Even before Donald Trump’s administration set off a political firestorm by separating illegal immigrant children from their parents, the president and some of his allies had been rightly condemned for invoking racist language and images.
But Trump’s warnings that Democrats want “murderers and thieves” to “infest our country” and his singling out of Hispanic and Muslim immigrants are only surface signs of policies and actions aimed at racial minorities that not only exemplify Trump’s administration but increasingly the entire Republican Party.
Since 2010, Republican governors, legislatures and state officials have enacted many laws and imposed administrative moves designed to curb the voting power of minority voters who increasingly back Democrats. And the five-man GOP majority on the Supreme Court has reversed a half century of judicial and legislative efforts bolstering voting opportunities by giving legal sanction to moves that will curb them, a trend that could even intensify if Trump succeeds in installing another conservative to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Supporters cite nonexistent voter fraud and other dubious factors. But critics say with reason the goal is to counter the growing political impact of racial diversification that is shrinking the clout of white voters, on whom Trump and other Republicans increasingly rely.
Obviously, not all GOP candidates, officials and voters have embraced racism. But too many are acquiescing in their party’s institutionalizing the backlash to the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s. It’s transforming the party’s image away from the GOP’s historic roots: opposing slavery, making President Abraham Lincoln its avatar and joining in bipartisan passage of many civil rights measures.
This week, the Supreme Court’s five GOP-nominated justices approved most of the Texas congressional and legislative redistricting plans that lower courts found discriminated against Hispanics. They also upheld the Trump travel ban critics called discriminatory for singling out Muslim majority nations. And two weeks earlier, they okayed Ohio Republican Secretary of State John Husted’s removal of thousands of voters from the rolls because they failed to respond to a post card after not voting for several elections.
While outwardly a seemingly reasonable effort to clean up registration rolls clogged with non-voters, Husted’s act was, in fact, deeply political. A Reuters study concluded that 144,000 were removed in Ohio’s three largest counties and that “neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents are hit hardest.”
The court’s 5-4 decision could impact at least six other states with similar rules. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican now seeking the governorship, removed more than 1 million names in recent years.
In both the Texas and Ohio cases, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed support of the plaintiffs by Barack Obama’s Justice Department. It acted similarly in the long-running case challenging Texas’ restrictive voter ID law that lower courts concluded made voting harder for poor, black and Hispanic voters.
Since 2010, 23 states have enacted voter IDs law, all but two of them with Republican governors and legislatures. The avowed purpose has been to stop voter fraud, despite repeated studies showing it is minimal. The efforts began when Republicans gained control of numerous states in 2010, two years after high turnout by racial minorities fueled Obama’s election.
Wisconsin’s Republican attorney general attributes Trump’s surprising 2016 victory there to its voter ID law.
“We battled to get voter ID on the ballot for the November ‘16 election,” Attorney General Brad Schimel told a conservative host on Milwaukee radio station WISN. “How many of your listeners really honestly are sure that Sen. (Ron) Johnson was going to win reelection or President Trump was going to win Wisconsin if we didn’t have voter ID to keep Wisconsin’s elections clean and honest and have integrity?”
Several post-election studies agreed the law kept thousands of likely Democratic voters from voting.
Since the Supreme Court in 2013 threw out the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s provision requiring pre-clearance of voter law changes in states with histories of discrimination, including Texas, many states have enacted restrictive measures, like reducing early voting periods, eliminating school programs encouraging voting and making voting harder for college students where they attend school.
Meanwhile, several federal departments have weakened civil rights enforcement, including Justice, Housing and Urban Development and Education. Pro Publica says the Education Department has stopped more than 1,200 civil rights probes started by the Obama administration.
The Commerce Department is considering adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, another seemingly reasonable move that many experts believe will reduce participation by Hispanics, potentially reducing their voting clout when the census is used to redistrict U.S. House seats.
Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce who supervised the 2000 census, estimates more than 20 million people might evade answering citizenship questions, fearing answers would be shared with law enforcement authorities, even though that is illegal.
Despite Republican successes in enacting voting curbs, the long-term demographics are against them. Statistics show the country’s racial diversification is gaining speed, meaning whites will become a minority by 2045.
But Trump and some fellow Republicans show no sign of slowing efforts to fight that trend.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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