Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and you're listening to The Takeaway. On Thursday, the US Census Bureau released its latest round of data and the results are fascinating. One is census data, not fascinating, but these 2020 numbers really serve up some demographic drama. Without going too far down the statistical rabbit hole, here are the big takeaways.
Takeaway one, our population growth has slowed. This census shows the slowest population growth since the depression. Take away two, we are an aging nation. Declining birth rates mean the overall share of children has declined while the median age of adults has risen. Okay, Boomers. Take away three, el Futuro es Latino, nearly half of the US population growth occurred among Hispanics. Finally, take away four, white folks are so last decade. Not only did the proportion of non-Hispanic white Americans dropped below 60% for the first time, but the actual number of white Americans declined as well by nearly 5 million people.
Listen, before you all start planning to put Harriet Tubman on the 20 and turn into 102 a Cesar Chavez, C-note, let's have a little conversation about whether greater numbers really translate into greater power. Here to help us debunk the demographics are destiny trope, and really understand how racial communities become representational tools are Aisha Mills host of Amplified on BNC. Aisha, welcome to The Takeaway.
Aisha Mills: So glad to be here. Thank you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: And David Daley, author of Unrigged: How Americans Battled Back to Save Democracy. David, welcome back.
David Daley: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right David Daley. You heard my four big takeaways from the census data. Are there other big takeaways that I've missed here?
David Daley: No. I think you have your finger on exactly the right takeaways. What is so crucial about these takeaways is that the census data does more than tell us who we are as a nation. It is the starting gun for redistricting, the decennial process by which congressional and state legislative lines around the country are redrawn. What we see in the census data is that we are becoming increasingly a diverse and multiracial nation.
The question is, after this redistricting process, will we be a multi-racial democracy? What stands in the way of that, of course, is that as the population is moving south and west toward states like North Carolina and Georgia, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and this growth is fueled by Hispanic and Asian and Black populations, it is running into Republican control of redistricting in all of those states.
We know, from what we've seen over the last decade, how determined Republicans have been to maintain power in those states. We see the 400 voters suppression bills that have been coming out of state legislatures around the country. This is the collision. It's a collision between where populations are going and who controls the political power and lines in all of those states. It becomes a question of whether you can use gerrymandering essentially to defy demographic trends.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. Thank you so much for helping us understand the difference between demographics, showing us who we are versus what people call destiny or the political power piece, who actually gets to rule. Aisha, are you at all surprised by some of these numbers? I have to say so many advocates had spent so much of 2020 trying to make sure that people of color actually return those census forms that we certainly thought there was going to be an undercount there. I have to say I was a little surprised to find that it was white folks who were down in the numbers.
Aisha Mills: 2020 census count bizarrely to me is far more accurate than we all expected it to be for sure, but the trends are, you have been predicted for decades at this point. I remember over a decade ago, I was actually a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. We had a program called Progress 2020, looking at what would happen when people of color were the majority in this nation, we call it the Rising American Electorate or the New American Majority. This idea that there is a browning of America, at one point, it was 2050, that it's somewhere around 2025, the date kept changing, but the trend is clear.
Everything that we're talking about right now about how power moves with the people, through the people or not, is really going to be the conundrum of the next several generations I believe as someone who has been on the ground in electoral politics for the last 20 years because simply having more Black folks are, in fact, the Black people are staying relatively static or moving to different parts of the country, but in relative to our numbers, we're not the huge growth. Like you said, it's the Latin X community, it's the Asian communities.
Having more people of color doesn't necessarily mean that the politics change right away. I think deeply and we have been working on how do we get that representation. Representation matters, but how do we make sure we have a reflective democracy, even as we have a multicultural democracy. That's the hard part because that's really about competition, fights and battles, and organizing on the ground, which is not something that we can blink and do. Redistricting, voter suppression, all of that stymies it intentionally because it is true.
We have people in place in power in a lot of these southern states who really want to preserve white nationalism and white supremacy as the framework for our democracy, that is always what we're fighting and pushing against. I just want to add that, white people, please be reminded that you have to be a part of the solution too because white nationalism serves no one. When we allow those lines to be drawn in a way that is preserving a minority power, it's actually hurting everybody.
Melissa Harris-Perry: David, you name-checked some of the places where they're going to be the big redistricting battles, but I'm wondering the one place where there aren't every redistricting battles is the US Senate. Every state gets two, and it feels like that is probably the least representative body because every state gets two, but population isn't distributed that way.
David Daley: I think that's exactly right. What we're heading towards is, by the middle of the next decade, about 30% of the population in this country is going to live in 15 states, which means they'll have 30 senators. Those living in the parts of the country that are effectively shrinking, these are smaller rural states, will have 70 US senators. What we're really facing here is baked in structural rule by part of the population that is wider, more rural, more conservative.
Stacy Abrams: When we do redistricting in 2021, if we have not changed the electorate especially in the south, we will have a majority-minority population that is governed by a minority white conservative coalition. That's the most dangerous precedent that we could possibly set for the south in the next 20 years.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That was Stacy Abrams back in 2014, apparently, being a prophet. Aisha, we just heard there Abrams in 2014, thinking about this idea of a south that is ruled in this upside-down way, but this is certainly a part of American history. Is there something we can draw from our history about how to allow demographics to push us towards a more truly racial democracy?
Aisha Mills: This is the foundation of our nation and really a backlash. Everyone should remember that we get here from somewhere. This is a backlash that we've seen throughout the south for 100 years. During reconstruction, we actually had an attempt to have more equal representation throughout the south. You had Black folks in the US Senate and in Congress, people were leading towns. You had people when you're able to vote, actually reflect and vote for people in their community.
Obviously, white supremacy didn't want that to happen. As I listened to Stacey Abrams, I'm reminded that we actually haven't gone as far as we thought that we had. Sure we have more people of color who hold office today than we ever had in history, but that is skewed. It is skewed in terms of what communities we represent. We've got a long way to go.
I think that that is always the message. Yes things look better, but structurally, we're still in the same conundrum of white supremacist rule and that is something that we've got to figure out how to address and deal with. The only way we can is by recognizing that that is exactly how imbalanced our power is and doing something to fix it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: David, I feel like data nerds like you and I are going to see those census numbers, we're going to dig in, we're going to play around on the charts, but we certainly cannot and should not expect the majority of the American population to do so, which means most folks are going to understand the census data through media. Reflect on media coverage a bit from the past few days. Are we getting it right in how we're talking about what these numbers are and what they mean?
David Daley: That's a great question. I think that there is more awareness of these question of voting and representation in the mainstream media now than there has been in quite some time and more awareness of the dangers of things like gerrymandering and voter suppression. When I wrote a book on the last redistricting cycle that was published in 2016, a lot of people said, "Well, gerrymandering isn't that big of a deal really." It's the big sort, it's just the Democrats are moving to blue cities and that they want to be around like-minded people and Republicans simply live more scattered and more efficiently spread out and that explains it and we know that that simply is not the case now. I think our media coverage has come a long way in reflecting that.
What I don't think we understand fully are the real existential dangers of this moment and just how close we are to this entrenched minority rule. After the 2018 elections, there were 59 million Americans living in a state in which one or both chambers of their state legislature were controlled by Republicans, even though Democrats in those states won more votes in that election. You have states like Wisconsin and North Carolina and Pennsylvania, competitive states, where even when Democrats win hundreds of thousands of more votes for the State House, they are unable to win a majority of seats.
What we're facing in the 2022 midterms, Democrats hold a five-seat advantage in the US House. Now they won 4.7 million more votes nationwide in 2020, when Republicans won about 4.4 million more votes in 2014, that equated to 247 seats. Democrats already face a challenge there as a result of gerrymandering and geography. Now, when you factor in the fact that these lines are going to change in Texas, in Georgia, in North Carolina, in Florida, in Arizona, and who will be drawing them, you could have a situation, and I think we almost certainly will in, which if everybody voted the same way, you would have a huge majority of Americans favoring democratic candidates, but a Republican majority in the US House, a Republican speaker of the US House. As we all know, the speaker does not have to be a member. The speaker could be former president Trump.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Wait, okay. Excuse, me what?
David Daley: The speaker of the House does not need to be a member of the US House. If Republicans take the House, there is every possibility they could elevate anybody of their choosing, perhaps even a certain former president.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. I learned something new in this moment and I feel that we are going to need some more time. At some point, David Daley has me checking my passport and is the author of Unrigged: How Americans Battled Back to Save Democracy, and Aisha Mills is host of Amplified on BNC. I think I want to say thank you to both of you for being here, but that was a lot. Okay. Thank you both.
David Daley: Anytime. [crosstalk] Thanks again. Bye-bye.
[00:13:44] [END OF AUDIO]
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