The federal government shut down on Friday, and remains shut down today. I’m going to assume that you are generally familiar with the whys and wherefores of it. Shortly stated, It involves a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over immigration policy. I watched the Sunday political talk shows this week, and of course, spokespeople from the White House, plus Republican senators, all blamed the Democrats; this is the ‘Schumer shutdown,’ as the ineffable White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it. (Points for alliteration, at least!). Meanwhile, all the Dems were calling it the ‘Trump shutdown.’ Watching the pols shout ‘j’accuse!’ at each other made for an unpleasant Sunday, honestly. And, of course, both sides were intent on blackening the other side’s motivation, intent and basic integrity. Again, unpleasant.
But let’s not give in to the trap of declaring ‘a pox on both their houses.’ This really is a moral argument more than a political/procedural one. And one side, and one side only, is on the side of the angels.
Procedurally, of course, it’s the Republicans who have the better argument. It takes 60 votes to open a Senate debate, without which no budget can pass. Chuck Schumer heads up the Democratic caucus, and for the most part, it is Democrats who are refusing to vote to open. (There were a few defections on each side). Democrats are holding the budget hostage over the issues of DACA and CHIP. (They have to–that’s the only leverage they have). The shut-down could end today. A wrench has been thrown into the Senate’s gears, and it was Democrats who threw it. Let us at least concede that much. Couldn’t they all just get along better? Pass a budget, and get on with their lives? Yes, they could. Democrats could give up this lonely, quixotic fight. But that would require a certain moral accommodation, a certain lowering of moral standards. It’s an accommodation they are (not yet) willing to make.
But the fact that Schumer (along with Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham and Jeff Flake and a few other Senators on each side) are genuinely making an effort to break this impasse isn’t actually the problem. Schumer put it best when he said that working with President Trump is like “negotiating with jello.” Trump famously goes along with whoever speaks with him last, and it appears that immigration hard-liners have his ear, especially advisor Stephen Miller (quite likely the most repellent figure in Washington), John Kelly and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark).
But this entire embroglia is and always was completely unnecessary. President Obama fought for years to solve the problem of the Dreamers. Young people, who were brought to this country as tiny children, by their parents, in violation of US immigration laws, are vulnerable. In every way that matters, they’re Americans. They’re working, going to school, serving in the military. They should simply be made citizens, and that’s what Obama wanted for them, but he couldn’t get that through Congress, though there exists a bill, the DREAM act, that would accomplish it, and which would pass if Republican Congressional leadership would bring it to a vote. (Plenty of Republicans are good people of conscience, and Dreamer supporters). So Obama used the power of the Presidency to, at least, protect those kids from deportation. And deporting them makes no sense whatsoever. Their homes are here. They know no one in their parents’ countries of origin. Mostly, they don’t speak the language of those countries. Obama’s actions, DACA, gave them a reprieve.
And then, on September 5, Donald Trump signed an executive order reversing DACA.
There was absolutely no reason for President Trump to strip those young people of the DACA protections President Obama extended them. It was an act of utterly gratuitous cruelty. That action, unnecessary and unprincipled and without moral foundation of any kind, is what precipitated this crisis. Democrats have one, tiny bit of leverage they can use to force a vote on the Dream Act. They have to do it, for moral if not for political reasons.
And why did Trump do it? Why did he hold Dreamers hostage like this; what larger political purpose did this despicable act serve? Why, he wanted to put pressure on Democrats to agree to a whole bunch of restrictions on immigration. He talks a lot about ending ‘chain migration.’ He wants to end the diversity visa lottery program. His clearest comment on his reasoning came a few days go; the ‘shithole countries’ comment.
Bluntly stated, Donald Trump wants fewer brown people in this country, and more people with white skin. ‘Norwegians.’ And he’ll go to any lengths to achieve it. This what it looks like when racists govern. This is what happens when the reflexive, xenophobic, inchoate discomfort with people with darker skin influences the policies of an older white man with a long track record of racism. This is what the United States would look like under the alt-Right. This is a power play by racists. This is Klan tactics, and Klan strategizing. This is the savagery of racism, the violence of racism, the barbarism of racism, the barely-contained ferocity of racism.
Someone has to stand against racism, and Democrats are what we have.
Unpack the code. Mr. Trump may rail against political correctness, but the fact is, most decent people are repulsed by statements of open racism, and even Teflon Don can’t just say ‘I hate brown people.’ They talk about ‘illegals.’ They say they’re simply standing up for ‘rule of law.’ It’s not immigrants they oppose, or immigration, but illegality. (If that were the case, illegal Hispanic immigration would be an easy problem to solve; just issue more green cards. Watch immigration hardliners recoil from that suggestion). They oppose ‘amnesty.’ Let’s be blunt; all those words, ‘illegals’ and ‘amnesty’ most especially, are barely concealed racist language. Sometimes, hardliners will even admit it. The seamier pages of Breitbart and other neo-Klan websites talk about ‘racial purity’ and the ‘end of the white race’ quite openly. Stephen Miller wrote Trump’s bizarrely dark and violent inauguration address. He’s been consulting with Breitbart throughout this crisis. The racism of this administration, of this President, of many of his advisors, and of key Republican legislators is not far under the surface, not all that well hidden.
And their intentions were laid bare in a political ad that was released by the RNC last weekend. I’m not going to link to that ad, nor am I going to tell you how to find it: I won’t drive traffic there. But this was the key line: “Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.” The ad essentially accuses Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi of murder. On the Sunday shows, White House spokespeople tried to distance the President from the ad. That’s a little tricky when we can hear the President’s voice at the end of it saying “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”
This President–perhaps driven there by his advisors, perhaps driven there by his own paranoia and suspicion and darkest of dark fantasies–lives in a world in which brown-skinned people are The Enemy, where they’re murderers and rapists, where they’re shithole people from shithole places, where their only interest in America is destructive, America conceived of as a place where they can mooch off ‘hard-working’ (code for white) Americans. And Donald Trump has shut down the federal government to pressure the only people standing against him to accept policies that would hasten deportation, increase deporation, criminalize millions of people’s families, shatter those families, and ultimately, whiten America.
He’s also holding sick children hostage. Reauthorizing CHIP, another Democratic priority, is also in the mix.
We’ve all known for a long time that Trump was racist. But he hasn’t always governed as one, or spoken as one. Like most would-be despots, he has a sentimental side. And so, from time to time, he’ll talk about treating DACA kids with ‘love.’ But he can be worked on, and Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton and John Kelly have his ear.
Please, Senator Schumer. Please. Don’t back down. You really are our only hope.