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Cory Booker on socialism, “identity politics,” and animal rights – Vox.com

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Sen. Cory Booker is down in the 2020 polls — and yet has long seemed poised for a breakout moment. He is more qualified than some frontrunners, quite popular among Democratic activists, and the last black candidate with a decent shot after Sen. Kamala Harris’s withdrawal. He’s an acceptable choice to many people across the party’s big ideological divide.

He’s also been somewhat difficult to peg on the ideological spectrum. Slate’s Jordan Weissman, who plans to vote for either Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, recently called him “the best moderate in the field.” But is calling him a moderate right? It’s true that Booker has a record of centrism on some economic issues, particularly relating to education and finance, but he also co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution. He’s the most progressive candidate in the field on criminal justice, and a vegan who recently proposed legislation aimed at shuttering factory farms.

I decided to call up Booker and find out what he really believes. But instead of talking about policy specifics, I engaged Booker on his big-picture view of the world. Does he think liberal democracy is under threat in America? What does he make of the rise of “socialism” on the American left? Are critics right that Democrats are focusing on identity politics too much? How does his veganism fit into his broader worldview?

Booker described a vision centered on the political value of “justice,” drawing on both Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential run and Obama’s 2008 victory as models. Booker emphasized what he terms “the intersectionality of all life”: the idea that humans of all backgrounds, as well as non-human animals, are bound up in webs of mutual interdependence.

“We share a common destiny,” Booker says. “You cannot have one sector of our country held down without the whole country being lowered as a result.”

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, which ranges from problems of short-termism in American capitalism to W.E.B. DuBois’s “psychological wage” to philosopher Peter Singer’s theory of the expanding moral circle. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp

I want to start with a question that’s been bothering me for a while: Can we talk about the GOP as a party that’s committed to core basic values like democracy, individual rights, and the rule of law?

Cory Booker

I have been very confused by the modern Republican Party, especially now in the time of Donald Trump, where a lot of the values that they speak to seem to be being butchered by the policies that are coming out, and even the rhetoric now that’s coming out. It is very difficult for me to even think of the Republican Party as having any kind of governing philosophy that is informing policy and decisions, when in the time of Trump, it just seems to be more transactional and corrupted by the interests of large concentrations of wealth.

Zack Beauchamp

The problem is that this kind of thing tends toward some kind of autocratization, right? Look at a country like Hungary, where you have institutionalized corruption as a means of propping up a ruling elite. How should we think about similar threats to American democracy?

Cory Booker

I have deep, deep concerns about the shifting toward oligarchic power, especially after decisions like Citizens United that are allowing even more exertion of power and corruption within our political system. We see that these corrupting forces are already having a pretty significant effect on our democracy.

The powerful corporate interests now are actually undermining the very ideals of capitalism and entrepreneurship. New business starts are going down in our country; short-termism within our [economy] is allowing forces of greed to even undermine the interests of capital allocation.

We have now seen an economy where someone who is being born now has less of a chance to make it. Ninety percent of baby boomers did better economically than their parents. Now it’s down to 50-50 for a millennial.

Zack Beauchamp

So can you see why a lot of people in my generation are starting to become more sympathetic to socialism?

Cory Booker

Gosh, I know that — and we could discuss the word “socialism” if you want.

As a guy that lives in a black and brown community, the framing from my culture and my community is just one of justice.

From my perspective, one of the biggest economic instruments of suppression in our country has been the criminal justice system that Michelle Alexander rightfully calls the new Jim Crow. Blacks are stunningly disempowered in the electoral system. And voting rights and criminal justice issues, all of these things are also wound into economic rights. Villanova researchers did a study about America having 20 percent less poverty [had mass incarceration not occurred].

These are justice issues [more] than the issues that often are bandied about by political elites.

These are issues of economic justice, of environmental injustice, of criminal injustice, of equal access to health care, to education, disparate treatment in everything from school discipline to hiring practices in this country.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Zack Beauchamp

This justice framing is really interesting to me, especially as a counterpoint to language like “socialism.” It seems to sidestep or play into — depending on who you’re talking to — a style of politics that’s been derisively referred to as “identity politics” by critics on both the left and the right.

What do you make of the discourse surrounding “identity politics” and its role in the current Democratic coalition?

Cory Booker

My talking about justice is not in any way a politics of identity. It’s a politics of trying to create again this understanding that we’re all in this together — that you cannot have a nation that’s [divided] along racial lines and think that you are going to have a nation of strength economically, morally, and competitively on a global context. We’re a nation that does best when we tear down walls of division or inequity and build larger coalitions.

The Democratic Party is a party that does best when it revives what Jesse Jackson called the Rainbow Coalition, what many people now call the Obama Coalition.

Zack Beauchamp

So you reject the argument that focusing on and highlighting the marginalization of minority groups is divisive in any way? Because a lot of the critics say, “Well, you can’t have the shared politics of national unity that you’re describing so long as you continue to talk about specific groups through the lens of their particular, non-universal experiences.”

Cory Booker

Well, I think that the capacity of our country to understand that addressing injustice and inequity in certain racial groups is a national cause. I just think we underestimate that, and our history speaks to a different understanding. You had the abolitionist movement based upon this ideal that the dignity and humanity of black Americans who were slaves cannot be denied without it somehow affecting the humanity of white Americans. You had incredible sacrifices by Quakers who were willing to put their very lives at risk to help build coalitions with black slaves and escaped slaves to build the Underground Railroad.

We’re not defined by the wretchedness and bigotry and hate that we’ve seen in every chapter of our politics. We are always defined, I think, by the willingness and ability of our country to create coalitions to overcome that. I think that you do not make this a better America when you try to sweep injustices, whether they be racial or religious injustices or gender-based injustice, under the rug. I think you actually weaken America when you don’t speak to that truth.

Zack Beauchamp

I think a lot about W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of the “psychological wage” of whiteness. You know, the theory that people derive psychological satisfaction and benefits from being members of the dominant group. How do you deal with that as a problem out there among the electorate? Or do you think that’s the wrong way to think about things?

Cory Booker

I think it’s just too simplistic of a description of our society as a whole. It seals people within permanent boxes of judgment, as opposed to understanding that we are all people in evolution.

You and I, right now, are two men having this conversation. [One could] say the totality of our being is binary, either we are sexist or we are not. That’s opposed to recognizing that you and I must wrestle with the sexism that is within the larger society consistently, or we are contributing to it, or complacent in the face of it.

People are not binary. People are all always in development, always in struggle. We are a nation always struggling to manifest the best of our ideals.

[House representative and civil rights icon] John Lewis once told me the story of a man who actually beat him up during the civil rights movement coming to his office with his child and asking him for forgiveness. Lewis told me that he did so, and how important it is to extend to people forgiveness in a recognition of their humanity and their ability when they are willing to own up to their injustice, their ability to grow — and how, in many ways, his humanity and that man’s humanity were interwoven and interdependent.

Cory Booker attends the “First In The West” Event In Las Vegas

David Becker/Getty Images

This is why I caution the Democratic Party, who wants to put every Trump voter in some kind of binary box and cast a condemnation upon them, as opposed to recognizing not just their dignity and humanity, but how our well-being as a country is interdependent, and how we need each other. As we descend as a culture into deeper and deeper tribalism, where we hate each other just because we vote differently, that in itself could be our demise — unless we start finding ways to reignite in our culture those ideals of grace and forgiveness and truth telling. That is ultimately the pathway for our salvation.

Zack Beauchamp

When you talk about that, I actually think of a concept developed by one of your constituents, the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer and his idea of the expanding moral circle, that over the course of time we can open and broaden our minds through moral improvement as not just individuals, but as a collective, to giving status and standing to different groups.

Now, you’re a vegan. Do you think, as Singer does, that the next frontier in our fight for equality is the moral status of animals and improving them on a social level?

Cory Booker

Your animal question is so … God, I would love to do a whole [interview] on this.

I don’t think people understand how destructive corporate multinational animal agriculture is to our environment. It’s the main reason for rainforest destruction and the poisoning of our water systems. The way we are doing it is so divorced from our heritage of animal agriculture in this country.

It’s not just these massive CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations, a.k.a. factory farms] and the treatment of animals, which would shock the [conscience] of anybody in our country. But it’s also our own survival as a species being deeply compromised by the way that animal agriculture has now evolved into corporate culture, affecting everything from fast fashion all the way to the corporate monopolies that are driving down relative wages in this country.

I believe that our food systems can be made more robust, that farmers can be the pathway out of climate crisis — that there’s so many ways to do this right that can elevate human well-being with a consciousness toward our treatment of animals and our treatment of the environment as a whole.

Zack Beauchamp

There are two issues here that are sort of connected because they’re about the moral frontiers of our politics. One is about the way that we treat each other and the way that hostile partisanship has taken hold over our minds, and the other about how we can expand our circle of moral concern to nonhuman animals.

What can we do concretely as a polity to deal with these kinds of issues of moral status and consideration for each other and other beings? Is it just a rhetorical thing? From our leaders, I mean, not just civic organizations. Or are there policies that can change the very way that we think about our moral world?

Cory Booker

It’s not either-or, it’s all of the above. I’ve seen this on multiple occasions: The more we know, the better we do.

[Think of] the concept of bycatch in the world of fishing, these massive nets picking, killing, and casting back into the sea 50 percent of what they pick up. The CAFOs right now in places like Duplin County [in North Carolina], which are causing out-of-control respiratory diseases and cancers in low-income communities. I mean, the more we know, the more these practices are exposed, the better we will do. So yeah, leaders that can help to expand understanding are often the leaders that help better motivate change.

I just think that all of the things that you talked about really keep speaking towards not just the intersectionality of humans, but the intersectionality of every aspect of our planet. If we are going to sustain ourselves as a species — and this is both our economic prosperity as well as our very lives and existence — we have to start having policies that are far more conscious to that intersectionality of life itself.

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I’m part of a coronavirus vaccine trial. Keep politics out of it. – The Washington Post

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In April, I signed up for the world’s first coronavirus vaccine trial. I was twice injected with the highest dose of mRNA-1273, an experimental vaccine made by the National Institutes of Health and the private biotechnology company Moderna. That vaccine candidate, along with a handful of others, has progressed to the final stage of clinical testing. If proved safe and effective, it may put a stop to the pandemic.

President Trump has promised a coronavirus vaccine will be approved next month and the public will have access to it “immediately.” Talk about an October surprise. At a White House news briefing on Sept. 18, he said “hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April.”

Overconfidence aside, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found about half of Americans say they would not take such a vaccine. Across all age groups, ethnicities and education levels, confidence in future coronavirus vaccinations is plummeting. Concerns over side effects and effectiveness loom large. The White House launched Operation Warp Speed in the spring to accelerate a vaccine, but Pew finds nearly 9 in 10 Democrats are more worried that the process is moving too fast, not too slow. Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans agree.

To ward off this growing anxiety, the Food and Drug Administration may soon issue tougher standards for vaccine approval. But Trump has said he may reject such a plan, saying it “sounds like a political move.”

What’s the point of developing a vaccine at “warp speed” if most Americans refuse to take it? This crisis of confidence could undermine the entire vaccine development effort, at least in this country. It will get much worse if partisan actors — up to and including Trump — tie vaccine approval to a political deadline.

Science does not happen on a fixed schedule. It takes time to get things right. Interfering with that process for political purposes would not only be dangerous, but it would also be an insult to the tens of thousands of vaccine volunteers like me who have already taken on personal risk on behalf of others.

How should the vaccine timetable be set? By science, of course.

Phase 1 trials, like the one I am in, are designed to discover whether a vaccine is safe in a small number of healthy people. When I received the highest experimental dose of the Moderna vaccine, I suffered a fever of more than 103, nausea and other unpleasant side effects that lasted one day. But my reaction helped scientists discover the dose I had been given was probably too high. That high dose is no longer being tested.

Phase 3 trials, like the one my mother is enrolled in, establish whether a vaccine actually works in a much larger and more diverse population. At their core, such trials are surprisingly simple: Thousands of volunteers like my mom get injected with either a vaccine or a placebo, then they’re monitored to see whether they catch the virus as they go about their daily lives. If people who received the placebo get infections at a higher rate than those who got the real vaccine, we know the vaccine is protective. Phase 3 trials can also reveal whether a vaccine causes rare side effects that earlier trials didn’t turn up in smaller populations.

How do scientists decide when a Phase 3 trial is over? When a predetermined number of participants are infected. How many is agreed on ahead of time — the larger the number, the more confident we can all be in the protective power of the vaccine.

In a commendable act of transparency, the companies behind four of the leading vaccine candidates — Moderna, Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — have publicly released their full Phase 3 trial plans, including the predetermined number of infections they are looking for. In clinical-trial speak, these infections are euphemistically called “events.” Each trial is recruiting tens of thousands of volunteers and is designed for between 150 and 170 events.

Few people know how many infections have occurred within these Phase 3 trials — that critical data is seen only by an independent monitoring board that is not beholden to the companies or the government.

But soon, regulators will receive updates about how the Phase 3 trials are going. It is at those crucial moments when partisan pressure could be applied.

There is a chance initial results will point unambiguously toward approval or rejection, but things could also be murky. The number of infections in the trials might not be high enough to know for certain whether the vaccine is working. But the president has already promised approval.

The FDA, led by Stephen Hahn, has the power to grant emergency approval based on incomplete clinical trial data. We must rely on the agency to do the right thing, even if it means missing Trump’s mid-October deadline. But if the FDA commissioner declines to approve a vaccine in October because of limited data, the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, may be able to override that decision. Such interference from the top down is what led to emergency use authorization for the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine earlier this year. Eventually, the FDA reversed that decision, explaining the malaria medication was “unlikely to be effective” against covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, and any potential benefit of taking it would not outweigh “known and potential risks.”

In a bid to boost public trust — and partly for fear politics might undermine it — nine leading companies in the vaccine race recently pledged not to seek approval or emergency use authorization for their vaccines until “demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as F.D.A.” It’s a noble pledge, but only if they stick to it.

I hope we develop a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible. I put my body on the line to help make that happen. But people will have confidence in a coronavirus vaccine only if science — not partisan politics — leads the way.

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How Private Black Tragedy Shapes American Politics – POLITICO

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Every Black family has a trauma story, even the most privileged, a story of a great-grandfather swinging from a tree, of cousins fleeing North in the middle of the night, of a sister or a brother or a husband who came this close to disaster with a cop.

These stories are extraordinary, because trauma always feels outsized. But they’re ordinary, too—ordinary in their commonplace-ness, a shared pain that’s tucked away, not talked about, because to do so picks at the scabs of barely healed wounds.

But for some Black families, trauma becomes a very public thing. They’re shoved into the spotlight, against their will, as their loved ones, ordinary Black folks, become extraordinary. Icons. Martyrs. Frozen in murals, fossilized on magazine covers, their personal lives dissected in the media. For them, grief becomes performance.

On Friday, this was Breonna Taylor’s family. Months after Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers executing a misfired warrant in the middle of the night, and two days after a Kentucky grand jury declined to charge police officers in her death, her family and friends stood in a downtown park. Amid a makeshift memorial to Taylor, an EMT technician who had hoped to buy her own home, they held hands, wearing masks that read, “Breonna Taylor.”

Perhaps the grief, perhaps the public-ness of it all was too much for Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mom. She didn’t say a word, standing there in, in tears. Her own mask read “Black Queen,” a reference to what she fondly calls her daughter. Instead, Palmer asked Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, to read what she’d written about her sadness—and her rage.

“When I speak on it, I’m considered an angry Black woman,” Austin read. “But know this, I am an angry Black woman. … but angry because our Black women keep dying at the hands of police officers … You can take the dog out of the fight. But you can’t take the fight out of the dog.”

Taylor’s family has joined what the father of Jacob Blake, another 2020 shooting victim, describes as a “fraternity” all too familiar now in American life: the families of Black Americans killed at the hands of police, or by self-deputized vigilantes.

That would be the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Michelle Cusseaux, Jordan Davis, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Daniel Prude, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Aura Rosser, Alton Sterling…. In seeking justice, they become reluctant activists, forced to become instant experts in public relations and advocacy—and also becoming part of a long history in which Black trauma has become inextricably entangled with political movements.

“There’s a long history of unjust killing of African Americans that thrusts family members into an almost impossible situation,” said Omar Wasow, a political-science professor at Princeton University, who studies protest movements.

And in that history, there is kinship. Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest icon of the civil rights movement, was assassinated by a white man who’d decided King had gone too far, leaving behind a family whose activism, and lives, are shadowed by trauma to this day. On the day Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced the grand jury’s decision, Bernice King, his youngest daughter, acknowledged the Taylors had just joined that legacy. “Praying for Breonna’s mother and family,” she tweeted, “Because they knew and loved her before her name became a hashtag.”

To be sure, tragedy has driven other families into the public eye as well. The parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, or the Parkland shooting, also had to deal with grief while under the klieg lights of instant, unwanted fame. But families like Taylor’s have yet another burden to carry in post-apartheid America: They’re expected to hold up a race, to counter the character assassinations of their loved ones by media looking to exonerate the police, to plead for peace in the wake of protests. All at the same time they’re grieving.

“These victims’ families are called upon to seek justice and call for peace in the same ragged moment,” said Cornell Brooks, the former president of the NAACP, who worked on behalf of the families of police shooting victims Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Jamar Clark.

Says Brooks, now a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School: “It’s regular, routine and obscene.”

The Kentucky grand jury decision came down on the 65th anniversary of the acquittal of the white murderers of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mother, Mamie, famously insisted on an open casket at her son’s funeral, using her tragedy to help launch the civil rights movement.

Mamie Till and other civil rights activists like the U.S. Congressman John Lewis used the model of “redemptive suffering” as a way to dramatize injustice. “No parent would ever choose this,” Wasow said. “But she was very intentional about how to transform her suffering into something that might serve a greater good.”

Today, social media and the ubiquity of smartphones with cameras means these moments of state violence are documented, making it easier to dramatize the injustice without having to open a casket for the world to see.

Some family members go further, and harness their suffering—and fury—to launch political careers. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, the Georgia teen killed by a white man for playing loud music in a parking lot, channeled her grief into gun-control activism. She’s now a Democrat serving in the U.S. Congress. In August, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, narrowly lost a race for a seat on the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners.

On Thursday, Fulton tweeted, “#BreonnaTaylor could have been You, your daughter, your sister, your cousin or your friend @home sleeping comfortably in her own bed, let that marinate.”

But for many families, the trauma of losing a family member so publicly, while an iPhone bears witness, takes both a physical and emotional toll—harder, perhaps, because it was a fight they never sought. Martin Luther King Jr. was groomed for the spotlight from a young age. But his kids weren’t. Malcolm X, the son of a man murdered for his fiery sermons, knew the risks: “I live like a man who is dead already.” But his kids didn’t, and his grandson, also named Malcolm, didn’t either.

The weight of the loss, and the stresses that follow, is a whole second arc of tragedy in the Black political story. Malcolm X’s daughter, Qubilah Shabazz, who was 4 when she saw her father murdered, was charged with hiring a hitman to kill Louis Farrakhan, whom she believed was responsible for his death. (The charges were later dropped.) Her son, Malcolm, was 12 when he started a fire that killed his grandmother, Betty Shabazz. And he was 28 when he was found beaten to death in Mexico City in 2013.

What does inherited trauma do to the mind, to the body, to the soul? The daughter of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed by police in a chokehold, became an activist in the wake of his death, only to die of a heart attack at age 27 in 2016.

Some seek solace in the notion that the death of their loved ones meant… something. George Floyd’s daughter, at a protest this year, sat on the shoulders of a family friend, beaming as she declared, “Daddy changed the world.”

Daddy might be changing the world, but he won’t be tucking her in at night anymore.

My own family told its trauma stories, too. Like that time when my maternal grandfather, a doctor in Jim Crow Atlanta, was heading home after a long night at the hospital. Tired. And there, waiting for him, was a white cop who liked to mess with him. Just because. Because he could. Every time my grandfather would drive around the bend in the road, heading home, the cop would be there, lying in wait. He’d pull the Black doctor over, because he could.

Until one night my grandfather, a very proper Southern gentleman, decided he couldn’t anymore. So Granddaddy got out of the car and administered a righteous beat-down to that racist cop.

He was lucky. The cop didn’t kill him. He just hauled him off to jail, where he spent the night, before a sympathetic judge, hearing his story, let him go. The privilege of his job and his standing shielded him, to be sure. To a point.

When I was a grad student, the office manager at my school, Akua Njeri, was the widow of Fred Hampton, a brilliant and charismatic Black Panther leader. Hampton, the head of the Illinois Black Panther Party, was 21 when he was gunned down by Chicago police officers as he lay in bed, with a very pregnant Njeri by his side. Their son, Fred Jr., was born just weeks after his father’s execution.

And as a student activist at the University of Michigan in the late ’80s, my husband was beaten by police officers at protests on more than one occasion. A colleague recalls the time an undercover police officer held a gun to her husband’s head in a case of mistaken identity. You already know why. He “matched the description”: Black male with an Afro and a denim jacket—which, she said, described virtually every young Black man in the late ’70s.

At the press conference for Breonna Taylor’s family, their attorney, Benjamin Crump, roll-called the names of those who reached out to Taylor’s family in sad solidarity: Sandra Bland’s family. Trayvon Martin’s family. Michael Brown’s family. Botham Jean’s mother. George Floyd’s family.

Jacob Blake Sr., whose son, Jacob Jr., was shot multiple times in the back in August by a Kenosha, Wisc., police officer, partially paralyzing him, told the crowd he drove eight hours in a show of support for Taylor’s kin. “I knew I had to be here, standing next to my fraternity,” Blake said. “We didn’t choose this fraternity. This fraternity chose us.

“I knew this family needed some energy and I said, ‘I’m coming. I’m coming.’ Because we’re not going to lay down anymore. You can’t stop the revolution.”

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Georgia's political geography: A growing and diverse state gets more competitive – The Washington Post

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Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)

Eighth in a series on swing states

When they sifted through the wreckage of the 2016 election, and reckoned with their losses in the Midwest, Democrats were surprised by what they found in Georgia. The state had not voted for a Democratic president since 1992, and it delivered 16 electoral votes for Donald Trump, continuing the pattern.

But something had happened in the suburbs. In defeat, Hillary Clinton had won more raw votes out of Georgia than any Democratic nominee in history, and she had carried the GOP’s longtime stronghold — the fast-growing counties just outside of Atlanta. Nearly half of the state’s votes came from the Atlanta metro region, and the modern GOP has never struggled so much there.

Even in triumph, Republicans began to worry. Once-conservative Cobb County elected a new GOP chair on the promise to “Make Cobb Red Again.” A 2017 special election for a House seat in the county went down to the wire. One year later, Democrats flipped that seat and nearly won another in Atlanta’s suburbs, as Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams lost the closest race for governor in 24 years.

“Democrats, let’s do better,” Abrams wrote in a 2019 memo to party leaders. “Any decision less than full investment in Georgia would amount to strategic malpractice.”

Have Democrats put everything they could into the state since then? Arguably not — but that’s changing. Joe Biden’s cash-flush campaign has bought ads in the state, and Abrams’s group Fair Fight Georgia has registered hundreds of thousands of voters and pumped up requests for absentee ballots. The Trump campaign has not taken the state for granted, with the president dropping into Atlanta last week to roll out his “platinum plan” for Black Americans.


Georgia’s shift from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban GOP strongholds.

GOP won

by 250K

Dem. won by

500K votes

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

How Georgia shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban GOP strongholds.

GOP won

by 250K

Dem. won by

500K votes

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

How Georgia shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton was the first Democrat since Carter to win Cobb and Gwinnett counties, suburban Republican strongholds.

Dem. won by

500K votes

GOP won

by 250K

Atlanta Suburbs

2016

margin

Black Belt

South Georgia

North Georgia

Statewide 2016 margin

Democrats added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held the state again with landslide support from north and south of Atlanta.

Like the rest of the Deep South, Georgia was dominated by conservative Democrats for more than a century, from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Democrats held both houses of Georgia’s legislature until 2002 — then, in a single election, lost both, kicking off a decade of decline. Conservative Democrats below the “Gnat Line,” shorthand for where the state’s Piedmont region ends and its hotter plains begin, bolted the party and never came back.

The math only changed as the electorate got larger and more diverse. In 2004, when Democrats made no effort in the state, 70 percent of all voters were White, according to exit polls. In 2016, the White share of the electorate fell to 60 percent and Democrats won the state’s suburban Cobb and Gwinnett counties, for the first time since Jimmy Carter won the presidency. They added to those gains in 2018, but Republicans held out with landslide support from White voters north and south of Atlanta.

Republicans are slightly more nervous about those suburbs, but in a war of attrition, they have more votes to spare. We’ve split Georgia into six political “states,” starting with Atlanta, where Republicans were struggling before Trump’s presidency and have lost ground since. The Atlanta suburbs, six counties with interstate access to the city, have become the state’s most competitive region. North Georgia, the Piedmont and South Georgia are solidly Republican, and the party may have some more votes to turn out there. The Black Belt, with fewer votes than these other regions, always backs Democrats — but a turnout difference of just 20,000 or 30,000 votes, with rural Black voters being enthusiastic to cast ballots and confident those ballots will count, could swing a close statewide election.

This is the eighth in a series breaking down the key swing states of 2020, showing how electoral trends played out over the past few years and where the shift in votes really mattered. See all 50 states here.

Atlanta

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The “capital of the south” welcomes tens of thousands of new residents every year, and they have only made Atlanta bluer. In 2016, Clinton won more votes in the three core counties of metro Atlanta than any Democrat in history. Donald Trump won fewer votes here than any Republican nominee in 20 years. Months later, he alienated Atlanta’s Black voters further by insulting Rep. John Lewis (D), insisting that the Civil Rights icon’s district was in “horrible shape” and “infested” with crime.

Lewis died this year, and Atlanta continues to get bluer. DeKalb County is one of the few majority-Black places in the country where turnout in 2016 was markedly higher than 2012, and in 2018, Abrams turned out 10,000 more voters than Clinton had — an unheard-of surge from a presidential year to a midterm. Republicans still run strong in the north end of Fulton County, around cities like Roswell — just not as strong as they once did, as those cities have grown more diverse and less conservative.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

181,710

Hillary Clinton

626,686

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 181,710
  • Hillary Clinton: 626,686

Counties included: Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton

Atlanta Burbs

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The exurbs of Atlanta were built by segregation and “White flight.” The city’s geographic expansion halted in the 1960s, when such places as Sandy Springs rejected annexation; nearby Marietta became a bulwark of White conservative politics, starting Newt Gingrich on his journey to becoming House speaker.

But a steady stream of immigrants and escapees from other states has turned the region blue, with Cobb County backing Clinton by two points, then supporting Abrams by nine points. A region that gave Mitt Romney a 60,000-vote victory in 2012 gave Clinton a 48,000-vote margin, then went more solidly for Abrams and Democratic candidates, with the party picking up 11 seats in the state legislature largely through gains in these suburbs.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

404,885

Hillary Clinton

452,450

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 404,885
  • Hillary Clinton: 452,450

Counties included: Cobb, Douglas, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton, Rockdale

North Georgia

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The reddest part of Georgia has also been making the most news lately — conservative activist and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican nomination to represent the 14th Congressional District, and the party threw up its hands. Every county in the region backed Trump in 2016, with the GOP nominee carrying all but three precincts, in the cities of Dalton and Rome. And Trump added more than 50,000 votes to Romney’s 2012 total, finding White voters without college degrees who had been sitting out elections.

Democrats added some votes, too, because there was not much room to fall. In the past few decades, only Zell Miller, who’d been born in Towns County, was able to win votes here for Democrats. The GOP now clears 80 percent of the vote in most of northwestern and northeastern Georgia, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s 2018 win came after he did what looked unlikely — he made it even redder.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

549,131

Hillary Clinton

156,310

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 549,131
  • Hillary Clinton: 156,310

Counties included: Banks, Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Dawson, Elbert, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White, Whitfield

Black Belt

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has an average share of people living in cities.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Georgia, as with much of the Deep South, was built on the backs of enslaved Black people, and the legacy of the cotton trade stretches across the middle of the state. Fifteen counties in the region have majority-Black populations and have voted reliably for Democrats even as Whiter counties have shifted toward the GOP. They’re essential to Biden’s chances in the state, but no nominee has maximized turnout here since Barack Obama’s two campaigns.

From 2012 to 2016, the falloff was worth around 25,000 votes. The region’s biggest cities, Augusta, Columbus and Macon, got bluer, while Democratic margins everywhere else slightly declined. Four small counties also flipped from narrowly blue to narrowly red — Dooly, Peach, Quitman, Twiggs — as Black turnout declined, and they stayed red in 2018, even as Democratic turnout grew in urban areas. But like the Black Belt in other parts of the South, the region is slowly losing population, capping the number of new votes either party can win.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

194,353

Hillary Clinton

235,000

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 194,353
  • Hillary Clinton: 235,000

Counties included: Baker, Bibb, Burke, Calhoun, Chattahoochee, Clay, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Glascock, Hancock, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Macon, Marion, McDuffie, Miller, Mitchell, Muscogee, Peach, Quitman, Randolph, Richmond, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Terrell, Twiggs, Warren, Washington, Webster, Wilkinson

Piedmont

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Outside of Atlanta, central Georgia is mostly rural and overwhelmingly Republican, with a few dots of blue. The University of Georgia helped make Athens one of the most liberal parts of the state, if not as liberal (or as vote-rich) as similar college towns in the Midwest and Northeast, and the places closest to Atlanta moved marginally toward the Democrats.

The rest of the region is overwhelmingly White and solidly Republican, with the party gaining strength here in every election since 2010. (Obama’s 2008 bid made a few inroads here, but only in that election.) Across these 30 counties, Trump ran roughly 17,000 votes ahead of Romney; Clinton ran roughly 7,000 votes ahead of Obama. Winning here by a smaller margin, over a candidate who has not inherited all of Clinton’s problems with White working-class voters, could hurt the GOP.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

399,873

Hillary Clinton

197,567

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 399,873
  • Hillary Clinton: 197,567

Counties included: Baldwin, Barrow, Butts, Carroll, Clarke, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Harris, Heard, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lincoln, Madison, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Pike, Putnam, Spalding, Troup, Upson, Walton, Wilkes

South Georgia

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

There are two very different political climates south of the Gnat Line; most voters live in the one that’s shifting right. Outside of Savannah and its suburbs in Bryan County, every single part of the region voted by a bigger margin for Trump than for Romney; tiny Brantley County gave Trump a 78-point margin, one of his biggest in the entire state. Across all six of our “states,” this is the only one where Clinton ran behind Obama, with Trump expanding the GOP’s margin from nearly 140,000 votes to more than 170,000 votes.

Those trends didn’t change in 2018, and strong turnout here helped Republicans cross 50 percent of the statewide vote, even though the population of southwestern Georgia has been shrinking. Like the Piedmont, this is a deep red region with a few dashes of blue in small cities; Democrats won the city of Valdosta, for example, while nearby Moody Air Force Base is a Republican stronghold. A good night for Republicans will involve landslide margins out of Georgia’s southern counties; an upset by Democrats will require enough gains elsewhere to make that irrelevant.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

359,062

Hillary Clinton

209,990

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 359,062
  • Hillary Clinton: 209,990

Counties included: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bleckley, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Lanier, Laurens, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, McIntosh, Montgomery, Pierce, Pulaski, Screven, Seminole, Tattnall, Telfair, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Ware, Wayne, Wheeler, Wilcox, Worth

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