A Democracy of Diminishing Returns

Tristan Wilkerson
May 11 · 5 min read

A democracy cannot exist without respect for the franchise. And, the only thing worse than denying one’s suffrage is to punish someone for exercising their suffrage.

Right now, there are 250 bills up across 43 different states that would disenfranchise millions of voters. Georgia and Florida already passed sweeping bills to curb voting rights, making headlines for how blatantly they target historically disadvantaged communities.

Let me break it down in this way; suffrage and enfranchisement are one and the same. They both mean a person’s right to vote in elections. It’s truly the cornerstone of our democracy. So, when you hear pundits or activists cry foul for disenfranchisement, they’re quite literally channeling the historical facts that certain folks — consistently along lines of race and culture — have been flat out denied access to suffrage or franchisement, á la, the right to vote.

Whether you’re a capitalist or a socialist or anything in between, the currency of voting is essential to social and economic balance and any form of good governance.

The recent penal assault on voting rights across Republican-controlled legislatures is no doubt a voter suppression effort, but what are the broader, global consequences of these irrational, punitive actions that are cut clearly across racial and cultural lines? Well, there’s certainly a ripple effect of infinite consequence. But there are three threats in this rising tide that we must confront in the immediate, near, and long term.

  1. Electing the Radical Right

We just endured a multitude of misery from 4 years of minority rule of the Federal Government aided and abetted by extreme gerrymandering no less. It is unimaginable to endure another decade or longer of it. The homogenous community of Republicans controlling many state legislatures espouse Trumpism and radical right-wing politics. As states prepare to redraw their lines to determine who gets sent to Congress, you can expect to see more of the radical right representing districts with significant or growing Black and brown populations.

Just imagine January 2025’s election certification with the drama and contention of January 6th, 2021, but this time, it’s a Republican-led House of Representatives. Terrifying.

Clay Banks via Unsplash

A step further, as the grandson of sharecroppers and Black church folk — what Republicans are doing feels eerily like an effort to break the will of Black and brown people. A cracking of the political whip so-to-speak. An effort to render us powerless. Punishment for voting, and for primarily voting against the racism of the radical right — relegating Black and brown folks to a poverty of citizenship.

2. The Next Jim Crow

You may be familiar with the history of Jim Crow. You may have read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. But have you heard about The Next Jim Crow? Well, we are feverishly close to yet another iteration of de jure racial discrimination, and disproportionately punishing Black and brown voters for voting is just a new beginning of the same old tricks.

Collin Lloyd via Unsplash

Once the political currency of Black and brown voters is sufficiently devalued, then begins the crumbling of social and economic policies critical not only to social and economic equity, but to the overall economic health and global standing of America. This won’t be the first time the US has tread down this road. In previous eras of Jim Crowism, poor Black and brown people bore the brunt of inequity, as was the intent. Same 1950's playbook, with WiFi.

3. A Global Threat to Democracy

A recent international public opinion poll listed the US as the greatest threat to democracy globally — more so than Russia and China. That’s harrowing, not just because of the headline, but because of who actually thinks this. US Allies and developed countries maintain this view. This means that the actions of folks like Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to limit mail-in ballot voting, which Democrats overwhelmingly used to exercise their voting rights in 2020, actually affect the US’ image around the world.

Lucas George Wendt via Unsplash

The opinion of populations in developed countries, especially allies, impacts trade, foreign relations, amid other geopolitical matters. In short, the world is frowning on the US and its treatment of Black and brown people. And the GOP-led, stateside assault on access to the franchise will be the bane of our democracy for decades to come should their efforts be left to persist.

It seems, for all of the progress we’ve made to right-size our Union, our democracy has reached the point of diminishing returns.

If we are to be a nation globally respected and admired for our democratic ideals, it will take radical action to beat back the assault on suffrage and make the law of the land stand for unfettered, equal access to the franchise once and for all.

The time is now for Congress to pass the John Lewis voting rights bill and HR 1, two bills that quell the violence of voter suppression and restore access to the franchise. We are past the point of prevention. We have to confront the onslaught before it’s too late.

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