By the time the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson got his chance to speak, Aretha Franklin’s eight-hour home-going service was nearly half over. But Jackson’s message loomed large over the day. Jackson said sorrowfully, “We have long lines to celebrate death and short lines for voting.” He added, “If you leave here today and don’t register to vote, you’ll dishonor Aretha.”
Jackson struck a nerve — or at least I hope he did. Nothing you do this year will be more important than casting a ballot in November.
The 2016 presidential election taught us the bitter consequences of not going to the polls.
As a Forbes magazine analysis pointed out shortly after Donald Trump’s victory, in 2012 in Michigan, about 595,000 voters in Detroit and Wayne County — where Franklin’s funeral took place — went for President Barack Obama. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received only about 518,000, meaning more than 75,000 of the region’s voters looked the other way when Clinton was the Democratic standard-bearer. Obama won Michigan by 350,000 votes in 2012; Clinton lost by 10,000 in 2016.
Turnout told the tale.
As it did in Wisconsin. Trump didn’t do any better in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — each won about 1.4 million votes. But Clinton is where the slippage occurred. She received 230,000 fewer votes than Obama in 2012 when he carried Wisconsin.
Omri Ben-Sharah wrote in Forbes, “Clinton’s black voter turnout dropped more than 11 percent compared to 2012. The support for Clinton among active black voters was still exceedingly high (87 percent, versus 93 percent for Obama), but the big difference was the turnout. Almost two million black votes cast for Obama in 2012 did not turn out for Clinton.”
And the consequences?
Because voters didn’t go to the polls in 2016, we now have:
• Justice Neil Gorsuch and soon-to-be Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court — two hard-right jurists who are likely to serve for decades;
• A record number of conservative appellate court judges confirmed in a president’s first year since the creation of circuit courts in 1891, with more judicial nominees to come.
Also, thanks to those voters who skipped the 2016 presidential contest:
• Our country now has a cruel and inhumane policy of separating immigrant parents from their children at the border to discourage illegal crossings;
• And at least $26 million aimed at helping people sign up for health insurance under Obamacare is being slashed from the federal budget, while the Justice Department refuses to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit filed by 20 states.
Nonvoters made it possible for candidate Trump, who lost the popular vote 62,984,825 (46.09 percent) to Clinton’s 65,853,516 (48.18 percent) — but captured the electoral college, to take over the White House, where he has:
• Rolled back rules regulating clean air and water, and environmental and financial protections;
• Put in place a Justice Department that turns a blind eye to voting rights enforcement — even as some Republican-dominated state legislatures have been stepping up their efforts to stifle the ability of minorities to vote;
• Installed an Education Department that is dismissing civil rights cases and rescinding Obama administration guidelines on campus sexual assaults;
• Been moving heaven and earth to subvert a duly authorized federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that the Kremlin helped him to win.
Of course, some part of the lower black turnout can be blamed on voter suppression efforts in states such as North Carolina. Also in play during the 2016 elections was Russia’s launch of a huge but hidden social-media propaganda campaign focused on boosting Trump and tearing down Clinton.
But still, nonvoters — the 39 percent of eligible American voters of all shades and genders who didn’t show up at the polls — should take a bow. They helped make all that possible, and more.
To undo the damage, the self-enriching Republican pawns on Capitol Hill and the clueless, tasteless and hoggish occupant of the White House must go. To make that happen, the stay-at-home crowd needs to get off their butts and exercise their power at the polls.
To not vote is to extend an invitation to Trump and his gang of Republican sycophants to do more of their destruction — or worse.