In light of the fact that the entire presidential election turned on the importance of rigorous information-security practices, it’s fitting that we learned more about Donald Trump’s likely plans for immigration enforcement and voting rights from sloppy document-handling than from anything the president-elect has said publicly.
On Sunday, Trump stood for a photo-op with Kris Kobach, the arch-restrictionist Kansas secretary of state, who is in the running to serve in the coming administration.
Twenty-four hours later, an eagle-eyed reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal noticed that Kobach posed for the photo with sensitive documents detailing his plans for the Department of Homeland Security visible to the camera.
Most of the visible text of the document pertains to policy ideas that would flesh out Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and “extreme vetting” of “high-risk aliens.”
But Kobach isn’t only known for being extremely hostile to Muslims and immigrants—Mitt Romney’s “self deportation” proposal was Kobach’s brainchild. He’s also known for supporting maximally draconian voter suppression laws. So it’s no surprise that Kobach’s memo included partially obscured allusions to the “voter rolls” and “draft amendments” to a law—apparently the National Voter Registration Act—that is intended to make it easier for citizens to get on the voter rolls and stay on them.
Many liberals are underestimating just how aggressively the unified Republican government will try to shape the electorate in ways that make it whiter and more right wing. On its face, a memo like this suggests the new administration will seek not just to limit federal efforts to facilitate voting, but to weaponize the domestic security apparatus in order to control the franchise. This is not what the Department of Homeland Security was built to do, but its purpose can change. Voter suppression may be the story of how Trump won the election; it may also be the story of how Republicans set the country on a doom loop of white ethnocracy.
An axiom of conservative thought holds that a representative democracy, with a high rate of participation, will inevitably fail, because the underclass will vote for more and more downward wealth redistribution until socialism takes hold, or the country gets sapped of productive incentives and the economy collapses.
Their efforts to prevent this cycle from taking hold have contributed instead to rising inequality, and the empowerment of an increasingly oligarchical ruling class. With Trump, there will now be a more explicitly racial dimension to this dynamic.
Any Republican administration would have advanced voter suppression measures, but not all Republicans would have used direct appeals to white identity to win the presidency, nor would they have attempted to foster white nationalism in the Oval Office.
The electorate the Trump administration will seek to empower, at the expense of young and minority voters, will be increasingly attuned to white nationalist overtures, and thus come to expect the politicians they support to use power to materially benefit whites. By Trumpifying the electorate, Trump will further Trumpify his own party, leaving the cycle in place after he is no longer in power himself.
Beating Trump will require Democrats to think and act in different ways, but keeping members of their own party on the voter rolls, and assuring that they clear every hurdle Republicans lay in front of them before election day, will have to be a key part of the overall plan. The alternative is that a disproportionately white electorate will return Trump to power. His theory of politics will be vindicated. The Republican Party will accept its status as a whites-only party if that happens, and continue to govern as such for years.