Legislative Authoritarianism reaching new heights in America
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(08 April 2023) — Actions taken by the Tennessee state legislature to expel three Democratic members trampled on at least two fundamental freedoms, maybe more. These freedoms, freedom of speech and freedom of peace4ful assembly are not only constitutionally guaranteed, but they are also fundamentally necessary for democracy to survive and thrive. The fear is that the actions of the Tennessee legislature are not isolated acts of a conservative state legislature run amuck. It is not just action by a small group of legislators in a southern state Republican controlled legislature, it is an example of desperate attempts by Republicans across America to silence the voices of the majority of people when those voices are raised in protest against their actions or inaction. Especially when those voices are raised against their moral ineptitude and inaction on issues on which most Americans are demanding responsible action.
Racist and misogynistic political ideology
Racist and misogynistic behaviors are not surprising among conservative Republicans, whether in Tennessee or elsewhere. These behaviors are becoming typical of Republicans in every state. And those Republicans who remain silent in the face of such egregious behaviors are as guilty of this moral decadence as those who act in this manner.
Two young black men and one white woman, Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson (The Tennessee Three) in the Tennessee legislature were placed on the auction block of expulsion. They did not merit opprobrium. They were heroic. And the racist and misogynistic behavior of the Republican legislators have created heroes of their intended victims. The Tennessee Three were already heroes for turning up the volume on the demand for gun control, including a ban on deadly assault rifles. The action of the Republicans expelling the two young black legislators have had the opposite effect intended by their racist behavior. They have elevated the voices of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, not merely from outside the confines of the legislative chamber, but nationwide. The Republicans objective, to put these “uppity negroes” in their place, have backfired and will have significant political repercussions on the future of the entire Republican Party.
The entire Republican Party will suffer the consequences of this racist behavior because cowardly Republicans across the United States who may not necessarily condone the actions of their Tennessee colleagues remain silent. Their silence can only be interpreted as acquiescence in, and support for this racist attempt to silence black voices in America as manifested in the sordid behavior of the Tennessee Republican legislators.
Retrogressive return to Jim Crow
There have been several peaceful protests calling for legislative action at state and federal levels to deal with the gun crime epidemic. Thousands have rallied against weapons of war, automatic killing instruments being easily acquired and used against innocent children and those who try to protect them. The Tennessee Three stood, at a critical time, with the majority of Americans who want to see their representatives take meaningful actions to curb gun violence. Because they stood up, two young black legislators were expelled, and the third, a white woman legislator who stood with them escaped expulsion by a mere one vote. To most observers, this vote not to expel the white woman legislator was itself racist in intent.
It has become increasingly clear that it may be left to the younger generation to reclaim the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. But they will first have to reclaim their local legislatures from the grips of Republicans who hold office through gerrymandering their way to power and to hold on to political power. These Republicans are practitioners of white racism and extremism. And although southern states have made a little bit of progress since the enactment of civil rights laws in the nineteen fifties and sixties, we have seen a creeping retrogression to Jim Crow. The southern states, including Tennessee, are leading these efforts. Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and a few others under Republican control are fully onboard this retrogressive train which was fueled and propelled by ex-president Donald Trump who opened the floodgates to the rise of white supremacy and other extremist ideology and beliefs.
Rise of white racist extremism and the MAGA movement
The election of President Barack Obama sent shockwaves across America’s racist communities, including the religious right. In discussions of the U.S. political landscape, most fail to acknowledge that in the first year of President Obama’s administration, the number of white extremist groups in America quadrupled. The numbers of white supremacy extremist groups grew from 50 to 200. This data is absent from the analyses of Trump’s pathway to the presidency. The argument that Republican candidate Trump played on the perceived anger of white American men who felt they were being marginalized and their white dominance threatened was only a part of the story. Perhaps, narrowing the cause was a deliberate distraction from the reality and downplaying the role of racism in American politics.
These conversations tend to shy away from describing this so-called “white anger” as racist based. The fact that much of this so-called “white anger” is fueled by white racist extremist ideology and the so-called replacement theory is mostly ignored. Anti-immigrant, misogynistic, xenophobic, religious bigotry, and homophobic ideologies were and continue to be a part of the white racist and white nationalistic ideologies of the MAGA movement which has infected, directly and indirectly, a large swath of Republicans.
Desperate white men attempting to reclaim an America dominated by white men threatens the progress made by black people and other people of color, non-white ethnic groups, and diverse religious beliefs in America over the past sixty plus years. Women, including educated white women, are also being excluded from this MAGA vision of America, and they are paying attention. These actions by the conservative Republican dominated Tennessee legislature are manifestations of the MAGA cultist campaign to “make America great again”.
Thus, the expulsion of the two young black legislators by the Tennessee Republicans is another manifestation of the cultist movement spawned by Trump’s MAGA movement. This is an example of how to “make America great again”. This is an example of how they intend to “take back America.” Reversing the progress made by women and people of color in America since Jim Crow is at the heart of this campaign.
Racist political strategy and religious bigotry
These actions by the Tennessee legislators are not isolated. They are reminiscent of conservative politics of the past characterized by the ‘southern strategy’ and ‘playing the race card’. It is a revival of Jim Crow. It is a strategy being widely employed in states where the Republicans control the legislatures and governorships.
Glaringly, most often absent from this conversation is the link between the Republicans and conservative Christian leaders, organizations, and churches. And the silence or muted voices of opposition by the Christian right to these racist and undemocratic actions need to be exposed by mainstream media, academia, and on every platform . The Christian right need to be called to account for their silence and religious bigotry.
Also, the discussions ignore the fact that several of these white supremacy groups and militias are grounded in white extremist Christian ideology. And several of these groups were among those that attacked the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection on January 6, 2021. Those arrested and convicted, or those yet to be convicted, are being made heroes and victims by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. These Republicans in the Tennessee legislature who have expelled the two young black men and those in the U.S. Congress who seek to whitewash the January 6 insurrection are providing incitement to white extremist groups across the United States. These white extremist groups are encouraged by these actions of Republican elected officials, and their efforts at recruiting and radicalizing young white men and women will no doubt be enhanced.
Counter-advocacy and leadership
While the majority of Americans do not support these Republicans and the extremist ideologies they espouse, these extremist ideologies will continue to flourish if left unchallenged. There is a need for greater activism at all levels of society to stop them and to reverse their perverted actions and oppose their beliefs. It is the young people, people of color, and women, particularly black women, who are leading this movement in opposition to white racist ideology.
Young people are passionate in opposing these retrograde policies and they will not allow their future to be defined by racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-multicultural attitudes and ideologies. But they can’t do it alone. The responsibility to save American democracy and to preserve and to advance the progress already made towards equality for all rests not only with the young but with all generations of decent Americans.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post