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Redistricting: Don’t get distracted
It’s redistricting lawsuit season again in North Carolina. It has become every bit as reliable, maybe more so, than the shift from fall to winter.
As associate professors of political science at N.C. State, and as engaged citizens, we feel the public and courtroom debate over the legality of voting maps has distracted us from a more fundamental concern: gerrymandering’s impact on the legitimacy of our democracy.
History provides plenty of examples where actions understood to be legal violated the normative foundations of legitimacy. Prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, parties used all manner of rules to restrict voting, especially by African Americans. Those were legal, but not legitimate. Slavery, too, was legal but never legitimate.
The most important question is not whether gerrymandering is legal, but whether it is consistent with the core norms that define legitimate government. If parties can effectively disenfranchise voters based on political views, is that respecting equality, securing equal rights, and protecting the sovereignty of the people? If not, it’s illegitimate.
We just passed the anniversary of an attempted coup in our country. That attempt holds important lessons for the gerrymandering debate. Gerrymandering both reflects and reinforces the idea that politics is a winner-take-all proposition — that rules should be bent where necessary, broken where possible. It appeals to the worst instincts of those who seek office, allowing them a way to avoid debate and consolidate power, rather than encourage debate and share power.
The coup attempt shows how unscrupulous leaders can manipulate followers’ perceptions of legitimacy. It is therefore vital that we ensure the fairness and transparency of the democratic process.
Practically speaking, fighting gerrymandering on the grounds of legality keeps us in the realm of tweaks, when we should be in the realm of overhauls. The fight over our electoral maps is not, and should not be, about legality. It is about whether we want to protect the legitimacy of our democracy. We think we should.
To fight COVID, learn from HIV
The writer is a PhD social scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Four decades of battling HIV offers insights into human behavior and health systems that can help us win the COVID long-game.
Hoarding vaccines in rich countries then placing travel bans on nations for their care in tracking mutations is outrageous, but predictable. When human physiology is unable to keep a pathogen at bay, we tend to employ psychological defenses instead. We assign an infection to “others” and use discrimination to cut them off from society, rather than doing the hard work of protecting everyone.
The early days of HIV also led to travel bans and discrimination. The UN and activists spent years convincing Big Pharma to price treatment reasonably. Good policy is needed to ensure we don’t fall prey to our worst instincts.
The Biden administration must compel Moderna to share the recipe for its 96% taxpayer-funded vaccine. Sharing technology for HIV drugs led to greater financial gains for companies. We could wait years as scientists doggedly copy the formula, or we could pivot based on HIV calculus: save lives and grow business.
To get COVID test kits and shots into arms we should use the HIV game-changer of distributing medicine from mobile vans. We could easily do this with antigen test kits and new antiviral meds, reducing disease and ensuring that people know when they’re infectious.
The U.S. should also learn from the HIV strategy of reaching people in their homes. The key is using trusted, local staff who can answer questions and understand real-life concerns. It’s what the Guardians of Cleveland have done, asking grassroots advocates to chat with neighbors to overcome vaccine mistrust.
Activism by courageous voices in the gay community turned the HIV virus around. Activism is needed to reroute COVID’s course. We must translate these HIV lessons for the COVID era. As the outgoing NIH director noted, “Boy, there are things about human behavior that I don’t think we invested enough into understanding.” Let’s invest now before the next variant catches us off-guard.
Abigail M. Hatcher
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