Death by a thousand cuts is an infinitely more painful way to die. It’s excruciating for me to watch as the 2020 census is cut to ribbons — bleeding out after myriad obstacles combined to suck the life from a process that supports the way Americans live.

The first sign of trouble started two years ago when the director of the census quit, raising the alarm about gross underfunding. Next, a protracted battle about President Donald Trump’s insistence that a question about citizenship be added to the census form — a question which required respondents to identify the American citizens in the family. The Supreme Court declared the question unconstitutional, but the raging debate ended up politicizing what had been a nonpartisan undertaking.

Two more deep cuts: the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed the process just as it began. In Massachusetts, Secretary of State William Galvin announced March 12 as the first day of the census. Two weeks later, Gov. Charlie Baker was forced to issue a stay-at-home advisory. And later, yet another Trump demand: This time that undocumented residents should not be included in the final tally. Again, contrary to the constitution which states every person, no matter their status, must be counted in the census. Then last week — the final twist of the knife — as the Trump administration demanded the once-in-a-decade count end one month early.

Census takers were supposed to conduct in-person surveys through Oct. 31 with field workers targeting rural communities, communities of color, immigrants, and low-income residents — places where most residents did not respond to the mail-in or online forms. The numbers matter. They’ll be used to determine how many Congressional leaders will represent each state. Dollars that fund state priorities like infrastructure, education, housing assistance, and health insurance for the poor are also based on the census numbers.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, condemned the decision to shorten the census, especially the period of door-knocking. Clarke said, “This decision may deprive these communities of fair representation and fair allocation of funds for the next 10 years.”

I fear this is the fatal wound, a guarantee that the census count will be incomplete and inaccurate. It's something the Trump administration knows full well, because recently, the census department asked Congress for a four-month extension to ensure a completed count. With no extension and Trump’s newly imposed cutoff, a process already mired in delays is pushed even further behind. And so far, four out of 10 households have yet to be counted.

The last time we had a census, in 2010, millions of residents were missed. New technology and broader outreach this time around were expected to help close the response gap. But it was only a matter of time before one of the Trump administration’s stabs at undermining this process would slash a central artery.

I know in this season of protest, we are all suffering from outrage fatigue. But if democracy means anything, we should be prepared to defend it with our last gasp.