Memo to Kanye West and Other Non-Voters

Austin R. Cooper Jr. is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.
Austin R. Cooper Jr. is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

By Austin R. Cooper Jr

President Obama was once caught on an open mic calling Kanye West a “jackass” for his stunt at the MTV Music Awards against Taylor Swift. Recently, Kanye stated, “I didn’t vote but if I did, I would have voted for Trump.”

I agreed with the president’s characterization in 2009 and it remains an accurate one today. Not necessarily because he is a Donald Trump supporter, but more importantly, because he did not exercise his constitutional right to vote.

You see, Kanye and others who did not vote, elections have consequences. The president expressed just this sentiment in a 2009 meeting with congressional Republicans shortly after his inauguration. According to one Republican in attendance, in pressing his legislative agenda, President Obama stated, “Elections have consequences and in case there is any doubt, I won.”

Well, it was a fair statement for the president to make to those opposed to his political agenda in 2008 and 2012. Today, it is a fair statement when made by President-elect Trump and his supporters to his political opponents. One consequence of the election will be the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general.

In 1981, a prosecutor from the U.S. Justice Department visited Sessions, then a U.S. attorney. A federal judge had called a prominent white lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for representing African-American clients. According to J. Gerald Hebert, the reaction by Sessions was, “Well, maybe he is.”

The issue of race has followed Sessions throughout his judicial and political careers. According to Hebert in sworn congressional testimony in 1986, Sessions once referred to the ACLU and the NAACP as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

An African-American prosecutor testified that the senator called him “boy” and joked that he thought that the KKK was “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.” In subsequent testimony while being considered for an appointment to the federal bench, he denied calling the prosecutor “boy,” but acknowledged or did not dispute the substance of the other accusations.

In 1986, the Senate demonstrated courage in rejecting President Reagan’s nominee. However, in 2017, the GOP will control the White House and Congress. His colleagues will likely confirm Sessions as this nation’s top law enforcement officer. Elections have consequences.

Another consequence of the election is the intention of President-elect Trump to appoint Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist. Bannon is a bigot. No one should be surprised by this appointment, however, because he was a close adviser to Trump throughout the campaign.

In addition to being called a racist and bigot, the former head of the conservative news site Breitbart has also been called an “anti-Semitic” and “white nationalist.” Breitbart is considered the home to the so-called “alt-right” because of headlines such as “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” “Birth Control Makes Women and Unattractive,” and “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber: It’s Time to Get Back in the Closet.” Elections have consequences.

The president-elect is entitled to appoint and nominate whomever he or she chooses. Unfortunately, this standard was not respected, nor upheld, with President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court almost a year ago. The failure of the Senate to hold a hearing on Judge Garland’s nomination, much less bring it to the floor for a vote, represents yet another example of the disrespect repeatedly shown to this president by the GOP congressional leadership.

Late on the Saturday evening before the election, I watched with pride as the 76-year-old Rep. John Lewis campaigned for Secretary Clinton in Fort Lauderdale. He was nearly beaten to death during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. I know the Congressman and as anyone who knows or has met him can attest, the scars on his skull remain visible 51 years later.

Perhaps Kanye and others who did not vote should meet Congressman Lewis. They should touch the scars of his once-cracked skull and talk to him not only about his sacrifices, but those of countless others, many of whom gave their very lives for the right to vote.

Yes Kanye, elections have consequences. You have been blessed with wealth, so they will not affect you. However, the consequences of the election — and in particular, decisions by Sen. Sessions and Mr. Bannon — will no doubt be negatively felt by many who are fans of yours. And by those like me, who are not.

Austin R. Cooper Jr. is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

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