The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Census

US Capitol building

Photo by Chris Grafton on Unsplash

It's a redistricting year in the blue state of Illinois, which means that Republicans are getting less consideration than a missionary on the Las Vegas Strip. Democrats have been winning in the Land of Lincoln for a long while, controlling the state House for all but two of the past 38 years. But they see no harm in running up the score.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a vow to take reapportionment away from politicians and turn it over to an independent commission. But that didn't happen, and when the General Assembly sent him district maps that exemplified partisan gerrymandering, he signed them into law.

"Make no mistake, these maps were drawn solely for the Democrats to maintain their political power in the state of Illinois," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said. Democrats outnumber Republicans 73-45 in the state House, and those numbers are likely to grow more lopsided.

Similar things are going on in New York, where Democrats have plotted new district lines with the goal of cutting the GOP's eight members of Congress to four or even three of the 26 seats the state will have. That's less than 16 percent of the seats in a state where 38 percent of voters went for Donald Trump. New York's Republican Party chair Nick Langworthy said the redistricting "is a political sham built on a foundation of lies and hypocrisy."

Shams are the norm in this process, where lawmakers celebrate the glories of democracy while scheming to make elections an empty formality. Democrats in blue states are more than willing to ignore their good-government allies to cement their control in state legislatures — and to keep Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair.

After losing out on Maryland's last congressional map, Republicans took the fight to the Supreme Court, arguing that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. (The court disagreed.) So you might think that Republicans would be determined to put an end to partisan reapportionment. But hypocrisy is a two-way street.

Today, the GOP has control of the governor's office and the legislature in 23 states, compared to 15 such "trifectas" for Democrats. Such dominance is never more valuable than in a redistricting year, giving those in power the chance to supersize their advantage for a full decade.

Political scientists Alex Keena, Michael Latner, Anthony McGann and Charles Anthony Smith wrote in The Washington Post, "We found that, after 2011, 45 state legislative maps had been drawn with extreme partisan gerrymandering. Of these, 43 favor Republicans, while only two help Democrats. Because of these gerrymandered maps, Republicans held onto power after losing the statewide popular vote in Virginia in 2017, and in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2018."

That explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in a Democratic bill that would make it impossible to tilt the playing field. The For the People Act would require states to hand over redistricting to independent commissions. With that reform, incumbents would no longer get to tailor their constituencies to achieve permanent tenure.

It would not prevent either party from winning most legislative or congressional seats in a particular state. Such bodies already draw maps in several states, including Arizona, where the GOP has held a majority in both houses of the legislature since 2003, and California, where Democrats have done the same since 1997.

In most places, the issue is not which party will dominate. It's just by how much.

Besides, no one objects when a party getting a majority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Objections are in order, though, when the party getting a minority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Last year, Democratic candidates for Congress got 43 percent of the votes cast in South Carolina — but only one of the seven House seats, or 14 percent.

A federal solution is needed because at the state level, no party in power wants to cede control of redistricting. Democrats say they can't afford to unilaterally disarm in the battle for power, and Republicans show no interest in mutual renunciation of gerrymandering.

But in the long run, a fairer system would be a good thing for both parties. It would give each more opportunities to compete and more incentive to stay in tune with the preferences of those they represent.

It would be best of all for the voters, many of whom have been effectively rendered powerless. Democracy is supposed to rest on the consent of the governed, not the governors.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

The U.S. Census Bureau released its data from the 2020 decennial survey last week, which revealed, among other findings, that the white population in the country is declining.

White supremacist and extremist groups on the messaging platform Telegram quickly latched onto the news, ratcheting up their racist rhetoric in an attempt to recruit new followers, prompting experts who track extremist movements to warn that it could lead to an uptick in violence from such groups.

According to the census data, almost all of the population growth over the past decade was among people who identified as Black, Asian, and Latino, while the white population in the United States declined for the first time in history.

In popular extremist and white supremacist channels, that data was shared with racist analysis and a call for supporters to take action. One Telegram channel that has more than 50,000 subscribers posted the data along with a video of a large group of people fighting outside of a shoe store in LA, with the message, "Life is worth less than a free pair of this seasons [sic] shoes to these societal parasites... that doesn't bode well for the West."

Another message posted in a different white supremacist Telegram that has been shared more than 7,500 times warns that "White decline is deliberate policy, not an accident of history. And like any policy it can be changed."

The census data and subsequent reaction it has garnered in far-right circles on the internet has some extremist experts on guard, many warning that it could lead to a surge in violence, particularly race-based hate crimes.

"This has always been their greatest fear," said Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security. "And I think it's one of the main drivers behind white supremacist recruitment and violence, the demographic shifting in America."

He added that the "latest census results just reinforce that fear and realization."

"Undoubtedly," he said, "there are going to be people on the far-right that will be agitated and angered by this data and want to do something about it."

Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, also fears an uptick in extremist violence in the wake of the census data and said it was a trend the country had already observed over the past five years.

"The fact that these demographics are going to continue in this way, it means we have a serious problem on our hands with millions of Americans who fundamentally disagree with a multicultural, diverse democracy," she said. "And it's going to become a much worse situation."

"I think that the fact that we've seen the attacks on the voting on January 6, the attempts undermine electoral systems — this all part of the freakouts about demographics," she added.

The census data comes as experts already fear threats of increased violence from far-right extremist groups more broadly.

A Department of Homeland Security memo that leaked in early August warned of "increasing but modest" threat of violence from people and groups who believe are still pushing 2020 election conspiracy theories. And a study published on Aug. 6 from the Chicago Project on Security & Threats at the University of Chicago found that nearly 21 million Americans agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency" and that "the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."

For researchers like Beirich and Johnson, who track extremist movements and analyze chatter in encrypted extremist and white supremacist groups, the census data adds yet another opportunity of recruitment for such groups.

In the past few years, extremist and white supremacist groups have been successful in recruiting supporters from conspiracy theories movements like QAnon, along with anti-mask and anti-vaccine supporters, and other anti-government groups.

With the coronavirus delta variant crippling parts of the country and mask mandates being reinstated, Johnson worries the extremist groups may grow more active.

"It's under Democratic administrations where these groups proliferate," he said. "So, for at least the next four years... we're still gonna see a period of heightened activity."

He added, "It's going to take time to slow the momentum and growth we've seen over the past 10 years. This stuff doesn't stop on a dime."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.