THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2022
Charles Blow, tangled in words: Much as Horton once heard a Hoo, Charles Blow had spotted an Other.
Inevitably, this Other had a racism problem, or something very much like it. The Other in question was Ron DeSantis. Blow ended his column as shown:
BLOW (9/28/22): DeSantis may pretend to be oblivious to the racial acts and statements of the people he associates with and appoints, but eliminating Black power and representation was a conscious act.
Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying this: He has targeted Black people, Black power and Black history.
As it turned out, Blow wasn't calling DeSantis a racist! He was simply saying that DeSantis had consciously decided to "eliminate Black representation" and also "target Black people!"
Blow was slicing it rather thin with his closing distinctions. With respect to "Black power and representation," at issue was the way DeSantis had shaped the state of Florida's [number of] congressional districts in the past few years.
Also at issue was very important question:
Should legislatures (and governors) "take race into account" when they devise their states' congressional maps? More specifically, should they make it a point to create congressional districts which are majority black?
As of this week, these questions have gone before the Supreme Court in a case from Alabama. In that state's most recent redistricting, its legislature drew a map with one congressional district which is majority black—one district out of seven.
As we noted yesterday, litigants say the legislature should have created two such districts. The Court will be tasked with settling this matter in light of constitutional principles and certain parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Should Alabama have one such district, or should it instead have two? Is the state required to have any such districts? Should it be forbidden from deliberately forming such districts?
Other such questions may float around in the tiny handful of moments in which the pundit corps stops discussing Donald J. Trump and discusses this matter instead. In his recent column for the Times, Blow was discussing a similar matter from the larger state of Florida—a state with 27 congressional districts.
If Florida has 27 congressional districts, how many of those districts should be majority black?
Is the state required to form such districts? Would doing so be a good idea? Within the boundaries of the law, what might the state of Florida do if it wants to produce such districts?
This is a very important topic. As we noted yesterday, Blow began his discussion of this matter in the following fuzzy way:
BLOW: I have always thought of DeSantis as reading the rules of villainy from a coloring book and acting them out. Nothing about him says clever and tactical. He seems to me the kind of man who must conjure confidence, who is fragile and feisty because of it, a beta male trying desperately to convince the world that he’s an alpha.
But there is a way in which race policy reaches far beyond being merely racist-adjacent. DeSantis, for instance, has actually tried to strip Black Floridians of their power and voice.
In 2010, Florida voters, by a strong majority, approved a constitutional amendment rejecting gerrymandering. The amendment made clear that “districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
Yet Florida’s Republican-led Legislature produced a gerrymandered map anyway. In 2015, the state Supreme Court struck down much of the Legislature’s proposed map, and demanded that eight House districts be redrawn. Among them was the Fifth District, which at the time snaked up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville. The redrawn map allowed Black voters to elect four Black representatives.
As you may have heard us say, Clarity isn't us! How much fuzzy thinking can be found in that short passage?
We'll start with the fuzzy language Florida's voters approved in 2010. The amendment "rejected gerrymandering," Blow said. The language he quoted is this:
“[Congressional] districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
Presumably, most people would agree—state legislatures shouldn't "deny the equal opportunity of racial minorities to participate in the political process."
Presumably, most everyone would agree with that as a general principle. On the basis of that principle, we all can think of types of legislative conduct which shouldn't be allowed:
Legislatures and governors shouldn't engage in the kinds of conduct which leave black citizens standing in line for many hours just to be able to vote.
They shouldn't move the location of polling places in black communities, then refuse to give public notice.
They shouldn't institute a "citizenship test" in which black citizens—and no one else—are required to prove their knowledge of civics before they're allowed to vote.
The shouldn't require black citizens—and no one else—to pay a fee before they can vote.
Quite plainly, such actions would "deny the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process." Quite plainly, Florida voters had said that state officials mustn't engage in such conduct when they passed that amendment back in 2010.
On the other hand, the quoted language from the amendment also said this:
“[Congressional] districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial minorities to elect representatives of their choice.”
(As written, the amendment doesn't quite parse. We're quoting the best way we can.)
We would say it's much less clear what that chunk of language means. Through that language, the legislature was forbidden from creating districts in such a way as to "abridge the equal opportunity of racial minorities to elect representatives of their choice.”
But how exactly would a legislature conspire to do that? We'd have to say it isn't real clear what's being forbidden there.
Presumably, everybody would agree that a legislature shouldn't stop "racial minorities" from electing the people of their choice. But what specific actions are being forbidden? For various reasons, we'd say it's quite unclear.
As he thunders in his column, Blow powers right past this murky language, employing some murky formulations of his own. He does, however, tell us this:
In Blow's view, that amendment from 2010 had "reject[ed] gerrymandering." At the very least, the voters had rejected the use of gerrymandering in pursuit of racially inappropriate ends.
According to Blow, the voters had rejected gerrymandering—but inevitably, so what?
We all know how Republicans are! Five years later, the state's "Republican-led Legislature" had gone ahead and "produced a gerrymandered map anyway!"
Blow's language is very fuzzy at this point, but it sounds like the legislature may have reduced the numbers of majority-black districts from (perhaps) as many as eight all the way down to four. It sounds like they had employed the tool of gerrymandering to produce this outcome.
Blow doesn't state this claim in a clear way, nor did he editors require him to write with professional-level clarity. But it sounds like the Florida legislature, in 2015, produced a "gerrymandered map"—a gerrymandered map which reduced the number of majority-black districts down to four.
One of the districts which got redrawn was the Fifth District, "which at the time snaked up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville." Question:
As we fight our way through Blow's fuzzy language, do you notice some problems there?
We do notice some problems! For example, did the Fifth District "snake [its way] up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville" before or after the legislature produced its new map in 2015?
It sounds like the district had that shape before the new map was dtawn, but Blow fails to make that basic point clear. And by the way:
If the Fifth District had "snaked [its way] up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville," doesn't that sound like the very definition of a gerrymandered district? Doesn't that sound like the classic definition of a district which has been drawn in a very odd way to satisfy some sort of partisan political objective?
At this point, Blow is thundering, as he typically does. Inevitably, his editors were asleep at the switch, letting all manner of fuzzy language invade the sanctity of the American discourse.
At this point, Blow has suggested that the Republicans produced a map in 2015 which reduced the number of majority-black districts. He has seemed to say that they did that through the use of gerrymandering.
That said, the reader already has no idea what Blow is actually talking about. The liberal reader will perhaps enjoy being blown along by the columnist's thunder without noting the lack of clarity Blow is presenting this day.
Five years later, Governor DeSantis got involved in this matter. (Just to be completely clear, Blow isn't calling him a racist!)
Blow describes the governor's conduct as the column continues. Tomorrow, we'll show you what he says.
At present, our blue tribe drifts on and on, accepting fuzzy but pleasing work from our tribal tribunes. We contribute to the condstruction of feeper and deeper tribal divisions, the kind which bring spocieties down.
Personally, we ourselves wouldn't vote for DeSantis. But we also wouldn't have published Blow's fuzzy, incompetent column.
Clarity simply isn't us, the major top experts all tell us. We're basically built to locate and demonize Others.
Given the way our brains are wired, clarity stays far away.
Tomorrow: "One of the most-gerrymandered"