There are parallels that can be drawn to the original Jim Crow laws with the modern laws. “Many who view recent restrictive efforts as attempts at voter suppression often draw parallels to the long history of suppression and demobilization of certain categories of voters” since the same methods used to suppress specific groups from voting have lived on for generations and centuries. Even in the lenses of the public, “such connections are not difficult to make as voter suppression is viewed by many researchers familiar with the history of American elections as a pervasive and consistent feature of U.S. political practice and institutions.” American politics have always centered around creating voting procedures that support political motives. For example, the main point of Gerrymandering, an increasingly common trait in American elections, has been to create districts that marginalize specific voting groups into corners while amplifying minorities. The interests of the common people are thrown out the window and it is the will of the political establishments that makes the final calls.
However, there are clear rewards in making such detailed and meticulous plans. In the Presidential Election of 2000, individual districts in the state of Florida had the opportunity to decide the winner of the election despite Vice-President Al Gore having already won the popular vote by millions against Governor George W. Bush. This was seen again in the Presidential Election of 2016 when Donald Trump won the election in an electoral landslide against Secretary of State Hilary Clinton despite losing the popular vote by millions of votes. With small electoral districts making a big difference, efforts have been made to secure advantages in the smallest regions. “Since the 2012 election, thus far restrictive laws have been passed or proposed by Republicans in Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, and Virginia. Republicans appear undeterred in their pursuit of these restrictive policies and this most recent presidential defeat may only serve to galvanize suppression efforts.” This is why the article’s research indicates that “the racial composition of a state’s residents or active electorate and both the proposal and passage of voter restriction legislation that racial and ethnic minorities as well as Democrats were more likely to experience significantly longer waits.” The effect of this has been made clear as “most infamously in Florida, one study estimates that roughly 200,000 voters were discouraged from voting in the 2012 election due to long lines.” Motivations to win political elections have been influential in changing how to approach voting procedure and with history of American elections suggesting that small details can make or break an entire election, politicians have been sensitive about how to approach the modern Jim Crow laws in the eyes of the public.
History suggests that these Jim Crow laws are here to stay. Even with the abolishment of slavery in the 1860s with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment, Jim Crow laws have not been fully removed due to political motivations from historically both the Democratic and Republican Party; while the political standings of the two parties have shifted significantly over the past two centuries, each side has continued to support policies that favor their own voting base, not those that are in the interests of the American people. Given the rise of protests against racial discrimination in 2020, disparities in voting ability will likely stay in the spotlight in American politics. With the Republican loss in the 2020 presidential election followed by a Democratic loss in the key 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election and record-low approval ratings for both President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, the stage is once again set for modern Jim Crow policies to stay in order to support party interests, not the people’s interests.
In the context of the media, it doesn’t help that many Republicans have been blunt about the underlying reasoning for such policies. The Pennsylvania Republican state house majority leader stated that “the passage of the state’s 2012 voter identification law would ‘allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,’” sparking controversy amongst both Republicans and Democrats. This is strictly in pattern with the original Jim Crow laws, which stated that the restrictions were only meant to ensure fair elections. Regardless, “many Republican politicians and their allies assert that restrictive voter access legislation is intended to prevent or curtail rampant electoral fraud so as to preserve the legitimacy and integrity of the electoral process,” creating a divide between those prioritizing voter inclusion and those pushing for voter legitimacy. As the article states, “Democrats who oppose voter access regulations are working to continue their unfair and fraudulent advantages at the ballot box at the expense of democratic legitimacy.” Democrats strongly disagree with such motives but with election security at question, their hands seem to be heavily tied.
In “Jim Crow 2.0?: Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies,” Keith Gunnar Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien (University of Massachusetts Boston) research into the current standing of these Jim Crow laws from the past. Moving away from the traditional Jim Crow laws, the modern age has introduced new methods for “voter suppression”: identification.
There has also been a continuation of old Jim Crow policies by the Republican Party as they have “engaged in strategic demobilization efforts in response to changing demographics, shifting electoral fortunes, and an internal rightward ideological drift among the party faithful.” Again, “the most recent round of electoral reforms among other measures trumpeted as protecting electoral legitimacy while intended to exclude the marginalized for a particular political party’s advantage.” The pattern is clear: in working to promote voter integrity, specific groups get marginalized from voting due to the additional steps involved in voting.
With Republicans (the same party that worked to provide emancipation) arguing that there must be systems in place to prevent voting fraud, Congress has seen many bills to add more steps to voting. “Required photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote, more stringently regulation of groups or individuals who aim to register new voters, shortened early voting periods, repeal of same-day voter registration, and increased restrictions on voting by felons exemplify the different types of policies that have been proposed and adopted in various states since the mid-2000s.” The debate over whether these policies are in line with “voter suppression” is debated by the two political parties but it is evident that such efforts have increasingly been cloned in numerous states. “While more restrictions were proposed in the South due to a couple of particularly active states, Southern states vary significantly in their rates of proposal.” The irony of the situation is that the states that originally led in voting suppression aren’t necessarily leading in such efforts and the political party standings on the issue have flipped since the original introduction of the Jim Crow laws.
However, the Republican ideology on having identification to vote has plausibility. After all, those with the right to vote should be able to provide such identification. Why would Democrats disagree with such a stance? Well, it’s mainly stemmed from sentiments against voter exclusion. Leftists claim that these policies are “thinly veiled attempts by Republicans to depress turnout among constituencies deemed favorable to the Democratic Party: minorities, new immigrants, the elderly, disabled, and young.” With additional steps in place to vote, many people in these groups may find it difficult to complete the procedures and choose to not vote at all, favoring the Republican party greatly.
Following the end of the Civil War in the 1860s, former Confederate states saw an era of military rule from the North. However, reconstruction efforts by the Republican Party-controlled federal government ultimately failed to ease tensions in the po in the South; in fact, just 8 months following the ending date of the Civil War (April 9th 1865), the Ku Klux Klan was founded (December 24th, 1865) and would ravage America with anti-abolishment acts of violence. Regardless, efforts to rebuild and reform the South persisted on with scalawags (Southerners in support of federal reconstruction policies) and carpetbaggers (Northerners who relocated to the South to reinforce abolishment ideologies) in the front lines. These efforts, while slow, had the ability to create long-term change - unfortunately, these efforts would be cut off less than a score later.
In the realm of politics, the post-Civil War time period saw a golden era of Republican dominance in federal politics. Even with the exception of Andrew Johnson (promoted following the line of succession after Lincoln’s assassination), Grover Cleveland (a conservative-leaning Democrat), and Woodrow Wilson (elected following the iconic party-split by Theodore Roosevelt in the election of 1912), the Republican Party held on tightly to power. However, this was challenged for the first time in 1876. The Presidential Election of 1876 saw a close race between Republican Hayes and Democrat Tilden with Hayes barely winning the election by one electoral vote (185 v. 184). To compensate for the close tie and the prevention of post-election tensions from the Democratic Party, high-ranking officials from both parties made the Compromise of 1877.
While the Compromise of 1877 was successful in fending off a divide in North-South relations, it would cancel out years of work by reconstructionists. Union armies had slowly been leaving the Southern districts and the compromise brought a complete end to all military presence in the region, setting the stage for anti-abolitionists to return.
Immediately, Southern Democratic Party politicians would begin a long series of anti-voting policies to restrict the newly emancipated African-Americans from receiving their due rights. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution (1869) had granted all citizens, regardless of color the right to vote; Section 1 of the amendment also added on that “the right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The intention of the amendment was clear: grant African-Americans the right to vote.
Previously, Southerners restricted them from voting on account of race, color, and condition of servitude. In response to the amendment and the Union Army’s withdrawal, many began enforcing Jim Crow laws. Instead of preventing voting procedures on account of previous methods, they began setting prerequisites on voting such as literacy tests, purposely choosing voting centers to be in areas away from Black-concentrated areas, and utilizing Grandfather tests to ease voting procedures to those who had no recent family history of servitude (mostly whites). These policies would not stop even with the passage of time and with no entity to prevent politicians from allowing and enforcing these policies, Jim Crow laws would live on into the modern era.
On September 17th, 1787, delegates present at the Constitutional Convention finalized their draft of the United States Constitution; 234 years later, the frameworks set by those delegates largely stand, despite the multitude of changes that the nation has undergone. Although the American people celebrate the existence of the U.S. constitution and its fundamental values every year on the Fourth of July, there have been many criticisms of the Constitution throughout those 234 years. In the “Our Broken Constitution” by Jeffrey Toobin and “Brutus #1” by Robert Yates, the articles present the inefficient use of the Senate, filibusters, and presidential appointments; ranging from Anti-Federalists from 1787 to the modern Democratic Party politicians, both articles speak on how it is this inefficient use of the Constitution's outlines that continues to protect individual rights while depriving the efficiency of government.
The first issue critics of the constitution brings up is the presence and role of the Senate. In “Our Broken Constitution,” the Senate is referred to as “the original sin of the Constitution” (Toobin) by University of Texas at Austin professor of law, Sanford Levinson. He amongst other progressives have stated that while the “process that produced the Senate is understandable…but the end result is indefensible” (Toobin). Referencing the Connecticut Compromise (often referred to as the Great Compromise), Levinson agrees that the debate and conclusion over representation in Congress makes sense but does not hesitate in his criticisms of it. He calls the Senate, in which the smaller states have an equal number of senators, a cause for “distortion” that has “dramatically worsened over the centuries.” As per statistics, he mentions that in 1787, “the largest state, Virginia, had about eleven times as many people as the smallest, Delaware”; now, at the time of writing (2013), “California has roughly seventy times more people than Wyoming,” a stark increase in the population gap between the biggest and smallest state. The issue of having smaller states have equal representation as the bigger states is evident: the majority cannot simply rule. However, Americans believe that the Senate serves as a way for the minority in smaller states to fight up against the majority in the bigger states; this concept of having the majority govern but not rule has been a motif of the nation’s government, giving little room for this inefficiency to be resolved. Moreover, with the passage of the 18th amendment in 1919, the direct election of Senators was guaranteed to the common man, further allowing smaller states to have a strong voice in the governing of the nation. Even in 1787 when the basis of the Constitution was first established, Anti-Federalists, as voiced through “Brutus #1,” that “a legislature, formed of representatives from the respective parts, would not only be too numerous to act with any care or decision, but would be composed of such heterogeneous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other” (Yates). Although the negative implications of having small-population states obtain equal representation in the congressional upper house has been clear since the Constitution’s writing, at the cost of efficiency, it has guaranteed minorities a strong voice.
Another issue that the articles bring up regarding the constitution is that of filibuster. At the time of writing the Constitution, the Founding Fathers believed that it would remain as a theoretical mechanism that would only be used by the minority group in Congress to respond to emergency situations (although the Founding Fathers weren’t sure on when or what this would be). However, starting from the first Senate filibuster in 1837, there has been an abuse of these filibusters with Republicans under the Obama administration. In “Our Broken Constitution,” Hatch, a Republican from Utah, stated that “During Obama’s Presidency, the number of filibusters has grown dramatically” (Tooblin). Moreover, “approximately half of all the filibusters in American history against Presidential nominations have taken place during Obama’s Presidency” (Tooblin). As stated above, while the use of filibusters has protected the minorities, it’s prevented having a strong efficient government. As written in Brutus #1, “in a republic of such vast extent as the United States, the legislature cannot attend to the various concerns and wants of its different parts” (Yates). While it is important that the government works to match the needs of Americans, it is even more essential that the government act swiftly, something the Constitution trades off for the protection of individual rights.
Finally, the articles reference a critical flaw with our constitution: the weakened state of the legislative branch. At the time of the Constitution's writing, the Founding Fathers, scarred by the British Empire’s colonial rule in which the executive, King George III, abused his powerful authority and taxed American colonists without representation, believed in creating a system where the legislative branch would be able to lead the governance of the nation. However, the legislative branch has lost significant amounts of power since then. In response to this, Steven Calabresi, a professor of law at Northwestern University stated that he would support a system in which “Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses” could “override Supreme Court decisions in the same way in which it can override Presidential vetoes” (Toobin). Because the Marbury v Madison Supreme Court case in 1803 established the concept of judicial review, the judicial branch received power to oversee and essentially veto the actions of the other two branches. Although the legislative branch has checks and balances that can be used against the judicial branch (approving of who gets on the Supreme Court), because these justices serve life sentences, the legislative branch has little power in fighting back against judicial review, making the legislative branch weaker. Moreover, in speaking out on presidential appointments, he proposed that he would rather have a system in which “half the Justices on the Supreme Court are selected by the current method of Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, and the other half by a vote of the fifty state governors” (Toobin). This is in direct reference to the current problem of the executive branch being able to appoint too many people to office, specifically the Secretaries of the 15 executive departments. This worry can also be seen in “Brutus #1” as Yates also stated that the “great officers of government would soon become above the control of the people and abuse their power to purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them” (Yates). While this abuse, aggrandization, or oppression has not fully happened, the legislative branch clearly has lost much power to the other two branches; while the growing strength of the Supreme Court has worked to protect individual rights, it has made the system inefficient as with so many key players, getting bills and actions finalized has become harder than ever before.
In both “Our Broken Constitution” by Toobin and “Brutus #1” by Anti-Federalists, the authors speak out on how the Constitution has many flaws: the Senate, the filibuster, and the weakened state of the legislative branch. These flaws have paved the path for the protection of individual rights while depriving Americans of an efficient government. Progressive critics continue to press on for the revisiting of the Constitution to account for the world’s changes in the past 234 while conservatives continue to fight for the preservation of the current document, making it more important now than ever to have a balance between the two opposing sides. Indeed, in order for America to continue on, it is essential to first recognize that the Constitution may have flaws and then consider whether the costs of keeping it are worth its benefits.
In his farewell address, President George Washington outlined the dangers of forming political parties and the destruction of political polarization the nation would have. Despite being aligned with the Federalists of his time, Washington remained moderate, having a cabinet that represented most spectrums in American politics. Unfortunately, immediately following the absence of Washington, the polarization of politics in America began. The Revolution of 1800 in which the Democratic-Republican Party captured the White House ultimately led to the demolition of the Federalist Party. The following decades would lead to a political fight between the Democratic-Republicans and Whigs arguing over foreign policy in the growing nation. While the post-Civil War Era saw a prolonged era of relative political stabilization with the Republican Party holding strong dominance from the 1860s to the 1930s, American politics slowly ran down the path of mutual destruction.
The modern Democrats and Republicans throughout the late 20th Century would disagree on virtually everything and the final decade of the 20th Century, marked by the Clinton Administration, would see a time of political unrest with the 104th Congress symbolizing the American government’s instability. Even with the short-lived Republican dominance with the Regan, H.W. and Bush Administrations, there was never a prolonged period of complete dominance for either party with parties interchanging after almost every president (with the exception of the Roosevelt-Truman, Kennedy-Johnson, and Reagan-Bush administration shifts). In “America’s Missing Moderates: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Morris P. Fiorina offers an explanation as to why American politics have become so unstable.
Fiorina first suggests an increasing divide in the ideologies of the “political class, including convention delegates, donors and campaign activists.” With such divide in the political establishments, the viewpoints of the politicians that the American people see on national television have become significantly polarized; this accounts for the substantive influence that has led to the polarization that the common people have gone through. Fewer moderates now enter public office, leading many congressional districts during elections to lack a moderate candidate that people can vote for. With this, election results have only gotten more polarized.
A secondary explanation has been that the American electorate no longer has a home party. Fiorina states that “the distributions of partisanship and ideology have not changed shape for a generation.” However, what has changed is the sorting of political views. In the past, many Americans aligned with parties that often diverged from their own political views; since the advancements of social media and the press, Americans tend to vote for the wrong party, leading many to choose one party and stay with it. This polarizes individuals as many end up walking deeper into the core of each ideology, a plausible explanation for the rise of far left and right groups.
The 2012 Election serves as an example of diverging politics according to Fiorina. Since “the American people do not give mandates” but instead turn to hiring “parties provisionally and grant them a probationary period to prove their worth,” many politicians find themselves establishing themselves on Capitol Hill or the White House only to have their pass revoked due to their poor history. Despite Bush starting his first year rather strong in terms of approval with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing military response, the end of his term in 2008 saw a shift towards progressivism with the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 completely tarnishing the face of the Republicans.
On the other hand, in “Polarized or Sorted? Just What’s Wrong With Our Politics, Anyways?” Alan I. Abramowitz provides a response to Fiorina’s explanations for the divergences in American politics. Instead of pointing to the differentiations in political groups, Abramowitz instead points to the rise in minority groups within the voting base. The article presents that “between 1992 and 2012, the nonwhite share of the presidential electorate more than doubled, from 13 percent to 28 percent,” leading to a “growing racial divide between the Democratic and Republican electoral coalitions.” This change has been bolstered by a change in societal norms: “the decline of the traditional family, the growing economic independence of women, and the rise of the women’s and gay rights movements” has led to an era of new ideologies. With different political beliefs on the table, parties have been quick to respond to them by adjusting their stances on many viewpoints in order to win a bigger electoral coalition. This has ultimately led to a strong polarization as the far wings of both spectrums have increased greatly: “white evangelical Christains now make up one of the largest and most loyal components of the Republican electoral coalition while secular voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.”
Additionally, instead of pointing to a sorting of voters to account for the changes in how people vote, Abramowitz points to the distribution of the voters on the ideology scale as also becoming more polarized. Unlike Fiorina who chose to blame the political class itself for being very polarized, Abramowitz points to the individual voters as a source of such drift. The article presents that “The distance between the average Democratic voter and the average Republican voter on the 7-point ideology scale more than doubled, from .9 units in 1972 to 2.2 units in 2008 with the average Republican voters going from a mean score of 4.7 in 1972 to a mean score of 5.4 in 2008 and the average Democratic voter going from a mean score of 3.7 in 1972 to a mean score of 3.2 in 2008.” This is complementary to the initial point that Abramowitz pointed out as the demographics have changed, making it only sensible that the viewpoints of the American people would also change. A shifted demographics in America with the rise of immigration in the late 20th century would also make plausible sense.
Viewing these political and demographic changes from a historical lens, the dangers of such shifts are evidently seen. Even during the landslide election victories by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, there has never been such polarization in how the American people view the two political parties. The only instance in which something similar has ever occurred in American history are the decades leading up to the Civil War. The established parties saw great upheavals with the Democratic-Republicans, the Whigs, and the Know-Nothings losing their stances with the topic of abolishment becoming the most prevalent topic. At the center of the historical connection is the fact that the Republican and Democratic parties have both lost their initial identities. From the party of Abraham Lincoln to the party of Donald Trump, the Republican party has gotten increasingly conservative while originating from white supremacy in the South to eventually Barack Obama, the Democratic Party has become one of the most progressive parties in the history of America.
Polarization has occurred on numerous instances throughout political history, whether it be strictly American or international. However, given the rapid rates in which parties have become shifted to the far wings of their set spectrums, it is highly likely that in the recent future there will be a meltdown of ideologies, party alignments, and political culture. While it’s clear that America will get back on its feet even with polarization, chaos seems to be inevitable.