Republican Party’s, the conservative movement capitalized on White resentment of Black power, and attracted the votes of racists by , but promoting a narrative of tax cuts and small government. Republicans implied that these cuts would hurt Black people more. White segregationist Dixiecrats began an exodus to the GOP.
White backlash guided the Republican Party in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with the racialization of welfare and crime, attacks on affirmative action and.
Donald Trump built his political career through birtherism and rose to power on a new wave of White backlash sparked by the election of Barack Obama. Trump’s politics is an evolution of the Southern Strategy, in which he stokes the White supremacist myth of— the “ ” that White people are an facing extinction because of multiculturalism.
This ideology has driven both extremist violence and official policies of racial suppression including violence at the border, undercounting the census and a decimation of voting rights. Since the Supreme Courtin Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, state governments have enacted voter ID laws and conducted voter purges and voter suppression efforts. Trump himself has engaged in voter intimidation, most recently encouraging armed White supremacists to act as “poll watchers.”
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Democrats are trying to flip key Republican strongholds, as the election remains close between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. © Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds the gavel during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3, 2019. More: Control of the Senate hangs in the balance on Election Day. Here are key Senate races to watch More: President Trump claimed during the debate the GOP will take back the House on Election Day. That is unlikely.
Understanding the unpopularity of its policy agenda and its failure to attract majority support, the GOP has exploited the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the electoral college — which grant inordinate power to rural, low-population areas — and employed voter suppression to cling to minority rule.
Unable to realize its goals through legislation, the Republicans have also orchestrated a takeover of the federal judiciary. Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia 269 days before the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left Scalia’s Supreme Court seat vacant. This week, McConnell rushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett, then adjourned the Senate until after the election without even debating a covid-19 relief bill, playing into the perception the victims of the coronavirus are disproportionately Black, Brown, poor and city dwellers, rather than the GOP’s electoral base.
The results of this year’s election will determine whether the United States will allow a Third Reconstruction to root out systemic inequality, seek historical truths, reconciliation and reparations for slavery and grant full citizenship to the descendants of the enslaved. As the Black nationalist Malcolm X once, “The common goal of … Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.” A new period of Reconstruction can make this possible.
Jaime Harrison's run is important in South Carolina's history of Black political leadership .
Jaime Harrison aims to make history on election night. South Carolina has made history before.The sophomore at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and president-elect of his National Honor Society wanted Rep. Clyburn to be the keynote speaker at the society's upcoming regional convention. So, he invited him.