Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s second nomination to the Supreme Court, is likely to do serious harm to civil rights for a generation, and it is a direct result of Americans not voting.
And while a broad cross section of Americans decided not to participate in the 2016 presidential election, I found it intriguing that Trump, in a December 2016 rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., singled out African Americans, and thanked us for not voting.
“The African American community was great to us. They came through, big league. Big league,” Trump said to the majority white audience in the post-election rally. “And frankly if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote, and that was almost as good, because a lot of people didn’t show up, because they felt good about me.”
In truth, African Americans did not feel good about Trump. Just 8 percent of blacks voted for him according to exit polls. Still, Trump had a point. There was a drop-off in black voting in the 2016 presidential election. This was partly because of voter suppression efforts that targeted black voters, and partly because of a more troubling trend — the rise of so-called “woke” blacks who refuse to participate in the electoral process.
This trend tends to break down along generational lines, and is tied to a spirit of activism that says protest is more effective than voting. But as we look at the imminent appointment of a Supreme Court justice who will likely cement a conservative majority that will seek to roll back civil-rights gains, I can’t help wondering whether those in the “woke” generation understand the implications of their refusal to vote.
Do they know, for instance, that federal judges — including Supreme Court justices — remain on the court for life? Do they know that those judges are nominated and confirmed by presidents and senators, respectively? Do they know that in refusing to vote, they help usher their oppressors into office? Do they know that’s why Trump thanked them?
I have long had this debate with people I know and respect, including Saudia Durrant, a former intern of mine who is brilliant and well-spoken, and sees voting as an outmoded vehicle for change.
“Black and brown communities who have participated in voting have found that the very leaders they’ve trusted have betrayed and exploited their votes for support to gain in power,” she wrote to me in response to a recent Facebook post. “That’s not being naive, that’s recognizing that there is a hamster wheel system of using [people of color’s] political support and not transforming the marginalization of exploited people. Older generations have to recognize that they can’t keep passing down political strategies that worked for a certain period of time but have now been adjusted. We must seek new tactics and tools for liberation.”
Certainly, she has a point. But voting determines those who pick Supreme Court Justices. It determines who distributes the resources that government collects through our taxes. It determines who decides how the Constitution is lived out in this country. Voting determines who represents our interests.
That’s what critical race theorist and lawyer Dr. Tim Golden sees when he looks at the critiques put forth by mostly young black activists who say they don’t vote.
“You can engage in a lot of high-falutin academic criticism of the power of authority and the many ways it may be oppressive,” Golden told me in response to a question about the non-voting movement. “But that doesn’t mean that you dismantle the whole structure or withdraw from the political process that will continue to affect you whether you participate or not.”
But Golden isn’t the only one who sees the flaw in the argument for not voting.
Russian trolls who worked to discourage black voters from participating in the 2016 election understood it, as well.
That much was made clear in an indictment handed up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February, which outlined how the Russians specifically targeted blacks on social media and worked to discourage us from voting.
Russians funded social media posts that sought to convince “U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”
One of the ways they did so was by creating an Instagram account called “Woke Blacks.” Among the statements posted there was one that told African Americans not to vote at all rather than support “the lesser of two devils.”
In the end, Trump won the Electoral College by about 80,000 votes in three key states, including Pennsylvania. And the “woke” crowd took to the streets.
But the harm from their refusal to vote is just beginning. When Brett Kavanaugh takes the bench, he will potentially have decades to undo the gains made by blacks in America.
And the “woke” crowd will have helped him to do it.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM. Email him at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter at @solomonjones1.