The president may be a fool, but that doesn’t make him an ineffective racist. That would presuppose that it takes great talent to be good at hating people and furthering that hatred through policy. Donald Trump is quite adept at finding America’s weaknesses, a trait he shares with the Russians who helped him win the election. Both his White House and the Kremlin know just where to look first: America’s persistent racism. It is always easier to find holes in the boat and to punch new ones, than to devise methods for plugging them and keeping everything afloat.
One such weakness is the Census, which this administration has sought to weaponize as an undocumented immigrant address book for ICE and, as a consequence, a way to erode Hispanic and Latinx influence at the ballot box. We knew that the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question for the 2020 Census was racist. But the ACLU revealed Thursday new proof that the question, which the group is now challenging before the Supreme Court, was explicitly crafted with the purpose of helping white people become more politically powerful.
Most everything Republicans do is to protect their power these days, and virtually all of them are white, so this isn’t a difficult calculus. Intent isn’t required for a racist act, but there still was plenty here. Thomas Hofeller — the late Republican strategist with a special talent for shaping racially discriminatory districts in places like North Carolina — “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census” before his death last summer and intended to shape the citizenship question “in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’” Hofeller also added that it “would clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats” and successfully predicted that implementing the question would “provoke a high degree of resistance from Democrats and the major minority groups in the nation.”
The administration also had the nerve to offer false justification for the citizenship question. In testimony before Congress in the spring of 2018, Ross insisted that the question’s intent was to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — which, of course, prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It says a lot that the Trump administration sees these ramparts of our civil-rights infrastructure as devices to exploit.
This is all according to the letter that ACLU Voting Rights Director Dale Ho and nine fellow signatories filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday. “All of this shows that the administration not only dissembled about its purpose in adding the question,” Ho tells Rolling Stone, “but that is true purpose was the precise opposite of what it claimed it to be: to dilute minority voting power, rather than to protect minority voting rights.”
The mechanism for diluting that power is simple: intimidation. A citizenship question introduces chaos into the Census, which counts everyone in the nation regardless of naturalization or immigration status. Since its possibility first arose in late 2017, experts have speculated that such a question would discourage participation in Hispanic and Latinx communities, so much so that people may not even open the door for Census takers. Why not? Why would they when they have every right to suspect that the Trump administration has weaponized the survey to use as an address book for ICE, allowing them to review the Census as a collection list for any and all undocumented people with the gumption to respond?
So, the administration appears to think it can erase people unlikely to vote Republican either by deporting them or by discouraging their responses. That includes the folks who may be citizens or are otherwise here legally, but may have mixed-status families and don’t feel that in this political climate, they can even open the door for a U.S. Census taker. They’re erased, too
Thirteen Democratic Senators, including five of their current presidential contenders, sent a letter Friday requesting the inspectors general of the Justice and Commerce Departments to investigate the ACLU’s findings. They want to know why the administration hid Hofeller’s participation from the public, thereby obscuring the rather obvious “impermissible racial and partisan motivations” for adding the question in the first place.
As if to put an exclamation point upon this, Trump imposed a 5-percent tariff effective June 10 upon all goods imported from Mexico that he plans to escalate until authorities in that country stop migrants from crossing our southern border (even, presumably, if they are not Mexican and are doing so to engage in the legal process of seeking asylum). To boil down the stupidity of this: the president, by fiat and without the approval of Congress, said he will impose a tax on the American people so as to discourage them from from buying products imported from Mexico. He will double this tax to 10 percent on July 1 unless the migration flow “is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.”
This speaks to a more inherent American flaw that the ACLU is trying to correct with their challenge before the highest court. “I think this is bigger than voting rights or the Census,” Ho tells me. “It goes to whether, in the Trump era, we will have a federal government that is accountable to the courts, and ultimately, to the public. The administration is saying it’s doing something for one reason, while we all know that it’s doing it for the exact opposite reason — and if we are powerless to stop it, then we really have reached an Orwellian moment.”
Americans would do well to understand that, especially right now. Democrats, in particular. They have a primary frontrunner in Joe Biden who is campaigning (to the extent that he is at all) as if he has a flux capacitor in his DeLorean, promising to take voters back to a time before Trump, when apparently Republicans confirmed Merrick Garland and weren’t birthers and all was well. I hope he takes a cue from some of his competitors—folks like Kamala Harris, who proposed an abortion-rights law based upon that same Voting Rights Act, including federal preclearance for states who restrict reproductive access; or Elizabeth Warren, who called for Congress to pass a measure allowing for a president to be indictable.
Whoever is planning to replace this president has to not just plan for the considerable triage ahead. They have to fully understand that the America they want to lead into the future has a lot of structural weaknesses that are due purely to the consistent refusal of its powerbrokers to rid it of the identity-based inequities that have provided white men unearned advantages since day one of the republic.
Democrats, no matter how much they wish to sell the halcyon days of the Obama years or wish away the trauma of the present, cannot ignore the horror of that reality. Trump is showing it to them unvarnished. He is exposing every hole in the boat and punching out new ones every day. Any true patriot would understand that the kind of racism like what we see at work in the Census citizenship question is not what makes America great. It is sabotage.