Yesterday, the Supreme Court surprised many observers by issuing an opinion that effectively reaffirmed the remaining powers of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision was a reprieve for a law that many believed was in danger of being fatally weakened, or overruled entirely, by the conservatives on the court.
The consequences of that decision will be profound. The Voting Rights Act, along with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, were crucial steps in American democratization, and the laws remain an important institutional means of preserving it.
To understand the significance of this week’s ruling, you need to turn to history. “Paths Out of Dixie” by Robert Mickey, which tracks the Deep South’s transition, between 1944 and 1972, from what he called “authoritarian enclaves” — pockets of single-party rule within a federal democracy — to nascent democracies that incorporated African American voters. And “Racial Realignment,” by Eric Schickler, shows how a bottom-up alliance of powerful trade unions and groups like the N.A.A.C.P. forced the Democratic Party to embrace civil rights, even though that meant losing its longtime power base in the segregated “solid South.”
Round out those academic works with two beautifully written books for more general audiences. “South to America,” by Imani Perry, which won the 2022 National Book Award for nonfiction, explores how the history and politics of the South shaped American identity and culture.
“The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson, tells the story of the Great Migration, the movement of nearly six million Black Americans from the segregated South to the industrial cities of the north. I consider it an essential companion to Schickler’s book, because those Black workers were crucial to the transformation of the American labor movement, and by extension American politics and democracy.
The week’s other big news story is, of course, the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump — an odd news event in that it was simultaneously momentous, unprecedented and anticipated by many legal experts.
My Times colleagues are, as always, the best source of up-to-the-minute, high-quality reporting. Follow live updates here.
But the question I get most often about Trump’s legal woes is not about what happened, but what is going to happen: namely, whether the criminal charges will affect Trump’s chances of winning the next presidential election.
No one knows the answer to that question. As I wrote in this recent column, although in the past institutions like the Republican Party and mainstream media platforms were powerful enough gatekeepers to end the careers of politicians whose actions or ideas were distasteful to the establishment, that’s no longer the case. So it will be up to voters — and at this point there is considerable evidence that many of Trump’s supporters will stand by him through scandals that would end most politicians’ careers.
Reader responses: What You’re Reading
Soumojit, a reader in Perth, Australia, recommends “Invisible” by Paul Auster:
I am currently wrapping up an intense semester at the University of Western Australia, which also coincides with the winter here, and needed something to keep me warm. So obviously I caved and decided to read another Paul Auster.
This one’s called Invisible, and what I am enjoying about this novel is Mr. Auster’s masterful ability to capture the passage of time through the relationships between characters in his books, which also shines through in this book.
What are you reading?
Thank you to everyone who wrote in to tell me about what you’re reading. Please keep the submissions coming! I’m particularly enjoying your snob-literature recommendations, and have already started reading several of them.
I want to hear about things you have read (or watched or listened to) about snobs and snobbery. I’m especially looking for fiction, but nonfiction recommendations are very welcome too.
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