Nashville’s political version of Bull Connor must have been too busy plotting the expulsions of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson to learn of Republican misfortunes in the preceding two days.
Donald Trump was indicted in Manhattan on Tuesday, April 4, for financial crimes sans the “death and destruction” that our 45th former president predicted – all to retaliate against a district attorney who dared to force him to account for these alleged crimes.
Later that evening, Democrats seized control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court when Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the court, leaving her party with a 4-3 majority. Her victory at 55 percent, a respectable number, is a commanding sign that Democrats could clinch the presidency in 2024.
Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton outdid everyone on Thursday, April 6: He left the Republican Party no room to counter explicit branding as a racist political force. He led the overwhelming votes to expel two young Black men – Jones and Pearce – as Democratic members of the House while sparing a white woman from the same fate. Jones and Pearson were reinstated this week by local officials in the Nashville area for Jones and Memphis for Pearson.
It took more than a half-century, and now the Republican Party has earned the label of “racist.” I remember when Richard Nixon ran campaign ads to instruct white voters that Black people are threatening their livelihoods and lifestyles. Or when George Bush the elder alerted voters to Willie Horton’s rape and armed robbery spree in Massachusetts in 1988 election ads, laying blame upon rival former Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Democrats can view this as an opportunity, but they must also take it as a wake-up call. They have struggled with accusations of antisemitism since 2018, and what happened to Republicans can happen to them.
Sexton thundered against Jones, Pearson and Johnson for disrupting legislative business to protest… Oh, I have trouble recalling the object of their protests. It must have been a trivial matter. After all, Sexton and 70 or so other lawmakers focused their attention on the trio’s conduct in the legislative chambers.
Of course, we are speaking of the murders of three 9-year-olds and three adults at The Convent School elsewhere in Nashville on March 27. Students, parents and other citizens massed inside the state Capitol building to plead with House members and senators to enact gun-safety laws that might prevent future Convent-like massacres.
The three Democrats, who each represents parts of Tennessee’s most populous cities, moved to the well and led the chanting from there. The dominant Republican majority responded as if Jones, Johnson and Pearson committed a capital crime, like slaughtering six people. They moved to vote for expulsion.
They ended up expelling the Black representatives while permitting the white woman to keep her job. Johnson once endured a school shooting as a teacher in Knoxville.
This vote was an official act of racism, and so far Republicans in Congress and other state capitols have been largely silent.
Now, people can feel safe calling out the Republican Party as racist. No ambiguity here.
Republicans have already argued that the expulsions were not racist. They can say that most of the lawmakers voted to expel all three. Johnson survived with one vote short of expulsion; two-thirds of the House is required to expel a member.
After last Thursday’s vote to oust Jones and Pearson, who will make the distinction?
Being pegged with bigotry is poison. I have noticed how people get visibly nervous when charges of prejudice arise. In the debate over Israel, many critics volunteer that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Not if the criticism is based on facts, but often it is not.
Now Republicans have reason to get defensive. It was already a foreboding week for the GOP. Trump was deprived of the spontaneous support of his loyal followers when he was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Tuesday last week. Possibly Trump’s friends disregarded “death and destruction” because, with the Jan. 6 riots in mind, they did not care for the prospect of arrest and prison.
The Democratic victory in Wisconsin means that their new majority on the Supreme Court empowers them to decide cases that will cost Republicans congressional and state legislative seats. On a national scale, the next Democratic nominee for president has a far better chance for a decisive win in Wisconsin. Statewide elections there have been determined by as slight as a percentage point, but an 11-point spread, as in the Supreme Court outcome, foreshadows a sure result.
Trump was elected in 2016 by taking Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which were reliably blue states. Joe Biden recaptured those states in 2020, and since then Democrats flipped Michigan’s state legislature while Pennsylvania Democrats are in strong shape. Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes would put Democrats, whether it be President Biden or someone else, over the top.
And by Thursday, April 6, to paraphrase a line from Shakespeare: CRY RACISM!…And let slip the brand onto the Republicans.
Democrats seized every opportunity to tell the world what happened. Two Black Democrats were politically crucified the day before Good Friday. The white woman was spared. Pearson was derided by a Republican colleague, as if he was a field hand. Sexton was compared to Bull Connor, the abusive white sheriff during the Civil Rights era. Johnson suggested the expulsions could be racist and recalled overhearing a white Republican lawmaker urge the resumption of lynching. And Trump singled out Bragg and other Black officials to attack.
And it was repeated every day on national television. How do Republicans get past that?