Democrats celebrated last week after President Trump was forced to wave the white flag over his administration’s effort to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 US Census.
But for all the bipartisan bluster over the issue, the immediate stakes were much lower than either Trump or his critics claimed. The cultural symbolism, however, mattered a great deal.
It is unlikely that many illegal immigrants or others who fear the government will participate in the Census — whether the document asks about citizenship or not. Thus, even if Trump had gotten his way, it wouldn’t have significantly affected Census results or the composition of Congress, which the Census results shape.
Yet the cultural question at the heart of the debate, having to do with the meaning of citizenship, is worth arguing about. To wit, by going after Trump’s proposal, his opponents ultimately targeted American sovereignty itself.