Jamil Smith on Trump's Damage to Counting American Voters - Rolling Stone
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How the Trump Administration Will Keep Trying to Erase Us, Long After It’s Gone

Whether by ignoring basic Covid precautions, packing the courts, engaging in voter suppression, or ending the 2020 census before everyone’s counted, the damage will last for years

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 12: Tamara Ross waits in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 12, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Early voting in Georgia runs from October 12-30. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 12: Tamara Ross waits in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 12, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Early voting in Georgia runs from October 12-30. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Tamara Ross waits in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 12, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

A little more than a year before he finished his second term in the White House, President Barack Obama nominated Myra Selby for a lifetime appointment on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The former Indiana Supreme Court associate justice, who is black, never got a chance to take the job. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked her appointment, reserving it for Obama’s successor. 

After Donald Trump took over, he nominated a Notre Dame law professor and former Antonin Scalia law clerk named Amy Coney Barrett for the same opening. She was confirmed, and that is largely why she now stands to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Supreme Court. 

It was quite the American juxtaposition, seeing Barrett in her de facto Senate judiciary coronation next to footage of the interminable lines of black voters in Georgia, which formed on the state’s first day of early voting. It was Monday, of course — Columbus Day. Thus, it made sense that both scenes had the distinct whiff of erasure, violation, and theft.

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger, had called the state’s long voting lines “unacceptable” in June and pledged to investigate. He appears to have accepted them just fine. Ignoring the malfunctioning new machines and various other rectifiable inconveniences, Raffensberger told an Atlanta television station that “Georgia is seeing record turnout for early voting because of excitement and enthusiasm of the upcoming election” and that “long lines are to be expected — voters need to be aware of all of their options, including three weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee, and in-person voting day of the election.” 

Point accepted, to an extent. It is understandable that people may be enthusiastic about voting Trump out of office. I know that I am. However, considering Barrett’s nomination and the unsubtle voter suppression ongoing in many states, there’s a narrative forming around this election that is all-too convenient and dangerous. 

There is a lot of talk about how voting can or will “save” us. Because of President Trump, Covid-19 is still running rampant, with an estimated 215,000 people dead from the virus in this country, while the president still has folks thinking masks — a simple and effective way to help prevent its spread — make your dick shrivel up. The economy is in the tank; he’s trashing the environment for profit; his administration is obsessed with torturing and ejecting immigrants; and it ignores the actual domestic terrorists because they might vote for him. If this is where we are now, four more years of this would be cataclysmic — in a literal sense.

Whatever it takes to motivate people to get to the polls, I’m for it. But there isn’t enough sage or sticks of incense — let alone ballots — to cleanse the “soul of the nation.” The stink Trump will leave once he’s gone will linger. This is by design. Though this president has left a mark on virtually every American, thanks to this current plague, nowhere is that stamp more evident than on Americans in marginalized groups — discriminated against for their race, gender, and sexual identities. 

That goes well beyond rushing Barrett, with all of her alarming views and disturbing testimony, onto the Supreme Court. In fact, it’s impossible to encapsulate the full volume of the Trump administration’s devastation against these communities. Not only have Trump and his party engaged in voter suppression and packing the federal courts at a record pace with a large number of unqualified, radically conservative lifetime appointments, but we hardly discuss anymore the administration’s pogrom against immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, that include its travel bans and the barbaric imprisonment and separation of families that led to untold trauma and countless deaths. That campaign even extended to Trump’s malign neglect of Puerto Rico, which Trump had the nerve to urge to vote for him in this year’s election, after extending his belated beneficence of $13 billion, three years late. (Puerto Ricans who live on the archipelago don’t have the right to vote in this election, by the way.)

And then, of course, there’s Covid-19. It’s been our national scourge — but like most American catastrophes, it has scarred black, Hispanic and Latinx, and indigenous people most deeply. The disease has killed about one of every 1,000 black people alive in America. It has the potential to kill one of every 500 of us by the end of the year 2020. 

The scars of this pandemic will live on for generations, thanks to Trump’s incompetence. Perhaps if he’d paid as much attention to this pestilence as he did to preserving white political advantage, a lot more people would be alive. But it’s all a matter of priorities, you see. He may have only had these four years to pack the courts. Plus, this was a census year, so this was his best shot at mutilating the electorate.

A 6-3 conservative Supreme Court would be Trump’s most prominent blow for white minority rule, but his perversion of the 2020 Census comes close. The already-right-leaning Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trump in Ross v. National Urban League on Tuesday (with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting), allowing him to shut down the census count early — and during an ongoing pandemic, no less. The president had intended to cut it off on September 30th, but a lower federal court had allowed the Bureau to keep counting individuals until Halloween, which only made sense. Officials had publicly decried Trump’s move, insisting that there was no possible way that the count could be finished by the expedited date. 

Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claim that, without the expedited deadline, they won’t be able to get the count done and presented to the president by December 31st, as constitutionally required. But they must know what experts have been saying for months. Cutting the count off early will not only short the tally tremendously, but will have a discriminatory effect against the people who are hardest to find: people who are poor, people who aren’t white, and so forth. What Trump and his administration are doing are rigging how districts will look like for the next 10 years, and with it the federal resources and likely the representation that many communities will receive for that time. 

So, in so many respects — our votes, our districts, the census tally, or inside a courtroom — who knows how many of us will actually count? If people are undocumented, will they have been intimidated out of filling out a census form? And if they did, will it even be enumerated by the bureau, thanks to the Supreme Court? 

The response, should a President Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress be elected, cannot be relegated to rhetoric or moral gestures. It must be a systemic expansion of the Supreme Court and other federal benches to remedy the damage done, and investigations and prosecutions must be carried out against those responsible for whatever misdeeds have been committed — political or criminal. For all its denials of structural racism, the Trump administration has been about structural transmogrification, perhaps more than anything else. And all to hold on to power when Republicans — who refuse to make an honest argument to voters for the plutocracy they advance — know they couldn’t possibly maintain their power in a diversifying America that is straying away from their dead ideas. 

Trump and his party continue to erase and forget the kinds of people who stand in these lines, these voters who are trying to do with their ballots what they have been called upon to do so many times before. They have been asked so many times to save America, so here they are again, in 80-degree temperatures in October. I ache watching those standing in line, knowing that even if they are successful in electing Biden, this is merely the start of the recovery, not the end of the fight. I long for the time that they can rest, but it is a ways off. They are not saviors, but citizens who demand not even as much of their country as has been demanded of them. Now more than ever, these folks need to have their faith and investment rewarded.


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