A Democracy on the Verge of Falling

Kali Akuno has never seen so many confederate flags. The co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, a Black community organization in the Mississippi capital, could not miss them on sweatshirts, hats, bumper stickers, lawn signs, everywhere. This phenomenon has been particularly widespread since July, when the governor started the process for changing the official flag of the Old South, which still displays the famous symbol of slavery. The white, conservative population of Mississippi has since intensified an effort to defend its history.

But if the confederate flag is being flown, it is also done so as a sign of enthusiastic support for Donald Trump, says Kali. Even though the suburbs and rural areas surrounding Jackson are white, the city itself is 80% Black. “If Trump’s voter base dares display it so proudly here, it’s because it is galvanized like never before,” he explains.* And the American president is actively working to nourish the sentiment that the American identity of his voters is being threatened. For example, last week, in a speech at the National Archives Museum, Trump spoke about the radical left, claiming they are marching to force Americans into “abandoning their values, their heritage, and their very way of life.” These words echo those of confederate leaders at the dawn of the Civil War – nothing less.

In the streets of Mississippi, heavily armed white militias have been marching regularly since the beginning of the summer, to instill fear in the Black Lives Matter protesters as well as liberal voters in general. Certain groups have even organized at the borders of rural counties and tried to control circulation. For the Black population, which recalls the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan only too well, the situation is triggering trauma. Already last weekend, Republican militants tried to intimidate voters planning to vote early in Fairfax, Virginia. Kali is certain that this tactic will be used elsewhere in the South as well as in his hometown. After all, this kind of intimidation was common before the Civil Rights movement prevailed. Is that what the slogan “Make America Great Again” means ?

To those who find his view pessimistic, Kali replies, “Every Black uprising in the history of the United States has been followed by violent backlash. I don’t see why this time will be any different.”* The activist also views the militant energy of progressive whites to be dwindling as the death of George Floyd is becoming an increasingly distant memory. At the moment, nothing is resolved. All across the country, people waited anxiously for a decision on charges for the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in Louisville, Kentucky, last March. If there is even a shadow of an act of vandalism in protests over the decision on Wednesday, Trump’s reaction could entrench those who are undecided even more strongly, Kali fears. Trump will say that the country is in chaos, anarchists are taking control and I am the only one who can restore peace. This is rhetoric that has preceded who knows how many coups around the world.

Since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday, the sociopolitical crisis shaking the United States is more unclear than ever before. On Tuesday, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated how urgent it was that a new justice be nominated (a Republican, of course) before the election, because it is almost certain that the Supreme Court will be dealing with voter fraud cases the day after Nov. 3. One has to understand that the president firmly intends to fight any election defeat. If he has been laying the groundwork for several months by sabotaging the Postal Service and casting doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in voting, a Republican majority on the Supreme Court would give him the opportunity to cling to power. And since Trump’s followers control the Senate which is charged with confirming a nominee to the Supreme Court, Republicans face few remaining obstacles, other than a futile call for virtue.

At the moment, the liberal Black base around Kali is being more discreet than ever. Conversations in the community boil down to voting for Joe Biden out of fear that Trump will be reelected, but without any real enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket, something which does not foreshadow anything good with regard to voter turnout.

And Republican power carries on with the confidence of those who are there for good. One is reminded of several cases involving forced hysterectomies performed on immigrant women in federal detention centers. The governor of Florida just showcased a bill that would make it legal to kill protesters with one’s vehicle in self-defense. And U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has advised American courts to charge activists with sedition. “I don’t think there has been this much coordination of strategy between the federal government and Republican states since the wonder years of Jim Crow,” Kali continues, evidently worried.*

His advice for Nov. 3? Find a safe shelter for the days that will follow. No matter the results, there will be substantial trouble. And if arbitrary arrests and political repression of antifa members like him increase, it may even become necessary to search for safety outside the country.**

*Editor’s note: Although this remark is accurately translated, it could not be independently verified.

**Editor’s note: Antifa is shorthand for anti-fascists, an umbrella description for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

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