The President's Column: The Right Wing is Rigging the SystemAugust 22, 2019
We must all stand up and be counted to break their grip on our democracy.
Ever since the 2016 election, we’ve heard much regarding Russian interference. I have no new information about that, but I can tell you this: Right here in the U.S. the Republican Party, which controls the White House, the U.S. Senate and arguably the Supreme Court, is laying the groundwork to steal the 2020 elections and every election thereafter.
The GOP has been building to this moment for the past 30 years, recognizing that it has become the minority party. Yet, it retains power because structural inequities erected in the era of slavery are still in force. Donald Trump lost the 2016 election by three million votes but is president because of the slavery-era Electoral College. The Republicans control the Senate because the Constitution, which was written largely by rural slaveholders and gives each state two Senators, no matter the size of its population or economy.
Aiding these injustices is the U.S. Supreme Court, which has done everything it can to build in a permanent advantage for the Republican minority. Remember the 2010 Citizens United decision? The Court held corporations are people, saying essentially that when it comes to campaign contributions, billionaires like the Koch Brothers are equal to nursing home workers living paycheck-to-paycheck. The decision made legalized bribery and influence peddling the law of the land.
Again, in 2013, the Supreme Court declared that racism was no longer a factor in Southern politics and gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By eliminating federal monitoring, the Court turned a blind eye to nearly a century of Jim Crow terror and assured Republican dominance.
And just this past June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that extreme gerrymandering—the design of election districts to guarantee one party a victory—was outside of its jurisdiction. It’s not often that the Supreme Court decides it isn’t so supreme after all, but what it did was give the go-ahead to both parties to rig the vote in their favor. The Court turned democracy on its head, saying that politicians could choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives. The decision is likely to have a particularly chilling effect in small, rural states and the old confederacy.
Those trying to defy democracy have the wealth and institutional power, but we who are fighting to expand democracy have the numbers.
So now, Mr. Trump and his allies are determined to protect their ill-gotten gains by rigging next year’s U.S. Census with a question about citizenship designed to intimidate Black and Brown people out of responding. (At press time, the question had been rejected by the Supreme Court, with the Trump Administration signaling their intention to take another run at it.)
The U.S. Constitution mandates a count of every U.S. resident, every 10 years. This data determines, among other things, each state’s number of seats in the House of Representatives and the distribution of billions in federal funds. In an era when Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have rendered undocumented people afraid of going to work, school or church or of traveling by bus or airplane, census data showing where undocumented families live could be a tool for mass deportations. To protect themselves, millions of immigrants would choose not to participate in the census. The net effect would be a population undercount estimated to surpass six million people and diminished Congressional representation and resources for larger, multicultural (and usually Democratic) states like New York and California.
Democracy, like freedom, is a constant struggle. Those trying to defy democracy have wealth and institutional power, but we who are fighting to expand democracy have numbers. We must organize and mobilize those numbers if we want to win. What I wrote in the last magazine remains true: “We are living with a political crisis of emergency proportions. Our country needs us—all of us—to go out and register the biggest army of progressive, worker-friendly voters in history. Register every eligible member of your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, those who worship alongside you in your church, mosque or temple. Register everyone you know.”
Let’s get to work.