Roundtable – The Big Picture and Voting Rights

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on January 21, 2018.

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. It’s been as busy a week as every in this baffling administration, with lots of ongoing stories developing and lots of new stories cropping up. So to start us off today, I’d like to ask the team what everybody’s top story for this week was? What do you think our readers should be paying the most attention to?

 

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

Well, if I must choose one, I’m going to go with the State Department spending not one single dollar of the $120 million they were given to combat Russian meddling in our election system.

 

David Spitzley, Contributing Writer

This may seem silly, but Black Panther. I think/hope that on top of Wonder Woman there’s a seismic shift afoot in Hollywood and the media in general around race and gender. And that’s without even factoring in the effects of #MeToo.

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

As usual, there’s a lot this week to rage about, but I’m amused by the antics of the Kris Kobach court case in Kansas, where Kobach is opposing a suit filed by the ACLU against Kansas’ stringent voter ID law (you need proof of citizenship, not just proof of identity). Kobach’s arguments are shoddy (evidence suggests that his stated problem of non-citizens voting has happened only a handful of times in Kansas, like 11 out of millions of voters) and he’s also apparently a pretty terrible lawyer, so I look forward to that case helping Kansans vote more easily.

 

Tom

I want to swing back around to your point about Black Panther, David, but first up my top story, which is the clumsy and awkward rollout of the tariffs. It’s another example of bad process on top of bad policy, which is good in the sense that it blunts the impact of bad policy and denies the administration an up-and-down win, but bad in the sense that it reinforces the general idea of “government is incompetent by nature” and leaves the next administration with the unenviable task of rebuilding norms and procedures to get stuff done. It’s a small point in and of itself, but part of a larger pattern that bothers me.

David, you brought up Black Panther, and I think that’s a good point to focus on. It’s easy to get lost in the brambles of this administration’s scandals and missteps and lose track of the broader cultural picture that it’s operating in. There’s a ton of fantastic discussion about diversity and inclusion going on, and I kind of wonder if the awfulness of the administration is part of what’s pushing it to the forefront. I recently happened across the Dr. King quote about not being afraid of social tension because social tension is part of fixing social problems, and I wonder how applicable that is to our current moment. Your thoughts, on that particular idea or the broader social picture beyond the Trump administration?

 

Josh

Having seen Black Panther last night, it struck me as not only a really good movie but a beautiful, well-past-time advancement of black dreams in pop culture. Its vision of an African country which thrives because it was never colonized, never enslaved, never plundered, is thrilling, even daring, science fiction, and the whole mythology built around this idea of a secret greater destiny that belongs even to Oakland kids playing street ball (complete with secret handshakes and lip tattoos and language) is so cool that it shows us how impoverished that space has been for so long. Representation is so important, now more than ever, because movies show us what to want and how to be. In a pretty dark time for minorities in this country, there’s a greater hunger than ever for this kind of movie, and I’m gratified to see it finally start to come to pass.

 

David Spitzley

I think it’s inarguable that Trump’s victory lit the fuse. It essentially shattered the gaslight the white male power structure had kept lit since the dawn of the Southern Strategy, claiming innocence of any charges of personal or institutional racism or sexism. Women and minorities knew things weren’t all sun and puppies, but when Trump was elected I think there was a collective Chandler Bing-style “I KNEW IT!” regarding the flat-out monstrousness of the system. They’re justifiably pissed, and the role of Black Panther has been to show an alternative vision of society and say “you want in on this, don’t you…”

And DAMN it was purty…

 

Dave Schmitz

The more I hear about Black Panther, the more I want to see it. And I will at my earliest opportunity! But that’s just a purely entertainment seeking desire. On a more societal note, I want everyone to see it and to be involved in the discussion it has, if not started, ignited into a higher gear. What changes are we going to see in our daily lives because of the additional representation in media? I hope it spurs ever more diversity because I’ve never been disappointed because of the diversity by a diverse setting in entertainment, or in a workplace, or in society in general. The opposite is also true, however, that the lack of diversity can and has caused great suffering in all areas.

 

Tom

Lotta good points there. I would add that while it may seem like accelerationism – let things get bad to hasten the reaction that makes them better – I don’t think any of us would advocate for that. But, if Donald Trump is going to be President, I think that conversations like the one around Black Panther, movements like #MeToo, and so on are the kind of responses we’d hope to see. We wouldn’t hope for bad things to happen, but since they did let’s meet them head on, and both proactively and peacefully work to find a way to a better tomorrow. One of my favorite professors told us once that confusion was the beginning of learning, and I imagine that discomfort is a major part of confusion. The fact that things are uncomfortable now means it’s an opportunity for people who need to learn a thing, to learn a thing. And, at least in my corner of the world, people seem to be taking advantage of that. I know I’m doing my best to.

 

But, in the meantime, we’ve got an administration opposed to all the great stuff happening in our wonderful land, so let’s loop it back around to a topic closely-associated with diversity and inclusion: voter ID laws. Josh mentioned at the top of the Roundtable Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s slipshod and poorly-planned effort to enshrine further restrictions on registering to vote in Kansas. The ACLU is putting up a vigorous fight in court. What’s most telling about the whole thing, to me, is that the evidence that Kobach himself provides indicates that only a fraction of a percent of people who vote are ineligible to vote; it’s such a minuscule problem that it seems impossible to justify taking action to combat it, especially when that action will adversely impact people who should legitimately be able to vote. It strains credulity for Kobach’s motivation to be stopping 11 people in two decades from casting illegal votes. It would be like me buying a huge four-wheel-drive truck because I got stuck in the snow one time back in 2002. Clearly, I would be buying that truck for other reasons.

 

Josh

And it’s also clear from the court case what those other reasons are–Kobach’s voter fraud expert was forced to admit on the stand to writing an email about Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission in which the “expert” recommended that the commission be staffed entirely with Republicans–and not moderate ones, at that. Making it harder for people to vote is as motivated by racial animus and political malfeasance as it was when essentially the same group of people worked to deny women and African-Americans the same right. The GOP does not recognize the legitimacy of people who disagree with them, and this notion of fighting voter fraud is a fig leaf that allows them to throw up procedural and logistical roadblocks between the young/old/minority voters who typically oppose them and the franchise those people deserve to exercise.

 

Dave Schmitz

In what I’ve been reading about this Kobach case, what Josh is saying is absolutely true, they only want to solidify their(Republican, white, male) electoral advantage by any means necessary. What is interesting is to read about the incompetence on display in their attempt to disenfranchise opponents. It’s just such a pile of idiocy that it builds the argument that the other side (Democrats, diverse, diverse) is clearly better equipped to handle governing and the implementation of laws.

 

David Spitzley

The flip side is, citizenship concerns aside, you could probably impose ID requirements in a way that would eliminate liberals concerns. Make state voter IDs free to recipients, make a concerted push to go into the community to get IDs to low income residents who can’t afford time or transport to get to Secretary of State offices, etc. So when they fail to couple ID laws with any of that, and instead cut hours and eliminate branches of the Secretary of State, they make it transparent what they’re trying to do. Come on, guys, if you going to be anti-democratic how about a little subtlety?

 

Tom

Agreed, David. The most basic component of a democracy or republic is voting; absent that, you have a different kind of government. So any restriction on voting needs a damn good reason. Kobach’s move lacks that.

We’re just about out of time here, team. Final thoughts?

 

David Spitzley

Wakanda Forever! Shuri 2020!

 

Dave Schmitz

I’ve been accused of only seeing the darkest timeline lately, but it is nice to hear about positive changes and efforts happening even if this is the darkest timeline. I gotta go make plans to see Black Panther before it leaves my local theater now.

 

David Spitzley

3D, definitely!

 

Josh

The connection here between Black Panther and voter ID is in the increased push in 2018 to see minorities given the opportunity to lift their voice, with as few strings attached as possible. And the stakes are massive. On the one hand, the potential that both big budget escapism and civic responsibility have to inspire both young and old to act in this world with energy and empathy and to fight for the life and freedom they deserve. On the other hand, the old world of imperfect tradition and bloody history fighting to maintain its illegitimate power and undeserved comfort. The political fights we cover here have cultural mirrors we should try to discuss more often, because politics is culture and culture is political and all of it means that both being allowed to speak up and having the courage to do so matters.

 

Tom

As a character in a fantasy novel whose title I can’t remember right now once said, “it’s all connected, you know.” That’s all the time we have for the Roundtable today; thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation! [The character was Beau Darby in Dennis L. McKiernan’s Hel’s Crucible duology – Tom, after the fact.]

 

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