Tag Archives: immigration

A Less Than Perfect Union

I have been reading Ron Chernow’s biography of General Ulysses S. Grant.  It is a slow read—I am just over half-way through with some 400 pages to go. 

It is 1865 and Lee has surrendered at Appomattox Court House.  In Washington that April, Grant is greeted as a hero, and President Lincoln invites the general and his wife Julia to accompany him and the president’s wife Mary to the theater.  Grant politely declines.  He and Julia are weary of the public attention and board a train bound for their home in Burlington, New Jersey.  That evening at Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth, a racist Confederate-sympathizer and mediocre stage-actor, shoots Lincoln in the back of the head.  Grant learns of the shooting before his train reaches Burlington, and by the time Grant returns to Washington the next morning, Lincoln is dead.

But the war is not over when Andrew Johnson is sworn in as President.  Near Raleigh, Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s army surrenders to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, but Confederate resistance continues in Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Arkansas.

With Congress in recess, President Johnson begins to implement “reconstruction” by presidential proclamation, but his goal is not reconstruction but instead restoration of rule by the white former slave-owning class.  The President believes in white supremacy: “This is a country for white men and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.”

Before the end of 1865, segregation is born in the South.  The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery, but slavery is replaced by violent oppression of the black population.  In May 1866, white vigilantes in Memphis burn black homes, schools and churches in the name of “white man’s government,” killing 48 blacks and injuring 70 more.  In July, a white mob backed up by local police attacks blacks in New Orleans, killing 34.  Grant becomes convinced that the presence of federal troops is necessary to ensure the security of blacks in the South.  That summer, Confederate veterans in Tennessee form the Ku Klux Klan.

The Radical Republicans in Congress pass the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship of former slaves by declaring “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”—what we are now calling “birthright citizenship.”  Opposed by President Johnson and rejected by southern states, the Fourteenth Amendment is eventually ratified in 1868.

It is an exercise in creative dissonance to be reading this history of the nation’s divisions 150 years ago while living in a new era of division, a time when the occupant of the White House would not be fit to wipe Lincoln’s boots let alone lead the Union he loved and fought for.

Today, when too often a black life does not seem to matter, we have a president who sees “fine people” in a violent white mob in Charlottesville.  We have a president who defines the country by the size of its wall and not by the strength of its bedrock principles.  It is a president and a new Republican party who define the country by exclusion and by the notion that we are not a big enough country for immigrants.  They would find America’s greatness not in its ideas about freedom and refuge but in its power to arrest, separate, incarcerate and deport.

Today’s president is not as vocal—or as honest—as Andrew Johnson was in espousing white supremacy, but he seems to hold immigrants in the same regard as Johnson held former slaves.  The promise of the Fourteenth Amendment is “ridiculous” and “has to end.”  He is a (get-over-it) “Nationalist” (okay?) and proud of it.  It is a nationalism that needs an excludable other to exist.  If he could get away with it, I think he would exclude blacks (but he is satisfied with his party’s voter suppression strategy).  In this president’s mind, though, immigrants are excludable, and he has said (or Tweeted) as much.

In Senate races, the mid-term election results vindicate this president’s view of the country, while in the House a different view has prevailed.  Reconstruction may be possible.

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Something So Wrong: September 2017

  • On September 5, Trump announced that he was ending the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program. The program was created by President Obama by executive order in 2012 and made it possible for immigrants who had been brought to the US as children to stay legally in the country if they met certain qualifications. Trump ordered an end to the program as of March 5, 2018, exposing the 800,000 young immigrants currently enrolled in the program to deportation. In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security will not accept any new applicants for the program.
  • On September 19, in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump called on all nations to uphold “two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.” He called these duties “the beautiful vision” of the UN. He declared that nationalism should be the guiding principal of all countries: “As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.” He called out North Korea, Iran and Syria for particular criticism. North Korea, he said, is a “depraved regime” whose its pursuit of nuclear weapons is “reckless.” He warned that if North Korea threatened the US or its allies, the would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He belittled North Korea’s leader, calling him “Rocket Man” and saying that the North Korean leader was “on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” He said that “denuclearization” was North Korea’s “only acceptable future.” Turning to Iran, Trump called that nation’s government a “reckless” and “murderous” regime. The 2015 agreement with Iran, he said, was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” The five-nation agreement, which curtailed Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, was, he said, “an embarrassment to the United States.” He called on Iran to “stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people, and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors.” Trump said that the US is seeking the “de-escalation of the Syrian conflict,” while calling the current Syrian government a “criminal regime.” Trump asserted that the US is a “compassionate nation” that has spent “billions and billions of dollars” supporting humanitarian assistance in Syria, and he praised Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for “hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict.” He said that the US would not accept more Syrian refugees but would “out of the goodness of our hearts…offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region.”
  • On September 22, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un responded to Trump’s speech at the UN with rhetoric of his own: “The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the U.N. arena the unethical will to ‘totally destroy’ a sovereign state… makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.” Trump’s remarks “convinced” Kim “that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.” He refered to Trump’s speech as “the most ferocious declaration of a war in history” and vowed: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
  • On September 26, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Graham-Cassidy bill, the Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to “repeal and replace Obamacare” under the reconciliation process (requiring only 50 votes), would not be brought to a vote after three Republican Senators (McCain, Collins and Paul) declared their intention to vote against the bill. McConnell said that the Republicans would now turn their attention to tax reform.
  • On September 27, Trump announced that the quota on refugee admissions to the US would be capped at 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year. This sharply reduced the number of refugees allowed under the Obama administration (110,000 for fiscal year 2017). Since 1980, annual refugee admissions have averaged more than 95,000 per year.
  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made news in August of 2016 for not standing while the national anthem was played at a pre-season game. He said that he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since that time, other NFL players have taken a knee during the anthem as a protest against social injustice. At a campaign rally for senate candidate Luther Strange on September 22, Trump told the crowd that NFL owners should respond to players kneeling during the national anthem by saying: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired!” He suggested that fans should “leave the stadium” when players kneel in protest. At subsequent NFL games, many more players joined in protest by kneeling.
  • On September 28, acting Homeland Security chief Elaine Duke told reporters that the federal response to the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria was “really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.” In response the next day, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said: “This is, dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life or death’ story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.” Trump reacted to the mayor’s comments by tweeting: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

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