BY JOHN WOOD
“Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” boomed the hateful, melodious chanting, a noose framed by gallows behind the boisterous mob.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the video of violent insurrectionists inspired by former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” From various stripes nationwide, they angrily fought outnumbered Capitol police who were clad with riot shields defending the breached U.S. Capitol for the first time in American history.
I’m still amazed these depraved rioters even wanted to kill one of their own.
I could see cell phones – the mob gleefully enraptured in recording the event – floating above, among a bright red sea of Trump hats, Confederate battle flags and Nazi symbols. On top of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election, this failed attempted coup on Jan. 6 tried in vain to take back the presidency for Trump by violently blocking the Senate from counting state delegates for several hours.
Axios reports that it was the first time for the Confederate battle flag to ever fly inside the U.S. Capitol. Simply, this symbol of hate celebrates the Lost Cause and the wicked termination and subjugation of African Americans.
So much for our motto E Pluribus Unum, celebrating our diversity.
In other words, Trump supporters tried to cancel the election and steal the 84 million votes legally cast for President Joe Biden in 2020. USA Today reports that more than 300 insurrectionists, from 42 states, were charged with federal crimes – four, unfortunately, hailing from Oklahoma.
Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Lawrence Tribe said on MSNBC that evidence appears to support sedition charges for Trump and the insurrectionists. What’s more, Vox finds that Sidney Powell, former Trump lawyer, admits her perpetuating the “Big Lie” was not factual.
The insurrectionists also wanted to cancel House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they searched the Capitol halls and broke into her office. Even though most coverage focused on Jan. 6t, the Denver Post reported that Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr., who just missed the Capitol riot because of car repairs on the way, asserted he would “put a bullet in [Pelosi’s] noggin.”
Even though Trump was impeached in the House an unprecedented second time, few Republicans want to own up to Trump’s role, blaming leftist Antifa and Black Live Matters [BLM] instead.
Vice interviewed former Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, who said he believes former President Donald Trump’s speech on the morning of Jan. 6 was responsible for the attack: “Would anybody have marched on the Capitol, and tried to overrun the Capitol, without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened.”
So, Trump supporters wanted to not only cancel the election through Trump’s “Big Lie,” but also the second and third highest-ranking members of our government, Pence and Pelosi, respectively. They also apparently embrace a Confederate battle flag representing the cancelation of people of color and apparently our democratic norms.
I think is fascinating that few on the Right seem to get the irony and sheer hypocrisy arguing that the Left invented “cancel culture.”
THE RIGHT’S CANCEL CULTURE
I’ll detail just a few of the Right’s many, many cancellations.
It was Trump and his acolytes who wanted to cancel former President Obama and his legitimacy by perpetuating the fake “birther” movement. And former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who wanted to cancel the president’s agenda declaring his top priority to make him “a one-term president.” He failed, but not without trying.
For example, Newsweek reported 70 Republican-led attempts by 2017 to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act [ACA] since its inception as law. The ACA didn’t totally break, but it has been badly bent.
Newly-minted Attorney General Merrick Garland originally made news when Republicans snubbed him as Obama’s pick for an open seat on the Supreme Court with nearly a year remaining in his term in 2016, citing it as unprecedented. Yet, with nearly two weeks before the 2020 election Republicans disingenuously rushed through Amy Coney Barrett. Sheer hypocrisy.
Even the recent Conservative Political Action Committee [CPAC] convention’s theme “America Uncancelled” focused on it. For example, they harped on what they felt was a “rigged election,” where Trump wanted to cancel every Republican who voted against him on impeachment, such as “the warmonger” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and nine other House members.
“Get rid of them all,” Trump demanded, according to Huffpost. This so-called message of Unity was really just characterized by blind loyalty to one person. Yet, they blamed the Left.
After CPAC, the AP reported, Hasbro in the name of inclusivity dropped the “Mr.” from the Mr. Potato Head toy, giving children the freedom of choice to choose their own type of “potato families.” Fox News Sean Hannity claimed: “MR POTATO HEAD CANCELED” on his website.
In addition, the New York Times reported, that rightwing media focused relentlessly on Dr. Suess after his estate decided to stop printing six out of 60-plus titles in the series because of racial and ethnic stereotypes that are “hurtful and wrong.”
Both Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Suess have nothing to do with cancel culture; rather it’s accountability built into their business decisions in response to a call for a more tolerant society.
What the Republicans are doing, however, is a lot like a magic trick based on misdirection, a form of deception in which the performer draws audience attention to one thing to distract it from another.
In this case, yelling “Cancel Culture!” while lobbying to take away people’s rights to vote and participate.
CANCELING OUR VOTES
The Brennan Center found there are five times as many restrictive voting bills as this time last year  across 33 states – including Oklahoma – “grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities.”
This, even though more than 60 court cases failed to net Trump a single vote, yet Trump led the notorious “Stop the Steal,” based on the “Big Lie” that he won overwhelmingly. Of course, he didn’t.
Really, this mentality is to cancel Democratic votes. CNN finds, for example, that Fox Corp. Chairman Lachlan Murdoch has said the silent thing out loud.
“[T]the main beneficiary of the Trump administration from a ratings point of view was MSNBC,” he said. “That’s because they were the loyal opposition.” And “that’s what our job is now with the Biden administration. You’ll see our ratings really improve.”
We have known for a long time, Fox News isn’t about journalism, just political and fiscal power.
The newest Republican Supreme Court appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, for example, recently asked about the Arizona Republican’s interest in state law disqualifying ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Voting rights advocates say such a law discriminates against people of color, a fact backed up in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Republican lawyer Michael Carvin responded that striking down the regulation would put “us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game.”
Canceling out voters you don’t like is on its face, just a power play. Carvin didn’t say he defended democracy, but Republican advantage. When Republicans focus on a culture war, they are misdirecting, really focused on canceling people’s ability to keep our democracy.
OKLAHOMA’S ANTI-DEMOCRATIC PUSH
Oklahoma’s Legislature has considered a slew of anti-democratic measures, from protection the police at the expense of people, making it harder to pass initiative petitions, and even voting itself because of the “Big Lie.”
Even trying to cancel all laws enacted under President Biden.
Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore is sponsoring HB 1674, for example, to essentially “grant[ing] immunity to drivers who hit protesters,” according to the Oklahoman.
Democratic members contend the legislation is just a way to lash out at protesters and their First Amendment rights, especially those who are fighting systemic racism. It was a 14-hour-marathon House debate to pass this insane bill.
The first thing that comes to mind with this atrocious bill is that of the Charlottesville car attack during the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. Neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
Is our legislature trying to protect, Neo-Nazi rights, or cancel our right to peacefully protest?
To bolster their support of police, the Legislature also passed HB 2273 and its companion bill SB 6 to criminalize filming or posting a photo of police officers. Cindy Alexander of Indivisible Stillwater, an education and advocacy group, told the Black Wall Street Times, “Video is like an extension of our collective eyes and we don’t want our eyes blindfolded.”
I think this will be challenged, as the Electronic Freedom Foundation says you have a First Amendment right to record police – a position backed up by federal district courts and at the appellate level in six of 13 appellate courts, even though the Supreme Court has failed to rule squarely on the issue.
Republicans also want to restrict Oklahoman’s right to petition in the wake of Medicaid expansion and legalizing medical marijuana. Broken Arrow Republican Sen. John Haste’s SJR 4 would require 60% voter approval to pass, instead of a simple majority. Neither of the Medicaid expansion or medical marijuana ballot measures reached that lofty threshold.
Haste told the Oklahoman that his resolution was not a “knee-jerk reaction,” but it sure seems like it to me.
In addition, the state House passed HB 1236, 80-14, declaring federal laws and executive orders under President Biden unconstitutional. Expect a legal challenge on that one, too.
The Legislature also wants to restrict your ability to vote.
Along with eight other states, Oklahoma Republicans want to limit who can vote by mail by eliminating “no excuse” absentee voting [see SJR 19]. I used this method because I didn’t want exposed to COVID-19.
Likewise, SJR 25 also would restrict election officials from sending absentee ballots without a specific request.
I find it interesting that 279,000 [12%] Oklahomans voted absentee in November 2020. What’s more, the number of Democrats [45%] requesting ballots outnumbered Republicans [40%] by only five percentage points.
In addition, for some reason, SB 33 would choose presidential electors unless and until there is a federal law requiring auditable paper ballots and require voter IDs. What? The Legislature would take this out of the hands of the Republican Party that has dutifully provided electors every election in the last 50, plus years. In effect, canceling the Republican Party’s power?
It seems the Republican-dominated legislature will stub its own toe believing the “Big Lie” that the election was rigged and Trump won by a “landslide.” As a result, it’ll be harder for Oklahomans to express First Amendment rights to protest and redress government for grievances as well as excise our most fundamental right, voting.
FOR THE PEOPLE ACT
What can we do?
While I’m sad and annoyed Oklahoma’s elected leaders are attempting to suppress democratic norms as much as possible, Congressional Democrats are promoting hope by passing House Resolution 1 [HR1], perhaps best known as the “For the People Act.”
It expands voting rights, changes campaign finance laws to shrink money’s influence in politics, limits partisan gerrymandering, and creates new ethics rules for federal officeholders.
All good things, right? Yet, not everyone agrees.
Minority Leader McConnell characterized HR1 as a Democratic “power grab.” In response, newly-elected Sen. Raphael Warnock, who co-sponsored HR1 in the Senate, labeled Republican voter suppression efforts “the New Jim Crow.”
“One person, one vote is being threatened right now,” Warnock said on the Senate Floor. “Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their craven lust for power, have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights” and on “democracy itself.”
Warnock was referring to McConnell who assailed Democrats for pushing for voting reform and yet railed against potential assaults on the filibuster. This procedure creates a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate to pass any legislation if a single senator in the minority objects, stalling many bills in recent years.
“It is a contradiction,” Warnock declared, “to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in society.”
McConnell’s hypocrisy is in full view.
Please call your U.S. senator, urging passage of HR1. Each reform, when considered individually, is a game-changer, promoting democracy and moving the U.S. more in line with our nation’s original motto, E Pluribus Unum.
Our democracy is deepened when more voices are heard and undermined when a single authoritarian voice is empowered. Show them our voices matter.
John Wood, PhD, is an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Oklahoma. The views he expresses are his and not necessarily the university’s. This essay first appeared in the April print edition of The Oklahoma Observer.