MS GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s Platform: Lynching Nostalgia, Voter Suppression, & White Supremacy

In 2014, Hyde-Smith posed in a Confederate cap at a museum honoring Jefferson Davis

Is Cindy Hyde-Smith too racist for Mississippi?Vanity Fair recently asked.

Presumably, the headline writer lacks meaningful experience in the Magnolia State or the Deep South.

There may be no such thing as “too racist for Mississippi.”

Supporting white supremacy rarely hurts political candidates in Dixie, and often in fact helps them win elective office.

Senator Hyde-Smith’s racism is no accident. Her bigotry is a feature, not a bug. She is pursuing a calculated, familiar political strategy drawing on the worst traditions of her state and region.

Hyde-Smith is in the news because she has — while speaking or writing publicly to constituents — repeatedly and deliberately expressed support for white supremacy. While this shocks mainstream sensibilities, it remains a sure way to win white votes in the Deep South.

The 1911 public hangings of mother & son Laura & LD Nelson, lynched in Okemah, OK (Credit: WIkimedia)

Cindy loves lynchings

On November 2nd, while speaking to a white crowd in Tupelo, Hyde-Smith praised a supporter by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”

Those white voters know she is running against a black man. They also know Mississippi’s brutal history of white mobs publicly lynching and hanging black men.

With that knowledge, the white voters responded to her statement with laughter and applause.

The 1935 public hanging of Rubin Stacy, lynched in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Credit: Think Progress)

When decent people objected to her public hanging comment, Hyde-Smith dismissed their concerns, writing, “I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

This is a familiar Trumpster stratagem: Sound a racist dog whistle, then implausibly feign innocence while attacking whoever called you on your racism. It worked for Trump, who won in 2016 after stereotyping Mexicans as drug-dealing rapists. It worked for GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis, who got elected governor after warning Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for his black opponent, Tampa mayor Andrew Gillum.

It will work for Hyde-Smith, too.

When the furor failed to pass quickly, she did not back down.

Instead, Hyde-Smith issued a belated, prepositionally creative non-apology: “For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize.”

Normally, one apologizes to the people one has wronged. But Hyde-Smith apologized for the people offended. Apparently, she either regrets their existence, or regrets that they erroneously took offense.

Her non-apology flatly denied any wrongdoing: “There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statement.”

Finally, Hyde-Smith’s non-apology pivoted to a renewed attack on Mike Espy, her black opponent: “This comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to use against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent.” (In fact, Espy showed remarkable restraint; instead of calling Hyde-Smith on her obvious racism, he merely rued that her remark “rejuvenated old stereotypes” and embarrassed the state.)

A vote for Hyde-Smith is a vote for lynching nostalgia.

Footage of Hyde-Smith calling the disfranchisement of “liberal folks” a “great idea”; the journalist later issued a correction, clarifying that the footage was actually taken in Starkville — not nearby Columbus (Credit: Twitter)

Cindy loves voter suppression

Also on November 2nd, Hyde-Smith told white voters in Starkville she wanted to make voting “more difficult” for “liberal folks in those other schools.”

A full understanding of her remarks requires a Deep South decoder ring:

“liberal folks” = black people

“those other schools” = historically black colleges and universities

When Hyde-Smith said “liberal folks,” she meant Democrats. In Mississippi, nearly all Democrats are black people.

Race influences partisan affiliation nationally, but it basically dictates political allegiance in Dixie.

Nationwide, about 90% of blacks vote Democratic, and this holds true in the South, too. Because African Americans comprise 36% of Mississippi’s population — a larger share than any other state — Democrats should thrive in Mississippi.

But they don’t — because the white majority votes solidly Republican. Nationally, white support for the GOP runs under 60%, but in Mississippi and across the Deep South, more than 80% of whites consistently vote Republican.

Context clearly shows that when Hyde-Smith said “other schools,” she meant black colleges. She was speaking to an audience of white students in Starkville, home to Mississippi State University, a historically white college; its current student body is 71% white — about the same as the rest of the state’s historically white state universities.

Thus, by “other schools,” Hyde-Smith meant the historically black colleges, like my alma mater Mississippi Valley State University, which remains more than 90% African American — like all of the state’s historically black colleges.

So, Hyde-Smith was telling white voters what they already know: That Republicans in the Deep South suppress the black vote as a matter of policy.

We can thank the Roberts Court for this new wave of voter suppression. LBJ’s Voting Rights Act of 1965 had ended Jim Crow disfranchisement scams, and required historically racist states to get approval from the Justice Department before changing voting laws or practices. “Preclearance” required suspect jurisdictions to prove that any proposed changes would not curtail the voting rights of racial minorities. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court killed that requirement by a narrow 5–4 vote.

Writing for the five Republicans in the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts saw no evidence of continued voter discrimination in the suspect jurisdictions, argued that racial views had evolved since the ’60s, and urged Congress to pass legislation that “speaks to current conditions.”

For the four Democrats in the minority, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Republicans promptly proved Ginsburg right by orchestrating torrential downpours of voter suppression in states they controlled — including Mississippi and the rest of the Deep South.

States that have passed voter suppression measures since 2011 (Credit: BCJ)

GOP elected officials correctly interpreted Shelby as carte blanche to discriminate. Needing a pretext, they made bogus claims of voter fraud — utterly unfazed by the absence of evidence for this supposed crisis. (Evidence is really beside the point when much of your base embraces racism, denies climate change, believes in voodoo economics, and deems Donald Trump fit to be president.)

To fight phantom fraud, Republican state leaders purged voter rolls, closed polling places, and imposed voter ID requirements — but designed these restrictions carefully to ensure they stripped voting rights primarily from minority voters.

In combination with sophisticated gerrymandering, voter suppression has helped Republicans solidify and expand control in several states. For example, in the 2018 midterms, black voter suppression in Florida made DeSantis governor and gave Rick Scott a Senate seat. Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp disqualified just enough African American voters to get himself elected governor. North Dakota’s disfranchisement of Native Americans torpedoed Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Etc.

Congress will not end voter suppression. President Trump and Senate Republicans know racial disfranchisement improves their prospects in 2020, so they will oppose any effort to reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act.

Federal courts are also unlikely to restore minority voting rights. In 2016, a federal court busted North Carolina Republicans by striking down an especially audacious voter suppression scheme that “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” But by declining to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court ensured that the decision would apply only to the 4th circuit (the Carolinas, the Virginias, and Maryland) — not to the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, the Senate majority — having blocked Obama’s judicial appointees for years to increase vacancies for the next Republican president — has been moving fast to help Trump pack federal courts with young, ultraconservative judges who do not care about minority voting rights.

A vote for Hyde-Smith is an endorsement of racist voter suppression.

Cindy loves the Confederacy

In 2001, while serving as a state legislator, Hyde-Smith introduced a bill to rename a highway in honor of Jefferson Davis. While Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce in 2014, Hyde-Smith tweeted pictures of herself visiting Beauvoir, the Davis estate and presidential library. She called it a “must see… Mississippi history at its best!”

In fact, Davis represents the worst of Mississippi history. A US Senator, he violated his oath to defend the Constitution in 1861 by joining his state in secession and treason. Mississippi and the rest of the South seceded solely to secure a permanent future for slavery, and to prevent “negro equality.”

Then, as president of the Confederate States of America, Davis started the Civil War, a conflict that killed more than 620,000 Americans — about 2% of the US population at the time.

Hyde-Smith’s defenders might argue that her “Mississippi history at its best!” comment applied not to Davis, but to the display about the daily life of Confederate soldiers.

That would be little better.

Rebel soldiers were fools fighting for an evil cause. Most were too poor to own slaves themselves, so for what causes did the common Confederate soldier fight?

First, he fought to secure the right of richer men to violate the human dignity of enslaved black southerners.

Second, slaveless Confederate soldiers fought for their own right to own slaves at some point in the future — if they ever acquired the financial means to buy and abuse fellow human beings.

Finally, Johnny Reb fought for white supremacy: for the hollow solace that comes from imagining yourself superior to another human being based on trivial physical or cultural differences — the same low spite and deep bigotry that animates much of Trump’s base today.

In a 2007 resolution, Hyde-Smith praised Confederate soldiers for defending their homeland.

This is inaccurate. Southerners should have defended their homeland by electing leaders loyal to the Union. Instead, they elected treasonous scoundrels who imperiled the South by seceding and starting a war they could not win.

In a democracy, voters are culpable for the decisions of the leaders they elect.

A vote for Hyde-Smith is a vote to honor Mississippi’s white supremacist heritage.

Governor Phil Bryant announcing Hyde-Smith’s Senate appointment (Credit: AP)

Cindy loves the southern swastika

While the rest of the country has long since concluded that the Confederate battle flag is a racist hate symbol, Mississippi continues to feature the emblem on its state flag.

Hyde-Smith served in the legislature in 2001 when Mississippi last seriously considered changing its flag, but remained silent on the issue at that time.

When the subject came up more recently, she argued that more research is needed before any action could be considered.

Actually, the facts of the matter are settled.

Here, for Hyde-Smith’s delectation, is a summary of relevant historical research:

The flag commonly now known as the Confederate flag was never the official flag of the Confederate States of America. That was the “Stars and Bars,” and it looked like this:

The flag people today call the Confederate flag was in fact the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Other units had different flags. After the war, all of those battle flags basically vanished from public display in the South.

In 1894, Mississippi incorporated Lee’s battle emblem into the state flag, in celebration of Mississippi’s 1890 constitution, a pathbreaking Jim Crow document that comprehensively violated black civil rights. Thoroughly impressed, other southern states moved swiftly to replicate the Mississippi Plan’s racially oppressive innovations across Dixie.

In the late 1930s, Gone with the Wind revived Confederate nostalgia and boosted the banner’s fortunes across the South.

When mainstream Democrats began embracing civil rights in the late ’40s, segregationists began flying Lee’s flag to show absolute commitment to white supremacy and continued willingness to defy federal authority. Thus, the Confederate flag figured prominently in the Ku Klux Klan’s long campaign of racial terror. More recently, the neo-Nazis have adopted the banner.

A vote for Hyde-Smith is a vote to keep the southern swastika on the Mississippi state flag.

What now?

If you live in Mississippi, vote for Mike Espy. Help and remind others to do the same.

If you can spare the cash, consider donating to Espy’s campaign.

But prepare for disappointment. Remember when Alabama Republicans crossed party lines to defeat Roy Moore? Polls detected the defections of some white women from the GOP before election day. A few Alabama Republicans were willing to vote against Roy Moore — a pompous ideologue, gross hypocrite, and serial ephebophile creepster— because the alternative was a moderate white Democrat. And Doug Jones still barely won that Senate seat.

Barring black turnout of truly astounding proportions, Espy will likely need similar crossover support from moderate Republicans to win in Mississippi. To date, pollsters have seen no sign that this is happening.

Because this is different.

White Mississippi has little reason to vote against Hyde-Smith. She is an unobjectionable political chameleon, a reliably conservative Trump stalwart, and the state’s first woman in Congress.

Hyde-Smith’s racism does not trouble them, because most Mississippi Republicans share her views. Her bigotry mirrors theirs.

For most white Mississippians, Espy’s experience, skills, character, and political moderation do not matter.

Because he is black.

Senate candidate Mike Espy, a former Congressman (1987–93) & US Secretary of Agriculture (1993–94) (Credit: WIkimedia)

Postscript, 11/26/18: Hyde-Smith has drawn some fire for attending a segregation academy as a child. This is probably unfair. Kids rarely choose their high school; presumably, her parents put her in the segregation academy. However, Hyde-Smith does deserve criticism for enrolling her own child in a segregation academy. (People outside the Deep South might not know about segregation academies. After the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ordered US public schools to integrate “with all deliberate speed,” southern states resisted and delayed. Mississippi fought the longest — holding out for an incredible twenty years. In the mid-’70s, the state legislature came within one vote of abolishing public schools to avoid complying. When integration finally came, whites across the Deep South hastily created private segregation academies. Much of the GOP obsession with private school vouchers stems from a desire to force taxpayers to subsidize the South’s segregation academies.)

Postscript, 7/3/20: In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Mississippi finally voted to change its state flag. Ever the political chamelon, Hyde-Smith supported the change. She is on the ballot again this fall, once more pitted again against Democrat Mike Espy. Voter suppression remains a key component of the GOP’s electoral strategy in Mississippi and across the South.

History, politics, education, music, culture. Award-winning high school teacher, former principal. College instructor. Seahawks Diehard. Twitter: @brian_mrbmkz

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