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A new political movement is born in the South in the wake of Trump and Republicans’ efforts to stop vote recounts. Democracy is on trial

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.

This election is not really over, especially in places like Georgia and Florida. And given the history of this nation that’s not surprising Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, is facing off with Republican Brian Kemp, who is- or was, until the other day- Secretary of State in the state of Georgia. Part of the responsibility of that office is to oversee voter registration and elections. Kemp, whose ads while running against Abrams show him wielding a shotgun next to his pickup truck, has a political history, penchant, and strategy of voter suppression. He purged more than 1.5 million- that’s 10.6 percent of all registered voters- between 2016 and 2018. He carries on the grand old tradition in Georgia that dates back from the end of the Civil War to ensure that black people do not get to vote. As an example, Kemp put on hold the voter registration of 53,000 people, 70 percent of them African Americans.

The race between Abrams and Kemp is razor thin. If he falls below 50.1 percent of the vote, there has to be a special election. Kemp declared victory and is trying to get Abrams to concede, saying there’s a liberal conspiracy to deny him victory. And in Florida, the home of the hanging chad, made famous in the 2000 Gore v. Bush battle for the U.S. presidency, a recount has been ordered in both the race for the United States Senate between Governor Rick Scott and sitting Senator Bill Nelson, and in the race for governor between Congressman Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The courts ordered the recount of eight million ballots by this Thursday. The larger metropolitan areas and communities like Broward County say they cannot possibly make that deadline of Thursday for the recount. It’s impossible; too many people. However, if they don’t, then all those votes- the majority of which might go to Andrew Gillum- for one, may not be counted at all.

And to top it all off, Trump has weighed in, saying and tweeting, quote, the Florida election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, because large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere- which, by the way, is a bald-faced lie. And then went on to tweet and say many ballots are missing or forged; another lie. And it goes on to say, tweet, an honest vote count is no longer possible. Ballots massively infected; must go on with election night results.

So the battle is on between the legacy of the Confederacy, slavery, and violence, and the forces of a new progressive South which could possibly be on the verge of electing the first black governors since Reconstruction, and the first black woman governor in the history of this country; and all this is coming now as no surprise.

Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston; a frequent guest and contributor here on The Real News. And Gerald, welcome. Good to have you with us.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

MARC STEINER: So, Gerald, let’s just take this from the top, here. The state of Georgia and Florida, and these recounts that are taking place at the moment. Now, what we’re seeing here- I want to start with this. I mean, how deeply do we understand how voter suppression, especially in Georgia, may have played in what’s going on between Kemp and Abrams at this moment?

GERALD HORNE: Well, the Abrams camp- quite correctly, in my opinion- has charged that Brian Kemp, who up until a few days ago was secretary of state of Georgia, and thereby, therefore helping to supervise and administer these elections, was involved in a rather crass and blatant attempt to purge from the voter roles particularly those who were considered to be African American, which would thereby tip the scales in his favor.

As we speak, the struggle consists of this: Stacey Abrams is trying to make sure that if Brian Kemp wins, he wins 50 percent-plus, as opposed to, as it now stands, where he may be below 50 percent. And if that is the case, that he is below 50 percent, that means that there should be a runoff. That is what is at stake as we speak.

Florida is a different kettle of fish. As of now, Rick Scott, the governor, and who you could see as being the agent in charge of these elections as governor, is now in a battle for the U.S. Senate with the 75-year old incumbent Bill Nelson. He has a 0.15 margin of victory as we speak, which automatically means that there will be a recount of some sort. It is apparent, as a judge has suggested, that the Republicans are trying to intimidate the recount process, going after local officials, particularly in Broward County. This campaign has been joined by Senator Marco Rubio, and also by the 45th president of the United States of America, who as you know has a second home in Florida, is very close to the man who is running for governor, and also has a slight lead, that is subject to a runoff- I’m speaking of Ron DeSantis. And according to press reports, Mr. Trump will consider it to be a personal affront and a personal rebuke if Ron DeSantis, in particular, is not dragged across the finish line.

MARC STEINER: I’m going to go- think of the race had happened 2000, when Al Gore, for most people’s consideration, won that race in Florida, but clearly didn’t fight it in the Supreme Court. If, for argument’s sake, Abrams and Gillum lose-and Nelson- lose in these recounts, and they take it to the courts, we have a very different situation in the courts than we did in 2000 in 2018. The courts have shifted right in America. The Supreme Court has shifted right and very conservative in America. If it goes that far, I mean, I’m wondering what you think politically it could set up.

GERALD HORNE: Well, you are correct to suggest that Mr. Trump has appointed a number of Supreme Court justices; Mr. Kavanaugh most recently. He’s appointed a record number of federal district court judges and federal appellate judges. That is true. However, I do feel that Ms. Abrams has attained some victories in the courts, and we should not rule out the possibility that she can attain further victories.

I agree with your supposition that Al Gore did the Democratic party no favors when he failed to challenge aggressively the recount in Florida in the year 2000 that led to George W. Bush being president. And I would say the same thing for John Kerry in 2004, where he could have challenged the result aggressively in the state of Ohio. We are now paying a very stiff penalty and price for their lack of aggressiveness.

MARC STEINER: To Florida for a moment, as we work our back up to Georgia. One of the things that I have been reading this morning in the papers is that Broward County, other counties that probably would lean for Gillum and lean for Nelson, most likely, are saying we need more time. We have too many voters here. We have too many ballots to count. It cannot be done by Thursday. So it’s clear that they’re being set up for failure, it seems to me, and being set up to ensure a Republican win.

GERALD HORNE: I do not disagree with what you say. Not only that, but consider what happened on election day approximately a week ago. If you went to voting precincts and voting sites in the center of Georgia, for example the area around Morehouse College, Spelman College, the historically black campuses, you would have found long lines, you would have found voting machines that did not work precisely, not to mention not perfectly. However, if you had gone to some of the more conservative areas in the state of Georgia, such as Macon, or heading southward towards the Florida state line, you would not have encountered such a problem. Obviously that tips the scales in favor of the Republicans, just like the fact that the courts have been impacted by Mr. Trump also tips the scales in favor of Republicans.

MARC STEINER: Now, this race is very tight, and Kemp has been- Brian Kemp has been after Abrams and her work since the beginning with the new Georgia Voters Project that he took to court, tried to stop them from registering voters. He has banned people, one estimate is 1.5 million voters over a four year period; 35,000 more before this election started. And so I’m curious, I mean, this is- you know, Georgia has a history here. Georgia has a history of voter suppression, from the end of the Confederacy on. And it just seems to rear its head in whatever fashion or form it takes given the historical moment. So the battle in Georgia, to me, is indicative of a much larger battle that we’re facing. But it really is very intense in Georgia.

GERALD HORNE: I think you’re on to something. There’s a battle for small ‘d’ democracy. The battle was tipped in the favor of the right wing when a few years ago the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, the chief justice, ripped the heart out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Fundamentally, as per the Voting Rights Act of 1965, until the Shelby decision that the Roberts Court helped to ram through, if a state like Georgia, which had a long-demonstrated record of racism and white supremacy in terms of keeping people away from the polls, if they made changes in terms of how many voting machines would be cited in a particular precinct, this had to be pre-cleared, so to speak, by the U.S. Justice Department. After the Roberts-engineered decision, preclearance went out of the window. And in its wake you saw a number of states move to have voter ID laws. For example, in the state of Texas, from where I’m speaking now, the legislature tried to have a voter ID law where a college ID was deemed not to be acceptable as a voter ID, but a hunting license was deemed to be acceptable, with the premise being that students might be prone to vote for the opponents of the Republicans, and hunters might be prone to vote for the Republicans.

This is the dire state of affairs that we’re encountering, not only in the state of Georgia, but I’m afraid to say all across Dixie.

MARC STEINER: [Inaudible] said in the Atlantic, if the Georgia race had taken place in another country, say the Republic of Georgia, U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy. I mean, and even Jimmy Carter has said similar things, having monitored elections across the globe.

So no matter who ends up winning this in these cases right now in Georgia or Florida, let’s take Georgia again, what does it set up politically if Abrams wins? But what does it set up politically if Abrams is denied the win because of voter suppression? Because it interrupts a whole new political struggle that is also based on the reality that this Georgia race is so close. I mean, we’re talking about Georgia, where a black woman could win- can almost win, or win the governorship. So I’m curious what you think this sets up politically in terms of the struggle in this country.

GERALD HORNE: Well, an Abrams victory would be highly significant. I would even go so far as to say that the Abrams race to this point has been very significant. Recall that in recent elections in the state of Georgia the Democrats have sought to appeal to the mythical suburban swing voters. They have tipped to the right. They ran a relative of President Jimmy Carter; they ran a relative of former conservative Democratic hawk Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. Both lost spectacularly.

And now you have Stacey Abrams, along with Andrew Gillum in Florida, who are running as true blue progressives. Andrew Gillum has even gone so far as to come out for Medicare for All. He campaigned alongside Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who endorsed him. So they basically helped to blazed a new trail for the Democratic Party in Dixie. So win or lose, it seems to me that the Democrats now have a recipe and a prescription for getting closer to the finish line than they have gotten to this point. Let us hope that they follow the logic of what I’m saying.

MARC STEINER: If you look at the history of this country and the power that the South has played politically in this country from the very founding of this nation, from three fifths of a vote so they can count the people who they had enslaved to ensure that they had political power, to what happened in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, to what this struggle is about now and the form it’s taking at this moment in the South, the fact that you have this progressive mass of people who are who are at least half the population in both states, if not a majority, this is a really different political dynamic for the future. It’s built also around the black struggle in the south via a Gillum and Abrams personifying it in their races. So I just want to take a step further, what this might say for the inside of the Democratic Party, what this says for the continuing struggle in America, for a progressive America, in the face of this kind of real right-wing nationalist pushback embodied in Trump, but actually started much earlier.

GERALD HORNE: Well there is also a message for the GOP, for the Republican Party. I’m not saying that demographics is destiny, but it’s apparent that the Trump recipe of ginning up a white right base, which he did successfully in November 2016, is basically reaching a point of expiration. That is one of the major messages that one can glean not only from the Abrams and Gillum races, but I would say from the results last Tuesday more generally.

I think that there’s a lesson for the progressive movement, as well. That is to say, that oftentimes our friends in the progressive movement have a rather dewy-eyed, overly idealized analysis of the history of this country. They tend to point to the Bill of Rights as being this great leap forward for humanity. Whereas if you look at the Bill of Rights with more careful scrutiny, you’ll find that it was devised without the black population in mind, or it was devised to target the black population, and I would also say the Native American population. That is the import of the ballyhooed Second Amendment, which basically authorized the use of militias to suppress revolts of the enslaved, and uprising by the indigenous population. Therefore I think that the races that we’re talking about in Florida and Texas not only have significance in import for the GOP and for the Democratic Party; it has significance and import as well. For those to the left of the Democratic Party.

MARC STEINER: So I don’t know whether you are or not; my guess is you may not be a betting man. But I’m curious what you think the outcome might be of all this in the next week.

GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s hard to say. If you look closely at the numbers, I think that there is a distinct possibility that a recount a count of absentee ballots and provisional ballots, can drive Brian Kemp’s numbers below 50 percent, causing a runoff which would then allow Stacey Abrams to do a major mobilization and win the gubernatorial race in the state of Georgia. Things in Florida seemingly are different, but I’m rather reluctant to make a prediction and stare into my crystal ball, because we all know about the hanky panky and shenanigans that the Republicans are notorious for in the state of Florida, and they can upset and destabilize the most accurate of prognosticators.

MARC STEINER: It is always a pleasure to have you with us here on The Real News. I really enjoy your thoughts and hearing what you had to say about all this. I appreciate your time.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Clearly we’re going to stay on top of this one. Take care.

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Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.