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Washington Monthly | How Right-Wing Lies About the Census Enable Trump

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On Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump will make an announcement about the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 census form. It is assumed that he will issue an executive order, which legal scholars say will not be sufficient to overcome the Supreme Court ruling that halted its inclusion.

Based on what happened in the aftermath of that decision, it is clear that the Justice Department lawyers who argued the case thought the matter was settled. Then Trump took to Twitter to keep the whole issue alive.

Those lawyers either resigned or were fired and now the administration is in a battle with the courts about whether they can be replaced. Karen Tumulty has it right when she suggests why the president is being so relentless on this issue.

Even more important to the president is the fact that this issue lights up his base. Trump’s reelection campaign has been sending a fundraising email telling supporters: “The American People deserve to know who is in this country and there’s only one way to find out: We need to ask every person ‘ARE YOU AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, YES OR NO?’ ”

So as Trump once again takes on the courts by attempting to bypass their ruling on the citizenship question, his network of propagandists are busy spreading lies to his supporters. For example, over at Fox News, Deroy Murdoch writes that it was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who played the race card on this issue when she suggested that these efforts are all part of the president’s attempt to “Make America White Again.”

I guess that kind of thing works for Fox News consumers, who have not been informed that the premier Republican consultant on redistricting, Thomas Hofeller, was asked to assess the impact of drawing political maps (ie, redistricting) that were based not on the state’s total population but on the number of citizens of voting age. His analysis concluded that such maps “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” and would dilute the political power of Hispanics. So I would ask Mr. Murdoch, “Who is it that ‘played the race card?’”

The Fox News contributor then goes on to tell a lie that has become ubiquitous on right-wing media.

A question on citizenship, naturalization, or nativity was asked, in one form or another, on every census from [1820] until 2010, when President Barack Obama broke a then-190-year-old practice and stopped asking this question.

As is often the case with lies, the truth is a bit more complicated, as NPR’s Tamara Keith explains.

The last time a citizenship question was among the census questions for all U.S. households was in 1950…

In 1970, the Census Bureau began sending around two questionnaires: a short-form questionnaire to gather basic population information and a long form that asked detailed questions about everything from household income to plumbing…Starting in 1970, questions about citizenship were included in the long-form questionnaire but not the short form…

Later, the census added the American Community Survey, conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households. It began being fully implemented in 2005. It asks many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question.

Sanders said that in 2010 the citizenship question was removed. In fact, there was no long form that year — it had been replaced by the annual American Community Survey.

That first line is definitive: the citizenship question hasn’t been asked of all households since 1950. Furthermore, what Obama ended in 2010 was the use of the long form, which had been replaced by the annual American Community Survey in 2005.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly for immigrants, Murdoch writes this:

All respondents to the census — citizens, non-citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants — are protected by U.S. Code Title 13 § 9(a)(1). This federal statute prohibits the Census Bureau and related agencies from using any individual’s census information “for any purpose other than the statistical purposes for which it is supplied.” This would include Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions, such as deportations.

That is a factual statement. But it ignores the fact that Trump’s acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Ken Cuccinelli, said that the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census form would help “with the burden of those who are not here legally.” No one knows exactly what he meant by that, but it provides ample reason for concern.

There is a reason why those who encase themselves in the right-wing news bubble are so intently supporting Trump on this issue. They assume that it is perfectly normal to include the citizenship question on the census form and that it was only excluded ten years ago by, in their minds, the Kenyan usurper in the White House. This is how their thinking goes: now Democrats are opposed to putting back the citizenship question and are playing the race card as their argument. So once again, regular white Americans who support the president are being targeted unfairly as racists. And in the end, they think, responses to the citizenship question will be kept private, and this administration would never do anything to challenge the law.

This is the latest example of how Donald Trump isn’t the only threat to this country. His presidency wouldn’t be possible without the lies spread by the propagandists in right-wing media—and those who believe them. Some of the worst offenders will be meeting with the president at the White House on Thursday just prior to his announcement about the census.

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