To turn the page to a more peaceful future, Americans must make solid efforts to tone down rhetoric and seek bipartisan following the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Those changes won’t stick unless the nation confronts the origins of the chaos that led up to today’s transfer of power.
New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie recently pointed out that “Stop the Steal,” the catchphrase for election fraud used by Republicans following the Nov. 3 election, is the same kind of allegation that groups in power have always used to try to hold on to it.
The mostly white anti-government agitators who stormed the U.S. Capitol were just the latest example of such groups.
In 1874, a paramilitary group known as the Crescent City White League, which alleged tyranny by pro-black-rights politicians, occupied the Louisiana Statehouse. Federal troops finally ended the three-day attempted coup.
None of the insurrectionists were ever charged. By 1876, when a congressional committee gave the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, the southern states regained the ability to strip black citizens of voting rights.
In American history, ensuring the legitimacy of white votes at the expense of those of people of color hasn’t been limited to Southern states, nor has violence been the only tool used to do so.
Since the passage of federal voting rights legislation in 1965, Republicans have used the fear of massive fraud to impose election restrictions that make it harder to vote. Not surprisingly, restrictions always fall most heavily on people of color.
The underlying argument behind voter-fraud conspiracy theories is that some votes and some voters are more legitimate and thus deserve to be in power. The argument is undemocratic. It is especially un-American.
Sending this flawed argument into the dustbin of history will require more than counterarguments. It will require that those who use it as an excuse for violence are held accountable under the law.
If something is feasible, it will happen again. The nation must hold accountable the people who took part in the violent anti-government attack on the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6. It must hold accountable the people who perpetuated the lie of a stolen election.
The nation must reckon with the truth about its history. It has never been a truly multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy, but it can become one if we acknowledge that all voters are legitimate.
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