Quit Yer Whining! Liberals Did Better In Mississippi Than You Think!
Racist lynch humorist Cindy Hyde Smith won, as expected, Mississippi's US Senate runoff yesterday against Democrat Mike Espy. Yeah, I know I promised I wasn't writing anything else about Senator Skeletor, but why are you keeping track of what I say? Stop stalking me.
Hyde Smith's margin of victory was relatively narrow (54 percent to Espy's 46 percent) for a deep-red state that Donald Trump carried by almost 20 points. It seemed no poll tax was too steep to keep black people from the ballot box, even if we did come up short. And we made Republicans spend money -- real US dollars not Confederate trumpaloos -- on an election in Mississippi. As Richard III said, "If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell." That's what a resistance looks like. Make them sweat and fight for every win. Stacey Abrams's "defeat" in Georgia is not a total loss when it registers new voters and exposes the depths of Republican corruption.
The Mississippi special election exposed to the world the state's longstanding racial dynamics. Sunlight is an excellent disinfectant, but like a frat boy's bathroom, one thorough scrubbing isn't enough to fully sanitize Mississippi's politics.
Mike Espy understood this, as you can tell from his concession speech last night.
"When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment," he told supporters at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. "So we are not going to stop moving our state forward."
Most media accounts of the runoff describe it as "racially charged." That's what they call elections where one candidate does something racist and the other candidate is black. It's also a popular euphemism for Trump's racist rhetoric. CNN said his odious midterm ad demonizing immigrants was "racially charged." Trump's campaign rally for Hyde-Smith this week had a lot of "racially charged" moments. He insisted that native son Espy, who has centuries-long family ties to the state, just plain doesn't "fit in" to Mississippi.
Trump's "coded language" isn't subtle. He tries about as hard as the devil who'd pass himself off as human with names like "Louis Cipher" or "Dr. Natas." Trump claimed Espy is "far left" because Republicans believe the entire political spectrum is "mainstream" (them), "far left," and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. That's another advantage of this Senate race seeing so much daylight: Republicans across the country have had to embrace Hyde-Smith as "mainstream." Republican pundit Hugh Hewitt defended Hyde-Smith, insisting that she is a "mainstream conservative" and he's not "embarrassed" by her. Of course, Hugh Hewitt's not "embarrassed" by anything.
It's important for mopey liberals to see Yankee Republicans rallying to support a Southern racist and doing so without any semblance of shame. Like unpopular kids at school, liberals can be too quick to distance themselves from the perceived weakest link in their group. Maybe then the "cool" kids will like them. We've seen some of this with backlash from Democrats toward Ocasio-Cortez, who runs around in fancy shoes with soles on them. Her "three chambers of government" gaffe, while a great title for a Wu-Tang clan album, is nothing compared to Hyde-Smith "joking" about public hangings. Yet Hyde-Smith received total support from her party. Utterly useless Chuck Schumer found time to upbraid Maxine Waters on the Senate floor but was silent after actual senator Hyde-Smith's repulsive comments.
Perspective is key here. Too many liberals from other mothers attempt to write off the South. After Espy's loss, there was a lot of the tired takes that "blue states should stop supporting racist red states." This really offends me as a native Southerner, especially since states like Oregon or even Maine are just a Portland away from being another Mississippi. The Washington Post suggested that Hyde-Smith's win proved "how solidly conservative the state is." "Conservative" is yet another euphemism. They mean "white." Across the Bible Belt, there's a clear racial schism in how folks vote. Is it really as reductive as "liberal" vs. "conservative"? It's not as if every black Southerner who reliably votes Democrat spends their weekends dancing in Pride parades or sipping Chardonnay at the opera.
People like Stacey Abrams and Mike Espy will be major figures in history, while Cindy Hyde-Smith will just be a footnote. This is a battle we're winning. It's slow-going and sometimes torturous, yes, but we're making progress. We're breaking through the seemingly impenetrable wall of voter suppression and assorted vestiges of Jim Crow.
Thanks in part to Abrams, we already have Lucy McBath sitting in a seat once held by Newt Gingrich. So instead of writing off the people of all races who shed blood to register voters and get them to the polls with almost Altamont-like lines, let's join them in imagining a MIssissippi that shares a different face to the world. It's what Trump and Hewitt fear most. And it's coming sooner than we think.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.