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    Biden Speaks on Voting Rights in Philadelphia

    WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Tuesday that the fight against restrictive voting laws was the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War” and called Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election “a big lie.”In an impassioned speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden tried to reinvigorate the stalled Democratic effort to pass federal voting rights legislation and called on Republicans “in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up, for God’s sake.”“Help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote,” the president said in remarks at the National Constitution Center. “Have you no shame?”But his words collided with reality: Even as Republican-led bills meant to restrict voting access make their way through statehouses across the country, two bills aiming to expand voting rights nationwide are languishing in Congress. And Mr. Biden has bucked increasing pressure from Democrats to support pushing the legislation through the Senate by eliminating the filibuster, no matter the political cost.In fact, the president seemed to acknowledge that the legislation had little hope of passing as he shifted his focus to the midterm elections.“We’re going to face another test in 2022,” Mr. Biden said. “A new wave of unprecedented voter suppression, and raw and sustained election subversion. We have to prepare now.”He said he would start an effort “to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote and then get the vote out.”The partisan fight over voting rights was playing out even as the president spoke, with a group of Texas Democrats fleeing their state to deny Republicans the quorum they need to pass new voting restrictions there.In his speech, Mr. Biden characterized the conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — hatched and spread by his predecessor, Mr. Trump — as a “darker and more sinister” underbelly of American politics. He did not mention Mr. Trump by name but warned that “bullies and merchants of fear” had posed an existential threat to democracy.“No other election has ever been held under such scrutiny, such high standards,” Mr. Biden said. “The big lie is just that: a big lie.”About a dozen Republican-controlled states passed laws this spring to restrict voting or significantly change election rules, in part because of Mr. Trump’s efforts to sow doubt about the 2020 results.Republicans, who have called Democrats’ warnings about democracy hyperbolic, argue that laws are needed to tamp down on voter fraud, despite evidence that it is not a widespread problem. They have mounted an aggressive campaign to portray Mr. Biden’s voting-rights efforts as self-serving federalization of elections to benefit Democrats.The president’s speech, delivered against the backdrop of the birthplace of American democracy, was intended to present the right to vote as a shared ideal, despite the realities of a deeply fractured political landscape.Democratic efforts to pass voting rights legislation in Washington have stalled in the evenly divided Senate. Last month, Republicans filibustered the broad elections overhaul known as the For the People Act, and they are expected to do the same if Democrats try to bring up the other measure — the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for a former Georgia congressman and civil rights icon — which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.In a statement, Danielle Álvarez, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, said that Mr. Biden’s speech amounted to “lies and theatrics.” Republicans had unanimously rejected the For the People Act as a Democratic attempt to “pass their federal takeover of our elections,” she said.There were also concerns among more moderate members of Mr. Biden’s party that the legislation was too partisan. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have publicly said they would not support rolling back the filibuster to enact it.But other Democrats see a worrying increase in efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to restrict voting, along with court rulings that would make it harder to fight encroachments on voting rights.A Supreme Court ruling this month weakened the one enforcement clause of the Voting Rights Act that remained after the court invalidated its major provision in 2013. Mr. Biden said last year that strengthening the act would be one of his first priorities after taking office; but on Tuesday, he sought to shift responsibility to lawmakers.“The court’s decision, as harmful as it is, does not limit the Congress’s ability to repair the damage done,” the president said. “As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign it and want the whole world to see it.”His rallying cry only underscored the impossibility of the task: Neither bill currently has a path to his desk.Activists who had wondered whether Mr. Biden would stake out a public position on the filibuster got their answer on Tuesday: “I’m not filibustering now,” the president told reporters who shouted questions after his speech.“It was strange to hear,” Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster group Fix Our Senate, said after watching the speech. “He did a great job of laying out the problem, but then stopped short of talking about the actual solution that would be needed to passing legislation to address the problem.”As Mr. Biden spoke in Philadelphia, the group of Texas Democrats had traveled to Washington, where they were trying to delay state lawmakers from taking up restrictive voting measures.Representative Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas, speaking at a press conference with Democratic members of the Texas Legislature on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesBoth measures would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; prohibit election officials from proactively sending absentee ballot applications to voters who had not requested them; add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail; limit the types of assistance that can be provided to voters; and greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers.In Austin, Republicans vented their anger at the fleeing group, and Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to call “special session after special session after special session” until an election bill passed. The handful of Democratic lawmakers who did not go to Washington were rounded up and ordered onto the Statehouse floor. Shawn Thierry, a Democratic state representative from Houston, posted to Twitter a video of a Statehouse sergeant-at-arms and a state trooper entering her office to order her to be locked in the House chamber.“This is not an issue about Democrats or Republicans,” Vice President Kamala Harris told the Texas lawmakers when she met with them on Tuesday. “This is about Americans and how Americans are experiencing this issue.”James Talarico, 32, the youngest member of the Texas Legislature, said the group of Democrats had gone to Washington, in part, to pressure Mr. Biden to do more.“We can’t listen to more speeches,” Mr. Talarico said. “I’m incredibly proud not only as a Democrat but also an American of what President Biden has accomplished in his first few months in office. But protecting our democracy should have been at the very top of the list, because without it none of these issues matter.”The restrictions in the Texas bills mirror key provisions of a restrictive law passed this year in Georgia, which went even further to assert Republican control over the State Election Board and empower the party to suspend county election officials. In June, the Justice Department sued Georgia over the law, the Biden administration’s first significant move to challenge voter restrictions at the state level.“The 21st-century Jim Crow assault is real,” Mr. Biden said as he listed the details of the Texas bills. “It’s unrelenting, and we are going to challenge it vigorously.”Zolan Kanno-Youngs More

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    As Republicans Take Aim at Voting, Democrats Search for a Response

    A speech by President Biden on Tuesday could be a signal of how hard the Democrats will fight to protect voting rights. WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party pledged millions for it last week, grass-roots groups are campaigning for it nationwide and, as recently as Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said the fight for it had only begun.But behind the brave words are rising concerns among voting-rights advocates and Democrats that the counterattack against the aggressive push by Republicans to restrict ballot access is faltering, and at a potentially pivotal moment.President Biden is expected to put his political muscle behind the issue in a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday. But in Congress, Democratic senators have been unable to move voting and election bills that would address what many of them call a fundamental attack on American democracy that could lock in a new era of Republican minority rule. And in the courts, attacks on voting restrictions face an increasingly hostile judiciary and narrowing legal options.Texas seems poised, absent another walkout by Democratic legislators, to become the latest Republican-controlled state to pass a sweeping legislative agenda placing new barriers to the ability to cast a ballot. That comes on the heels of a major Supreme Court ruling this month further weakening the one enforcement clause of the Voting Rights Act that remained after the court nullified its major provision in 2012. The decision arrived as advocacy groups were pressing lawsuits against restrictive voting laws enacted in roughly a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures.“One more arrow has been taken out of the quiver of voting-rights plaintiffs to strike down these new laws passed since the 2020 election,” said Nathaniel Persily, an election-law scholar at Stanford. “And it’s not like they had all that many arrows in the quiver to begin with.”Roughly a dozen Republican-controlled states passed laws this past spring restricting voting or significantly changing election rules, ostensibly in response to President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that voter fraud cost him the November election. Many made it harder to vote early or by mail, banned or restricted drop boxes, shortened early or absentee voting periods or gave more leeway to partisan poll watchers. Some laws made it easier to replace local election officials with partisans, something voting rights advocates say might make it possible even to invalidate or sway election results. Atop that, Republican filibuster threats have bottled up the flagship effort by congressional Democrats to counter such restrictions — a sweeping overhaul of federal election laws and a beefed-up revision of the Voting Rights Act. Despite controlling the Senate, Democrats have failed to unite behind a change in filibuster rules that would allow them to pass the legislation with a simple majority vote. That is a painful reversal for Democrats, who had labeled the bills their top priority, and for Mr. Biden, who said a year ago that strengthening the Voting Rights Act would be his first task in the White House. It also has far-reaching ramifications: The election-overhaul bill would set minimum standards for ballot access, potentially undoing some provisions of the newly enacted laws, and ban gerrymandering just as states begin drawing new boundaries for House seats and local political districts.Democrats worry that failing to act will empower states led by Republicans to impose more restrictions before the 2024 presidential election — a genuine concern, they say, given that Mr. Biden carried the Electoral College by fewer than 43,000 votes in three key states, despite outpolling Mr. Trump by seven million votes nationwide. President Biden said a year ago that strengthening the Voting Rights Act would be his first task in the White House.Samuel Corum for The New York TimesAnd some worry that a Republican Party that still refuses to accept the legitimacy of the last presidential vote sets the stage for a constitutional crisis should red states, or even a Republican-led House of Representatives, contest the next close election. “There’s not a caucus meeting that goes by that our leadership doesn’t talk about S. 1 and how our democracy is on the verge of disappearing,” U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who has spent 14 years in the House, said in an interview, using shorthand for voting legislation stalled in the Senate. “There’s plenty to be scared about.”Republicans argue that it’s Democrats who are the threat to democracy. “The Democratic Party wants to rewrite the ground rules of American politics for partisan benefit,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said at a hearing on the bill to overhaul voting laws, called the For the People Act. “It’s hard to imagine anything that would erode public confidence in our democracy more drastically.”Mr. McConnell has called the proposal “a craven political calculation” that shows “disdain for the American people.”In the states, Republican legislators have frequently taken a similar tack, charging that Democrats oppose tightening voting rules because they benefit from voter fraud.More common among voting experts, though, is a view that Republicans, facing unfavorable demographic tides, see their future linked to limiting Democratic turnout. “They’re going to do everything they can to hold on to power, and one essential of that is limiting the Democratic vote,” said Larry J. Sabato, a veteran political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Voting-rights advocates and the Biden administration are not without weapons. Under Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Justice Department has already sued to block voting legislation enacted by the Georgia General Assembly this past spring, and more lawsuits are likely.On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris said that the Democratic National Committee planned to spend $25 million before the 2022 midterms to organize and educate voters.And a number of voting rights advocates said they believed that the breadth and the audacity of Republican voting restrictions was igniting a backlash that would power a grass-roots voting movement and increase Democratic turnout in the midterms.“It could well have a significant pushback,” said Miles Rapoport, a senior fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance at Harvard. “The extra motivation of ‘You’re not going to take away my vote’ could end up with very, very heavy turnout come 2022 and 2024.”But voting issues could be a motivator for both parties and, in a highly polarized electorate, the moral high ground can be hard to establish. “I think a lot of this from the other side is political theater,” Representative Briscoe Cain, the Republican House Elections Committee chairman in Texas said in a phone interview on Sunday night. The goal, he said, is to “win elections and make Republicans look bad.”Advocacy groups and Democrats also are in the courts. In Georgia alone, eight lawsuits are challenging Republican election laws enacted in the spring. Marc Elias, a longtime lawyer for Democratic Party interests, is opposing new election laws in seven Republican-dominated states.How badly the Supreme Court ruling will hinder such efforts is unclear. The 6-to-3 decision, covering Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, made it much harder to attack a voting restriction based principally on its lopsided impact on a minority group.Mr. Elias called the ruling “a terrible decision,” but added that most election lawsuits claim violations of the Constitution, not the Voting Rights Act.Richard L. Hasen, a leading election-law expert at the University of California, Irvine, was less sanguine, arguing that one part of the ruling has given states wide latitude to defend restrictions as necessary to prevent fraud — even if there is no evidence of fraud. Stopping fraud is by far the leading reason cited by Republican legislators sponsoring curbs on voting.“There’s no question that the road is much tougher for voting rights plaintiffs in federal courts,” he said. “These battles will have to be fought within each state, mustering coalitions among business groups, civil leaders and voters from all parties who care about the sanctity of the right to vote.”Legal options also exist outside the federal judiciary. Mr. Elias recently won a suit claiming discrimination against college-age voters in the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging North Carolina’s voter ID requirements in that state’s Supreme Court. Demonstrators gathered in Washington, D.C., in June to protest for equal voting rights.Kenny Holston for The New York TimesAnd Alison Riggs, a voting-rights lawyer and co-executive director of the coalition, noted that Congress could easily address concerns with the court’s ruling in any revision of the Voting Rights Act.Mr. Biden’s speech on Tuesday may signal whether he intends to become involved in pushing that legislation and the overhaul of voting laws to passage. Mr. Biden made voting issues a priority in his campaign, but as president he has emphasized bread-and-butter issues like infrastructure spending and coronavirus relief. He was largely absent in June when Democrats in the Senate tried and failed to bring up the For the People Act for debate — in part, perhaps, because even Democrats realized that it must be stripped down to a more basic bill to have a chance of passing.The president is unlikely to have that option again. Over the weekend, a close ally, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, told Politico that Mr. Biden must push to modify the filibuster so both voting bills could pass.So did civil rights leaders in a meeting with the president on Thursday. “We will not be able to litigate our way out of this threat to Black citizenship, voting and political participation,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said later. “We need legislation to be passed in Congress.”The consequences of doing that — or not — could be profound, said Dr. Sabato. “If there was ever a moment to act, it would be now, because Republican legislatures with Republican governors are going to go even further as we move into the future,” he said.“For years, Democrats will point to this as a missed moment. And they’ll be right.”David Montgomery contributed reporting. More

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    Why The Supreme Court's Voting Rights Ruling Leaves No Clear Answer

    The Supreme Court’s decision on voting rights suggests that limits to the convenience of voting methods may be relatively permissible, while new burdens on casting a ballot in-person might be more vulnerable.What kind of restrictions on voting violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act? That’s the basic question in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold two Arizona voting provisions last week.The court’s decision didn’t offer a clear answer. Instead, it offered “guideposts” to illustrate why the Arizona law passed muster, without clearly indicating when a law might go too far. Those guideposts appear to set a high bar for successful voting rights litigation.But the guideposts offer lessons about what kinds of voting restrictions might be more or less vulnerable to legal challenge.Many of those lessons stem from a central concept underlying the decision: the idea that every voting system imposes certain “usual” burdens on voters, like traveling to a polling station or returning your ballot.Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, made the case that these burdens may inevitably result in “some” racial disparity. As a result, the conservative justices reject the idea that racial disparity alone is sufficient to establish that a state denied everyone an equal opportunity to vote. That leaves the court looking for signs of a particularly unusual and distinctive burden, even though this added hurdle doesn’t exist in the text of the Voting Rights Act.The court found, without too much trouble, that the two Arizona laws weren’t particularly unusual or burdensome. That was not surprising. Even the Biden Justice Department said the laws did not violate the Voting Rights Act. But the way the court reached that conclusion nonetheless said a lot about what kinds of laws might survive judicial scrutiny.The court’s reasoning suggests that restrictions on the convenience of voting methods may be relatively permissible, while new burdens on in-person voting, whether a reduction in precincts or new voter identification requirements, might be more vulnerable. It may even mean that states with relatively lenient voting laws might have more leeway to impose new restrictions. And no matter what, a fairly large racial disparity — backed by strong statistical evidence — may be crucial in future cases.Convenience voting is less protectedSo what’s a usual burden, anyway? Oddly enough, the clearest benchmark offered by the court is whether a rule imposes a burden that was typical in 1982, when the Voting Rights Act was last amended.If the burden on voters was typical at the time, the thinking goes, then Congress probably didn’t intend to undermine those provisions.What kind of burden would that be? The court went out of its way to note that there was virtually no early or no-excuse mail absentee voting at the time. That can lead one to infer that the court may be fairly likely to accept restrictions on mail and early voting. From this point of view, convenience voting is a bonus option for voters, and any restriction would still leave voters less burdened than they were 40 years ago.The court refrained from deciding “whether adherence to, or a return to, a 1982 framework is necessarily lawful.” Perhaps it would not be, since nonwhite voters now disproportionately use methods intended to make voting more convenient, like early voting. And many states have scaled back their traditional Election Day voting options as demand has declined; simply eliminating convenience voting would often leave many voters with fewer options than they had 40 years ago. On the other hand, there’s not much evidence that expanded voting options have narrowed racial disparities in turnout.Wherever the court draws the line, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that new ways to make voting more convenient will not be vigorously protected by the court.Novel restrictions may be unprotectedAt the same time, the court may look askance at novel regulations that impose burdens beyond what existed in 1982. Strict photo identification requirements, for instance, did not exist back then. And there was a certain level of basic access, in terms of the availability of in-person precincts, registration and voting hours, which the court would presumably be likely to protect.In oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan asked whether it would be legal for a state to put all of its polling places in country clubs, where Black voters would need to travel farther than whites and would fear discrimination and experience a high level of discomfort. A 1982 standard, whatever its merits, would offer some level of protections against that kind of extreme possibility, even as it may allow rollbacks in mail and early voting.Size mattersWith the court resigned to some inevitable racial disparities in voting, successful voting rights litigation may entail finding a fairly large racial disparity.How large? Well, probably larger or clearer than in the Arizona case.The court believed that the requirement to vote in your own precinct would affect 1 percent of nonwhite in-person voters and .5 percent of non-Hispanic white in-person voters, or a disparity of about .5 percentage points. Even these figures overstate the share of voters who would be affected by the provision, as the majority of Arizonans cast ballots by mail, not in-person.Strong statistical evidence is also clearly important. The plaintiffs did not have any statistics to establish whether banning third-party ballot collection would create a large racial disparity in voting, and the court brushed aside the testimonial evidence that it was used more by non-white and especially Native American voters.If there’s any consolation for voting rights activists, it’s that many of the most prominent “voter suppression” laws usually feature clear statistical evidence showing that it imposes a burden on a larger share of eligible voters than Arizona’s requirement that voters cast ballots in their own precinct. But what the statistical threshold is for striking down a restrictive law based on racial disparity — 2 points, 5 points, 10 points? — remains to be seen.Court rules that fraud is a legitimate state interestNot even evidence of an unusual burden or a strong racial disparity would necessarily ensure the demise of a voting restriction, under the new ruling. The court also says it will weigh the strength of the state’s interest in regulating its elections against whatever burden it imposes.Judge Alito stated unequivocally in his opinion that preventing fraud was a “strong and entirely legitimate” state interest. A restriction that can be construed as a “reasonable means” for pursuing a legitimate state interest, like preventing fraud or ensuring that votes are cast free from intimidation, will be easier for the state to justify.Other restrictions, like eliminating automatic voter registration or Sunday early voting, do not have a clear connection to a strong state interest, like reducing fraud, and could be more likely to violate the Voting Rights Act.The case said relatively little new about establishing discriminatory intent, the focus of the Justice Department’s case in Georgia. The court reiterated its view that restrictions intended to advantage a specific political party are acceptable, though that distinction may be harder to sustain in Georgia, where Black voters make up an outright majority of Democrats. And the court rejected the theory that an otherwise legitimate and non-discriminatory legislative effort can be contaminated by racially tinged outside context. But that is not the allegation in Georgia, where the Justice Department asserts that the legislative process itself was flawed.The totality of the electoral systemPerhaps the most analytically significant twist in the court’s analysis is that it believes a state’s entire system of voting must be considered when evaluating the burden imposed by a provision.In a certain sense, it’s obvious that a state’s voting system affects whether a particular restriction imposes a great burden on voters. If Texas passed a law to require only a single in-person voting center per county, it might be tantamount to an end to free and fair elections in the state. But that’s the standard in Washington State, where nearly all votes are cast by mail.The court takes this proposition pretty far in the Arizona case. It implies that the availability of multiple, relatively easy options allows for restrictions on any particular option. It says, for instance, that the availability of no-excuse absentee voting — as opposed to universal vote by mail in Washington State — makes it easier to accept restrictions on in-person Election Day voting, even though many voters do not use mail voting and the opportunity to apply for a mail ballot has passed by the time Election Day rolls around.As a result, states offering more voting opportunities will probably find it easier to defend new voting restrictions. That’s probably good news for a state like Georgia, which has no-excuse absentee, early and Election Day voting. More

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    Trump Is Gone, Sort of. The Fireworks Are Still Going Off.

    Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. Hope you had a nice Fourth of July. Politically speaking, most of the fireworks seemed to be coming from the Supreme Court. Any thoughts on how the term ended?Gail Collins: Bret, I’ve never been too romantic about Independence Day. I guess in my youth I learned to regard a successful Fourth as one in which nobody got a finger blown off.Bret: Where I grew up, Independence Day was on Sept. 16, though festivities began the night before with a famous shout. Anyone who knows the country to which I’m referring without help from Google gets a salted margarita.Gail: Well, Sept. 16 is Mexican Independence Day — you know, we haven’t had nearly enough talks about your life south of the border. Putting that down for a summer diversion.I admit I did have to look up the famous shout, which I assume is the Cry of Dolores, calling for freedom from Spain, equality and land redistribution.Bret: Mexico was always progressive, though more in theory than practice. And if you really want to nerd out, next month marks the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Córdoba, when Mexico gained its formal independence.Gail: And Sept. 16 is also the day the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower. We need to set aside a fall conversation about history.But right now we’re going to talk about the Supreme Court’s performance. Given its current makeup, I tend to see success in any get-together that concludes without total disaster. (The Affordable Care Act survives!) But I’m very worried about the way the majority is siding with the bad guys on voting rights issues.How about you?Bret: Not that it will surprise you, but I was with the bad guys on that Arizona voting case. It isn’t at all tough for anyone to vote in the Grand Canyon State, in person or, for a full 27 days before an election, by mail. I don’t think it violates the Voting Rights Act to require people to vote in their precinct, or to ban ballot harvesting, which is susceptible to fraud.Gail: One person’s ballot harvesting is another person’s helping their homebound neighbors vote. But I’m not as concerned about what the court’s done so far as where it will take us. We’ve got Republican states eagerly dismantling many procedures that make it easier for poor folks — read Democratic folks — to vote. And some have also been very protective of political leaders’ right to squish their voters into districts that are most favorable to their interests, even if some of them look like two-headed iguanas.Bret: There’s a perception that ballot harvesting mainly helps Democrats. Maybe that’s true, though there are plenty of poor Republicans. But the most notorious example of ballot harvesting being used to steal an election was in a North Carolina congressional race in 2018, where the fraudster was working for the Republican. But I’m with you on those two-headed iguanas. Democracy would be much better off if we could find our way out of the partisan gerrymanders.Gail: Very tricky, since both parties tend to be in favor of creative district-drawing when their folks get the advantage.Bret: On the whole, though, I think the court had a pretty good term considering the fears people had about a 6-3 conservative-liberal split. Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts voted with the court’s liberals to uphold a federal moratorium on evictions. Amy Coney Barrett voted to uphold Obamacare. And every justice except Clarence Thomas upheld a cheerleader’s right to use a certain four-letter epithet in connection to the words “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything” that we’re usually not allowed to write in this newspaper.Gail: Yeah, we’ve moved into a world in which, for teenagers, posting that word on Snapchat or Instagram is getting to be as common as … buying sneakers or Googling the answers to a take-home quiz. If every student who did it got punished, we might have to replace all after-school activities with detention.Bret: I think the culture crossed the curse-word Rubicon a long time ago. Like, around the time of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue in 1972.Gail: Although I do have to admit it’d be nicer if the cool kids were the ones who thought of the most creative non-four-letter ways to express their dissatisfaction with life.Maybe bird metaphors? (“Family reunion? I’d rather hang out with a flock of starlings!”) Or … well, let this be an ongoing project.Bret: Flocked if I know how that’ll ever happen.Gail: Let’s talk about something cheerful — the Trump indictments. Or rather, the indictment of the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization for failure to pay taxes on about $1.76 million worth of perks.Have to admit, the part I liked best was the family, particularly Eric, treating perks like a luxury apartment and car and $359,000 in private school tuition as normal life. I mean, if your neighbor brought you over a plate of cookies, would you have to pay taxes on that?Do you think this is going to lead to something bigger? The chief financial officer in question, Allen Weisselberg, is a longtime Trump loyalist. Of course, he’s also 73 …Bret: You know that I hold the Trump Organization in the same high regard in which I hold toxic sludge, K.G.B. poisoned underpants or James Patterson novels. But I’m a little dubious about this prosecution. After all this investigating, this is the worst they can come up with? I’m not excusing it, assuming the charges stick. But it seems like the sort of sneaky and unethical corporate self-dealing that usually results in heavy civil penalties but not criminal charges.Gail: There’s been so much anticipation of an indictment of Donald Trump himself, for overvaluing his properties at sale time, and undervaluing them for tax assessments. Instead, we’ve got a guy nobody’s ever heard of getting a tax-free Mercedes. You’re right — it is kind of a downer.Presumably this is just an early step. Remember there’s that grand jury in Manhattan that’s committed to spending six months looking into possible Trump misdeeds. And they’ve hardly begun.Bret: The larger point is that it has more of the feel of a political prosecution, of the sort that Trump was always threatening against his political opponents, starting with Hillary Clinton. It’s a game at which two can play.Gail: The challenge for the prosecutors is to come up with something bad enough to shock New Yorkers. Or something so very likely to lead to jail time that Trump will come around and make the kind of deal that would freeze him out of politics forever.Bret: My general theory of Trump is that the best thing we can do is starve him of the things he most craves, which is publicity (doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad), plus the opportunity to play the martyr.As for something that could shock New Yorkers — either he skins cats for pleasure or he’s a fan of the owners of the Knicks.Gail: Hey, give the Knicks a break. And let’s change the subject. Give me a snappy summary of your feelings about the never-ending negotiations over Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.Bret: The result is going to be good, I think. And popular, too. We need a program that’s ambitious and forward-looking, that allows for projects like the George Washington and Golden Gate bridges — projects that will last for centuries — to be built, except this time with greater environmental sensitivity.Gail: Readers, please get out your Twitters and quote this.Bret: I’d also love to see the Biden administration resurrect some of the more inspiring programs of the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal, particularly the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works of Art Project. I don’t just mean creating programs as employment schemes, but also as a way of channeling civic energies toward active, participatory environmental stewardship and aesthetic creation. I also think the art project should be open to foreigners, so that future Diego Riveras can leave their imprint on American buildings and parks and boulevards.Gail: We are in total agreement. But — just checking — are you equally enthusiastic about the other side of Biden’s plan, which would shore up and expand critical social infrastructure like early childhood education and community colleges?Bret: Sure. Why not? You’ve worn me into submission — I mean, agreement!Gail: Pardon me one more time while I pour a glass of champagne. Are you listening, moderate Republicans?Bret: Final topic, Gail. July 4 was supposed to mark the date when Americans could finally mark their independence from the Covid pandemic. Do you finally feel free of it?Gail: Pretty much, Bret. I guess for most people it depends on the things they liked to do that weren’t doable during the shutdown. For me a lot of the loss was not being able to go with my husband to crowded public places like theaters or jazz clubs and not seeing the friends who weren’t real comfortable interacting outside their families.Bret: And I missed the foreign travel.Gail: Now pretty much everything we like is back. The one thing I still really miss is being at work in the real physical office. The work gets done digitally but it really isn’t the same. As much as I love hanging out with you in these conversations, I’d like it better if I could walk over to your desk and make fun of Mitch McConnell.Bret: That, and putting the office’s fancy coffee machines to regular use.Gail: But soon, right? See you in September!The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Democrats Face High New Bar in Opposing Voting Laws

    Democrats and voting rights groups say they can no longer count on the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to serve as a backstop for preventing racially discriminatory voting restrictions.The 6-to-3 decision by the Supreme Court on Thursday that upheld voting restrictions in Arizona has effectively left voting rights advocates with a higher bar for bringing federal cases under the Voting Rights Act: proving discriminatory intent.That burden is prompting civil rights and voting groups to recalibrate their approach to challenging in court the raft of new restrictions that Republican-controlled legislatures have passed this year in the aftermath of Donald J. Trump’s election loss in November. No longer, they say, can they count on the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to serve as a backstop for preventing racially discriminatory voting restrictions.“We have to remember that the Supreme Court is not going to save us — it’s not going to protect our democracy in these moments when it is most necessary that it does so,” Sam Spital, the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Friday.The high court gutted the central protection of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 decision, and on Thursday the court further limited the act’s reach in combating discriminatory laws, establishing strict new guidelines for proving the laws’ effects on voters of color and thus requiring litigants to clear the much higher bar of proving purposeful intent to discriminate.Mr. Spital said his group would have to carefully assess its next moves and “think very carefully” before bringing new cases that, if defeated, could set damaging new precedents. The Arizona case, filed in 2016 by the Democratic National Committee, was considered a weak vehicle for challenging new voting laws; even the Biden administration acknowledged that the Arizona law was not discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act. Choosing the wrong cases, in the wrong jurisdictions, could lead to further setbacks, Mr. Spital and other voting rights advocates said.At the same time, Mr. Spital said, it is imperative that voting restrictions enacted by Republicans not go unchallenged.“It will force us to work even harder in the cases that we do bring,” he said. “Once the rules of the game are set, even if they are tilted against us, we have the resources — we have extraordinary lawyers, extraordinary clients, and we have the facts on our side.”Thursday’s ruling also laid bare an uncomfortable new reality for Democrats and voting activists: that under existing law, they can expect little help from the federal courts on election laws that are passed on a partisan basis by the party that controls a state government. Republican lawmakers in Georgia, Florida and Iowa have moved aggressively to push through voting laws, brushing aside protests from Democrats, voting rights groups and even major corporations.Arizona Republicans were candid about the partisan nature of their efforts when the Supreme Court heard the case in March. A lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party told the justices that the restrictions were needed because without them, Republicans in the state would be “at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.”“It’s much harder to prove these things — it takes a lot more evidence,” said Travis Crum, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in voting rights and redistricting cases. “Courts are often reluctant to label legislators racist. That’s why the effects standard was added in 1982.”The high court’s decision also raises the stakes for 2022 contests for governor in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Democratic governors are poised to block measures proposed by Republican-controlled legislatures. If a Republican won the governor’s seat in any of those states, the legislature would have a clear path to pushing through new voting laws.Republicans on Friday lauded the Supreme Court ruling, calling it a validation of the need to combat voter fraud — though no evidence of widespread fraud emerged in President Biden’s victory.Justin Riemer, the chief counsel at the Republican National Committee, argued that the new “guideposts” set by Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, were welcome and would force a recognition of the broader options for voting available in a state.“It reaffirms, for example, that states have an incredibly important interest in protecting against voter fraud and promoting voter confidence,” Mr. Riemer said. “When the court looked at Arizona’s laws, it noted how generous the voting provisions were.”Mr. Riemer noted that Democrats would also have a harder time in meeting new standards for showing that laws impose unreasonable burdens on voters.“I don’t want to say completely shuts them out of Section 2, but it’s going to make it very difficult for them to strike down laws that are really minimally, if at all, burdensome,” Mr. Riemer said, referring to the section of the Voting Rights Act that addresses racially discriminatory practices.Major Supreme Court decisions affirming a new restriction on voting have historically been followed by waves of new state-level legislation. In 2011, 34 states introduced some form of new voter identification legislation after the court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law in 2008.The first immediate test of a newly emboldened legislature will come next week in Texas, where lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene for a special session, in a second attempt by Republicans to pass an election overhaul bill. The first attempt failed after Democrats in the State Legislature staged a contentious late-night walkout, temporarily halting proposals that were among the most restrictive in the country.Those proposals included bans on new methods of voting, a reduction in Sunday voting hours and provisions that would make it easier to overturn elections and would greatly empower partisan poll watchers.The uncertain legal fights will play out in a federal judiciary remade during Mr. Trump’s administration, and Democrats in Congress have failed to enact federal voter protections.The legal defense fund that Mr. Spital represents sued Georgia in May over its new voting laws, arguing that the laws would have a discriminatory effect. Other lawsuits, including one the Department of Justice filed last week, argue that Georgia acted with intent to discriminate against voters of color.But some Democrats, while lamenting the decision by the Supreme Court, noted that they still had plenty of constitutional tools to challenge repressive voting laws.“Obviously, it is now going to be more difficult to litigate,” said Aneesa McMillan, a deputy executive director at the super PAC Priorities USA, who oversees the organization’s voting rights efforts. “But most of our cases that we challenge, we challenge based on the First, the 14th and the 15th amendments of the Constitution.”Among the guideposts Justice Alito articulated is an assessment of “the standard practice” of voting in 1982, when Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was amended.“It is relevant that in 1982 States typically required nearly all voters to cast their ballots in person on election day and allowed only narrow and tightly defined categories of voters to cast absentee ballots,” Justice Alito wrote.Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling established a series of guideposts for determining whether merely the effect of a voting law is discriminatory, rather than the intent.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesThe court did not address the purpose clause of Section 2. But those cases often rely on racist statements by lawmakers or irregularities in the legislative process — trickier elements of a legal case to prove than the effects.“You’re not going to get that smoking gun kind of evidence,” said Sophia Lakin, the deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project. “It’s pulling together a lot of circumstantial pieces to show the purpose is to take away the rights of voters of color.”People protested voting restrictions outside the Texas Capitol in Austin in May.Mikala Compton/ReutersIn Texas, some Democrats in the Legislature had been hoping that they could work toward a more moderate version of the bill in the special session that starts next week; it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court decision will induce Republicans to favor an even more restrictive bill.Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State Representative Briscoe Cain, both Republicans, did not respond to requests for comment. Speaker Dan Phelan and State Senator Bryan Hughes, both Republicans, declined to comment.But whether the Supreme Court decision will open the floodgates for more restrictive voting legislation in other states remains an open question; more than 30 state legislatures have adjourned for the year, and others have already passed their voting laws.“It’s hard to imagine what a spike in voting restrictions would look like now, because we are already seeing such a dramatic surge, more than at any time since Reconstruction,” said Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute. “But passing new waves of legislation has certainly been the response in recent years.”Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin is one of the Democratic governors who are holding off voting measures passed by Republican-led legislatures. On Wednesday, he vetoed the first of several pieces of Republican legislation on the electoral process.In an interview, he said Republicans’ monthslong effort to relitigate the 2020 election had had the effect of placing voting rights on the level of health care and education among the top priorities of Wisconsin voters.“It’s rising up as far as people’s recognizing that it’s an important issue,” Mr. Evers said. “They brought it on themselves, frankly, the Republicans have. I don’t think the people of Wisconsin thought the election was stolen. They understand that it was a fair election. And so the Republicans’ inability to accept Donald Trump’s loss is making it more of a bread-and-butter issue here.” More

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    The Supreme Court Is Putting Democracy at Risk

    In two disturbing rulings closing out the Supreme Court’s term, the court’s six-justice conservative majority, over the loud protests of its three-liberal minority, has shown itself hostile to American democracy.In one case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court has weakened the last remaining legal tool for protecting minority voters in federal courts from a new wave of legislation seeking to suppress the vote that is emanating from Republican-controlled states. In the other, Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta, the court has laid the groundwork for lower courts to strike down campaign finance disclosure laws and laws that limit campaign contributions to federal, state and local candidates.The court is putting our democratic form of government at risk not only in these two decisions but in its overall course over the past few decades.Let’s begin with voting rights. In Brnovich, the court, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, held that two Arizona rules — one that does not count votes for any office cast by a voter in the wrong precinct and another that prevents third-party collection of absentee ballots (sometimes pejoratively referred to by Donald Trump and his allies as ballot harvesting) — do not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.Section 2 is supposed to guarantee that minority voters have the same opportunity as other voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. The evidence presented to the court showed that minority voters were much more likely to have their votes thrown out than white voters for out-of-precinct voting and that Native Americans — because many live on large reservations — were less likely to vote in the absence of help with ballot collection.That the conservative majority of justices on the Supreme Court found that these rules did not violate Section 2 is unsurprising. Compared to other laws making it harder to register and to vote, such as strict voter identification provisions, these were relatively tame. In fact, some voting rights lawyers were unhappy that the Democratic National Committee pushed this case aggressively; minority voters have had some success using Section 2 in the lower courts, even getting the very conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to strike down Texas’ voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation. The concern was that the Supreme Court would mess up this track for protecting voting rights.And mess it up it did. The real significance of Brnovich is what the court says about how Section 2 applies to suppressive voting rules. Rather than focus on whether a law has a disparate impact on minority voters, as Justice Elena Kagan urged in her dissent, the court put a huge thumb on the scale in favor of restrictive state voting rules.Thanks to Brnovich, a state can now assert an interest in preventing fraud to justify a law without proving that fraud is actually a serious risk, but at the same time, minority voters have a high burden: They must show that the state has imposed more than the “usual burdens of voting.” Justice Alito specifically referred to voting laws in effect in 1982 as the benchmark, a period when early and absentee voting were scarce and registration was much more onerous in many states.It is hard to see what laws would be so burdensome that they would flunk the majority’s lax test. A ban on Sunday voting despite African American and other religious voters doing “souls to the polls” drives after church? New strict identification requirements for those voting by mail? More frequent voter purges? All would probably be OK under the court’s new test as long as there are still some opportunities for minority citizens to vote — somewhere, somehow.What’s worse, the court did not decide Brnovich in a vacuum but after two other significant decisions that undermined the fight against restrictive voting rules. In a 2008 decision, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the court again put a thumb on the scale favoring a state’s restrictive laws when it upheld Indiana’s voter identification law against an argument that it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. And in the infamous 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, the court killed off the part of the Voting Rights Act that required states and other jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get approval before they could adopt laws that could burden minority voters.We were assured back then not to worry about the loss of this preclearance provision because there was always Section 2 to fall back on. So much for that. There are now fewer and fewer tools with which to fight suppressive voting rules in the federal courts.And Justice Alito ended with a shot across the bow for Congress, should it consider amending the Voting Rights Act to provide an easier standard for minority plaintiffs to meet, such as Justice Kagan’s disparate impact test in dissent. Such a test, he wrote, would “deprive the states of their authority to establish nondiscriminatory voting rules,” potentially in violation of the Constitution.The news on the campaign finance front is almost as dire. In the Americans for Prosperity case, the court considered a law that required charities to disclose their donors in reports filed with the government of California. The state wanted the information for law enforcement purposes, to ferret out fraud by charities, and by law, the information was not supposed to be publicly released. Unfortunately, California had leaks, and some of the information was disclosed. The groups challenging the law said compelled disclosure of their donors violated their First Amendment rights. They put forth evidence that their donors faced danger of harassment if they were revealed. The court had long held that those who face such a danger can be exempt from disclosure rules.Once again, it is unsurprising that this particular conservative majority on the Supreme Court sided with these conservative charities. And had the court said only that California’s law as applied to those facing a threat of harassment was unconstitutional, it would have been no big deal. But the majority opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, is much more troubling. The court held the disclosure law could not be applied to anyone, even those not facing a risk of harassment. He also rejiggered the First Amendment standards to call many other laws into question.In the Americans for Prosperity case, he redefined the “exacting scrutiny” standard to judge the constitutionality of disclosure laws so that the government must show its law is “narrowly tailored” to an important government interest. This makes it more like strict scrutiny and more likely that disclosure laws will be struck down. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, “Today’s analysis marks reporting and disclosure requirements with a bull’s-eye.”The court’s ruling calls into question a number of campaign finance disclosure laws. Perhaps even more significant, it also threatens the constitutionality of campaign contribution laws, which are judged under the “exacting scrutiny” standard, too. Lower courts can now find that such laws are not narrowly tailored to prevent corruption or its appearance or do not provide voters with valuable information — two interests the court recognized in the past to justify campaign laws. A requirement to disclose a $200 contribution? A $500 campaign contribution limit? Plaintiffs in future cases are likely to argue that laws targeting small contributions for disclosure or imposing low contribution limits are not “narrowly tailored” enough to deter corruption or give voters valuable information, even if Congress or a state or municipality found such laws necessary.And that’s a key point. As in Shelby County and in the 2010 Citizens United case, which struck down Congress’s limit on corporate campaign spending, this conservative Supreme Court in today’s rulings shows no deference to democracy-enhancing laws passed by Congress, states or local governments.Justice Kagan’s Brnovich dissent is passionate about the majority’s failure to defer to Congress’s determination that minority voters need protection. Instead, the majority showed undue deference to democracy-reducing laws passed by states and localities.If you put the Brnovich and Americans for Prosperity cases together, the court is making it easier for states to pass repressive voting laws and easier for undisclosed donors and big money to influence election outcomes.It is too much to ask for the Supreme Court to be the main protector of American democracy. But it should not be too much to ask that the court not be one of the major impediments.Richard L. Hasen (@rickhasen) is a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Voting Restrictions

    The decision, a test of what remains of the Voting Rights Act, suggested that challenges to many new measures making it harder to vote may not be successful.WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld voting restrictions in Arizona and signaled that challenges to new state laws making it harder to vote would face a hostile reception from a majority of the justices.The vote was 6 to 3, with the court’s three liberal members in dissent.The decision was the court’s first consideration of how a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 applies to voting restrictions that have a disproportionate impact on members of minority groups, and it was issued as disputes over voting rights have taken center stage in American politics.As Republican-controlled state legislatures increasingly seek to impose restrictive new voting rules, Democrats and civil rights groups have turned to the courts to argue that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote, thwart the will of the majority and deny equal access to minority voters. The decision suggested that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to strike down many of the measures.The larger message of the ruling was that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, hobbled after the Supreme Court in 2013 effectively struck down its central provision, retains only limited power to combat voting restrictions said to disproportionately affect minority voters’ access to the polls.The 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, concerned the law’s Section 5, which required prior federal approval of changes to voting procedures in parts of the country with a history of racial and other discrimination. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s majority opinion said the law’s Section 2 would remain in place to protect voting rights by allowing litigation after the fact.While Section 5 was available, Section 2 was used mostly in redistricting cases, where the question was whether voting maps had unlawfully diluted minority voting power. Its role in testing restrictions on the denial of the right to vote itself has been subject to much less attention.The new case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, No. 19-1257, concerned two kinds of voting restrictions in Arizona. One required election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling places, a practice critics call “ballot harvesting.” The law made exceptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.The larger battle in the case was not whether the particular challenged restrictions should survive. The Biden administration, for instance, told the justices in an unusual letter that the Arizona measures did not violate Section 2. But the letter disavowed the Trump administration’s interpretation of Section 2, which would have limited its availability to test the lawfulness of all sorts of voting restrictions.Section 2 bars any voting procedure that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race.” That happens, the provision goes on, when, “based on the totality of circumstances,” racial minorities “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”Tracking the Major Supreme Court Decisions This TermPublic opinion is closely divided on health care, voting, religion and gay rights cases.The Arizona case was filed by the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that both Arizona restrictions violated Section 2 because they disproportionately disadvantaged minority voters.In 2016, Black, Latino and Native American voters were about twice as likely to cast ballots in the wrong precinct as were white voters, Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority in the 7-to-4 decision. Among the reasons for this, he said, were “frequent changes in polling locations; confusing placement of polling locations; and high rates of residential mobility.”Similarly, he wrote, the ban on ballot collectors had an outsize effect on minority voters, who use ballot collection services far more than white voters because they are more likely to be poor, older, homebound or disabled; to lack reliable transportation, child care and mail service; and to need help understanding voting rules.Judge Fletcher added that “there is no evidence of any fraud in the long history of third-party ballot collection in Arizona.”In dissent, four judges wrote that the state’s restrictions were commonplace, supported by common sense and applied neutrally to all voters.Lawmakers were entitled to try to prevent potential fraud, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote. “Given its interest in addressing its valid concerns of voter fraud,” he wrote, “Arizona was free to enact prophylactic measures even though no evidence of actual voter fraud was before the legislature.”The appeals court stayed its ruling, and the restrictions were in place for the election last November. More

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    Trump and the Republican Party's Cruel Logic

    Donald Trump has claimed credit for any number of things he benefited from but did not create, and the Republican Party’s reigning ideology is one of them: a politics of cruelty and exclusion that strategically exploits vulnerable Americans by portraying them as an existential threat, against whom acts of barbarism and disenfranchisement become not only justified but worthy of celebration. This approach has a long history in American politics. The most consistent threat to our democracy has always been the drive of some leaders to restrict its blessings to a select few.This is why Joe Biden beat Mr. Trump but has not vanquished Trumpism. Mr. Trump’s main innovation was showing Republicans how much they could get away with, from shattering migrant families and banning Muslim travelers to valorizing war crimes and denigrating African, Latino and Caribbean immigrants as being from “shithole countries.” Republicans have responded with zeal, even in the aftermath of his loss, with Republican-controlled legislatures targeting constituencies they identify either with Democrats or with the rapid cultural change that conservatives hope to arrest. The most significant for democracy, however, are the election laws designed to insulate Republican power from a diverse American majority that Republicans fear no longer supports them. The focus on Mr. Trump’s — admittedly shocking — idiosyncrasies has obscured the broader logic of this strategy.After more than a decade in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton provided fruitful targets for an audience fearful of cultural change, conservative media has struggled to turn the older white president who goes to Mass every Sunday into a compelling villain. Yet the apocalypse remains nigh, threatened by the presence of those Americans they consider unworthy of the name.On Fox News, hosts warn that Democrats want to “replace the current electorate” with “more obedient voters from the third world.” In outlets like National Review, columnists justify disenfranchisement of liberal constituencies on the grounds that “it would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people.” Trumpist redoubts like the Claremont Institute publish hysterical jeremiads warning that “most people living in the United States today — certainly more than half — are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.”Under such an ideology, depriving certain Americans of their fundamental rights is not wrong but praiseworthy, because such people are usurpers.*The origin of this politics can arguably be found in the aftermath of the Civil War, when Radical Republicans sought to build a multiracial democracy from the ashes of the Confederacy. That effort was destroyed when white Southerners severed emancipated Black Americans from the franchise, eliminating the need to win their votes or respect their rights. The founders had embedded protections for slavery in the Constitution, but it was only after the abolition war, during what the historian Eric Foner calls the Second Founding, that nonracial citizenship became possible.The former Confederates had failed to build a slave empire, but they would not accept the demise of white man’s government. As the former Confederate general and subsequent six-term senator from Alabama John T. Morgan wrote in 1890, democratic sovereignty in America was conferred upon “qualified voters,” and Black men, whom he accused of “hatred and ill will toward their former owners,” did not qualify and were destroying democracy by their mere participation. Disenfranchising them, therefore, was not merely justified but an act of self-defense protecting democracy against “Negro domination.”In order to wield power as they wanted, without having to appeal to Black men for their votes, the Democratic Party and its paramilitary allies adopted a theory of liberty and democracy premised on exclusion. Such a politics must constantly maintain the ramparts between the despised and the elevated. This requires fresh acts of cruelty not only to remind everyone of their proper place but also to sustain the sense of impending doom that justifies these acts.As the historian C. Vann Woodward wrote, years after the end of Reconstruction, Southern Democrats engaged in “intensive propaganda of white supremacy, Negrophobia and race chauvinism” to purge Black men from politics forever, shattering emerging alliances between white and Black workers. This was ruthless opportunism, but it also forged a community defined by the color line and destroyed one that might have transcended it.The Radical Republicans believed the ballot would be the ultimate defense against white supremacy. The reverse was also true: Severed from that defense, Black voters were disarmed. Without Black votes at stake, the party of Lincoln was no longer motivated to defend Black rights.*Contemporary Republicans are far less violent and racist than the Democrats of the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age. But they have nevertheless adopted the same political logic, that the victories of the rival party are illegitimate, wrought by fraud, coercion or the support of ignorant voters who are not truly American. It is no coincidence that Mr. Obama’s rise to power began with a lyrical tribute to all that red and blue states had in common and that Mr. Trump’s began with him saying Mr. Obama was born in Kenya.In this environment, cruelty — in the form of demonizing religious and ethnic minorities as terrorists, criminals and invaders — is an effective political tool for crushing one’s enemies as well as for cultivating a community that conceives of fellow citizens as a threat, resident foreigners attempting to supplant “real” Americans. For those who believe this, it is no violation of American or democratic principles to disenfranchise, marginalize and dispossess those who never should have had such rights to begin with, people you are convinced want to destroy you.Their conviction in this illegitimacy is intimately tied to the Democratic Party’s reliance on Black votes. As Mr. Trump announced in November, “Detroit and Philadelphia — known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country, easily — cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race.” The Republican Party maintains this conviction despite Mr. Trump’s meaningful gains among voters of color in 2020.Even as Republicans seek to engineer state and local election rules in their favor, they accuse the Democrats of attempting to rig elections by ensuring the ballot is protected. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who encouraged the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 with his claims that the 2020 election had been stolen, tells brazen falsehoods proclaiming that voting rights measures will “register millions of illegal aliens to vote” and describes them as “Jim Crow 2.0.”But there are no Democratic proposals to disenfranchise Republicans. There are no plans to deny gun owners the ballot, to disenfranchise white men without a college education, to consolidate rural precincts to make them unreachable. This is not because Democrats or liberals are inherently less cruel. It is because parties reliant on diverse coalitions to wield power will seek to win votes rather than suppress them.These kinds of falsehoods cannot be contested on factual grounds because they represent ideological beliefs about who is American and who is not and therefore who can legitimately wield power. The current Democratic administration is as illegitimate to much of the Republican base as the Reconstruction governments were to Morgan.*This brand of white identity politics can be defeated. In the 1930s, a coalition of labor unions, urban liberals and Northern Black voters turned the Democratic Party from one of the nation’s oldest white supremacist political institutions — an incubator of terrorists and bandits, united by stunning acts of racist cruelty against Black Americans in the South — into the party of civil rights. This did not happen because Democratic Party leaders picked up tomes on racial justice, embraced jargon favored by liberal academics or were struck by divine light. It happened because an increasingly diverse constituency, one they were reliant on to wield power, forced them to.That realignment shattered the one-party system of the Jim Crow South and ushered in America’s fragile experiment in multiracial democracy since 1965. The lesson is that politicians change when their means of holding power change and even the most authoritarian political organization can become devoted to democracy if forced to.With their fragile governing trifecta, Democrats have a brief chance to make structural changes that would even the playing field and help push Republicans to reach beyond their hard-core base to wield power, like adding states to the union, repairing the holes the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts blew in the Voting Rights Act, preventing state governments from subverting election results and ending partisan control over redistricting. Legislation like the PRO Act would spur unionization and the cross-racial working-class solidarity that comes with it. Such reforms would make Republican efforts to restrict the electorate less appealing and effective and pressure the party to cease its radicalization against democracy.We know this can work because of the lessons of not only history but also the present: In states like Maryland and Massachusetts, where the politics of cruelty toward the usual targets of Trumpist vitriol would be self-sabotaging, Republican politicians choose a different path.The ultimate significance of the Trump era in American history is still being written. If Democrats fail to act in the face of Republican efforts to insulate their power from voters, they will find themselves attempting to compete for an unrepresentative slice of the electorate, leaving the vulnerable constituencies on whom they currently rely without effective representation and democratic means of self-defense that the ballot provides.As long as Republicans are able to maintain a system in which they can rely on the politics of white identity, as the Democratic Party once did, their politics will revolve around cruelty, rooted in attempts to legislate their opponents out of existence or to use the state to crush communities associated with them. Americans will always have strong disagreements about matters such as the role of the state, the correct approach to immigration and the place of religion in public life. But the only way to diminish the politics of cruelty is to make them less rewarding.Adam Serwer (@AdamSerwer) is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the forthcoming “The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present and Future of Trump’s America.”The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More