By Mason Krohn
To say that President Donald Trump has been ungrateful for the support of American farmers would be an understatement. At the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention, he remarked, “Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.” But despite our New York native President’s ingenuine response to agricultural support, his campaign inspired farmers and captured 55 percent of their support (compared to Clinton’s 18 percent) in the 2016 election. Yet, in the midst of an escalating trade war initiated by the United States, Trump’s policy and impassioned rhetoric has touched upon the anxieties of American farmers. Firing back at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump tweeted that “Canada has treated our Agricultural business and Farmers very poorly for a very long period of time.” However, after enacting tariffs on dozens of EU nations, Mexico, Canada, and China, Trump has simultaneously set profits on farm goods spiraling. The question, then, arises: were farmers lucky to have voted Donald Trump into office?
Despite comprising just 1.5 percent of the American workforce, farmers wield tremendous voting power. For Republicans and Democrats alike, this demographic finds political prestige in its rural presence. Numerically, rural Americans have greater representation than the average citizen. In fact, states containing just 17 percent of the American population can elect a Senate majority, and at the state level, bills preferred by urban delegations are far more likely to be rejected. The farm vote is even more pertinent in terms of the 2018 midterm elections, where farmers targeted by Mexican tariffs populate congressional districts that could lose their Republican seats. In addition to their powerful voting force, farmers have a strong lobbying arm tied to the Farm Bureau, which spent over $3 million for lobbying efforts last year. Evidently, Donald Trump and the Republican party owe much of their dominance in the federal government to agricultural votes. On that same token, pursuing farmers’ votes ought to be a chief goal for any successful campaign in upcoming elections.
Given President Trump’s recent prerogatives, however, the Executive Branch is not meeting the needs of its farming constituents. The predominant issue is trade. Principally, President Trump’s instigation of a trade war with China (and later a plethora of US allies) was poorly timed. Prior to Trump’s announcement of the first set of steel tariffs in March, federal data projected that, this year, farm incomes would hit their lowest point since 2006. Meanwhile, borrowing costs for agriculturalists are rising and foreign rivals like Russia and Brazil are beginning to damage America’s dominance in the global grain trade. Hence, placing metal tariffs on Mexico and Canada (who import $39bn in US agricultural goods), China ($20bn), and the EU ($12bn)--all of which have promised retaliatory tariffs aimed at American farmers--puts a damper on an already sluggish agricultural sector. For some producers in the pork industry, trade barriers are already taking a hit; but, even more worrisome, greater than 14 percent of $140 billion in annual U.S. farm exports have been or will likely be hit by retaliatory tariffs in trade disputes with major international buyers China and Mexico. Even if President Trump’s The Art of the Deal skills shine through and retaliatory tariffs are dissuaded while providing the US with a fairer stance in global trade, farmers will still miss out. That’s because uncertainty about US trade restrictions has led international buyers to turn towards other suppliers. In the first week of April, Chinese buyers ordered about 255,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans, but sales for the rest of the month totaled just 11,000 metric tons. Further, 76,000 metric tons’ worth of orders were canceled over that same time period. For countries like Brazil, this doubt provides a viable opportunity for their farmers to expand their hold in international markets, and supplant American suppliers to China. Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) is pushing for legislation to restrain Trump’s powers to restrict trade, but unless his actions create immediate results, it will be too late to fix the devastating consequences of tariffs compounded with agricultural decline.
Smiling before Twitter this week, Enrique Pena Nieto celebrated the announcement of North America’s joint hosting of World Cup 2026, proclaiming, “we’re deeply unified”. Perhaps Enrique Pena Nieto is either really good at facades or truly loves soccer, because in the wake of Trump’s abusive tariffs on Mexico, NAFTA countries are far from unified. Trump’s war of words with Mexico has toxified US-Mexico relations since his campaign, but alongside his action on trade, Trump is now pushing his immigration agenda, producing inopportune outcomes for American agriculture. Trump’s rally against immigrants he sees as “Drug dealers, criminals, rapists” from “shithole countries” first came into fruition through his termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA’s downfall put 800,000 immigrants’ legal status in the US at risk. From there, Trump called for 4,000 members of the National Guard to join the border patrol in April. Recently, Trump’s border policy took an even more inhumane turn when his administration began separating children from their parents at the border. The Deputy Chief of the Operations Program for Customs and Border Protection reported to Congress that 658 children were split from their parents in just two weeks of May. Beyond the Mexican-American border, Trump disrupted immigration precedent by ending Temporary Protected Status for 57,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans who have resided in the US for decades. Trump’s immense changes to immigration policy are tearing apart families, dangerously sending immigrants back to their home countries, and, surprisingly, damaging American farmers. While the farming population is traditionally conservative, Trump’s strict immigration policies profoundly disservice their sector. American agricultural necessitates the flow of foreign workers into the country since more than half of farm laborers are undocumented. Critics of open borders would argue that native-born American citizens can fulfill this shortage, but precedent says otherwise: A 2013 study of North Carolina’s agricultural labor market by economist Michael Clemens concluded that even in recessions, Americans are unwilling to uptake manual farm occupations. From 2007 to 2010, unemployment rose by 6.2% in the state, but there was no correlation between the rising unemployment rate and referrals to farm work nor the starting of farm jobs by native North Carolinians. In 2011, just seven native workers completed the growing season (occupying 0.1% of all open farm jobs). Moreover, in 2017, the losses from unharvested crops because of labor shortages numbered in the billions. Trump’s immigration policy isn’t only dehumanizing--it’s taking a toll on American farmers, the very people who took to the voting booths for him.
Luckily, Congress is making an effort to minimize the impacts of Trump’s chaotic policies. As aforementioned, Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) hopes that his legislation to require congressional approval when the president enacts tariffs under the veil of national security will limit agricultural hardship. Simultaneously, the Legislative Branch is looking to pass a new farm bill. Every five years, Congress is tasked with renewing the omnibus bill which encompasses agricultural subsidies and food assistance programs. Its passage is quintessential for American farms and decisions made during its legislative process tremendously impact our economy. With the current farm bill expiring in September 2018, Congress is running out of time to introduce and pass new legislation. In May, the House Farm Bill was rejected primarily because conservatives intertwined its fate with looming immigration decisions. The final vote was 198-213, with every Democrat in opposition and thirty Republicans belonging to the Freedom Caucus. On June 8th, a Senate committee released a second version of the bill entitled the the "Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018." The measure reaches across the aisle by leaving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program unaltered, which is an inviting move for Democrats, many of whom denied the House bill because of its added work requirements for food stamps. On June 21st, the House passed its farm bill without a single Democrat vote. If the House Bill succeeds in the Senate, 400,000 households would lose SNAP benefits and thousands of students would lose access to free and reduced lunch. Regretfully, the House Bill also undercuts USDA conservation programs. Where the House Bill lacks, the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill makes strides for farmers. The Senate legislation provides high-speed internet for rural communities, supports new farmers entering the field, renews and expands conservation efforts, and, of utmost importance to many Democrats (which is crucial for passage in the Senate), it preserves SNAP work requirements. Although neither bill addresses major inequalities in agricultural subsidy distribution, the passage of the Senate Farm Bill would stabilize the agricultural industry in spite of Trump’s evolving trade policies. If senators and representatives alike hope to hold onto their positions in Congress during this upcoming midterm election, they have to voice the needs of their farming constituents and craft policy that heals the wounds the Trump administration inflicted.
The first set of Trump’s tariffs takes effect on July 6th. Until then, members of the Trump administration can pressure him to change his directive and Congress can scramble to reduce his authority. But, as farmers watch a presidential trade war devolve into economic downfall and strict immigration policies weaken their labor force, they will decide if they truly were privileged to vote for President Trump and side with the GOP. And, maybe, they will be privileged enough to vote him out of office.
Warnings of War and Cautions of Crisis: The Swedish Defense Pamphlet and What It Means For the People of Sweden and the Rest of Europe
By Bharat Sanka
On May 21st, 2018, deep within the Swedish countryside, the town of Mariefred wakes up to a new day, except this day is no ordinary day, as each and every family in the little town received a pamphlet, titled, “Om Krisen Eller Kriget Kommer” or “If Crisis or War Comes”. This 20 page pamphlet details specifically what to do and how to find help in a crisis, these crises range from terrorism to cyberattacks, and climate change to even the dangers of fake news. It’s littered with warning phrases and rousing calls like, “Sweden wants to defend itself, is able to defend itself and will defend itself! - We never give up!” or “Every statement that the resistance has ceased is FALSE!.” Both the people of Sweden and foreign onlookers are shaken as the distribution of these pamphlets marks the end of Sweden’s long standing policy of neutrality in the face of war.
Sweden, now finds it urgent to warn its people, to prepare for any conflict or crisis the country may face in the near future. The last time the Swedish government issued such a pamphlet, the threat of World War 2, the bloodiest war in history, was looming over the country. This new pamphlet, issued by the Swedish Civil Contingencies, reveals that Europe’s political situation may not be as stable as it seems. With the release of these pamphlets, new questions are bubbling up to the surface, such as: why the Swedish government finds it necessary to prepare their citizens for incoming threats and what does this reveal about the political state of Europe?
Sweden has always had a complex relationship with the idea of taking military action, due to their continual desire to not partake in military action. In 2015, however, the Swedish parliament passed a new defense bill that increased spending on the military and brought back the policy of Total Defense Planning. The Total Defense policy was enacted during the cold war when Sweden was one of the most militarized states in Europe, the actual policy describes the integration of security and military practices into each and every part of Swedish society. Changing the social aspect of Sweden, turning from neutral to militaristic will be hard, but just last fall, Sweden joined other NATO powers in holding massive military collaboration in Gotland, a large island off the coast of Sweden. Additionally, the government brought back military conscription and increased the military budget last year. The introduction of these defensive policies is surprising but they all tie back to one influence: Russian aggression.
Russian provocation in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, and actions near the Baltic states have sparked a new environment of disunity in the northern part of Europe. Russia has taken over parts of Ukraine and is backing Ukrainian separatists, this intervention has prompted Sweden to ramp up its military spending, in order to protect its citizens. Sweden wants to ensure their people’s protection if Sweden ever falls under attack from Russia. Additionally, Russia has also held many military demonstrations across the Baltic states, dramatically heightening tensions across Europe with their purely militaristic agenda. This turbulence is derived from Russian aggression in the Baltic States and Northern Europe, which reveals an underlying sense of instability in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.
Sweden also has other reasons to caution it’s citizens. Problems like terrorism, fake news, and environmental concerns have recently been on the rise in Sweden. Last April, five people died in Stockholm when a driver rammed his truck into a convenience store. Since then, terrorism has risen to the top of the Swedish agenda. The distribution of these pamphlets exhibit how Sweden is trying to crack down on terrorism, while also preparing its people for other disasters. Surprisingly, these pamphlets also show how to recognize and deal with fake news and cyberattacks, displaying that the Swedish government, with the rise of the internet, is taking fake news and cyberattacks now more seriously than ever. Sweden, in the past, has cared a lot about its own environment and Christina Anderson of the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency explained that, “It is much more likely that we have a storm, or flooding, than a military attack”. Environmental disasters is still high on the agenda for Sweden and its government finds it imperative to account for and prepare its citizens for any environmental disaster that may come Sweden’s way.
The threats of Russia, terrorism, and fake news are all valid reasons for a government to prepare its people for crises, but Sweden is not just any other government. The Swedish government has been reluctant to take military action before, but recent events seem to be changing that narrative, so what has forced this change in narrative? Europe has been defined as a place of freedom, peace and opportunity. The EU has allowed many European economies to flourish and succeed. Unfortunately, underneath all that stability and economic prosperity, tension seems to be rising. Events like Brexit and increased Russian aggression have put a lot of countries on high alert. The Swedish defense pamphlet is just a symptom of the discord that is beginning to plague the nation.
The Swedish defense pamphlet reveals that change is coming for both the Swedish government and the rest of Europe. As instability, chaos, and tension grows within Europe, the narrative of Swedish foreign and defence policy will continue to shift towards more militaristic tendencies and recourse. The very nature of Sweden has begun to adapt to the new atmosphere surrounding Europe. The Swedish defense pamphlet is just the beginning.
By Katherine Wang
In the traditionally male-dominated arena of politics, women of color are emerging as political leaders. Although they are small drops in ocean, their presence ripples throughout the country, creating currents of change. From Georgia to Texas, women such as Stacey Abrams and Lupe Valdez are winning nominations for governor, signifying the start of a new, transformative era of politics.
“We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s future. Where no one is unseen, no one is unheard, and no one is uninspired. We are writing a history of a Georgia where we prosper — together,” said Stacey Abrams in her victory speech. As the first black female to win the gubernatorial nomination from a major party (the Democratic Party), she signifies the growing power of black women in politics who use their identities to effect change in a dangerously stigmatized society. She has relentlessly advocated for women’s reproductive rights, higher quality education, and built the growing power of the Democratic party in Georgia. Even before she won the primaries, she already paved the way for other African-American women in politics by being “the first black woman to lead the Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives as House minority leader” and founding an organization that helps fight voter suppression. Her rhetoric of hard work and personal narrative of determination captivates her voters, culminating in a 53-point landslide victory -- Abrams took 76.5% of the votes, whereas her opponent, Stacey Evans, took a mere 23.5% of the votes in Georgia. With her victory, she plans to “writ[e] the next chapter of Georgia's history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired."
And she’s not the only one. In the state of Texas, Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first Latina woman to win a gubernatorial nomination from a major party. "Tonight is a victory for all of us who are fighting for a stronger and fairer Texas. A tolerant and diverse Texas. A Texas where the everyday person has a voice and a fair shot -- just as I had," said Valdez. Although she faces endless struggles, such as a video released after her victory which criticized her weak stance on policy, Valdez has stated that her seemingly weak stance on policy issues will change once she is elected, where she plans to make use of expert opinion and consensus techniques. Valdez is committed to fighting the “uphill battle” against her next opponent, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, and it is an uphill battle that she will likely win — after all, her military and law enforcement experience, immigration stance, and working-class experience will capture the votes of many Latinos, which are crucial to her win. Unlike Governor Abbott, who supports certain aspects of a border wall, Valdez states that she will fight against a wall with everything that she has. She ardently opposes Senate Bill 4, which allowed local law enforcement officers to ask about one’s immigration status during typical interactions, such as a stop at a traffic light. Her pro-immigration stance will most likely be in favor of a large portion of the Texas citizenry.
What do Abrams’ and Valdez’s primary victories tell us about women in politics?
First, that women are rallying together to demand changes to the current political system -- from issues such as education and health care to women’s rights and more equal representation in Congress. According to Aimee Allison, president of the political organization Democracy in Color, “A powerful example lies in the more than 400 black women running for office this year. There’s also been a surge in Latina and Asian-American women seeking election, as well as a historic number of Native American women.” Recent issues have sparked women to step up to the plate and champion their own causes and propel change in Washington.
Second, that more and more people are planning to use their power to vote to create change in our society. The Texas primaries alone demonstrate that there is shockingly high voter turnout this year. Tara Golshan, the politics reporter of Vox, writes that the “Democrats doubled early voting turnout compared to the 2014 midterms and beat turnout numbers from the 2016 presidential election year by 4 percent.” Even though Texas may not be representative of the entire nation, the high rate of mobilization among voters in this Southern state known for its low voter interest rates sparks hope that the rest of the country will only be more eager to get out their votes. Particularly among women of color, an increase in mobilization leads to hope that more women can bring their voices to tables formerly dominated by white men.
Although a groundbreaking number of women of color are beginning to dominate the primary elections season, they still face a difficult battle before them. Their opponents will criticize them. Others will mock them for stepping beyond their boundaries. Still others will attempt to downplay their importance in bringing women forward in politics. But as long as these fearless women and their voters keep up their dedication and energy, they will definitely achieve their goals in November -- and that will only be the beginning.
By: Aadhavaarasan Raviarasan
In the past 2 years, tensions with North Korea have only escalated. North Korea has blamed these tensions on military drills, whereas the US has blamed these tensions on missile tests. However, in the past months, something has changed. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un has met with South Korean President Moon Jae - in, and a summit is being planned for a similar meeting between US president Trump and Kim. The problem is that, ever since 1985, the US and North Korea have followed a cycle of failed diplomacy and hostility. For example, talks about denuclearization in 1994 failed after the US increased military drills, and the Sunshine policy (a policy guideline between the Koreas on openness and integration) failed due to US deployment of missile defense. However, there are 2 key steps the United States must take to avoid complications and make sure that this time will be the time that succeeds.
Historically, at every single North Korea - US period of diplomacy, the US has always demanded denuclearization. Indeed, ever since North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon, US policy has always been that nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. However, this is unacceptable to North Korea. This is because North Korea’s highest priority has always been survival, and in Kim Jong Un's eyes, the only way to ensure that survival is to have a credible nuclear force that would deter the US and South Korea from ever striking them.
Kim Jong-un sees this as the non-negotiable safeguard against suffering the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, who gave up his nukes only to be toppled by the US afterwards. As a result, when Trump demanded that North Korea denuclearize, the regime refused, almost leading to the cancellation of the summit. Thus, in order to avoid complications in negotiations with North Korea, it would be beneficial for the US to be pragmatic and stop demanding denuclearization.
Every year now, the US and South Korea have been conducting live fire military drills, which North Korea is extremely against. The problem with this is that live-fire military drills near the border could convince Kim that such a strike is coming and trigger a North Korean response.
Kim’s reasoning is simple, he sees military drills as the US planning a strike, so if a strike is coming, he might as well become more aggressive or even attack first. Consequently, when the US began military drills this year, North Korea suspended talks with South Korea, and threatened to cancel the meeting between Trump and Kim. Furthermore, last year, in order to protest US - ROK military drills, North Korea launched a barrage of missile tests. If the US wants diplomacy to be successful, it is in our best possible interest to suspend threatening activities like military drills.
Missile defense is seen by North Korea as the ultimate act of US hostility because it undermines its aforementioned nuclear deterrent. Indeed, North Korea sees the deployment of missile defense as the US positioning itself to protect its strategic assets, and in North Korea’s mind the only reason the US would need to do that is if it were preparing to attack.
This is viewed as a real threat as North Korean government newspapers said specifically in 2006 “What the U.S. is after is to freely carry into action its preemptive strike strategy after setting up a colossal missile defense system at every strategic vantage and binding other countries hand and foot to neutralize North Korea’s means of retaliation.” Furthermore, an overwhelming trust in the effectiveness of missile defense allows the US to be more militaristic and aggressive and less diplomatic. All in all, the best path forward to ensure that diplomacy does not fail is by withdrawing our missile defense systems from the area.
The Summit between Trump and Kim must go well as Nyshka Chandran from CNBC notes that “If the North Korea-U.S. summit fails to conclude in an agreement, war risks will increase, exceeding previous levels, because of another failure of diplomacy.” The reasoning is simple: peace processes are generally seen as a test for diplomacy, so when they fail, it is not just the specific peace process that has failed, it represents diplomacy as a strategy that has failed.
Furthermore, diplomacy must be successful for South Korea to establish a hotline for direct communication which would open the door for a reduction in the chance of miscalculation and finally bring stability to the region.
This is possible, as under the sunshine policy, which was the last period of friendliness in the region, Presidents from both countries met during this time and North Korea agreed to the removal of its nuclear arsenal, which genuinely gave the first shot at true peace.
Ultimately, a more pragmatic and diplomatic US will enhance the probability of diplomacy with North Korea being successful. If the US decides to pursue the path of militarism and maintains a hardline stance, it risks war on the peninsula, and will most certainly result in a diplomatic failure, only continuing the 7 decades of tension.
By: Pasha Saidi
President Donald Trump has always had a closer relationship with Russia than previous presidents. Even though he may claim that “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” the fact remains that he has time after time reiterated that “I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and President Putin,” implying that he desires to remain in close contact with the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, that relationship is not just a geopolitical partnership, but rather, a series of allegations that Russia had meddled into the 2016 election in support of Trump. The man investigating this injustice is none other than former FBI director turned Special Counsel, Robert Mueller III.
Robert Swan Mueller III has had a history with law spanning nearly his entire life, giving him the tremendous experience necessary to take on the task of being Special Counsel of the Russia Investigation. Mueller went to Princeton University for a bachelor’s in politics and NYU for his major in International Relations. After school, he became a distinguished Marine while fighting in Vietnam.Following his brief stint in the military, he entered the field of law. His first major legal role was being an assistant U.S. attorney for California’s Northern District in 1976. For the next 20 years, he took high level positions in the District of Massachusetts and even the federal Department of Justice successfully taking care of well-known cases such as the Lockerbie plane bombing. Then, in 2001 he became the director of the FBI until 2013, working to help America through the grueling post-911 era. Ever since he left the FBI in 2013, he came back into the legal limelight when he took on the role of Special Counsel of the Russia Investigation (the investigation into whether or not Russia meddled in our 2016 election to support Trump) in 2017. Through all his immense experience in key positions throughout the legal sector, Mueller is the right man to take on the ambitious responsibility of being in charge of the Russia Investigation.
Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel in May of 2017 and has been making significant progress with the Russia Investigation ever since. Mueller’s masterful investigation has led to Trump aides like George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn pleading guilty or others close aides like Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Cohen being investigated. In addition, his investigation has picked up important pleas from Trump’s own people himself. Papadopoulos admitted Trump’s campaign worked with a Russian lawyer to find damaging information on Hillary Clinton and Michael Flynn admitted that he lied about not meeting with a Russian ambassador named Sergey Kislyak twice to settle a UN vote on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and Obama’s sanctions on Russia for their meddling in the election. Besides convicting members of Trump’s own team, Mueller has even managed to get right at Russia by indicting 13 Russians part of a “troll farm” called the “Internet Research Agency” meant to drum up pro-Trump propaganda.
Consequently, Mueller has been making significant progress with his investigation and could be knocking on Trump’s doorstep quite soon, seeing the pace he is going at right now. However, even with all the progress being made, Republicans and Trump unite in an attempt to slow down Mueller’s campaign and even get rid of him. It is simply unacceptable that Trump has tried to fire Mueller since day one, solely due to the fact that Mueller has been innocently trying to do his job. It is simply unacceptable that Congressional Republicans tried to completely discredit the Russia Investigation by releasing the Nunes Memo. Why do Democrats have to release a counter memo and sue Trump in order to protect a man who is doing his job (and doing it well) from being fired or at the least having his work discredited at every turn?
Mueller cannot be prevented from undergoing his duties as Special Council primarily because he is investigating a serious crime. His investigation decides whether or not our President gained his title by cheating. If President Trump truly had an unfair advantage in the 2016 election because of collaboration with the Russian government and high level Russian citizens, the American public has a right to know. President Trump, even if there is too much evidence stacked against you to feel confident the investigation will go your way, do not by any means try to tear down a fair, democratic process: the investigation into a possible crime.
However, the most important reason why Mueller’s investigation must go on is because he is simply investigating a fundamental threat to our democracy. The American democracy establishes our elections as free and open. Alas, with Russians having propped up one candidate with unfair troll farms and information leaks on the other major candidate (Hillary Clinton), our so called “free” election became biased and corrupt. Mueller’s investigation will deal justice to a White House that violated our fundamental liberties by allowing a foreign power to get involved in our elections, so there is no absolutely no reason that Bob should give in to Republican demands, or even face these demands in the first place.
All in all, Mr. Mueller, you are making incredible progress with an investigation crucial to the American Democracy. Even with so many Republicans and the Trump White House lashing out at you, making life hard for you, and even trying to fire you, I have but one thing to say to you: In the words of everyone’s favorite blue tang fish Dory, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, Mueller.
by: Erin Flaherty
Have you ever wondered why there’s a North and a South Dakota? Probably not, to be quite honest, but the reason why dates back to 1889 when the Dakota territory entered the union. Instead of entering as a single state, the territory split into two. This move was orchestrated by the Republican party, and would give the party more electoral votes in presidential elections. This sort of territorial trick is called gerrymandering, and it dates back to nearly 100 years before this particular incident.
Gerrymandering, by definition, is the manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class. To put that into simpler terms, legislators will move around the boundaries of districts so their party wins more representatives despite being the minority in the state. If this still seems confusing to you, consider this example; if a five district state is made up of 40% Republicans and 60% Democrats, it’d make sense that the Republicans would win one or two of the districts. However, through gerrymandering, legislators could pack most of the Democrats into two districts and make them the minority in the other three, giving the Republicans a win in three districts instead. You might be thinking, “Does this actually happen?” or “Is that even legal?”. But you might know that this is actually fairly common in the United States, especially recently in some 2016 state representative elections.
But when did gerrymandering start? And why does it have such a peculiar name? Well, the first instance of gerrymandering dates back to 1788, when Patrick Henry, a founding father and a former governor of Virginia, convinced legislators in the state to redraw districts to give James Monroe a better chance against James Madison, which ultimately failed.
But the instance that coined the term was in 1812, when Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, passed a bill that created a strangely shaped district to stop the Federalist party from winning the election that many thought looked like a salamander. With the combination of his last name and the quaint shape of his new district, the legal method of vote manipulation was named.
After these two gerrymandering situations arose, Congress put in place the Apportionment Act of 1842, which required that congressional districts be as compact and contiguous as possible. However, gerrymandering still continued after this act. It is hard to argue that gerrymandering is actually against the law. This is because it doesn’t necessarily violate the Constitution and there is no established standard to judge cases off of. This is why many court cases against gerrymandering ultimately fail.
Gerrymandering has been brought to the attention of the Supreme Court several times in recent years. In October of 2017, the case of Gill v. Whitford, regarding gerrymandering in Wisconsin was brought to the Supreme Court. Wisconsin was a part of the REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) plan. This was a plan facilitated by Republicans that used sophisticated software to regain majorities in several states. In 2017, Wisconsin's republicans won 53 percent of the assembly vote but took 64 of 99 legislative seats. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court due to disagreement on whether legislators should continue to draw legislature boundaries or if it is necessary for judges to do this to prevent gerrymandering.
A standard by which gerrymandering can be measured was proposed during the Gill v. Whitford case, called the efficiency gap. This gap would “ count the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats”, as described by the Brennan Center for Justice. This standard, that was developed by Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, at the University of Chicago Law School, still has its flaws. The results are only accurate if each district has an equal amount of people voting. It's hard to explain how this affects the formula that is used when calculating an efficiency gap, but when tested, a state where a party wins 60 percent of the vote and receives 60 percent of the seats is flagged for partisan gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court is also currently addressing the case of Benisek v. Lamone in regards to Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland. Seven of the eight congressional seats were taken by Democrats. The results of both cases are set to be decided sometime in June of 2018, and many are wondering what role the Supreme Court can and will have in cases of gerrymandering. The sides arguing against gerrymandering in both of these cases say that gerrymandering violates the first amendment’s protection of political association, and whether the Supreme Court agrees with this could potentially change the way that district lines are created.
Many wonder what the Supreme Court would be able to do to prevent gerrymandering. It’s unreasonable to ask that they overview every map, and even then, how would they evaluate them? One of the possible solutions that's already been implemented in the US is the use of independent commissions in the drawing of district lines. In most states, like Maryland and Wisconsin, lawmakers draw legislative in congressional districts. This leaves room for gerrymandering since the legislators draw their own boundaries and can easily manipulate them. Only a handful of states, however, have independent commissions where committee members draw districts. This helps keep politics and the potential for gerrymandering out of the process of drawing districts, since lawmakers and officials cannot be on the commission. Although it's impossible to create a commission that is free of any bias and partisanism, it seems like a great choice considering the success these states have had in avoiding gerrymandering scandals.
Another proposed solution is the use of advanced algorithms to insure the fair redrawing of districts. Brian Olson has developed an algorithm, somewhat similar to the efficiency gap, that puts into consideration how compact districts are and if they have equal amounts of voters when creating district maps. Still, this method has its flaws, as deciding the priorities and ideas that algorithms would use would ultimately still run into partisan disagreement.
The role that the Supreme Court will have in either implementing a solution to gerrymandering or letting the issue continue will speak volume on the matter of the true power of the citizens in the US. The refusal to choose a solution because of its possibility to be partisan in some way is nonsensical considering the alternative of allowing states to continue partisan gerrymandering. We will see throughout June what is the true limit of power on state legislators, because after all, is it the voters who choose their representatives or the representatives who choose their voters?