Donald Trump, who never met a fact or figure he didn’t want to distort, desperately wanted to prevent the Census Bureau from getting an accurate count of the people living in America. So his administration pursued “policies that suppress the count among hard-to-count communities — including immigrants, people of color, low-income individuals, and those in rural areas — and effectively disenfranchise them,” according to a 2020 report by Vox and the Center for Public Integrity. The Trump administration implemented strategies that were cooked up by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, due to their advocacy for immigration policies aimed quite overtly at preserving white supremacy in the U.S.
It’s hard to know for sure how successful the Trump administration was at undercounting the non-white population in the U.S. — it’s not like there’s another, stronger set of data to compare the census to. But we now know that Trump failed at concealing the fact that the United States is becoming more cosmopolitan and racially diverse.
Newly released data from the 2020 census shows that that the white population actually shrunk in absolute numbers for the first time in U.S. history. Meanwhile, Black, Latino, and Asian populations got bigger. The result is that white people are now only 58% of the population, down from nearly 70% when George W. Bush was elected in 2000. While not surprising, such a precipitous drop is shocking nonetheless. Additionally, people are leaving rural areas behind to pack into urban centers.
Trump reacted to losing the 2020 election by attempting a coup that got to the point of inciting a violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. But despite having to run for their lives from Trump’s mob on January 6, Republican politicians in Congress like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and former Vice President Mike Pence continue to kiss Trump’s ring. Even those who don’t hide their disgust for Trump very well, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., still do everything they can to cover for him and set him up to run in 2024. In the Beltway press, it is fashionable to ascribe this masochistic display of fealty to Trump to “fear.” Republicans, we’re told, are afraid of Trump, knowing that he’s still beloved by the GOP base and that he can turn the masses against them with the drop of, well, not a tweet, but maybe an angry rant on Fox News.
As pleasing as it is to imagine that they’re all just a bunch of sniveling stooges acting out of sheer cowardice, these census numbers are a reminder that Republicans have an even more sinister reason for backing Trump. They all share Trump’s belief that the best way to react to a racially diversifying America is to gut democracy so that a white conservative minority can lead, regardless of how much their population is shrinking.
As Salon’s Igor Derysh detailed on Friday morning, by all rights, these demographic shifts should be benefitting Democrats electorally. Yet Republicans are set up rather nicely for big wins both on the state and federal level in 2022, despite the fact that more people vote for Democrats. As Derysh writes, “Republicans have aggressively (and sometimes illegally) gerrymandered congressional districts in previous cycles, and hold total control over the redistricting process in 20 states, representing 187 congressional districts.” Making it worse, 18 states have passed voter suppression laws this year alone. In some cases, the laws not only suppress votes at the ballot box but are empower Republican-controlled state legislatures to monkey with election boards and vote-counting systems after the fact to nullify elections that don’t come out the way they’d like. All of this is in an effort to preserve the power of a dwindling white conservative minority.
The Republican party, in the past, toyed with the idea of changing their political strategies and policy focus in order to attract more voters of color. But Trump’s win in 2016 and his enduring popularity with the base settled the question permanently in favor of the GOP being a white identity party. It made it clear that any effort to expand their voting base by dialing down the racism and reaching out to voters of color threatens a backlash from their existing voters. And so the GOP has embraced an anti-democracy strategy, fiddling with election laws to make it harder and harder for the liberal majority to vote.
Of course, this assault on voting rights predates Trump. But Trump, by shamelessly attempting a coup and even inciting a violent insurrection, has really taken the GOP’s anti-democracy movement to the next level. And he barely bothered euphemizing his racist justifications for his belief that he is the “real” winner of the 2020 election. Recall how he kept singling out racially diverse cities like Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia in his attacks on the election, making it clear that he feels that the residents of these cities aren’t legitimate voters.
Trump’s shamelessness is his biggest gift to the modern GOP.
A lot of Republican voters have quietly believed for a long time that they deserve to control the country, no matter how few of them there are, because they are the only “real” Americans. Trump opened the closet door and let that idea roam free. Now Fox News is blasting fascist propaganda on the regular, arguing that ending democracy is necessary so conservative whites can feel “free” (of the rest of us, apparently). It used to be only neo-Nazis who were claiming that it’s “white genocide” if conservatives whites have to share power with other people. Now you have Newt Gingrich on national TV insisting that merely living in a multiracial democracy is the equivalent of eliminating “traditional, classic Americans.”
Trump and his allies give ideological justification to the effort to the GOP effort to undermine democracy. And that ideological justification is shamelessly white supremacy. So no, the Republican brass doesn’t embrace him because they’re “afraid.” They embrace Trump because they see their power slipping away, and they view him, for better or worse, as the right man to lead this anti-democratic movement.
Unfortunately, Trump and Republicans have good reason to think they’ll be able to capture permanent power despite their shrinking voting base. After all, all of these anti-democratic moves on the state and local level could be stopped now, if only the slim Democratic majority in the Senate would pass legislation barring partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression. While it wouldn’t be enough to create majoritarian democracy, it would certainly keep us from backsliding into an autocratic state. But instead, as we’ve chronicled ad infinitum here at Salon, such bills are being blocked by two daft Democratic members of the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who refuse to support a repeal of the Senate filibuster abused by Republicans to block any voting rights legislation.
It’s a deeply depressing thing. The trends captured by the census would, in any sane society, be cause for celebration. We are on the verge of having an urbane, racially diverse democracy where people of different backgrounds come together to create a dynamic society that inspires creativity and innovation. The majority of Americans believe in this vision, as the migration patterns show, and are building lives in areas where, however imperfectly, that’s how people are living.
The American dream is under real threat because a bitter white conservative minority feels entitled to rule over the majority. Unless something is done — and done soon — they may very well get their way on a permanent basis.