Ann Coulter rarely rises to the level of deserving serious attention, and I am very open to the argument that this is not one of those moments. But a tweet she offered on Monday night, hours before Election Day polls opened across the country, offers some insight into the composition of the United States and into its history.
Also, it's gross and deserves to be identified as such.
Here's the tweet.
If only people with at least 4 grandparents born in America were voting, Trump would win in a 50-state landslide.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 8, 2016
It took zero-point-zero seconds for people to note that Coulter's only-native-grandparents clause would leave out some prospective Donald Trump voters — like Donald Trump. His mother was born in Britain, his grandfather in Germany (though the Trumps liked to tell people he was actually Swedish). So: no Donald Trump vote. That Trump's mother was born overseas means that none of his kids could vote either, if they were registered to. That Trump's first and third wives were also born overseas means that none of Trump's current grandchildren and none of young Barron Trump's eventual progeny would be allowed to vote.
In other words, in Donald Trump's immediate family, only Tiffany Trump's kids might be allowed to vote. An inauspicious start.
The Census Bureau tallies three generational groups in terms of nativity. First-generation Americans are those who were born elsewhere and now live in the United States. Second-generation Americans have one or both parents who are first generation. Third-generation (and up) Americans are those with two native-born American parents. That's as finely grained as we've got.
In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, about three-quarters of Americans of voting age were third-generation or higher.
First-generation Americans were, at that time, the most likely to hold full-time employment.
And, significantly, they were more likely to live in urban areas than were third-generation Americans, who were the most likely to live outside metropolitan areas.
That last point overlaps with what we're talking about here. People that live in cities are more likely to vote Democratic than people who live in rural areas. There is pretty clearly a correlation between the nativity of people in America with both political preference — and with ethnicity. Pew Research broke down the correlation between nativity and race and ethnicity a few years ago.
Coulter's tweet should probably have just cut to the chase and said, “Latinos shouldn't be allowed to vote.” No one was fooled by her couching it in terms of grandparents, particularly because of the racial history of the “grandfather clause” in American politics.
That argument presented by Coulter was presented in Louisiana in the late 19th century as a way to restrict black voters. The state had existing poll taxes and literacy tests, used to weed out black voters. (Slate published one of those tests, used as late as the 1960s. The point is obviously to trip up prospective voters, not to evaluate their aptitude.) But Louisiana added an escape clause for white voters, allowing it to more directly target blacks. In 1898, it added this exception to the voting law:
No male person who was on January 1st, 1867, or at any date prior thereto, entitled to vote under the Constitution or statutes of any State of the United States, wherein he then resided, and no son or grandson of any such person not less than twenty-one years of age at the date of the adoption of this Constitution, and no male person of foreign birth, who was naturalized before the first day of January, 1898, shall be denied the right to register and vote in this State by reason of his failure to possess the educational or property qualifications prescribed by this Constitution ...
Note the bolded parts: If you could vote in 1867, or if your father or grandfather could, you don't have to pass the test or own property. In 1867, of course, black Louisianans couldn't vote.
At the core of Coulter's tweet is the idea that, somehow, those who have been in the United States longer know or care more about the country. Well, no, it isn't. At the core of her tweet is that Coulter is annoyed that nonwhite voters are mostly not supporting her chosen candidate, and that a surge in the Hispanic vote could be the reason for his defeat.
She doesn't care if older-generation, more-likely-to-be-white Americans know more about the basic civics and history of the United States. Why do I say that? Well, in 2008, for example, Trump himself was asked what the 13 stripes on the flag represented, and drew a blank.
Of course, his mother was an immigrant, so I guess that sort of proves her point.