Jonah Goldberg Whitesplains Jim Crow To Jim Clyburn

Jonah Goldberg, founding editor of National Review Online, has some very serious and important thoughts about voting rights! He tweeted Wednesday: "The determination of Democrats to reduce the moral horror of Jim Crow to voter ID laws and prohibitions on drive-thru voting, ballot harvesting etc is just amazing to me."

Oh no! Democrats are reducing the "moral horror of Jim Crow." Soon it'll be so small Grover Norquist could drown it in a bathtub.


Goldberg probably lives his life according to that single line from Martin Luther King's “I Have A Non-Confrontational Dream" speech: “Something ... something about my kids ... oh right ... don't judge them by the color of their skin but by the content of their affirmative-action-refusing character!" Goldberg is so laser-focused on Democrats' appalling moral character he hasn't noticed that most of the Democratic politicians he accuses of reducing “the moral horror of Jim Crow" are themselves Black.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who has at least 80 years more experience as a Black person than Goldberg, described GOP voter suppression laws as “the new Jim Crow."

"Just look through it and look throughout history, and you will know that what is taking place today is a new Jim Crow, just that simple," Clyburn told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

Clyburn was born in Sumter, South Carolina, and Goldberg grew up in the deep South of the Upper West Side. Clyburn was 16 when the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott ended, and although the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision ruled school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, South Carolina didn't get around to admitting Black students in “white" schools until 1963 when Clyburn was 23. (My father was 15.)

Conservatives are always willing to acknowledge the "moral horror" of racism decades after the fact and usually only when dismissing current complaints about racism. When civil rights activists protested segregation, Goldberg's 1950s antecedents probably countered that Black people weren't literally enslaved anymore. National Review founder William F. Buckley didn't consider Jim Crow much of a “moral horror" at the time, and he believed all the skull cracking going on in the South was necessary to preserve civilization.

“Moral horror" is a somewhat pallid description for what actually went down during the Jim Crow era. Gladiator sandals are a “moral horror." Clyburn lived through some serious shit. He's not like some common Ben Carson who compares every liberal policy he doesn't like to slavery. If Clyburn says these GOP voter laws have the unpleasant aroma of Jim Crow, maybe Goldberg should have the humility to respect Clyburn as a subject matter expert.

Charleston County Public Library

When Black men registered to vote for the first time in South Carolina in 1867, they instantly became an electoral majority, but our potential Wakanda didn't last forever. The white minority regained control through a combination of violent intimidation and fraud. It's also interesting to notice how political cartoons of the period presented the conservative Democratic platform as supporting the interests of hard-working white men (i.e. “the white working class") and the liberal Republican platform as representing fancy-pants Black dandies and white elites. The white minority claimed that Republicans had gone too far, too quickly, and they were the only ones who could restore “law and order."

From the Charleston County Public Library:

Across the state, White paramilitary "rifle clubs" paraded and mobilized to intimidate Black citizens, and legions of armed vigilantes called Red Shirts harassed and murdered both Black civilians and elected officials. South Carolinians witnessed the brutal determination of White conservatives in the Hamburg Massacre that July, the Ellenton Riot of September, and the Cainhoy Riot in October. At the same time, moderate White conservatives expressed their willingness to accept limited African-American participation in local politics, as long as Black voters respected and supported White Democratic leaders and remained in subordinate positions.

Once back in power, the conservative white minority negotiated with federal officials to withdraw US troops from South Carolina in 1877. Reconstruction ended with a whimper, and white lawmakers came up with less violent, more subtle ways of maintaining their supremacy. They were constitutionally prohibited from outright banning Black people from voting, but each state had the right to regulate its own elections. Keep this in mind whenever Republicans describe the For the People Act as a “federal takeover" of elections.

In the spring of 1878, the [South Carolina] General Assembly ratified two laws designed to suppress Black voting. The first statute re-defined the state's voting precincts in such a manner as to require most rural Black voters to travel long distances into White neighborhoods to vote. White legislators hoped this requirement would discourage Black citizens from making the effort to vote and facilitate the intimidation of those who did. The second law created a system of dual ballot boxes to be used at general elections—one for local and state candidates and another for federal candidates. Any ballots placed in the wrong box were automatically voided, making it imperative for voters to have the ability to read the labels on the ballot boxes. This two-box system empowered poll managers to influence the course of the election: they might choose to assist illiterate White voters or to harass and mislead illiterate Black voters at their discretion

As Agatha Harkness said, “Same story. Different century." The recent voter suppression bills shut down polling places in Black communities. Georgia's new law specifically empowers any random asshole to challenge the qualifications of an unlimited number of voters. Election lawyer Marc Elias said, "If you believe that these challenges aren't going to be racially targeted, then you are crazy." What Goldberg dismisses as “ballot harvesting" is in reality an effort to ensure that people's legal votes aren't tossed out arbitrarily. Republicans haven't been subtle about their motivations. When more Americans vote, they lose. They'd restrict the electorate to Mitch McConnell's household if they could, but otherwise, they are fine targeting the demographic that most reliably votes against them.

Conservative David Frum noted in the Atlantic that post-January 6, the GOP is increasingly willing to tolerate, if not outright endorse, violence as means to a perceived necessary end, and Trump's spurious lawsuits and coercion of election officials constituted the true “fraud" of 2020. Clyburn is neither a fool nor as willfully ignorant as Goldberg. He appreciates the clear historical parallels. He's lived through it all before, and he doesn't want to die during the encore performance.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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