Mini-Trumps take aim (literally) at protesters, your right to vote

What a second Trump term would have looked like is playing out in miniature in Jefferson City. Bills to legalize murdering protesters and to stop poor, Black and elderly people from voting are just the most blatant examples of Trumpian authoritarianism from the gerrymandered GOP super-majority that controls Missouri government.

Half of America’s state governments are now controlled by Republicans marinated in a thick sauce of racism, white “Christian” nationalism, and authoritarianism that believes elections are legitimate only when the radical right-wing wins. But this state-level neo-fascism isn’t a result of Donald Trump. It’s what gave birth to Trump.

In Missouri, the extremist right-wing infrastructure that coalesced after a Black man was elected president in 2008 grew steadily through the birther Tea Party in ’08 and ’09, rowdy anti-ObamaCare town halls in ’10 and hyper-gerrymandered state and congressional districts in ’12 (based on the ’10 Census). That infrastructure culminated in ’16 with a landslide for Trump and the election  of a governor whose main campaign ad was blowing up an explosive target with a machine gun (and who was forced to resign in disgrace after charges of bondage-related sexual assault, along with his refusal to reveal his dark money campaign donors).

But before we dissect how more than a decade of careful planning and extremist policies led to both a radical, authoritarian Republican party in Missouri, and the effective collapse of the Missouri Democratic party as a state-wide force, let’s peek under the hood at a pair of specific policy proposals resulting from this micro-iteration of American authoritarianism.

Missouri Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville
The first is Senate Bill 66, which has already survived one round of committee hearings. Sponsored by state Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville (population 10,078, 95 percent white), SB 66 is proof that if bad ideas were oil, the Missouri Legislature would be Saudi Arabia.

SB 66 would legalize vehicular homicide by making it legal to strike protesters with your car if they’re blocking traffic. It also would legalize plain old-fashioned murder by giving property owners the right to use deadly force should any demonstrator step onto private property. It’s understood, of course, that the protesters would be from Black Lives Matter or other progressive groups, and not the kind of armed white insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Since this would have made it legal for the gun-slinging McCloskeys to kill demonstrators who walked on their “private” sidewalk in the Central West End, it only makes sense that the city police “union,” the St Louis Police Officers Association, has endorsed it, saying, “This guarantees everyone’s First Amendment rights.” 

SB 66 would also criminalize protest by allowing “traumatized” bystanders to sue protesters for “emotional distress”; make property damage of more than $750 a felony; and deny parole or probation to anyone accused of assaulting any first responder. 

Those are the second prong of SB 66’s assault on the First Amendment and Black people, since anyone denied probation or parole is a felon, and felons can’t vote. The same goes for anyone proximate to where more than $750 in property damage occurs.

But the assault on voting rights doesn’t stop with SB 66. A new bill from state Rep. John Simmons of Washington (population 14,081, 96.7 percent white) would restore Missouri’s photo ID voting law, already ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. 

Why do it then? State Reps. Jeff Coleman from Grain Valley (population 14,526, 92.6 percent white) and Dan Shaul from Imperial (population 4,709, 97.5 percent white) both say it would “restore Missourians’ faith in the electoral process.” That’s the same language they used when they introduced a Missouri House resolution in December demanding investigations into unhinged conspiracy theories about vote “fraud” in six states Joe Biden won.

Jefferson City, like other state capitals where the lunatics run the asylum, is the end product of the GOP strategy of focusing on legislative races to make sure they weaponize white rage and fear about a changing America by controlling both the levers of state governments, but also voting mechanisms, and perhaps most importantly, re-districting every 10 years. 

That strategy predates Trump by more than a decade. The GOP ground game in rural and ex-urban Missouri to energize voters and recruit far-right pro-gun anti-abortion white grievance candidates, preferably with some sort of white evangelical connection, has paid dividends. But it has also left many state Democratic parties, including Missouri’s, looking like Nancy Pelosi’s office after the treason weasels visited.

In Missouri in 2020, Democrats failed to file a candidate for 51 of the 161 seats in the state House of Representatives. Republicans were handed almost one-third of the seats in the lower house without a fight. Democrats excuse what amounts to political malpractice by pointing out — correctly — that it’s very hard to convince rural Missourians to run as Democrats. 

In most states, a robust, urban-centered Democratic party would act as a counterweight. But in St. Louis city and county, racially polarized Democratic parties that pit Black candidates and young activists against (relatively) conservative white candidates and party functionaries have produced circular firing squads that lack the numbers or cohesion to be any sort of statewide force.

The hollowing out of state Democratic parties, the shift by local Republicans to the anti-Obama politics of white grievance, and racist dog-whistle GOP legislation all pre-dated the rise of Trump. Dystopian states such asMissouri were the topsoil in which the national neo-fascist policies and candidates sprouted and grew.

Without robust efforts to re-build state parties, field candidates for every single office, create a get-out-the-vote mechanism to get more of the base to the voting booths, and launch a messaging effort to overcome years of right-wing propaganda, the white nationalist QAnon GOP will continue to run mostly white largely rural states.

And, one of these days, they’ll use the Electoral College to elect a serious, competent fascist as president, and end American democracy once and for all.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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