Why Are We Still Using Trump’s Broken Census?

Why Are We Still Using Trump’s Broken Census?

Why Are We Still Using Trump’s Broken Census?

While the Census showed significant growth among communities of color, it was still, almost certainly, a vast and deliberate undercount.


The final 2020 Census numbers were disseminated to the states last week, and it caused a bit of a freak-out among those pining for a white ethnostate. The absolute number of white people declined for the first time in US history, and that made white nationalist spokesperson Tucker Carlson scream into his Fox bullhorn and warn his dangerous viewers that the Democratic Party is engaged in an alleged plot to replace them. Carlson sounded the same note that inspired the Klan in Charlottesville and the mob of white insurrectionists on January 6, because rallying viewers to engage in ethnic cleansing is just standard fare for the white-wing media these days.

“I mean, there’s no other explanation for this. It’s not an act of compassion,” Carlson howled. “It’s an act of hostility against the United States in order to change it forever.”

Just imagine how terrified he would be if the 2020 Census had been accurate.

For all the headlines touting (and tantrums blasting) the new results, the Census almost certainly underestimated the numbers of the people of color in this country—and overestimated the strength of white power. That’s because the Trump administration, charged with overseeing the decennial census, worked hard to discourage communities of color from filling out the survey. The administration’s cruel and brutal treatment of immigrants likely chilled participation in any government-sponsored “survey” even more than Trump’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census.

On top of the overt bigotry at the federal level, various state governments took wildly different approaches to ensuring compliance with the Census. In three states with booming Latinx populations—Arizona, Florida, and Texas—the Republican governors put few to zero dollars into publicizing the Census, even though undercounting reduced their states’ national political power. In addition to all of that, the 2020 Census was conducted in the middle of a national health crisis that forced many people indoors and limited house-to-house solicitations. It’s impossible to know the full effects of Covid-19 on our Census, but increased accuracy was probably not one of them.

The 2020 Census is compromised. It was compromised by a pandemic, by red-state incompetence, and by the Trump government’s active efforts to whitewash the country. While it showed too many minorities for white nationalists to be happy, the question remains: Why the hell are we using a corrupted Census? Why are Democrats, who currently (and likely only briefly) control the White House and both chambers of Congress, giving this purposefully biased undercount of the American population the imprimatur of legitimacy? Why are Democrats forever willing to accept the bigotry of Republicans as a fait accompli instead of fighting against it? This Census is broken, and it was broken on purpose. Why are we acting like it will now be an immutable fact of our lives for the next 10 years?

To be clear: The fact that the Census was purposefully broken by a Republican administration acting out of bigotry does not mean that the “correct” Census would automatically benefit Democrats. Much has been made of New York’s “losing” a congressional seat by just 89 people. But people forget that New York was projected to lose two seats. Arizona, Florida, and Texas underperformed projections, and doing the Census correctly would probably place more political power in those purple states (and I’m being hopeful by calling Texas purple) and move it away from more solidly blue states like New York and Minnesota.

There are partisan upsides for Democrats, if that’s your thing. The reason Republican governors wanted to undercount people of color, even at the cost of their state’s national political influence, is that it makes it easier for them to gerrymander minorities into overpopulated districts, and thus maintain the political power of decreasing white rural majorities. It’s better for Republicans to pretend there are fewer minorities than there really are in, say, Phoenix, because then Phoenix gets less representation in Congress.

But we should want the Census to be accurate no matter which party enjoys a benefit, because counting people is a basic function of a just government. The 2020 Census was corrupted. We should demand an accurate count of the people who live in our country. The end.

Most people who defend continuing to use this busted count will point to the fact that the decennial Census is required by the Constitution. Which is true. But let’s look at what the Constitution actually says about the whole matter. Here is the language from Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

You’ll note that it says we have to have a Census every 10 years and… that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t say how the Census must be conducted, and it doesn’t say that there can be only one Census within a 10-year period.

Indeed, there is precedent for Congress taking a Census, as is constitutionally required, and then ignoring it. The Census of 1920 showed an influx of new immigrants, mainly people fleeing Europe after World War I. It showed a swell in numbers in the Northeast and the Midwest. Predictably, anti-immigrant forces decided this was a problem. Southern whites argued that citizens alone should be counted (our problems are not new; white Americans have always been exactly like this) and disputed the count.

Congress couldn’t agree, and it never certified the 1920 Census. It never used its count to reapportion congressional districts. The 1920 Census was effectively “lost,” and the districts weren’t redrawn until after the 1930 Census.

Since 1954, Congress has delegated its authority to oversee the Census to the executive branch. It created the US Census Bureau and organized it under the Commerce Department. That’s how we ended up with Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in charge of the 2020 Census.

Ross lied about why he tried to put the citizenship question on the Census—and he didn’t just lie to the public; he lied to the Supreme Court. It seems to me that Ross’s perjury should be prosecuted by Merrick Garland’s Justice Department, but even if Democrats lack the strength to punish wrongdoers, surely Ross’s perjury is sufficient grounds to throw out the current, corrupted Census and start anew. Biden controls the Commerce Department. He has already issued executive orders undoing Trump’s attempts to exclude immigrants from the apportionment phase of the Census (Trump wanted to draw congressional districts based on citizenship instead of the number of people actually living in each district). The Biden administration has the authority to demand additional quality checks, arguably including re-canvassing, to make sure that the previous administration’s documented lying did not affect the count.

And if Biden doesn’t have the authority to demand a new count, Congress certainly does. It delegated its responsibility, and it can un-delegate it.

A new Census would be costly and politically charged. It would be subjected to court challenges. It’s possible that, as in the 1920s, we might never agree on the right way to conduct the Census.

But how can we not agree that the way Trump did it was the wrong way? How can Democrats just accept a Census that was conducted during a pandemic, headed by a bigoted administration, which lied on the record about what it was trying to accomplish with the count? Why should the entire country live under the numbers concocted by Trump and Ross?

We should know how many people live in this country. The 2020 Census did not accomplish that. We should take another one. How is that not obvious?

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