Census count: Another front on reality war

York Dispatch editorial board
A Census 2020 envelope is pictured in Philadelphia on Thursday, March 12, 2020. As is customary every ten years, U.S. Census questionnaires have been mailed out to the country's households.

The phrase, “It’s so-and-so’s world, we just live in it,” is usually spoken as a sign of admiration. That’s not the case with former President Donald Trump, of whom there is no bigger so-and-so.

Unlike any public figure in memory, Trump actively creates his own world, his own version of reality, and expects — demands, in the case of those in his own party — that everyone else live in it. Worse — and more dangerously — he attempted to force government agencies to adhere to his version of events while he was in office.

Sometimes this was simply amusing, as with the Sharpie-defaced weather map he displayed as “proof” that a hurricane’s trajectory included the state of Alabama, as he (alone) had asserted.

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More often, the stakes were far higher, as we continue to see in the Republican Party’s adherence to the entirely groundless whopper that voter fraud cost Trump the 2020 presidential election.

Equally chilling, however, are the efforts that were made behind the scenes — some of them just now coming to light — to bend administrative practices to the then-president’s will. Case in point: The 2020 federal census.

As the Brennan Center for Justice revealed last week, the Trump administration went to unprecedented lengths to influence the once-a-decade enumeration of the nation’s population.

In records obtained after a lengthy Freedom of Information battle, the Brennan Center found that Trump’s Commerce Department repeatedly attempted to interfere with Census Bureau duties, seeking information on undocumented individuals and pressing to wrap up the census by the end of 2020.

Trump had issued a controversial memoranda in July of 2020 declaring plans to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census. With the census completed by the end of the year and statistics enumerating illegal immigrants in hand, Trump would simply subtract them from the final tallies. But time was of the essence.

“The administration was faced with the reality that if Trump lost the November election he could also lose a chance to change the census numbers used to redistribute political representation,” reported NPR. “The window of opportunity was closing for his administration to attempt to radically reshape the futures of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.”

Not only political representation — the New York Times estimated the forced undercount “would likely shift several seats from Democratic states to Republican states” — but an estimated $1.5 trillion in annual federal funding would be realigned.

And if Republicans benefited from this distortion of reality? Well, then, GOP lawmakers were content to sit on their hands while administrative toadies muscled in on federal practices behind the curtains.

Fortunately, federal employees showed a little more spine, offering up “stiff resistance … on many fronts,” determined the Brennan Center.

As a result, what could have been a usurpation of federal responsibility for political gain was, instead, simply a close call.

“These FOIA results show just how fragile the census process is,” the Brennan Center report concluded. “It took timely litigation, advocacy, and career Census Bureau officials pushing back at political interference to ensure that the 2020 Census did not fail.”

In Trump’s world, the millions of illegal immigrants living in the nation don’t matter, so they needn’t statistically exist. (Never mind pesky little roadblocks like the Constitution, which directs a count of every person, not just citizens.)

It’s the same world where the coronavirus was just going to go away, global climate change is nonexistent and elections are not determined by vote counts.

It is an alternate universe, reflecting the “alternative facts” his onetime counselor insisted were legitimate and the alternate presidential electors his campaign attempted to foist on Congress.

It’s a world of division, disparity and dishonesty. It may be Trump’s world, but none of should be forced to live in it.