Posts Tagged ‘Make America Great Again’

Things the Right Gets Wrong, pt. 1: Immigration

January 20, 2020

Things the Right Gets Wrong, pt. 1: Immigration: two wrongs don’t make a right, but they do sometimes make a right-winger

 

We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.

—-Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

 

 

Six people have been arrested so far in connection with terrorist threats and plots in Richmond, VA this week.[1]   Right-wing pundits have renewed threats of “civil war” if the elected governments attempt to implement laws that they, private citizens with no legal education and speaking only for a minority of Americans, declare “unconstitutional.”[2] President Trump has openly sided with the violent extremists, echoing their paranoid fears without a whisper discouraging their violent intentions.[3] This is occurring at the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial, one that many GOP senators have promised will be short, look at no evidence, and completely exonerate him. As much as I would like to just stick to philosophy, I am reminded of Plato’s warning that the price of ignoring politics is to be ruled by evil men.

At the center of all of this talk of civil war and this eagerness to ignore crass and rampant corruption, we find this repeated conservative horror that American civilization is on the verge of collapse and that nothing short of armed force or at least the credible threat of violence can save it from the will of the foolish majority. Chants such as “Blood and Soil and “You Will Not Replace Us” reflect their real or affected fear of a “white genocide” where darker-skinned people from countries outside of Northern Europe either slaughter “real Americans” or settle for merely destroying our culture.[4] It is in this context that words such as King’s, coming from Republican elected officials for years, are so chilling. They are nothing less than a call to violence. They are also wrong.

If I have to argue with someone that racism is immoral, I’m doomed to waste the precious time I have on Earth to serve God and enjoy God’s good world. What I choose to do here and now is to say that their plan leads only to national suicide. Japan before the arrival of Perry, China before the Opium Wars, Russia under the Tsars, Spain under the Inquisition, or North Korea today: all followed or follow variations of Rep. Steve King’s mantra. Countries that wall themselves off from the world, convinced of their own superiority or obsessed with their own stability, wind up declining. Even Sparta stagnated and fell, an impoverished husk of a nation despite its powerful army. And Japan today, despite being an open and reasonably progressive democracy, is literally dying of old age.[5] I think to of the Mongol Empire. Mongolia was the largest land empire ever, stretching from the North Pacific to the Middle East, encompassing what we now call China, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North India, South Russia and more; and it all virtually vanished. Sure, you can find genetic evidence of Mongolian occupation, and plenty of ruins of cities they burned; but despite laws the Khan attempted to enforce to keep his people separate from the conquered foes, within a generation they were culturally absorbed. In China they became Chinese, in Islamic lands they became Muslim and so on.

By contrast, look at the Roman Empire. It initially expanded through extremely brutal military campaigns. However, it offered a truly vibrant culture, giving aqueducts, roads, Roman civil law, concrete, and more (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo).   It didn’t do most of this out of any sense of benevolence, but it did have a lot to offer. People wanted to become Roman citizens, and Rome was happy to oblige by making citizenship available even to those born and raised in other cultures. And Roman culture took as freely as it gave, welcoming all sorts of other religions (so long as they themselves also included a little Emperor worship, which got the Christians in trouble), foreign philosophies, foreign gods, foreign science and literature, new foods, new art and more. The testimony to the power of Roman culture is that when Rome fell, generations spent all their efforts trying to become the new Romans. Not only was Europe nominally under the Holy Roman Empire, but Roman laws, Roman architecture, Roman engineering, and even the Roman language for many centuries were the standards all later European cultures sought to imitate. The German “Kaiser” and Russian “Tsar” were their languages’ “Caesar;” even peoples who had never been part of the Roman Empire or whose ancestors fought it vigorously and successfully later sought to claim the Roman heritage. Much the same occurred in Islamic lands as the initial Arab conquests led to absorption of much of the culture of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine culture.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I saw a televised interview with a young British Muslim guy ranting about how evil the USA was and how great al Qaeda was for standing up for Islamic culture. He was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap, without any apparent sense of irony. America may have become a mighty nation by conquering Mexican territory and successful involvement in two world wars; but it became a great nation because of its culture. People around the world want to watch our television and movies; they want our hamburgers and our Levis; they want our free markets, representative democracy, rights for women, free speech and so on. We are not great because we are paler than others; we are great because of baseball, rock and roll, and T-shirts. People want to be us; even our enemies don’t want so much to destroy us than to replace us, while taking over for themselves who we are.

Nations that strive for low immigration, conservative and unchanging cultures, and racial purity either die, or end up like North Korea, impoverished and backwards lands surviving only because most of the population is unable to leave. That is the end of the road which the white nationalist follows. Steve King may claim that he isn’t racist, that he “only” wants to keep out immigrants who aren’t “good Americans,” but this is foolish if not dishonest. He echoes the rhetoric of white nationalists while claiming to not understand what it really means. I say this instead:

 

“We can ONLY restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

 

What do I mean by that? The United States is better at turning immigrants into citizens than any other nation is or has been. We’ve been doing it for our entire history, and we know how to make it work. We’ve been most prosperous when we sought to welcome immigrants, and our economy has always suffered when we tried to shut out foreign goods and foreign peoples. That doesn’t mean “open borders;” that’s the Straw Man argument of the fearful and the racist. But we’ve been able to take in people from the Russian Jewish shtetls to the Bosnian villages and mosques to the Chinese cities and farms and a hundred other cultures, and within a generation they’re as American—or more!—-than the “patriots” who marched in Charlottesville with their torches and their red hats and their threats of civil war. “The hands that built this country we’re always trying to keep down.”[6]

Cultures, like individuals, change as long as they live. “Whatever is not busy being born is busy dying.” Anyone who wants to “restore” a civilization seeks to practice the mortician’s art, when what is needed is a midwife. Sure, you can embalm a culture so that, like a corpse, it looks as good as it once did; but first it has to be dead. A great civilization is one that grows, that produces science and art and prosperity, that attracts immigrants and imitators, that learns from other cultures and takes the best to use for itself. It is like the scribe whom Jesus describes, who has learned and preserved the traditions of the past while also embracing new insights and values, “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”[7]

Civilizations can die from too much change too fast. Conservatives instinctively understand the values of boundaries and definitions, which liberals can overlook. Reform Judaism began as a modern revival or resuscitation movement, to help the spiritual heritage of the past live in the modern world. But a century later, it seemed ready to dissolve, as young Reform Jews became secular, or Buddhist, or some other faith. Reform has begun emphasizing Hebrew in worship and other conservative traits, to restore a sense of what it is to be Jewish, to be Reform Judaism. I don’t want to say that conservatives are always wrong, or that we should ever totally silence them. But right now our country is swinging more towards the example of the Amish or the Wahhabi, where all change is seen as evil until it is virtually forced. White nationalists refer to Donald Trump as “Glorious Leader;” North Koreans refer to Kim Jong-il as “Dear Leader.” Is that the sort of “patriotism” we need? No! That will not “make America great,” any more than cultural and racial homogeneity, militarism and cultural petrifaction has made North Korea “great.” The ideology of Rep. Steve King, Donald Trump and others of their ilk will kill America, merely to satisfy the xenophobic and those who, like so many despots, are willing to foster paranoia and resentment, knowing it leads to national poverty and decline, simply to satisfy their own ambitions.

[1] Ryan W. Miller, “Three More Suspected Neo-Nazis Arrested before Virginia Gun-Rights Rally, Authorities Say;” USA Today 1/17/2020 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/01/17/virginia-gun-rally-3-more-suspected-neo-nazis-base-arrested/4499733002/)

[2] Cydney Hargis, “Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren on proposed Virginia gun safety laws: “Stop coming for the Second Amendment” or there will be a civil war in the U.S.” Media Matters 1/17/2020 (www.mediamatters.org)

 

[3] WJHL, “President Trump: Second Amendment is Under ‘Very Serious Attack’ in Virginia;” ABC 8 News (https://www.wric.com/news/politics/capitol-connection/president-trump-second-amendment-is-under-very-serious-attack-in-virginia/)

[4] David Neiwert, “When White Nationalists Chant Their Weird Slogans, What Do They Mean?” SPLC: Southern Poverty Law Center 10/10/2017 (https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/10/when-white-nationalists-chant-their-weird-slogans-what-do-they-mean)

[5] Francisco Toro, “Japan is a Trumpian Paradise of Low Immigration Rates. It’s also a Dying Country;” The Washington Post Agust 29, 2019 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/29/japan-is-trumpian-paradise-low-immigration-rates-its-also-dying-country/)

 

[6] Bruce Springsteen, “American Land,” Wrecking Ball 2012 (Sony Legacy) Here’s a pretty good version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02mZTyTbdTI

[7] Matthew 13:52

They Booed Trump at the World Series:  What Does That Mean?

October 29, 2019

They Booed Trump at the World Series:  What Does That Mean?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the press about events October 27, 2019.  First, Americans woke up to hear that the founder and leader of DAESH or ISIS had been killed in a nighttime raid in Syria.  He was a brutal and seemingly power-mad terrorist, even compared to Osama bin Laden, and the violent death of a person who celebrated rape, slavery, torture and murder is good news for anyone who loves justice.  As the Commander in Chief of the US military, Donald Trump clearly expected at least a little boost in his popularity.  You could argue that he should have gotten enormous praise and gratitude, not in the sense that he was morally owed anything but rather in the sense that if you light a fuse and it burns down to the dynamite and nothing happens, you say, “That should have exploded.”  Something unexpected and seemingly unnatural happened; instead of cheers or even polite applause, Donald Trump was jeered and booed the very day he announced that one of America’s most vicious enemies had been killed.  Why is that?

There have been many comments made about the way Trump announced the death of Baghdadi.  Obama announced the death of bin Laden with little prior build-up.  It came totally unexpectedly.  In fact, right before the raid he was going through one of the traditional Washington rituals, the White House Correspondents Dinner Roast.  He mocked himself and was mocked by others; he also teased others.  He was funny and seemed relaxed, as if nothing special was happening.  A few hours later, he was in the White House listening in real time while the raid played out, so that if any major decisions needed to be made or major announcements made, good or bad, he’d be there to do so.  When the raid was over and the troops safely on their way home, he made a relatively dignified speech congratulating and thanking all those involved, even the military who weren’t always his biggest fans because he had not served and had made decisions many disagreed with.

By contrast, during the actual raid to kill Baghdadi, Trump was golfing, enjoying his weekly multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded personal pleasure.  Then he tweeted about an upcoming big announcement, teasing it like it was the new Star Wars trailer or something.  When he finally made his announcement, it seemed to many to be self-congratulatory, to reveal operational details better kept secret, and to be generally undignified and unworthy of the president of the United States.  While Obama had emphasized that the body of bin Laden had been buried with the dignity we’d give one of our own, Trump repeatedly spoke of how humiliated Baghdadi had been, “whimpering” and dying “like a dog.” While Obama had notified leaders of both parties, Trump notified the Russians but not his real enemies, the Democrats, American citizens, most of whom have handled secret materials for years without leaking it.  And many were quick to note that when bin Laden was killed, Donald Trump was one of the first to say that Obama did not deserve any credit because he was merely the President; so why, critics asked, should Trump get any credit now when he had no more to do with killing Baghdadi than Obama had to do with killing bin Laden?

All of this, however, strikes me as beside the point.  Ultimately, while these considerations might have warranted rebuking Trump’s boorish and narcissistic messaging or his hypocrisy, it doesn’t explain the chants of “Lock Him Up!” by tens of thousands of people on live, international television.  Something much more is going on here. 

Tamara Keith of PBS Newshour was onto part of it when she pointed out that bin Laden was a much bigger force in most Americans’ minds than Baghdadi ever was.  Al Qaeda killed thousands of Americans in one day on live television; DAESH sought to establish its caliphate on the other side of the world, and most of its victims were Syrians and Iraqis.  Newshour also pointed out that while Obama got a popularity boost after the killing of bin Laden, it didn’t last; wile he got a month or two versus the hours at most that Trump earned, ultimately it partisanship took hold in both cases.  The difference between the two cases was not as different as it might first seem; still, it’s worth asking why Trump didn’t earn even the temporary boost Obama got.

When Obama took office, there were two great threats hanging over our collective heads:  the Great Recession and radical Islamist terrorism.  Killing bin Laden symbolically took care of one of these, while the Obama economic plan, including the bailout of the auto industry, helped with the other.  Before Obama took office, economists predicted that recovery from the Great Recession would be slow and uneven; some of the jobs lost would never come back, though others would replace them.  Sadly, that prediction proved true; some areas of our country never really recovered, though overall the economy has grown steadily through most of the Obama administration and into Trump’s.  The result was a balkanization of our fears.  In rural areas, and many manufacturing areas, the economy continued to be a source of anxiety; but for most of the nation, things were slowly looking up.  Areas where jobs were scarce and immigrants relatively unknown, the fear of Islamic terrorism grew to a general xenophobia; not only were foreigners seen as terrorists and criminals, but also as competitors for the scarce jobs.  But in more developed areas, there were enough jobs that immigrants were seen not as competitors as much as a necessary part of the work force.  People who knew Muslims first-hand didn’t fear them all, but distinguished between them.  So while Obama addressed the concerns of most Americans, Trump addressed himself to the needs of only a limited portion.

According to opinion polls, more Americans are worried about mass shootings and domestic terrorism than they are about Mexicans or ISIS.  More Americans worry about Russian hackers than about whether #MeToo is unfair to men.  While Trump voters fear illegal aliens voting, voters in other areas have dealt with real election fraud:  the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia sabotaging voting machines in black neighborhoods, the Republican candidate in North Carolina literally stealing ballots from Democratic voters, thousands of legal citizens being blocked from voting around the nation by Voter ID laws designed to handicap legal citizens, and so on.  The problems most Americans fear are not being solved by Trump.  In fact, Donald Trump seems to exacerbate those problems.  He doesn’t fight mass shootings; he defends the NRA, which even the GOP-controlled Senate concedes is a Russian asset, and which fights to preserve the rights of suspected terrorists, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to have military-grade weapons.  He doesn’t fight to ensure that all citizens can vote; he supports voter suppression and voter suppressors.  He doesn’t fight foreigners undermining our elections; he encourages and even forces them to intervene to help him.  And most tellingly, while he touts his fight against Islamic terrorism, more Americans have been killed or threatened by white supremacist terrorism which often cites Trump-favored information sources like Breitbart and InfoWars, or even quotes Trump himself.  We’ve had mass shootings, white supremacist riots, and bombing attempts, all citing Trump’s words in support and loyalty to him as their motive.  In short, to most Americans, Donald Trump is a more obvious and all-encompassing danger than Baghdadi was on his best day. 

Why did they boo Donald Trump at Game 5 of the World Series?  Because they hate Trump, sure.  But why?  Is it, as Trump supporters claim, because those 40,000 people simply hate America?  That would be stupid; this is where we keep our stuff, so why would we blow it up?  Is it “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” an irrational blind hatred of all things Trump?  Again, no.  The hatred and anger flows from the fact that Trump is felt to be a threat, a greater threat than any other, the nexus of most or all of the fears and anxieties of the majority of Americans.  He supports the terrorists most of us fear, the ones who shoot up schools and shopping malls and churches:  the white supremacists, the incels, the people who just collect guns so that when their anger boils over they’ll be ready to make the universe pay.  He accepts the praise of those who literally proclaim him the new Christ, and who threaten to unleash civil war in God’s name if he is opposed. 

I don’t think most of the people in that ballpark thought about this explicitly.  They reacted emotionally, as a result of conscious reasoning and unconscious perception.  The two things Trump can most credibly brag about are simply not the two things most people fear the most; and the things they do fear the most are things they associate with him.  Booing Donald Trump feels like booing Nazis and other “very fine people,” like booing the El Paso shooter and the Charlottesville driver and all the other terrorists who have quoted him, like booing climate change and all the entitled billionaires who fight to keep it happening, like booing the corruption of government officials who funnel tax money into their businesses while brazenly shaking down lobbyists for “donations.”  In a real sense, Donald Trump is a symbol, a bigger-than-life character, the way bin Laden was and Baghdadi is not, at least not for Americans.  And while for many Americans he’s a symbol of fighting social and economic changes that unsettle traditional values, for a return to the America they remember from their childhood, when America was Great, for many more he’s a symbol of chaos, random violence, political violence, oppression, environmental chaos of floods, fires, melting glaciers and mass extinctions, of religious oppression, and an attack on Hope itself. 

I side with the jeering masses, the booers, the chanters, the displeased.  I see two great forces struggling for control of America.  One saw itself as the Culture Warriors, but they’ve largely lost that war so rather than fight to win the culture they fight to establish rule by force over it.  Their slogan, Make America Great Again, is a formula for going backwards, for stasis and even degeneration.  The best days are behind them, so they seek to drag everyone and everything back into the past, back to when it was simple.  The other side’s slogan is “Yes We Can!”  It is optimism, It was Hope and Change, It is growth.  Anything not busy being born is busy dying; so this other side seeks to guide the change but not to fight it.  Trump famously, proudly resists learning, resists change, resists advice or other perspectives or other voices than his own.  Obama studied and read and questioned all through his presidency, and changed course when he had to.  Obama said, “You are the change you’ve been waiting for.” Trump said, “Things are a mess, and I alone can fix it.”  I guess, for all my cynicism, my self-esteem is simply not low enough for me to bow down to a mere mortal who claims perfection and omnipotence, and who demands that I shut up and follow meekly where he leads.  I’d rather have leaders who demand my effort, my attention, my mental engagement, my work, but not my soul.  And so, apparently, do 40,000 or so baseball fans at the fifth game of the 2019 World Series.