RIDGELAND — When, on Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the union, the state’s noted jurist James L. Petigru famously said, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” Yes, well, insanity in this context can be both hereditary and contagious. But as we continue to discover since the November elections, lying is even more contagious and fatal where the health of the republic is concerned.
Nearly 160 years to the date of South Carolina’s ill-fated move, Texas began floating the idea of secession. So, too, did a Republican party official in Wyoming. His anger was actually directed at Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Donald Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Even in the Magnolia state a legislator mentioned the possibility of secession after Biden’s victory. Mississippi has yet to recover from our last secession.
Of course, the talk among these state officials is really not serious such as it was in 1860, and it is highly unlikely any state will attempt to secede. The whole movement is aimed at firing up Republicans who claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from them. Ever since 2016, Trump has assured his idolaters that any election he loses is rigged. When his legitimate defeat did occur in November 2020, Trump’s followers immediately supported his efforts to overturn the election. Their attempts were centered upon disqualifying minority votes cast in critical states.
Despite their claims, it is doubtful that many Republicans really believe that the election was stolen from Trump. They are angry first that Biden won and second that Kamala Harris, a mixed-race woman, is now vice president and the proverbial heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Lies and distortions become convenient remedies for inconvenient truths.
Reportedly, Republicans in several states are preparing so-called election reforms to prevent another presidential election from being stolen, although one has not been stolen since 1876. And in that one the theft was committed by Republicans. These current efforts are nothing more than camouflage for the suppression of African-American voters. While Southern states during the era of Jim Crow used poll taxes and literacy tests to stop black citizens from voting, Jim Crow in the 21st century calls for reduced mail-in voting periods.
The suppression of black voters has a long history in Mississippi. William Alexander Percy praised his father and the elder Percy’s friends for their theft of ballot boxes in Delta counties during the late years of Reconstruction. These were counties where, as Percy put it in “Lanterns on the Levee,” an honest vote count would have resulted in every elected official being an African American. Now the Southern tradition that necessitated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is becoming more national in its application.
Legend has it that shortly after the Civil War began, James Petigru was approached by a man seeking directions to South Carolina’s insane asylum. Petigru answered, “Any road will take you there, for this land is one vast insane asylum.” If the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Josh Hawley succeed in voter suppression, any interstate will lead us to the ruins of a once great republic.
• Vincent J. Venturini is a retired associate provost at Mississippi Valley State University. He lives in Ridgeland.