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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Georgia Was a Litmus Test, But Not How You Might Think

December 7, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

I celebrated the reelection of Rafael Warnock in the Georgia runoff late Tuesday night. I also lamented that result.

It’s not that I didn’t want Warnock re-elected. Of course I did. That Warnock is the first Black senator elected in Georgia is historic. But what’s happened in Georgia over these past few months as the midterms played out is worrying. The final vote was so close despite the stakes being so high and the candidates so incalculably different.

Democracy won by only two percent. That’s far from a stellar endorsement.

Some pundits are already suggesting Warnock run for president when he barely won his own state against a candidate who at any other time would have been laughed out of politics. Georgia was a fluke, not a litmus.

Herschel Walker had Donald Trump’s endorsement, and that is how he became the nominee. But that does not explain why this race was so tight that a runoff was necessary. Why wasn’t Warnock — a well-known and well-liked incumbent and pastor from Savannah with a long history of community representation — a shoe-in during the midterm election?

For nearly 20 years, Warnock has been senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was once pastor. That’s history. Warnock invoked the great Civil Rights activists Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis among others in his acceptance speech. But in listening to his smooth and easy transitions from past to present to future in that speech, I was reminded of how inarticulate his opponent is and how utterly craven the Republican party is for running Walker and supporting him.

The Georgia race exemplifies what is so deeply wrong with the GOP while also raising real questions for Democrats and progressives about why it’s so hard to beat these candidates. Walker is, to be generous, not smart. Warnock is a graduate of iconic HBCU Morehouse College and the esteemed Union Theological Seminary from which he holds a Masters in Divinity, a Masters in Philosophy, and a PhD. Walker’s claim to fame is that he played college football at the University of Georgia, where he won the Heisman Trophy and later played in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.

Walker wasn’t a serious candidate. His candidacy was built on the lies the GOP tells. He had no policy and no acumen. What he did have was a long and disturbing history of domestic violence against wives, girlfriends and children. He was also accused of bullying women he had impregnated into having abortions. And he had the GOP’s blessing and the support of white evangelicals.

Walker’s son, Christian, a gay conservative, wrote a scathing thread on Twitter in which he excoriated his father, lauded his mother, and blamed Donald Trump for his father running. “A boring old Republican could have won,” he noted.

Herschel Walker, despite his own son’s orientation, made jokes about LGBTQ people and laughed over pronouns. He campaigned with Georgia Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, who has called LGBTQ people “filth,” and he aired election ads attacking trans athletes.

The ad in question featured University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against University of Pennsylvania NCAA Division I champion Lia Thomas, who is trans. Gaines doesn’t name Thomas in the ad, but says: “My senior year, I was forced to compete against a biological male.” Gaines and Walker attacked Warnock for voting “to allow biological men to compete in women’s college sports.”

“Warnock’s afraid to stand up for female athletes,” Walker says in the ad, while Gaines chimes in: “Herschel Walker stands up for what’s right.”

It’s simplistic to say that this is irrelevant now because Warnock won. It’s impossible to simply embrace the win and move on. If we don’t deconstruct how tight race after race has become in the era of Trumpism, we are in trouble. And make no mistake: win or no win, we — the side of democracy and civil rights and civil liberties — are in trouble.

The facts are succinct: the GOP has no moral compass and no focal point except for power. They are utterly inconsistent on what they claim as their core values. That was evidenced in the Georgia race where the party that claims to embody Christianity (ignoring the separations of Church and State) slandered the actual pastor of nearly 30 years and favored a profligate womanizing abuser who preached pro-life on the campaign trail while paying for abortions in his personal life.

How craven is that?

This scurrilousness is only part of what’s concerning, though. What matters as we look to 2024 is the GOP’s focus on the so-called “culture wars,” which thus far have been centered on the civil rights and civil liberties of women and LGBTQ people. Reproductive rights at all levels are under daily assault. Queer and trans people are at risk from violence, harassment, discrimination. The GOP wants to roll back any rights LGBTQ people have while creating new laws that further impede or actively threaten our lives.

The courts were stacked against women and LGBTQ people by Trump. The arguments in this week’s Supreme Court case over a web designer denying services to gay and lesbian couples feels like a step back in time. Unfortunately, that is where we are headed.

With the midterms at an end, the 2024 presidential campaign will begin next year. The sole declared GOP candidate, Donald Trump, met with a white nationalist and anti-Semite and then called for the suspension of the Constitution, and not one Republican in leadership was able to say that Trump himself was wrong to do all those things.

The equivocation by the GOP over all things Trump — be it purloined classified documents, accusations of rape, or just hanging out with the worst people in America — cannot be dismissed. The failure to stand up to these truly terrible people and truly terrible ideas does not bode well for the other side: us. Half the country is in thrall to these extremists and their rhetoric.

This isn’t a fluke. While the much vaunted red wave didn’t materialize and Democrats held the Senate and lost very few seats in the House, with Kevin McCathy as Speaker extremism will be on the docket and the 2024 election itself could be at risk.

The right is moving more extreme, more authoritarian, and more fascist. Warnock should have won in a landslide. That he didn’t is the true litmus and message to Democrats. That’s what we really learned from Georgia. 2024 looms.

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