For some time now, it has seemed that the widespread and growing use of the words “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” was a good thing for our state and nation. A decade ago, these words were insider terms used only by campaign consultants and politics wonks. In recent years, however, as the public has finally started to grasp the reality of how electoral districts have come to be drawn and manipulated, “gerrymander” and “gerrymandering” have, increasingly, entered the general lexicon.
Unfortunately, while it’s certainly positive that lots of Americans now understand what gerrymandering is and that it’s to be combated, there’s a downside to the current widespread use of the term: it’s much too polite a word to describe what the Trump administration and its Republican Party allies are trying to do to our democracy.
Think about it for a moment. The word “gerrymander” – which traces back to the machinations of a 19th Century Massachusetts politician named Elbridge Gerry who concocted a Boston-area district that supposedly resembled a salamander – is a quaint, whimsical and almost comical term. It conjures up images of gamesmanship and “good ol’ boy” politicians nudging and winking at each other as they maneuver for incremental and temporary advantages over their rivals – rivals who would no doubt employ similar tactics if and when they got the opportunity.
And while there may have been a time in the United States when such an image might not have been that far off in representing what gerrymandering was all about, things have changed dramatically in the 21st Century.
Today, Donald Trump and his allies aren’t just using their elbows and creativity to gain a little extra edge come Election Day; they are, quite literally, subverting the Constitution and the fundamentals of our democracy.
The latest damning evidence of this hard reality was on full display last week in the stunning revelation that emerged from the computer files of deceased Republican map drawing guru, Thomas Hofeller.
As the New York Times and Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton – the first journalist to reveal the existence of the Hofeller files after his daughter turned them over to lawyers suing over North Carolina’s rigged state legislative districts – reported, those files revealed that Hofeller almost certainly played a role in developing the citizenship question proposed for the 2020 Census by the Trump administration. What’s more, the Census question wasn’t just about intimidating immigrants; it was about electing Republicans.
This is from Boughton’s story:
The documents reveal for the first time the secret role played by Hofeller in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question and the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Act rationale for it. The documents further show that Hofeller concluded in an unpublished 2015 study that the citizenship question would significantly harm the political power of Latino communities and be ‘advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’”
As a media release from Common Cause of North Carolina director Bob Phillips put it quite accurately: “Hofeller’s documents are a ‘smoking gun’ – exposing exactly how he and his fellow operatives worked to undermine the integrity of our Census, manipulate redistricting, and rig the elections for partisan advantage.” (Note: Common Cause has also gathered many of the various documents, statements and court filings related to the matter on a website that can be accessed by clicking here.)
This is, simply put, big and dangerous stuff – the kind of conspiratorial behavior that threatens the Constitution and the legitimacy of our government and that ought to result in firings, resignations, jail time and, maybe even impeachment.
Unfortunately, it is also news that has arrived at an inconvenient moment. With the Supreme Court set to rule this month on the constitutionality of the Census question (the betting money has been on the question getting approved), the official record of the case already technically established, and the Census Bureau set to start printing questionnaires next month, the Court will have some excuses for not doing the right thing.
That said, sometimes the difficult thing is also the only morally correct thing to do. The ACLU has informed the Court of the Trump administration’s dishonesty in the matter and there’s nothing written in stone that prevents the Court from taking the new and damning evidence into account.
As a recent New York Times editorial put it: “The Supreme Court should see this new evidence for what it seems to reveal: A blatant attempt to rig a constitutional mandate.”
The bottom line: The Census question/election rigging scandal is anything but an amusing matter or political business as usual. Rather, it is the latest in a long and growing list of dangerous and dishonest acts (abetting foreign interference in U.S. elections, obstructing justice, stealing a U.S. Supreme Court seat, advocating political violence, profiting from the presidency) of a rogue president and his rogue allies. All patriotic Americans should be outraged.