Bad-Faith Bothsidesism Makes Gerrymandering Impossible To Understand

Bad-Faith Bothsidesism Makes Gerrymandering Impossible To Understand

Technocratic policymaking is the best, most efficient way to get over on the average American voter because explaining such terribly boring technical and political machinations will sooner induce a coma than inspire someone to vote.

Scurrying behind the curtain of politics and altering the playing field is the surest way to gain and, importantly, hold power no matter your party's positions on critical issues. A party's politics don't really matter if the game is rigged so that it is no longer a game, but an exercise in certainty that one group of politicos will remain in charge no matter what voters want.

How we talk about gerrymandering – and how media outlets cover the disease that is gerrymandering – leaves voters confused, disenchanted, and potentially disengaged. Last week I nearly ate my steering wheel as I listened to an NPR story on the effects of gerrymandering in the 2022 midterm elections. The message: Every lawmaker is the same, both major political parties gerrymander the shit out of every state in which they are in control, and the effects of this systematic cheating – this short circuiting of democracy – are the same across the country. In short, NPR told listeners that there is no difference between good and bad things, you imbecile, you fucking moron.

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Gerrymandering is the festering, oozing infection at the root of the corrupted and unresponsive political system in the United States. Starting with the Republican sweep elections of 2010, conservative lawmakers on the state level have been on a mission from God (or Satan; we're looking into it) to ensure their majorities are protected forever and ever, amen. Republicans, after being wiped off the face of the political earth in the 2006 and 2008 elections, knew they could no longer compete as a national party, and that they would have to drastically alter their policies and vision for the country if they were to ever claw back to power. Their bad-faith politics could go unchecked if voters had no opportunity to unseat them.

Moderating was never in the cards for Republicans. Instead, they completely fucked electoral maps everywhere they could.  

States like Wisconsin – the official laboratory for the most vile right-wing policies crafted by the most monstrous conservative think tanks – can no longer be considered a democracy because of algorithmically perfected gerrymandering executed by the state's frothing Republican legislators. How fucked is Wisconsin? Democratic Governor Tony Evers won re-election by nearly 100,000 votes this month and Democrats lost seats in the Wisconsin legislature. Democrats won more votes in the elections of 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 and Republicans have maintained a death grip on state senate and house majorities that have turned Evers into little more than a figurehead. Nearly every county in Wisconsin has passed a resolution asking state lawmakers to un-fuck the state's electoral maps. Thankfully, there is a narrow path to fair districts in Wisconsin if Democrats can de-radicalize the state's supreme court in April. Fair districts could instantly turn the state into a Democratic stronghold.

Ohio, once a purple state, is now redder than Mississippi thanks to laser-guided gerrymandering that threatens to lock Democrats out of power for generations (when the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Republican-drawn election maps in 2020, Republican lawmakers returned to the Court with even more gerrymandered districts, proving once again that these people can't be shamed into doing what's right). States like Indiana and North Carolina and Georgia would be highly competitive or solidly blue if not for right-wing legislators drawing up districts to dilute the power of those who oppose them – namely, people of color. Funny how that works.

The aforementioned NPR story was centered on an activist in Michigan who had done the thankless and vital work of forcing the state to redraw Republican gerrymanders with the help of an independent commission – liberals' preferred option in restoring districts that aren't shaped like the alien popping out of the dude's chest in Alien. The independent commission's maps undid hideous right-wing gerrymandering and led to the the first Democratic legislative majority in Michigan in decades. For the first time in a long time, Michigan's elections were responsive to the will of the people. Perhaps the state's lawmakers can now regulate weapons of war and protect abortion rights and address other priorities that were ignored by a Republican majority that was, by design, unaccountable to voters.

The NPR piece mentioned Democratic gerrymandering in Illinois and Maryland and New York, equating those efforts with what has happened in two dozen states since the 2010 red wave of death. And yes, Democrats in those states (and California) have made maps that are decidedly favorable for Democrats in states with heavy Democratic voter majorities. The tenor of the story was deceitful though. I got a taste of bad faith as I listened to it. A listener who hasn't spent an inordinate amount of time reading and thinking about gerrymandering may have walked away thinking all states are equally gerrymandered and both parties have fucked up maps in equal proportion wherever they could. This, of course, is wrong (I'm once again obliged to say I am not a Resistance Lib; I am no apologist for the Democratic Party and have been highly critical of its political and moral failings).

Not all gerrymandered maps are the same. Some, like in Maryland, are designed to make it a little tougher for Republican-leaning parts of the state to elect Republican representatives. Some, like in Ohio and Indiana and Wisconsin and formerly in Michigan, are ludicrous and a collective slap in the face of every voter in those states. It's those maps that result in right-wing radicals representing areas with significant populations of color. Republicans in formerly purple (or in some cases blue) states have implemented the most extreme gerrymandering in American history since the 2010 midterms, and Republican judges have been there to wink and nod and play the game, extending far-right politics to the bench and ensuring those maps stand. Republican Supreme Court justices have approached gerrymandered maps with a heaping of bad faith, pretending there's nothing they can do about Republican lawmakers' undermining of democracy in the states.

That the NPR story failed to mention the extreme and anti-democratic nature of Republican gerrymanders over the past dozen years was infuriating. The Michigan activist who successfully un-fucked the state's maps made sure not to strike a partisan tone. She said both Democrats and Republicans in Michigan supported the independent redrawing of electoral maps. She said her family members – Trump fanatics and resistance libs and everyone in between – were supportive of her efforts. Count me highly skeptical of these claims.

But maybe that's what it takes to jam through a remedy like independently-drawn maps. To restore some legitimacy to our elections, maybe the left has to appeal to squishy "independent" voters who have no real stance on important issues and believe good and bad things are indeed the same, but like the idea of fairness in elections. I don't pretend to understand "independent" voters who are torn between full-blown fascism and maintaining a democratic republic, but they seem to value fairness. That makes sense if one is dumb enough to believe all politics and policies are the same.

As a lifelong ends-justify-the-means truther, I suppose I'm on board with this approach if it's the only viable way to counter Republican gerrymanders that have built a veritable dam between what voters want and what lawmakers do with their power.

Fair maps are the first step toward massive, systemic changes we need to survive as a republic. A more engaged electorate is impossible without unraveling the maps that have been fucked beyond belief over the past dozen years. I fear, however, that draining the politics from the gerrymandering discourse opens the door to the right's bad faith, and all the toxic bothsidesism that comes with it.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.