In Another Country This Would Be Called a Coup: Detroit NAACP Head on Trump Trying to Overturn Vote

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As part of the unprecedented attempt to keep President Trump in office despite his election loss, Republicans have focused on Michigan, where the party is seeking a delay in the certification of the vote results and to throw out votes from Detroit, which is overwhelmingly Black. A group of Michigan Republicans met with President Trump at the White House last week in what was widely viewed as an attempt by Trump to personally pressure the lawmakers to block Biden from being awarded the state’s 16 electoral votes. “This is an attempt to disenfranchise the African American vote and to give the election to Trump,” says Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. “If we were in a different country, this would be called a coup, a political coup.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we take a closer look at the Republican efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Michigan. Last Tuesday, election officials in Michigan’s largest county certified Joe Biden’s victory, after a dramatic reversal. The two white Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially blocked certification, saying they didn’t want to include votes from Detroit, which overwhelmingly supported Biden and has a large African American population. President Trump then took to Twitter to praise the Republican effort, saying, “Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!”

Well, Reverend Wendell Anthony, the president of the NAACP in Detroit, criticized the Republican efforts to disenfranchise votes in Detroit that night.

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY: You have extracted a Black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault or at issue is the city of Detroit, where 80% of the people who reside here are African Americans. Shame on you! Shame on you! … You are a disgrace as relates to the ability to have a free and impartial election in this nation.

AMY GOODMAN: And then I wanted to go to Ned Staebler, who is vice president at Wayne State.

NED STAEBLER: I just want to let you know that the Trump stink, the stain of racism that you, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, have just covered yourself in, is going to follow you throughout history. Your grandchildren are going to think of you like Bull Connor or George Wallace.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this was an amazing virtual meeting. And we are joined by Reverend Wendell Anthony now, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, the largest branch of the NAACP in the country. He’s also a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors. Still with us, New York Times writer Emily Bazelon.

So, Reverend Wendell Anthony, thanks so much for being with us. Can you describe what is happening right now in Detroit, the amount of rage that was expressed, that actually led to the reversal of these Republican county — what are they called — canvassers, but then they requested to take their vote certifying back?

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY: Well, thank you, Ms. Goodman. Good morning to you and your guest.

If it was not so tragic, it would simply be pathetic. This is an attempt to disenfranchise the African American vote and to give the election to Donald Trump. We fired Donald Trump, and we hired Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, in Detroit, in Wayne County, which is the largest city in Wayne County, 80, 90% almost, of Black folk who live here. One of the canvassers indicated, as you already said, that perhaps we should just count all the votes in the other areas and not certify the votes that comes from Detroit. This is a strategy that we see around the country: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Wisconsin, Detroit. All of these areas are major urban centers of Black folk. The suburban communities around Detroit, in some cases they had issues much greater than Detroit. They did not say we should not certify them. They said, “Let’s not certify Detroit.” That’s tantamount to “Let’s not certify the Black vote.” Black votes matter. Black lives matter. That’s why we do what we do.

And what this is, very simply, if we were in a different country, Ms. Goodman, this would be called a coup, a political coup, because what you have seen is a president that has declared that I will not leave office unless I win; slow the post office down, take out mailboxes, stop the mail from coming through; discredit the guy who’s in charge of the election process, who called it the most secure election that we’ve had — no evidence of fraud, no evidence of voter rigging, none of that; then to have Lindsey Graham calling the secretary of state in Georgia — he’s a senator from South Carolina, not Georgia — to get him not to certify and to discount some of the votes. And now we see the latest strategy, since the judges in the courts around America are not going with this nonsense, the move is to not certify: “If we can not certify, we can delay the election. We can push it back, and then perhaps we can get some new electors. But if we can’t get that, maybe we can take it to the Congress and do something different and come out with a different outcome.”

No, we voted the way we voted in Wayne County and around the country. We want our votes to count. Certify the vote. This has never happened before. It is a tragedy before God and man. We are not in any moral position to tell any nation anywhere in the world that we should be having democratic processes. How can we go monitor somebody in another nation when we cannot monitor and check ourselves? We need the United Nations, quite frankly, to come in and monitor the United States. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in this situation. This is the worst situation, in terms of the presidential election, that we’ve had since we have had a nation. Donald Trump was fired. He does not want to leave office, and he’s fighting, by any means necessary, to remain at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Anthony, explain the lawsuit that some Detroiters have brought.

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY: The lawsuit, very simply, started by the Legal Defense Fund and some of the folk in the city of Detroit, is simply saying that you cannot discredit the Black vote. You must certify the Black vote. You cannot pick us out and at the same time let everybody else go, that we want to get in advance and in front of this process, that our votes should be certified, that you are violating the Voting Rights Act. You’re violating the civil rights causes of respecting and maintaining a balance of all of the people, that we should not be subjugated.

One of the things that they’re overlooking — I think you mentioned it — is that if you don’t certify the vote, if you don’t certify the election, you’re not certifying all the judges. You’re not certifying the senators and those state representatives. You’re not certifying the ballot initiatives. You’re not certifying the county clerks and the board of trustees and the board of directors of universities.

That means that all of them will not be certified, in order to preserve one man who’s on the golf course, when he should be on the course of trying to stop the coronavirus disease that has now killed 255,000 Americans, more dying every day. As you and I are talking, somebody is dying, while he’s playing golf. That’s what this is all about.

That’s why we’re encouraging everybody to get on the phone, to get on the line, call your senators, call your congresspeople, and when the Board of Canvassers meets today at 1:00, to make sure you’re on the line and to make public comment and to let these individuals know that democracy today, democracy tomorrow and democracy should prevail. We’ve come too far to be turned back now.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see this as an attempted coup, Reverend Anthony?

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY: I do, Ms. Goodman. No question. You know as well as I do. You may not say it, but if you were in a different country, if the leader says, “I’m not leaving until I win”; if the leader says to all of his people, “Don’t cooperate with the upcoming administration”; if the leader says that “I’m going to fire the people that are at the top”; if he shifts the military around and tries to get his own minions in position; if he has his cohorts calling other states, which they do not have anything to do with; if he’s slowing down the Postal Service; if he’s saying, “Take out the mailboxes, and take out the machines that can do accurate counting”; if he’s saying and bringing legislators into his house and having a meeting and then they’re up at his hotel, the Trump Towers; if he’s doing all of that in another country, and if he’s now saying, at the very last minute, “OK, those of you who are charged with responsibility to certify the election, why don’t you see if you can delay and put it off until another day?” — if we were in another country, that would be considered as a coup. You know it as well as I do.

And the bottom line is, we ain’t going for it. This is the United States of America. We are a democratic — supposedly — nation. We have a Constitution. And in case people did not get the memo, Black people, we be free now, y’all. We got the Voting Rights Act. We got the right to vote 150 years ago, Black men did. Women got it a hundred years ago. We got the Voting Rights Act 55 years ago. And now we find ourselves in 2020 still trying to fight the same fight. This is not a time for us to revisit George Wallace standing in the doorway saying, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” instead of that, saying, “No voting today, no voting tomorrow, no voting forever.” No. We have shed too much blood. We have sweated too much pain. And we’ve shed too many tears. Our vote must count. Certify the vote. Don’t play with it. Deal with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you’ve pointed out, this is all happening during a pandemic, so people risked their lives to go out to vote. And who are the hardest-hit communities when it comes to the pandemic and people dying are communities of color, African Americans one of the worst hit in this country. And, of course, Detroit, a large African American population. You mentioned the flying in of the state legislators, the head of the House and the Senate, the state House and the state Senate, Michigan legislators, that Trump met with on Friday. They go to Trump Hotel there, are seen drinking an $800 bottle of Dom Pérignon.

Emily Bazelon, I wanted to bring in the issue of fundraising. Do you think part of why President Trump is doing this, that if in fact he can’t accomplish this, he will accomplish endless fundraising to fund his so-called election fraud, his attempts to overthrow the election, which then he can personally use?

EMILY BAZELON: Well, the fundraising appeals have made clear, in the fine print, that up to 60% of the funds raised can be used for retiring campaign debt and other expenses, rather than this litigation. So, I think we see right there evidence for what you’re talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think that this can succeed today in Michigan, and what it means? Because, remember, also we are talking about Wisconsin being told they have to recount their votes.

EMILY BAZELON: I don’t think that President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election will succeed. I think that American democracy is actually withstanding his assaults pretty effectively.

That said, I completely understand Reverend Anthony’s distress and call to action in Michigan today, because this vote of the state Board of Canvassers could make things more complicated. If the Board of Canvasser members don’t do their job and certify the election, it’s going to throw into confusion what happens next.

I think the answer to what happens next is that there will be a court case filed, and presumably, when you look at the previous cases, there’s nothing quite like this in Michigan law, but there have been county boards that have refused to certify in the past, and the state courts have ordered them to do so. So, when I look at those precedents and what the law says in Michigan, it looks to me like the state Board of Canvassers would be ordered by a court to certify the election, and then everyone’s votes will count, just the way democracy is supposed to work. But it will be a kind of foul-up in the process, and I think it will be embarrassing to the state of Michigan.

AMY GOODMAN: And before we go, I wanted to ask you about something else you’ve been writing about, Emily Bazelon, and that is the census and how that fits into future elections.

EMILY BAZELON: The census is critical to future elections. I think sometimes it’s harder for people to focus on it. We kind of take it for granted. But it is how we count the population. And then those totals are used to decide apportionment and redistricting. So, that means how many House seats each state gets. That’s determined by the count in the census. And the same is true about carving up legislative districts, according to the “one person, one vote” rule within states. We also care a lot about the census because it’s how we allocate millions and millions of dollars of tax resources. So, it is critical for the census to be accurate.

And what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is the Trump administration’s efforts to basically sideline people who are not citizens, who are undocumented, from the count. And they have currently ordered the census to provide data that would allow President Trump, before he leaves office, to strip undocumented immigrants from the apportionment totals. That would increase the power of Republicans in the House of Representatives. It’s a pretty naked power play. And so, what we saw last week was Census Bureau officials saying, “We need more time to do our count right. We need more time to do our jobs.” And we have yet to see how that plays out through the end of Trump’s term.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Emily, if a coup attempt fails, it’s still a coup attempt. At what point will there be serious legal consequences for Trump and those who abet him?

EMILY BAZELON: That’s a really good question. I don’t think we’re going to have an answer to that until after he leaves office.

What I do want to make clear is, this was an incredibly well-conducted election under seriously adverse circumstances. We had the pandemic. We had a president who was assaulting, in particular, vote by mail for many months. And yet thousands of election officials in states and counties, they just did their jobs, and they made sure that people could vote. It wasn’t perfect. There were still long lines. We have lots of problems with voter suppression in America. They’re not gone. But in terms of being able to trust the integrity of these results, of the people who did this work, I did a lot of reporting on them throughout the country, and I think it’s really important to remember that one of the sad things about this attack on the election is that, actually, we were incredibly lucky, and the election went well — not just luck, I should say. A lot of people’s really hard work went into making sure that was the case.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Reverend Wendell Anthony, you get the final word here. You talked about 1:00 Michigan time being the time of the state Board of Canvassers — two Republicans, two Democrats — voting. What are you calling for at that point? And when it comes to the Republican leaders in your state, in the Legislature, are there people that you hold out that are speaking out? And what are you demanding of Democrats and Republicans right now in Michigan?

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY: Well, Ms. Goodman, all I really want people to do is to do their job. That’s all they have to do. Their charge is to certify the vote. Eighty-three counties in Michigan have certified the vote. This Constitution and their ordinance indicates that you shall certify the vote, doesn’t mean — there’s nothing ambiguous about that. It’s no “If I would, I should, I could.” And you don’t even have to think about it. You just go and do your job and certify. And so, the issue now becomes whether or not they have the will to do it, has somebody tainted that or interfered with that, or someone suggested that “Let’s delay this.” That’s the real issue.

So, we’re demanding, number one, that they do their job. We’re simply saying that at 1:00, when the canvassers meet, people should be on the line. People should be monitoring the meeting. People should state their case right now. People should call Shirkey, they should call Chatfield, and indicate that “We want you to make sure that you don’t tamper with this election. You have said that you’ve seen nothing that should discord or disconnect you from the election, and so, therefore, go ahead and do the right thing. Don’t tamper with it. Don’t delay it. Don’t have unnecessary court cases.” Because court cases means delay. That means that we’ve got to go through a process.

What a process we’ve already undergone! We voted. People stood in lines. We went to the polls. We passed out literature. We made phone calls. We did robocalling. We were on the radio. We were on TV. We knocked on doors. We had parades to the polls. We had folks to come early and do what they were told: vote early, vote absentee, do your mail-in thing. They told their people to come and vote on Election Day. Both groups did what they were told. Now you’re mad because all the votes came in early and that you’ve lost. He was defeated in Michigan 15 times by the number of which he won Michigan in 2016, Trump.

And so, we’re simply saying that “Do not tamper with the millions of people in the state of Michigan who voted to fire Donald Trump and to hire Joe Biden.” This is hypocrisy of the highest order. History is not going to reward them well for this, but more important that history is today’s story, dealing with certifying the election. We did it. We voted. And let now the vote be counted. Let every vote count, and count every vote. And let’s do that with certification.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend Wendell Anthony, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Detroit’s NAACP, also serves on the national board of the NAACP. And again, in 2016, President Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes. President-elect Joe Biden won the state in 2020 by over 150,000 votes. I also want to thank Emily Bazelon, New York Times Magazine writer, co-host of the Slate podcast Political Gabfest.

When we come back, Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines relied heavily on taxpayer-funded research. Public Citizen says the vaccines belong to the people, not private corporations. What does that mean? Coming up in a moment.

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