Thursday Reading List: Trump is Laying the Groundwork for Voter Suppression

Yesterday was a busy day for the White House. President Trump announced a ban on refugees fleeing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, while formalizing plans to build an actual wall between the United States and Mexico.

In the meantime, during a conversation with legislators, Trump made statements about voting which should stun every democracy-loving person in this country. Trump repeated a story about a German golfer, Bernhard Langer, who is not an American citizen. Langer was not allowed to vote, because American citizens, you know, can't vote. Glenn Thrush of The New York Times puts the anecdote in context:

The witnesses described the story this way: Mr. Langer ... was standing in line at a polling place near his home in Florida on Election Day, the president explained, when an official informed Mr. Langer he would not be able to vote. Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members — but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from. Mr. Langer, whom he described as a supporter, left feeling frustrated, according to a version of events later contradicted by a White House official ... Just one problem: Mr. Langer, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., is a German citizen with permanent residence status in the United States who is, by law, barred from voting, according to Mr. Langer’s daughter Christina.

Let me put as fine a point on this as possible: the president of the United States made assumptions about whether or not a person can vote based not on his citizenship, but on his physical appearance. That's ...

That's right, moving internet gif, that comment is a great example of "personal racism." Maybe more than "a little."

Most of the time on this blog, though, we're talking about "institutional racism." What's the point of Trump's storytelling? Is this all just idle chatter?

Journalists and historians don't think so:

There is significant evidence that Trump is using this, and other tactics, to lay the groundwork for a significant campaign of voter suppression. Consider the following evidence:

  1. The story above, and other similar anecdotes.
  2. The White House's insistence on repeating the lie that Trump lost the popular vote due to "voter fraud."
  3. The launch of an investigation into "voter fraud," justified by numbers 1 and 2 above, which will disproportionately target states that opposed him.
  4. The appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, who has a history of prosecuting cases whose purpose is to suppress voting in communities of color.

What might that campaign look like? Marc Joseph Stern of Slate has some educated guesses:

Texas passed a voter ID bill that permitted only those forms of identification least likely to be held by minority and low-income voters, and North Carolina slashed early voting in minority-heavy precincts. Both laws were blocked by appeals courts; one court wrote that North Carolina’s restrictions seemed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” (In North Carolina, Republican-controlled election boards were able to implement some of the unlawful measures anyway.) Trump’s efforts to “strengthen up voting procedures” will probably look a lot like the rules enacted in Texas and North Carolina. And once he appoints a new Supreme Court justice, a majority of the court will affirm the legality of stringent voting restrictions.

I spent the whole reading list on this issue today, because this form of oppression is subtler than Trump's other early moves. Building a wall lacks nuance; it's international diplomacy's version of "whipping it out." Banning refugees from Syria is similarly transparent in its intent. This "war on voter fraud," however, seems like the latest act in a centuries-long play of disenfranchising non-White people in this country. Pay attention.