Monday, May 3, 2021

The Divisive GOP Arguments Against D.C. Statehood Just Took a Turn for the Worse

On April 22, the House passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C. On two separate occasions, Steve Benen has documented the nonsense arguments offered by Republicans against such a proposal. As an example, Sen. Tom Cotton said this during a speech on the Senate floor.

Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working class state. A new state of Washington would not be.

There's a whole lot we could say about that argument, but perhaps Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) summed it up best. 

What all of these arguments have in common is that they are dog whistles meant to raise objections to granting statehood to a population that is over 57 percent people of color, predominantly African American. 

But those dog whistles turn into bull horns in an article by Kylee Zempel at The Federalist titled, "Let's Not Give Statehood to the Third World Country of Washington DC." The tag line goes to the place you might expect: "To repurpose a poetic line from former president and wordsmith Donald Trump, the District of Columbia is a 'sh-thole country.'" 

Let's start by recognizing that Trump's enablers now admit that he referred to Haiti and other African nations as "shithole countries." We could talk about why they would go from denying a statement like that to embracing it. But suffice it to say that they just continue to travel deeper down the rabbit hole of blatant white supremacy. 

Now we're hearing that the Americans who live in Washington, D.C. hail from a "shithole country." What is astounding to me is that so many people on both the right and the left continue to promote the narrative that it is Democrats who are elitist in their messaging. The fact is that it is Republicans who constantly say things like this, or take it upon themselves to define who qualifies as a "real American."

So how does Zempel go about defining D.C. as a shithole country? 

We don’t need to cross any borders to witness a failed state — or at least a dysfunctional wannabe state. The 68 square miles of Washington D.C. have it all: a pathetic education system, federal security that is a “shocking failure,” law enforcement that stands by while mobs set fire to their squad cars, and lots of povertyand illiteracy — one in four adults in the District struggles to do basic reading, and one in three can’t do simple math. This is to say nothing of the city government, which is known to be fraught with corruption...This brings us to the out-of-control crime.

That "shocking failure" of federal security is a reference to Capitol Police, who are accountable to Congress. What happened on January 6 is actually an argument in favor of D.C. statehood.

Twenty years after Congress dissolved a federal control board that had seized authority over the nearly bankrupt city’s affairs from a troubled mayor, it was D.C. leaders rushing to the aid of national lawmakers amid a threat posed by a failing president.

To local officials, the outcome provided a vivid illustration of the burdens imposed on the city by the lack of full home rule. The District has no voting rights in Congress, which still oversees its budget, and, unlike the nation’s governors, Bowser does not have authority over the local National Guard, which reports to the secretary of the Army.

If Zempel really wants to make an argument against statehood based on a failing education system, poverty and crime, perhaps we should re-think whether states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi should be part of the union. U.S. News and World Report recently published their rankings of states based on factors including education, health care, the economy, opportunities, quality of life, infrastructure, and public safety. The three states I mentioned are at the bottom of the list.

Let's be clear. The reason Republicans oppose D.C. statehood is that they can be fairly certain that its constituents will elect two Democratic senators. But even if they were to be honest about that, they'd still have to grapple with the fact that it was Republicans who gerrymandered the senate - bequeathing to us a system in which 18 percent of the population controls 52 percent of the Senate seats. Anyone who doubts that part of our history should have to answer the question: how did we wind up with two Dakotas?

Given that the Republican goal is to maintain that imbalance, it comes as no surprise that they are resorting to their favorite playbook - racism - to make their argument. Whether or not it's accurate, they believe that playing up racial divisions, whether it's via dog whistles or bull horns, is their best strategy. 

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