In case you were previously unaware, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is soulless human garbage in a suit and shouldn’t have a role anywhere near the President of the United States. But Donald Trump is our president, Miller has been one of the longest-tenured members of his administration, and here we are.
You may not know much about Miller other than that he has a receding hairline and pretty much every photo of him makes him look like an insufferable dick. He also can claim the dubious honor of having his own uncle call out his hypocritical douchebaggery in an essay that made the rounds online. His own uncle. Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, resting bitch face and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do behavior do not a monster necessarily make. Promoting white nationalist propaganda and conspiracy theories, obsessing over conceptions of “racial identity,” and invoking Hitlerian attitudes on immigration, though, are more conclusive signs.
In a series of E-mails between Miller and Breitbart News editors first leaked to the Southern Law Poverty Center by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, the depth of Miller’s affinity for white nationalism is laid bare. SLPC’s Hatewatch blog, in reviewing more than 900 E-mails which span from March 2015 to June 2016, characterizes the subject matter of these messages as “strikingly narrow,” unsympathetic, and biased. Regarding immigration, Miller focused only on limiting if not ending nonwhite immigration to the United States. That’s it.
To this effect, Miller’s correspondence included but was not limited to these delightful exchanges and messages:
Sending McHugh stories from white nationalist websites known for promulgating the “white genocide” theory as well as those emphasizing crimes committed by nonwhites and espousing anti-Muslim views
Recommending Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel depicting the destruction of Western civilization through mass immigration of nonwhites, as a point of comparison to real-world immigration and refugeeism trends
Pushing stories lamenting the loss of cultural markers like the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments
Embracing restrictive American immigration policies of yesteryear, the likes of which were based on eugenics theory and were referenced favorably in Mein Kampf
Offering original conspiracy theories as to why the “ruinous” history of the Hart-Celler Act wasn’t covered in “elitist” publications
Hatewatch also revisited Miller’s history with prominent white nationalist figures to provide context for these E-mails. Specifically, Miller has connections to Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, a white supremacist website, and Richard Spencer, like, the poster child for white nationalism and the alt-right, from his time at Duke. He and Spencer worked together to organize a debate between Brimelow and journalist/professor Peter Laufer on immigration across our southern border. Miller has sought to refute this relationship, but Spencer has acknowledged their familiarity with one another in passing. Miller’s denial is, as far as the SPLC is concerned, implausible.
As noted, these E-mails are several years old and his time at Duke yet further back. Still, not only are these messages not that far behind us, but Miller’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s immigration policy directives. As Hatewatch has also documented, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the “zero tolerance” policy which saw a spike in family separations at the border with Mexico, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. In addition, alongside Steve Bannon, he was a chief architect of the so-called “travel ban,” which is a Muslim ban in everything but the name.
Again, as the leaked E-mails and SPLC’s additional context hint at, there is a path to these policies in Miller’s past associations. As recently as 2014, he attended an event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation which traffics in Islamophobia, introducing his then-boss Jeff Sessions as a speaker.
There’s his involvement with the Center for Immigration Studies, too, a anti-immigrant think tank (if you can call it that; the inclusion of the word “think” seems like a stretch) whose very founders subscribed to white nationalist and eugenicist world views and of which misleading/false claims about immigrant crime are a mainstay. Miller was a keynote speaker at a CIS conference in 2015 and has repeatedly cited CIS reports in publicly defending Trump administration policy directives.
As always, one can’t know for sure how many of Miller’s professed beliefs are true to what he believes deep down. After all, he, like any number of modern conservative grifters, may simply be leveraging the prejudices of everyday Americans as a means of bolstering his own profile.
Ultimately, however, as with his current employer, it is immaterial what he truly believes. His words and (mis)deeds shared with the outside world are what matter, and the zeal with which he has pursued bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies and rhetoric conveys the sense he really means it. Like the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Stephen Miller walks like a racist and quacks like a racist. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.
At this writing, 107 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Mike Coffman, a House Republican, have called for Stephen Miller’s resignation or firing. It’s not just members of Congress either. Over 50 civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations (Miller is Jewish), have likewise condemned Miller’s bigotry. Predictably, the White House has used these calls for the senior adviser’s head as fodder for charges of anti-Semitism, much as the man himself has tried to use his faith as a shield from criticism in the past.
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, though. You can be a Jew and still suffer from prejudice. None of us are immune herein regardless of our religious or political beliefs. Besides, the nature of the White House’s defense obscures the intent of the growing resignation demand. This isn’t a bunch of totalitarian leftists trying to exploit the E-mail leak as political weaponry. Miller has given his critics across the political spectrum plenty of ammunition throughout his tenure in the Trump administration. The leak is just the racist, Islamophobic straw that broke the camel’s back.
Does all of this outrage matter, though? Will President Donald Trump turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding Miller, more concerned with his own concerns over his ongoing impeachment inquiry? Would he consider keeping Miller in his present role just to signify his stubborn will and/or to “own the libs?”
It’s hard to say. On one hand, some of the worst crooks and liars have seemed to do the best (that is, last the longest) in the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos is still carrying water for Trump as Secretary of Education despite a history of evidenced incompetence and notions she, like Trump, is using her position to enrich herself. Kellyanne Conway continues to be employed despite being a professional author of “alternative facts.” And don’t even get me started about Jared Kushner. If that guy has any personality or foreign policy know-how worth sharing, it is unknown to the rest of Planet Earth.
So, yeah, Stephen Miller is a natural fit for the Trump White House and this bit of public outrage may just be a blip on the radar of his career as a political influencer. Then again, it may not. While several Trump administration officials have resigned, Trump has let the ax fall on occasion. Among the figures identified by CNN as either “fired” or “pushed out” are high-profile names like Jeff Sessions (Attorney General and Miller’s one-time employer), John Bolton (National Security Adviser), John Kelly (White House Chief of Staff), Michael Flynn (also National Security Adviser), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steve Bannon (White House Chief Strategist), not to mention holdovers from the Obama administration like Andrew McCabe (FBI Deputy Director), James Comey (FBI Director), and Sally Yates (Deputy Attorney General). Heck, Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director.
When not striking a defiant tone, Trump and Co. have also exhibited a sensitivity to low public support. That zero-tolerance immigration policy championed by Miller which will forever serve as a black mark on an already-checkered American legacy? It has been formally ended, though it has been reported that children continue to be separated by their parents and logistical problems facing the reunification of families remain. Alas, nothing goes smoothly with this administration, especially not when cruelty is on the agenda.
The president has additionally and vocally wavered on Syria, not only with respect to withdrawal of troops but whether to support the Kurds fighting there or to roll out the proverbial red carpet for Erdogan and Turkey after widespread bipartisan condemnation of abandoning our allies there. Trump’s not a smart man, but he can tell when the prevailing sentiment is against him. (Hint: If the chowderheads at Fox & Friends and 2019’s version of Lindsey Graham are disagreeing with you, you know you screwed up.)
All this adds up to the idea Stephen Miller’s job may not be as safe as we might imagine. Whatever the outcome, the pressure for him to be fired or resign should continue as long as he is one of the worst examples of what the Trump White House has to offer and one of the ugliest Americans in recent memory given his personally- and professionally-stated beliefs. As his leaked correspondence with Katie McHugh shows, Miller is even worse than we thought. It’s time to get him out before he does any more damage to the country than he already has.
I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)
With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.
Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)
One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:
Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.
This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.
The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.
The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”
Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:
Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.
In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.
It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.
The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.
So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:
Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.
Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.
Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?
It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:
Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.
At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.
But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.
Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:
When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.
“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.
In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?
Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:
Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.
Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.
This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.
This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:
In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.
Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.
For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.
The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:
As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”
OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:
The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.
During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”
In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.
Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.
Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.
Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.
“Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best.” This is a line from Lil Wayne’s “John” off Tha Carter IV. Fulfilling the stereotype about hip-hop music, Wayne proceeds to make sexual comments about women, and talk about money and guns in the next few lines, but in isolation, this sentiment likely holds true for the half of the electorate which did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and is yet reeling from the news of his victory and is, to put it mildly, concerned about the direction of the United States of America moving forward.
Anecdotally, there are two more frequent responses I have encountered in engaging people about the election, when the default “I don’t want to talk about it” is not selected. The first is something to the effect of, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now” or “It is what it is.” Which, if you ask me, is depressing, though as someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, I might be predisposed to thinking this way anyhow. With respect to the notion that we “can’t do anything,” to throw up our hands and admit powerlessness seems like a complete admission of defeat. Democrats, in particular, need to get their shit together in preparation for the 2018 mid-terms, and we as discerning, dissenting voters need to be watchful of everything Trump does and says up until inauguration and through that date. As for the idea that “it is what it is,” let me just specify that this is one of the most overused and least useful phrases that exists in popular speech, because everything is what it is. A tree is a tree. A snail is a snail. This tells the listener absolutely nothing of value, and what’s more, it signifies the same sort of resigned attitude that accompanies the “can’t do anything” mindset. Shrug your shoulders. Sigh deeply. Get ready to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black on Netflix with a family-size bag of Cheetos—all for yourself.
The other response I’ve heard—and I commend the people who answer with this much optimism—is something along the lines of, “Maybe some good will come out of Trump’s presidency” or “we should give him a chance.” Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best. I am not cynical enough to say that wanting to put a positive spin on things is naïve, or that praying for a fortunate result is without merit. Though I am open to the possibility there is no God or force at work in our world, I tend to believe that something or someone guides or lives. Still, this wishful thinking of individuals who now have to come to grips with the unsettling reality of President-Elect Trump has all the reassurance of a Kansas homeowner suggesting that maybe his or her house might be OK despite just seeing the neighbor and his dog spirited away by a twister. Yes, in theory, Donald Trump, despite his best efforts, might be able to succeed as President of the United States, could bring the country unimaginable prosperity, and may single-handedly heal rifts between various demographic groups within his first four-year term. By this token, however, it is technically statistically possible that I could have a threesome with Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. As improbable as that scenario is—for so many reasons—so too are the odds not particularly good that a Trump presidency leaves the country in a better state than when he takes office. Especially not if you are other than a rich white male like Donald Trump himself.
This second kind of response is at the crux of this piece. Even those of us possessing the sunniest of dispositions, if not suckered in by Donald Trump’s promises of lollipops, sunshine and kicking out “illegals,” know deep down that most likely, despite all our hoping and praying and wishing, that things will not turn out better than we expect. This is not a comforting thought, and by no means should it be. It’s especially unfortunate after an exhausting presidential campaign that saw, by many Democrats’ and independents’ estimation, two vastly superior candidates (namely Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) fall by the wayside only to have someone with the attention span of a goldfish and roughly the same complexion instead garner the top political office in the country—without a lick of experience as an elected official, to boot. After weeks and months of mudslinging between the two major-party nominees, not to mention activism and donations on behalf of candidates and social causes by people who dedicated their blood, sweat, tears, time, money, and maybe even let someone use their phone once or twice, and after all the hard work and sacrifice—concepts completely foreign to Trump, mind you—many of those who gave their all to the electoral process are likely looking for a breather or a return to some sense of normalcy. I myself, a donor to the Sanders campaign and supporter of his cause, remarked on numerous occasions that I would just be glad when it all was over.
To be sure, the respite from the Clinton campaign E-mails asking for donations, and the Trump campaign attack ads all but putting loaded weapons in Hillary’s hand as the “Butcher of Benghazi” and the founder of ISIS, is appreciated. Of course, even if Hillary Clinton had won, the more progressive among us were wont to be on guard for the Democratic Party challenger’s commitment to the more newly adopted elements of the official party platform, notably her stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Donald Trump set to take the reins of the nation—or “grab it by the pussy,” in Trumpian vernacular—there is a yet stronger sense of urgency in organizing to defend against abrogation of our civil liberties. Again, Trump might soften on some of these more severe positions that won him the presidency, such as authorizing a temporary ban of Muslims entering the country, bombing the shit out of the Middle East, building a wall at the Mexican border, defying the Geneva Conventions, and other fun domestic and foreign public policy positions. But when his campaign starts—not even ends on, but starts, mind you—with the stated belief that Mexicans are crossing the border into the United States in vast numbers, many of them drug dealers, killers and rapists, one really should have no realistic expectation for a kinder, gentler President Donald J. Trump. Oh, sure, Trump has vowed to become “more presidential” after winning the election, but it’s not as easy as turning on a light switch. After all, to invoke, of all people, Judge Judy Sheindlin, “Beauty fades; dumb is forever.” In Trump’s case, the man is neither beautiful nor particularly smart, so why even pretend to have faith in his ability as a leader?
The obvious counterargument, besides the exceedingly dumb defense that he hasn’t started the job yet, is that even if Donald Trump lacks experience and defined policy goals, he can at least surround himself with capable advisers and appointees. As the saying goes, you judge a man by the company he keeps. Well, operating under this standard and noting the kind of people Trump has already enlisted to help him as part of his administration, um, we may very well be in for a bad time. Let’s review the cast of winners (note the sarcasm) President-Elect Trump has tapped to help him in his bid to “Make America Great Again”:
Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump
Wait, you’re saying, I’ve heard that name before. Well, I’ve talked about him before in my piece on the alt-right, but that likely doesn’t mean much—my readership is a small one, and even those who follow me on Facebook may have skipped over that one. To fully jog your memory, Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart, a self-professed extreme right-wing news service and media outlet. In other words, he’s an asshole. The kind of material and headlines that appear on Bannon’s site, I believe, speak for themselves; for some choice ones (note additional sarcasm), check the Raw Story post here.
If we bring personal matters into the discussion, meanwhile, additional questions about the kind of man Donald Trump is endorsing arise. Stephen Bannon has been married and divorced three times, which should not in it of itself disqualify him from serving the President, though it doesn’t exactly make him overqualified for his position, let’s be clear. Still, some of the allegations from one of his exes, Mary Louise Piccard, give the reader pause. Though dropped due to lack of cooperation from Piccard, Bannon was brought up on charges of battery, dissuading a witness, and misdemeanor domestic violence. During divorce proceedings, too, Piccard accused Bannon of anti-Semitic remarks, which may or may not be accurate, but the man’s association with Breitbart, a source of content numerous detractors have associated with virulent white nationalism, does not help protestations of innocence in this regard. Stephen Bannon is a bigot on a number of levels, and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House. As the kids say, “Facts.”
Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor
Michael T. Flynn, retired Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and formerly assigned to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to some, left his post early because he wanted to tell the truth about the situation in Syria but was effectively muzzled by the Obama administration and then forced out. According to others, meanwhile, including sources at the DIA, Flynn was something of a confrontational leader who had a “loose relationship with the facts.” Hmm, sound like someone we know?
Lt. Gen. Flynn, though a registered Democrat, has expressed some troubling opinions about Muslims and about how to combat extremism in the Middle East, and increasingly so since the beginning of his apparent involvement with Trump. He is apparently of the belief that Islam is a political ideology above all, and a “cancer,” and furthermore that fear of Muslims is rational. He, like Donald Trump, also eschews the insistence on political correctness that he believes is holding back our nation, and apparently believes waterboarding shouldn’t necessarily be off the table. So much for cooler heads prevailing, eh?
Mike Pompeo, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Mike Pompeo, Republican Representative for Kansas’s 4th District, like Stephen Bannon, is a bit of a dick. By this I mean he takes a lot of positions on issues that stand to negatively affect people who are not him, and stands by them stubbornly. Just the kind of person you want in charge of the CIA, right? Pompeo’s less savory stances include:
Opposing abortion, even in cases of rape or incest
Rejecting the science on climate change
Having anything to do with the NRA
Opposing the Affordable Care Act, for no reason apparent other than fellow Republicans told him to oppose it
Supporting government shutdowns, to the possible detriment of the economy
Advocating the unnecessary gathering of metadata from the American people as part of normal surveillance (don’t pick that wedgie—they’re watching you!)
Supporting the death penalty for Edward Snowden, or for that matter, the death penalty at all
Opposing the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, or as I like to call it, “America’s House of Super Happy Fun Times”
Criticizing the Obama administration’s move away from secret CIA prisons and strict adherence to anti-torture laws (I mean, come on, they’re more like anti-torture “suggestions,” am I right?)
Mike Pompeo is appropriately named because he is a pompous asshole. His Tea Party politics arguably don’t belong in Congress, let alone in a position so vitally important as the Director of the CIA, but there you have Donald Trump and his appointees in a nutshell.
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
If there’s one thing that’s evident with Donald Trump’s picks, it’s that he values loyalty in the form of sycophantic obeisance. Case in point Jeff Sessions, U.S. Senator from the state of Alabama and former Alabama Attorney General, who supported Trump early in his campaign and even advised the Republican Party nominee on matters such as immigration and national security. Sessions, as you might imagine, supports strong crackdowns on illegal immigration and opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants in good standing. He unequivocally supported the Iraq War, and voted against measures that would outlaw certain forms of torture to be used by the U.S. government. He thinks civil forfeiture programs are a good idea, even if they encourage abuse and overreach on the part of law enforcement. He would have liked the Bush tax cuts to be permanent, even if they didn’t magically get rid of the national debt. He has criticized the use of federal funding to equip libraries with books related to Islam. He supports severe penalties for drug crimes and opposes the legalization of marijuana in whatever context. Sen. Sessions, like his ass-hat Republican cronies, has refused to hear President Obama’s Supreme Court pick.
In short, Jeff Sessions seems liable to undo progress the Obama administration and others have made with respect to drug law reform, immigration reform and racial understanding. He’s a bigot who appears intent to take us back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Well, let’s just break out the jelly beans, put on “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and have ourselves an 80’s party, shall we? I’ll bring the Jordache jeans if you bring the Tab!
Yup, nothing says “progress” like tapping a bunch of Muslim-hating white dudes to prominent positions in the U.S. government. I alluded to this sentiment in my last post, but a number of people who supported/voted for Donald Trump, or otherwise favor Republicans in power, are crying foul about, well, all the crying foul about the reality of a Trump presidency from the left. For that matter, many voters who cast their ballots in hopes of preventing this sobering eventuality themselves see little virtue of belaboring the outcome. “The Donald” won fair and square. He will be the 45th President of the United States. Cue the “Deal with It” GIF with the sunglasses falling into place. In terms of respecting the democratic process, I acknowledge that Donald Trump won the election by securing enough electoral votes. I also accept the electors voting in exact accordance with the results of the Electoral College, though it is worth stressing that prevention of a demagogue such as Trump is one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers put a buffer between the general electorate and the presidency. After all, I wouldn’t want the reverse done should a Democratic candidate prevail. Then again, I think the popular vote should decide who wins and who loses, but that’s a whole ‘nother kit and caboodle.
Speaking of the Founding Fathers—who, mind you, might just be spinning in their graves right about now—an interesting thing happened on the way to the forum the other night, or rather, when Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton on Broadway. For one, Pence was booed mercilessly by other audience members throughout the show, necessitating pauses by the performers to accommodate the added ambient noise. Better yet, however, cast member Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, had this message for the Vice-President-Elect following the show:
“Vice President-Elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
This is no small potatoes. Broadway performers do not regularly address members of the audience, let alone future vice presidents, to remind them to uphold American values. This is not standard operating procedure for actors in musicals, though Hamilton, to be sure, is no ordinary musical. Meanwhile, Trump University just settled a lawsuit against it to the tune of $25 million. This likewise is the not the usual for incoming presidents. See, here’s the thing: Americans are behaving as if Donald Trump is just another in the line of conservative Republicans such as Reagan or Bush and Son, that this is just another election.
To espouse such beliefs, however, I submit, is to engage in some serious self-deception. As John Oliver and others have put it, Trump is not normal. Tweeting regularly to make disparaging comments about people who criticize them should not be a common practice for people about to inherit the responsibilities of an entire nation and much of the free world, at that. (Trump, by the by, railed against the cast of Hamilton for their supposed “harassment” of Mike Pence and suggested they apologize, and his supporters have since called for a boycott of the show. Not only is it incredibly ironic Donald Trump is lecturing anyone about harassment given his reputation, but calling for a boycott rings hollow, you know, when you probably can’t even get tickets in the first place.) Presidents-elect should not be receiving congratulations from former or current members of the Ku Klux Klan. Serious presidential candidates should not be able to list being honored in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of their primary qualifications for political office.
Donald Trump, to put it succinctly, is unlike any POTUS we’ve ever seen. To a large extent, this explains how he got elected; he is the self-professed antithesis of the “all talk, no action” politicians who have left the country in what I would agree is a sorry state. Still, the public’s desire for a change has put a dangerously unqualified and temperamental man in the Oval Office, and to merely accept the ripple effects of hate and prejudice that have been experienced in the wake of Trump’s victory/his supporters celebrating his win as some sort of “mandate” (hard to call it that when your candidate of choice didn’t even capture the popular vote) is to, putting it bluntly, be errant in one’s thinking. To remain silent while others encourage the trampling of the Constitution and our most cherished freedoms, morals and values, therefore, is not a virtue, but rather arguably unconscionable.
Coming back to the idea of “giving Donald Trump a chance,” as far as I’m concerned, the man has been given too many chances in life as a spoiled rich brat, including having the door to the White House opened to him by both major political parties and an irresponsible mainstream media. Respectful dissent like the kind witnessed at Hamilton recently is not only within the bounds of fairness, but is important to keeping the conversation going about standing up for what is right. Donald Trump will be our next President. He won the election. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, nor does it mean we need to stand idly by while distrust, fear and hate predominate as part of his rhetoric. After all, this is our America, not his. No matter what Trump says or thinks.
When Donald Trump “misstates” something (read: “outright lies”) or “outlines a policy plan” (read: “has a really bad idea”), you’ve got to give it to the man—he tends to commit to it. Whereas Hillary Clinton can’t recall having conversations about classified E-mails, or can’t remember having specific conversations about classified E-mails, or blames a concussion on not being able to follow protocol, or claims she doesn’t know how thousands of messages got deleted, or expresses the belief that Colin Powell whispered sweet nothings about private servers in her ear, Trump has been largely resolute on his awful anti-immigrant agenda. By now, he and his campaign are largely synonymous with the notion of building a wall at the Mexican border. Dude’s got a real hard-on over the whole thing, in fact. Don’t like the wall? That shit just got ten feet higher! Still sassing back? We’ll add ten more! And we can keep going like this too! Why? Mexico’s paying for the whole damn thing! So put away that wallet, Joe America, our construction workers are only accepting pesos from here on out!
Heretofore, Donald Trump’s policy on curbing illegal immigration to the United States has been criticized as lacking specificity—and that’s a nice way of putting it. This past Wednesday, capping off a fun-filled month of August in this presidential campaign (obvious sarcasm intended), Trump spoke to supporters outlining his “detailed” policy on “one of the greatest challenges facing our country today” in illegal immigration, from—where else?—Phoenix, Arizona. I’m going to give you 24 choice quotes from his address—one for each hour of the day!—with my own annotations, and you can reach your own conclusions from there. Brace yourself.
1. “The truth is our immigration system is worse than anybody ever realized. But the facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them. The politicians won’t talk about them and the special interests spend a lot of money trying to cover them up because they are making an absolute fortune. That’s the way it is. Today, on a very complicated and very difficult subject, you will get the truth. The fundamental problem with the immigration system in our country is that it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists and powerful, powerful politicians.”
Groan. We’ve only just begun, and already, I’m somewhat regretting my decision to examine what Donald Trump actually, you know, says. It seems almost disingenuous for a man who has gained so much free publicity from the media without being challenged more seriously on aspects of his finances (tax returns, cough, cough) to turn around and blame the media on anything, but that’s our Donald, after all. Apparently, there’s a lot of misinformation by omission concerning immigration trends in America happening on the part of some vague conspiracy involving a leftist media, lobbyists, politicians, and wealthy private citizens. It’s not that corporations and other businesses could actually be to blame—including your own, Mr. Trump. Not that at all.
2. “We…have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out. It’s our right, as a sovereign nation, to chose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us.”
Trump doesn’t mention Muslims here. But you know he totally f**king means it.
3. “A 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office found that illegal immigrants and other non-citizens, in our prisons and jails together, had around 25,000 homicide arrests to their names, 25,000.”
Ooh, look! Donald Trump has learned to make citations! Besides the fact this statistic is misleading in that it makes it seem as if Mexican and other immigrants were responsible for this many murders in 2011 alone—the FBI reports fewer than 15,000 estimated homicides that year, but what do they know?—it cherry-picks the figure from one group without considering how much violent crime is perpetrated by American citizens. Of course, though, that doesn’t fit the narrative.
4. “Illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion a year. And this is what we get. For the money we are going to spend on illegal immigration over the next 10 years, we could provide one million at-risk students with a school voucher, which so many people are wanting. While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, many, many, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back. And they’re hurting a lot of our people that cannot get jobs under any circumstances.”
Trump throws so much into one thought that it’s almost impossible to address it all in the time you would need to consider it fully before moving on to the next tangent. With the benefit of being able to rationally confront his remarks retrospectively, however, let’s give it a whirl. 1) Republicans often like to tout school vouchers as an alternative for our “failing” public schools, but not only are they to a large extent responsible for this failure based on their refusal to fund education and other public programs, but their assumption that school choice is a vastly superior option, especially when the private sector is involved, is a fallacy. In many cases, these additional options are no better than their public-school counterparts, if not worse, and what’s more, affording our presumed “best and brightest” to pick and choose their school when others cannot just encourages division along racial and socioeconomic lines. 2) If these illegal immigrants are such good people, what’s the problem? OK, even if the issue is that they supposedly “take our jobs,” this claim is overblown, because often times, they are doing dangerous or more physically intensive work in agriculture or, say, the meat packing industry, jobs that American citizens don’t want to do, or otherwise have been challenged more significantly by trends like automation and global trade.
But wait—there’s more! 3) According to Harvard economist George Borjas, as cited in this NPR Q&A, the net effect on the average American’s wealth as a result of illegal immigration is minimal (less than 1%), and if anything, slightly positive. While the report acknowledges the negative economic effects of illegal immigration, including depressing effects on wages of low-skilled workers and an income tax shortfall, on the other hand, undocumented immigrant labor does make products and services more affordable, not to mention these immigrants do pay property and sales taxes and are ineligible for certain classes of benefits as non-citizens. Let’s not let these considerations get in the way of a good argument, though.
5. Only the out of touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America — you know this, this is what they talk about, facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. And, they also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it’s not nuclear, and it’s not ISIS, it’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s global warming.
For Christ’s sake! We don’t have time to argue the merits of global f**king warming! Moving along.
6. Hillary Clinton, for instance, talks constantly about her fears that families will be separated, but she’s not talking about the American families who have been permanently separated from their loved ones because of a preventable homicide, because of a preventable death, because of murder. No, she’s only talking about families who come here in violation of the law. We will treat everyone living or residing in our country with great dignity. So important. We will be fair, just, and compassionate to all, but our greatest compassion must be for our American citizens.
Commence with the ritual Clinton-bashing! We’ve already discussed how Donald Trump’s figures on violent crime committed by immigrants are kind of wonky, but let’s tackle the notion of relative compassion. If we’re truly being compassionate to all, then at heart, it shouldn’t matter who is receiving more or less compassion, as if you can modulate such things just like that. I’ve heard it said that Jesus never went out of his way for anyone—because He never considered helping anyone to be going out of His way. Just something to think about.
7. “[Hillary Clinton’s] plan [is] to bring in 620,000 new refugees from Syria and that region over a short period of time. And even yesterday, when you were watching the news, you saw thousands and thousands of people coming in from Syria. What is wrong with our politicians, our leaders if we can call them that. What the hell are we doing?”
8. “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it. And they’re great people and great leaders but they’re going to pay for the wall. On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall. We will use the best technology, including above and below ground sensors that’s for the tunnels. Remember that, above and below. Above and below ground sensors. Towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels and keep out criminal cartels and Mexico you know that, will work with us. I really believe it. Mexico will work with us. I absolutely believe it. And especially after meeting with their wonderful, wonderful president today. I really believe they want to solve this problem along with us, and I’m sure they will.”
OK, now we start to get to Trump’s plan a.k.a. the 10-point path to Crazy Town. Point One, obviously, is the wall, which is his baby and the centerpiece of his plan. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a complete disaster in the making. Let’s disregard any talk of effectiveness in light of the cost of this theoretical monstrosity. Donald Trump has averred the cost of the wall would be only about $8 billion or so, but more realistic estimates suggest the actual price tag could reach upwards of $25 billion. Wait, you say, it’s OK. Mexico’s paying for the wall. I’m no expert in international relations, but Mexico is not going to pay for that wall. Trump acts as if, because Mexico has a trade deficit with the United States, they just have money lying around to throw at a grandiose construction project, but this just demonstrates the man’s lack of understanding of economics despite his professed business acumen.
This is aside from the reality that Mexico has never said they would pay for the wall. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox dropped F-bombs over the whole idea, and current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has categorically denied his country will foot the bill, despite Donald Trump’s insistence it will, and moreover, referred to the Republican Party nominee’s proposals as a “threat to the future of Mexico.” So, yeah, seriously, this whole wall thing-a-ma-jig is a waste of time and money, won’t lead to permanent jobs being created, will alienate Spanish-speaking people across the globe, and on top of that, probably won’t work all that well. And that people actually would vote for Trump based on the wall scares the shit out of me.
9. “We are going to end catch and release. We catch them, oh go ahead. We catch them, go ahead. Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. And they’ll be brought great distances. We’re not dropping them right across. They learned that. President Eisenhower. They’d drop them across, right across, and they’d come back. And across. Then when they flew them to a long distance, all of a sudden that was the end. We will take them great distances. But we will take them to the country where they came from, O.K.?”
Um, yeah, Mr. Trump, you’re not referring to Eisenhower’s operation in name by design, I can guarantee it. What he’s invoking, by the way, is a little something called, ahem, Operation Wetback, and by many objective measures, it was a failure. For one, on a human rights dimension, the quick-minded nature of the program’s relocations often resulted in deportees being unable to claim their property in the United States, let alone notify their family they had been deported in the first place. In addition, there were reports of beatings by Border Patrol agents, and when the deportees actually got to Mexico, they faced hardship from being relocated to unfamiliar territories, if not dying from the sweltering Mexican heat. Perhaps more significantly, however, in terms of its effectiveness, Operation Wetback did not deter illegal immigration. By the end of the program, about one in five deportees were repeat offenders, and American employers in border areas were undermining border agents’ efforts anyway, hiring undocumented immigrants because of the cheap labor incentive. Needless to say, this is an awful chapter in history with a shitty legacy to match, so I’m not sure why you would even invoke Operation Wetback with a similar initiative.
10. “According to federal data, there are at least two million, two million, think of it, criminal aliens now inside of our country, two million people, criminal aliens. We will begin moving them out day one. As soon as I take office. Day one. In joint operation with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Now, just so you understand, the police, who we all respect—say hello to the police. Boy, they don’t get the credit they deserve. I can tell you. They’re great people. But the police and law enforcement, they know who these people are. They live with these people. They get mocked by these people. They can’t do anything about these people, and they want to. They know who these people are. Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone. And you can call it deported if you want. The press doesn’t like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They’re gone. Beyond the two million, and there are vast numbers of additional criminal illegal immigrants who have fled, but their days have run out in this country. The crime will stop. They’re going to be gone. It will be over. They’re going out. They’re going out fast.”
Trump is worried about the use of the word “deported” here, but it’s not that term which is the offensive one here. That would be “criminal aliens.” Contrary to popular belief, Mexicans don’t like being referred to as criminals. Call them crazy, I guess. Also, for all his talk about Clinton’s pandering to groups, his appeals to America’s uniformed police are pretty damn blatant. Besides, in general, I feel like the police get their fair share of credit for the important service they provide, and at times, too much, or at least the benefit of the doubt, in instances of violence against minorities. Again, though, that doesn’t fit the narrative that Donald Trump and his supporters wish to hear. My apologies. It’s always the black person’s fault.
11. “We will issue detainers for illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever, and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings if we even have to do that”.
Any crime? Like, even jaywalking? I know much of this is tough talk, but the itchy trigger finger that Trump is encouraging here would set a dangerous precedent, if for no other reason than it lends itself to profiling and possibly even vigilantism. The vagueness of the phrase “if we even have to do that,” too, is worrisome. Do we just literally throw people over the wall back into Mexico? Or somehow exact a physically worse punishment? What we don’t know might just hurt us, and cause Lady Liberty to hide her face in shame.
12. “My plan also includes cooperating closely with local jurisdictions to remove criminal aliens immediately. We will restore the highly successful Secure Communities Program. Good program. We will expand and revitalize the popular 287(g) partnerships, which will help to identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local jails that we don’t even know about. Both of these programs have been recklessly gutted by this administration. And those were programs that worked.”
“Highly successful?” If it were highly successful, why was the Secure Communities Program suspended? Maybe it was because it didn’t do an effective job of targeting and curbing violent criminals who immigrated illegally to the United States. Or because it was responsible for numerous cases of people being deported who are actually American citizens. Or because it didn’t allow states and local police forces to opt out, as was first promised. Or because it made people less likely to report serious crimes by undocumented immigrants for fear of being deported. The Secure Communities Program was, in no uncertain terms, an abysmal endeavor, so there’s no reason Donald Trump should be touting its merits. Ditto for 287(g). That provision, put into practice, lacked requisite oversight, diverted police resources away from the investigation of local crimes, and, again, led to profiling of Latino residents in border states. It’s already bad if public policy is marked by ethical lapses, but when it doesn’t even accomplish its stated purpose, it deserves to be deep-sixed. If Trump were hoping to name-drop effectively, he didn’t do it on this occasion.
13. “Within ICE I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice just like Hillary Clinton has evaded justice, OK? Maybe they’ll be able to deport her.”
Hmm, new task force—I’m sure this will be handled with the requisite oversight so as to prevent abuses of civil liberties and cost overruns. (If I could, I would put an eye-rolling emoji here for emphasis.) By the way, Mr. Trump, your joke about Hillary being deported isn’t all that funny considering she’s an American citizen and therefore could never be deported. Though the relevance factor would be lost in that he’s done serving as President after this term, Barack Obama being deported is more amusing because stupid, gullible people are convinced he was born outside the country and/or is a secret Muslim. Like, um, yourself. It all would still be reprehensible to suggest, even in jest, but at least your stab at humor would be more spot-on. It’s the principle of the thing, Donald.
14. “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths. Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”
The idea of sanctuary cities is a complicated one in the light of highly-publicized deaths such as that of Kate Steinle in 2015, who was shot and killed by an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been deported multiple times, had seven felony convictions to his name, and was on probation at the time of the incident. The Steinle example, however, sticks out because a) San Francisco, the setting of the fateful event, is a sanctuary city, and in this instance, did not honor a detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because no active warrant existed for the shooter’s arrest, and b) Steinle was white, and a beautiful young woman at that, who presumably loved life, was kind to all people and animals, and all that jazz.
In all seriousness, a loss is a loss, and I can only imagine what Kate Steinle’s family felt and still feels. Still, her death, while tragic, doesn’t mean we necessarily should abandon sanctuary cities wholesale. Errol Louis penned an op-ed piece last year on the subject of sanctuary cities, and he rightly pointed out that numerous cities and other municipalities do not want to have to shoulder the financial and logistical burden of trying to enforce immigration law when resources are at a premium in investigating and stopping all other crimes that happen within their jurisdiction. Not only this, but law enforcement in these same places doesn’t want to jeopardize the trust it stands to lose and has forged with members of Hispanic/Latino communities. Deportation, legally speaking, is a federal enterprise, and Donald Trump’s insistence that only those who comply with ICE’s demands for information and detention would receive federal subsidies is appalling, because it is prejudicial against those areas who oppose his viewpoints, and only encourages local governments to comply meekly to avoid sanctions or try to manipulate the situation such as to maintain the appearance of compliance. Sanctuary cities, despite their concerns, are a bit of a political red herring.
15. “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately five million illegal immigrants, five million.”
Or we can just continue to have Obama’s executive orders batted around in court, which, owing to how slow the law moves, is pretty much a death sentence anyway, amirite?
16. “We are going to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur. According to data provided by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, and the national interest between 9/11 and the end of 2014, at least 380 foreign born individuals were convicted in terror cases inside the United States. And even right now the largest number of people are under investigation for exactly this that we’ve ever had in the history of our country.”
More vagueness from Donald J. Trump, whose “detailed” plan is seeming less and less accurate as we go along. How do we define “adequate” screening? Who decides such things? How long is the suspension of visa issuance? Indefinite? I ask these questions not only because they deserve to be asked, but because it’s wholly possible Trump has not even considered how to answer them. And in case anyone has forgotten to keep score, THE MAN MIGHT BE ELECTED PRESIDENT. HE SHOULD KNOW THESE THINGS.
17. “Countries in which immigration will be suspended would include places like Syria and Libya. And we are going to stop the tens of thousands of people coming in from Syria. We have no idea who they are, where they come from. There’s no documentation. There’s no paperwork. It’s going to end badly, folks. It’s going to end very, very badly. For the price of resettling one refugee in the United States, 12 could be resettled in a safe zone in their home region. Which I agree with 100 percent. We have to build safe zones and we’ll get the money from Gulf states. We don’t want to put up the money. We owe almost $20 trillion. Doubled since Obama took office, our national debt. But we will get the money from Gulf states and others. We’ll supervise it. We’ll build safe zones which is something that I think all of us want to see.”
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of it just further cements the idea that Trump either doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, is intentionally misinforming the public, or both. Let’s start with the vetting of refugees from countries like Syria, which just happens to be some of the most intensive vetting done by the United States for refugees from any country, or by any country, for that matter. At any rate, the vetting process for these potential entrants into the U.S. is sadly better than the one, ahem, used for Republican Party presidential candidates. This leads into the discussion of theoretical safe zones in Syria. Ideally, and depending on the actual wishes of the refugees originally displaced, they would be able to return to their homeland. But right now? THERE ARE NO F**KING SAFE ZONES IN SYRIA! Certainly not with Assad in power, and not likely in the foreseeable future with all the factions currently there, not to mention the specter of jihadism in the region.
Finally, let’s talk about the idea of Persian Gulf states paying for these ill-conceived “safe” zones. These are the same countries that have refused to take in refugees, people who are fleeing violence and other unspeakable horrors in the nations of their birth. Much like Mexico ponying up for the cost of a $25+ billion wall, there is little to no chance these places are going to volunteer to throw money at the problem, and for all his talk of renegotiating bad deals, Donald Trump is unlikely to be able to convince foreign leaders or wealthy private individuals to fork over the cash. Most certainly, America would be adding to the national debt to authorize and enforce these safe zones, and by that token, would be as bad “as Barack Obama,” even though the conditions which brought about our deficit spending were in place long before he took office.
18. “Another reform involves new screening tests for all applicants that include, and this is so important, especially if you get the right people. And we will get the right people. An ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people. Thank you. We’re very proud of our country. Aren’t we? Really? With all it’s going through, we’re very proud of our country. For instance, in the last five years, we’ve admitted nearly 100,000 immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan. And these two countries, according to Pew Research, a majority of residents say that the barbaric practice of honor killings against women are often or sometimes justified. That’s what they say. That’s what they say. They’re justified. Right? And we’re admitting them to our country. Applicants will be asked their views about honor killings, about respect for women and gays and minorities. Attitudes on radical Islam, which our president refuses to say, and many other topics as part of this vetting procedure. And if we have the right people doing it, believe me, very, very few will slip through the cracks. Hopefully, none.”
Ugh. This is getting tiresome. I can almost see why the media doesn’t spend more time wading through Trump’s bullshit. Almost. So you’re saying we want immigrants who “share our values.” Again, who decides this? You, a man who has advocated bringing back waterboarding and torturing the families of suspected terrorists? You, a man who has made numerous sexist remarks during this campaign alone, likened an entire country to a haven for rapists and murderers, and may or may not have expressed the belief that “laziness is a trait in blacks”? If you’re our shining example of American values, we’re in some deep doo-doo, let me tell you. Also, right, “radical Islam.” Because the fundamental problem is with their entire religion, not with those kill in the name of. If you can call jihadists radical Islamists, I submit I should be able to call those who denounce homosexuality as a sin and harass Planned Parenthood workers as radical Christians. Because if that’s what “our God” wants, then I think I need a new one.
19. “There are at least 23 countries that refuse to take their people back after they’ve been ordered to leave the United States. Including large numbers of violent criminals, they won’t take them back. So we say, OK, we’ll keep them. Not going to happen with me, not going to happen with me.”
Yeah, you and what army? Oh, right, that army. Still, are you prepared, Mr. Trump, to use force to get your way on this issue, risking American lives and sanctions from other nations at what is considered an affront to diplomacy? Because that seems to be the only way you’re going to get these countries to play ball with you—unless you really are the great negotiator you think you are.
20. “We will finally complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system which we need desperately. For years Congress has required biometric entry-exit visa tracking systems, but it has never been completed. The politicians are all talk, no action, never happens. Never happens.”
You know, Donald Trump is full of big ideas that cost a nice chunk of change. Probably because his other big ideas, all his life, have been paid for by other people, namely his rich daddy, creditors he has been unable to recompense, and investors he has bilked. He’s convinced Mexico will cover the cost of the wall. (They won’t.) He assumes neighboring countries in the Middle East will make generous donations to ensure safe zones are created in Syria. (They won’t.) So, when it comes to potentially including biometric data (facial, fingerprint, or iris recognition) on passports stored on radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, once more, it will be on someone else’s tab—yours and mine. Here’s the thing about biometric passports. Not only is the chip technology used to store identifying information costly to produce, but there are security concerns with storing this data all in one place, as there is the potential to hack and exploit this info, as well as obvious concerns about civil liberties in the seeming invasiveness of these requirements. Thus, yet again, Trump is oversimplifying a complicated issue and dining on people’s fear and paranoia. Great work, Donald.
21. “We will turn off the jobs and benefits magnet. We will ensure that E-Verify is used to the fullest extent possible under existing law, and we will work with Congress to strengthen and expand its use across the country. Immigration law doesn’t exist for the purpose of keeping criminals out. It exists to protect all aspects of American life. The work site, the welfare office, the education system, and everything else.”
I’ve touched upon the notion that Donald Trump’s pointing of the finger at undocumented immigrants on the problematic domestic employment situation is a red herring because often, these immigrants are doing work that American citizens are not flocking to. As for the benefits situation, there seems to be a lot of confusion concerning what benefits undocumented immigrants are and are not permitted. Those who don’t have legal status can get compulsory public education for their children and emergency medical care, as well as potentially worker’s compensation, but numerous benefits, including food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, state and local benefits, and welfare, are not available to non-citizens, at least in theory. Sure, there are abuses of benefits programs, but potential for fraud exists in many facets of our lives, and irrespective of legal immigration status, so while this is not to undermine the seriousness of people taking advantage of gaps in reporting false claims, let’s not overstate the severity of the problem when the occasion arises. We also shouldn’t demean the contributions made by hard-working undocumented immigrants who do contribute in the form of paid taxes—even when they can’t make use of the benefits they fund.
22. “We’re going to bring our jobs back home. And if companies want to leave Arizona and if they want to leave other states, there’s going to be a lot of trouble for them. It’s not going to be so easy. There will be consequence. Remember that. There will be consequences. They’re not going to be leaving, go to another country, make the product, sell it into the United States, and all we end up with is no taxes and total unemployment. It’s not going to happen. There will be consequences.”
You know, many states and municipalities at least try some sort of carrot-and-stick incentive to encourage American corporations to stay at home, namely tax breaks. Apparently, Donald Trump is dispensing with the carrot portion of the metaphor and just shaking the stick at Fortune 500 companies and their ilk. Is this all his warning is? Could he join rival Hillary Clinton in the call for an exit tax? Does he have other consequences in mind? Or did he make all this up on the spot and would be forced to come up with something after the fact should he become President of these United States? It’s anyone’s guess, and sadly, I don’t think Trump has any more of a clue than we do.
23. “So let’s now talk about the big picture. These 10 steps, if rigorously followed and enforced, will accomplish more in a matter of months than our politicians have accomplished on this issue in the last 50 years. It’s going to happen, folks. Because I am proudly not a politician, because I am not behold to any special interest, I’ve spent a lot of money on my campaign, I’ll tell you. I write those checks. Nobody owns Trump. I will get this done for you and for your family. We’ll do it right. You’ll be proud of our country again. We’ll do it right. We will accomplish all of the steps outlined above. And, when we do, peace and law and justice and prosperity will prevail. Crime will go down. Border crossings will plummet. Gangs will disappear. And the gangs are all over the place. And welfare use will decrease. We will have a peace dividend to spend on rebuilding America, beginning with our American inner cities. We’re going to rebuild them, for once and for all.”
You’re not a politician—except you have been one for the last year and change, and are a major-party candidate for President—so the grace period is effectively over, Mr. Trump. You say you’ve spent a lot of your money on your campaign, but you’ve been borrowing the money, as you usually do, and from yourself, no less, and there’s evidence to suggest people within your own campaign are not being compensated as they should. Furthermore, you say you will accomplish all these things, so what is your timetable? One year? Two years? The kinds of things you’re promising certainly won’t be accomplished within a single presidential term, and sound more like the boasts of a snake oil salesman than the policy plan of a legitimate presidential candidate.
24. “The result will be millions more illegal immigrants; thousands of more violent, horrible crimes; and total chaos and lawlessness. That’s what’s going to happen, as sure as you’re standing there. This election, and I believe this, is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration and reform our laws to make your life better. I really believe this is it. This is our last time. November 8. November 8. You got to get out and vote on November 8. It’s our last chance. It’s our last chance. And that includes Supreme Court justices and the Second Amendment. Remember that. So I want to remind everyone what we’re fighting for and who we are fighting for.”
Wait—what are we fighting for again? I thought we were talking about illegal immigration. Now you’re bringing in Supreme Court justices, except for the idea that Barack Obama already nominated a fine candidate in Merrick Garland—whom your buddies in the GOP kindly refused to even acknowledge and do their job by hearing—and the Second Amendment—which Hillary Clinton has said she doesn’t want to repeal, and probably couldn’t if she wanted to—but which you’re convincing people she’s coming after.
So, now that I don’t know what we are fighting for, or even who we are, now I’m curious as to who we are fighting for. Future generations? The children of undocumented immigrants? Nah, you want to deport their parents as soon as possible and probably want to reverse birthright citizenship while you’re at it. The alt-right? Other white supremacists? At the end of the day, Mr. Trump, your campaign, when all is said and done, has been about one person and one person only: yourself. You don’t give a shit about the average American. How could you? You’ve never been one, and your pretense that you’re running on behalf of the “little guy” is as nauseating as your relationship with your daughter, Ivanka. You’re a fraud, a liar, a cheat, and an all-around terrible person. I proverbially spit on your candidacy, much like anyone who actually bought one of Trump Steaks surely spit what he or she chewed back onto his or her plate. That’s what I truly think about Trump-Pence 2016.
Donald Trump’s depiction of the future of the country, should he fail to win in his bid for the presidency, is an apocalyptic one, filled with visions of Mexicans overrunning America and general anarchy and lawlessness, like something you would see in a scene from The Purge movies. Ironically, this is what many envision will happen should Trump succeed in his bid, replete with rivers of blood and the Four Horsemen and whatnot. Regardless of who may or may not be correct in matters cataclysmic, this prediction of doom and gloom taps into the fear of a significant portion of the electorate, of which a chief subset is working-class whites. Perhaps no better symbol of a Trumpian foretelling of the United States’ downfall exists, however, than one uttered by one of his Latino supporters (yes, they do exist!). In a recent panel discussion led by Joy-Ann Reid of MSNBC, Marco Gutierrez, founder of the organization Latinos for Trump, had this to say, apropos of nothing:
“My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
The almost uniform response to this, on social media and in news story Comments sections, and deservedly so, was, “Um, why is this a bad thing? Tacos are delicious.” And maybe there’s a lesson in this reaction. For all the blustering about a Mexican invasion, and the fear and hate Donald Trump’s campaign has engendered, at heart, there is much more to appreciate concerning Hispanic/Latino contributions to our proud melting pot of a nation than the actions of a few bad manzanas could ever hope to spoil. This includes, yes, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos, and any other delicious confluences of tortillas, meat, cheese and/or vegetables you can think of. And the Spanish language. Es muy bueno. And plus, there are other hallmarks of cultural significance, including works of art, film, literature, music and poetry, and other genres I can’t readily think of off the top of my head. And, you know, if we believe that people are inherently good and not out to screw the rest of us over, there’s a whole lot of hard-working, law-abiding individuals to call neighbors. In this respect, I feel the vast majority of immigrants, Mexican or Muslim, legal or not, understand the American spirit better than some self-identifying “true Americans” do.
For those who support Trump in his goal of being elected to the highest office in the land, there are numerous reasons why they might favor the man of the orange complexion. Maybe they’re Republican loyalists. Maybe they hate Hillary Clinton with a passion and will vote for anyone but her. Maybe they secretly want Democrats to succeed down the road in the legislature and in the White House, and are inviting a blowing-up of the system we know to rebuild it in a better, more progressive fashion. However they justify their choice, though, they should know that they can’t separate any more meritorious reasons for backing Donald Trump—such as his business acumen or his straight talk, both of which are highly overrated—from his hateful rhetoric on immigration and his uninspired 10-point plan to save America from the “Mexi-pocalypse.” It’s an agenda built on mistruths and outright lies about immigration trends, insufficiently detailed solutions to, ahem, trumped-up problem areas, and one that undoubtedly will cost the United States tens of billions of dollars and standing in the international community, with little to no tangible reward to show for it.
While this isn’t an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, as I feel her presidency would preserve a fundamentally flawed status quo in the name of incremental progress the likes of which fewer and fewer working-class Americans can afford, at least she wouldn’t send the country on a blatantly morally-regressive path. President Trump would, though. Taco trucks on every corner? Nope, the real danger would be Humpty Trumpty looking down from atop his Mexican wall like some sort of dictatorial ruler. If that comes to pass, all of our horses and all of our men might not be able to put the country back together again.
To me, Alt-Right sounds like some sort of keyboard shortcut that allows you to move to the next page in a Microsoft Word document or scroll across on a webpage or something. Unfortunately, speaking in political/social terms, the so-called “alt-right” movement is not a helpful keystroke, nor does it seem to be particular useful to society. In fact, from the recently-built consensus on this loose assortment of activists and theorists, the forces behind the alt-right might actually portend the coming of a battle against deleterious influences within the American electorate.
So, why the hubbub all of a sudden about this element, one for which I will readily admit I was not aware a name actually existed until recently? Well, a big reason likely lies in the fact Hillary Clinton just referenced the alt-right in a fiery speech denouncing its core motivations and tenets. Here’s a snippet from her latest anti-Donald Trump tirade in Reno, Nevada this past Thursday:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, Breitbart embraces “ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the “Alt-Right.”
Alt-Right is short for “Alternative Right.” The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that “rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.” The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the Alt-Right. A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
This is part of a broader story—the rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world.
As I’ve made abundantly clear through my posts here, I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but give the devil wearing Prada her due, she’s spot-on here, which partially explains why outlets like CNN were practically having an orgasm over how strong Clinton seemed in delivering this diatribe. The Republican Party, led by Trump and touched by crazies, has more or less been hijacked by this ilk, alienating high-ranking members, including past presidents, in the process. As for the rise of “hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world,” HRC is correct on this assertion as well. As we’ve seen throughout Europe, be it with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party in Austria (jeez, these nationalists sure like their freedom, don’t they?) and, perhaps most notably, in the machinations of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party resulting in the Brexit referendum and the eventual vote which decided the United Kingdom would leave the EU, rabid anti-immigrant nationalism and xenophobia are alive and well in places other than the United States of America. And while he claims no allegiance to or even knowledge of the alt-right, Donald Trump has seemingly embraced its kind and the same principles set forth by the know-nothings across the pond. In fact, Trump has even envisioned himself as some sort of “Mr. Brexit.” If by this, he means that, like the decision to exit the European Union, he is hated by young people and feared to destroy the country’s economy, then sure, Mr. Brexit it is.
Let’s go a little deeper into the nature of the alt-right in an attempt to further facilitate understanding, though. Sarah Posner, writing for Mother Jones, profiles Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart Media and newly-enlisted head of the Donald Trump, as someone more unabashedly supportive of the alternative right and someone with yet more pronounced fingerprints on the movement’s origins. In doing so, she, as so many journalists have had to do in apparently scrambling to cover the abstract concept of the alt-right, pursues an operational definition of the term:
Exactly who and what defines the alt-right is hotly debated in conservative circles, but its most visible proponents—who tend to be young, white, and male—are united in a belief that traditional movement conservatism has failed. They often criticize immigration policies and a “globalist” agenda as examples of how the deck is stacked in favor of outsiders instead of “real Americans.” They bash social conservatives as ineffective sellouts to the GOP establishment, and rail against neo-conservative hawks for their embrace of Israel. They see themselves as a threat to the establishment, far bolder and edgier than Fox News. While often tapping into legitimate economic grievances, their social-media hashtags (such as #altright on Twitter) dredge up torrents of racist, sexist, and xenophobic memes.
Posner, like many, acknowledges that painting the alt-right with a broad brush, or at least panning it outright, as with most movements, has it perils. Establishment politics on both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. is being decried by more extreme factions within the Democratic and Republican Parties; on the blue side, Bernie Sanders and other more progressive candidates have taken Hillary Clinton and other mainstream Dems to task for abandoning working-class Americans and preserving a status quo characterized by massive income and wealth inequality. Trickle-down conservative economics are also well worthy of criticism, as is the country’s pandering to Israel’s agenda in Gaza and the West Bank at the expense of legitimate Palestinian claims and interests.
This notwithstanding, it is the methods of many self-identifying members of the alternative right that threaten to undermine any more cogent arguments to be made within. Sarah Posner speaks to recurrent themes of racism, sexism and xenophobia in alt-righters’ online communications, and along these lines, bullying, hate speech and targeted attacks have become a modus operandi of sorts for individuals like Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, as the persistent harassment of Ghostbusters (2016) and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones serves to indicate. Not to mention there are additional policy stances held by the alt-right and mentioned by Posner in the above blurb that are not nearly as well-regarded by the national and international communities, chief among them the vehement antipathy toward immigrants and others perceived to be “outsiders” or otherwise not “real Americans.” Not only would some argue this is sentiment is decidedly un-American, especially since the backbone of this nation and the source of much of its character is immigration, but the sheer notion of what constitutes a “real American” and how elusively subjective that definition is further detracts from the alt-right’s credibility.
Concerning Stephen Bannon’s role in the promulgation of alt-right rhetoric, Sarah Posner gives salient examples of how his views and those of Breitbart readers coincide:
Bannon’s views often echo those of his devoted followers. He describes Islam as “a political ideology” and Sharia law as “like Nazism, fascism, and communism.” On his Sirius XM radio show, he heaped praise on Pamela Geller, whose American Freedom Defense Initiative has been labeled an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bannon called her “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam. And he basically endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, who floated the idea of deporting all Muslims from the United States.
Posner also underscores how Bannon has utilized Breitbart Media as a mouthpiece against black activists, especially those identifying with Black Lives Matter, suggesting those killed by police brutality likely deserved it, and that certain people—he doesn’t say African-Americans, but you know he totally means it—are predisposed toward aggression and violence. And when Stephen Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and others aren’t being overtly bigoted, misogynistic or xenophobic, which seemingly doesn’t happen often, much of their behavior still qualifies as bullying. It’s as if followers of the alt-right know deep down that they can’t win on the strength of their viewpoints alone, so they gang up on people, aiming to badger or frighten them into submission, thereby winning on a technical knockout, if you will, rather than a convincing string of logical arguments delivered on respectful terms. Toward the end of her piece, Sarah Posner provides yet another illustration of the sort of corrosive, abusive language that appears to be a hallmark of the alt-right:
On Thursday, in the Washington Post, [former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben] Shapiro upped the ante, describing the alt-right as a “movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism,” and Breitbart News as “a party organ, a pathetic cog in the Trump-Media Complex and a gathering place for white nationalists.” The reception he and another conservative Jewish Breitbart critic, Bethany Mandel, have experienced in the Bannonosphere is revealing: In May, when Shapiro, who became editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire after leaving Breitbart, tweeted about the birth of his second child, he received a torrent of anti-Semitic tweets. “Into the gas chamber with all 4 of you,” one read. Another tweet depicted his family as lampshades. Mandel says she has been harassed on Twitter for months, “called a ‘slimy Jewess’ and told that I ‘deserve the oven.'”
After Shapiro called out the anti-Semitism, BreitbartNews published (under the byline of Pizza Party Ben) a post ridiculing Shapiro for “playing the victim on Twitter and throwing around allegations of anti-Semitism and racism, just like the people he used to mock.”
Back at the RNC, Bannon dismissed Shapiro as a “whiner…I don’t think that the alt-right is anti-Semitic at all,” he told me. “Are there anti-Semitic people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. But I don’t believe that the movement overall is anti-Semitic.”
Holocaust imagery. Demeaning foul language, and stubborn denial of the hate it encourages. Accusing others of falsely playing “the victim.” What passes as political discourse by much of the alt-right is a mix of puerile remarks and threatening epithets that in most cases amounts to nothing, but in a country like the United States replete with lethal weapons and even in nations with stricter gun laws, that one or more of these peddlers of death threats and threats of other bodily harm might actually seek to act on their anger and prejudices is enough that the rest of us can’t simply disregard the potential for tragedy. What’s more, while authorities may be able to intervene in time in the case of a telling social media post, in so many instances, the warning comes too quickly or not at all, such that someone may walk into a building or up to a person on the street and just start firing, with the target more or less completely unaware of the threat that looms. It’s scary, but this is the reality of life in 2016. Call it the “new normal,” if you must, but the possibility, however slim, statistically speaking, is ever-present.
If, perhaps, the alt-right’s most outspoken voices lack genuine conviction in their system of beliefs, it is their unshakable confidence in the inviolate permissiveness of free speech and their thinking that political correctness is a deleterious force in today’s domestic and foreign policy which are most striking. Before knowing full well of the extent of what the alternative right comprises, I wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos’ directed, targeted abuse at Leslie Jones that ended up getting him banned on Twitter. This is not merely to toot my own horn, I assure you, but to recall how Milo didn’t exactly take this perceived affront by Twitter et al lightly, and furthermore, framed his reaction with respect to what he and others like him envision as a larger conflict of ideals. From his response on—where else?—Breitbart:
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Because we had so much fun the first time, let’s dissect this bold talk from everyone’s favorite British-Greek “journalist” once more, shall we?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans.
Milo Yiannopoulos certainly doesn’t lack for high opinion for himself, does he? But he may be right on aspects of his rhetoric, in particular, the notion that permanent Twitter bans and bombastic Clintonian speeches lend legitimacy to the alt-right movement and give them free press. In fact, as Rebecca Harrington of Business Insiderreports, alt-right thinkers were “practically giddy” that Hillary had done their work for them, so there may be something to the “bashing us only drives up our ratings” claim.
The other points are more debatable. Certainly, the concept of the “totalitarian” left is not a new one, with articles like this one from The American Thinker slamming modern liberals as enthusiastic about diversity along demographic lines but not about diversity of opinions, and essentially being one step away from fascists. In Milo’s case, however, not only was he violating Twitter’s terms of service by encouraging Leslie Jones’s harassment at the hands (fingertips?) of his fans, but he afterwards made a false connection between an alleged instance of overreach by Twitter’s censorship and the supposed unmitigated sanctity of the First Amendment. As I suggested in my aforementioned earlier post, free speech is all well and good, but it doesn’t entitle you to be a complete and total asshole. There are limits, and you just cried about totalitarianism because Twitter refused to give in to you like a mother does to her spoiled-brat child.
As for the “regressive left” mantra, this also is not a new idea. Critics of liberal policymakers and thinkers have long considered, for instance, the refusal to use the term “radical Islam” as pandering to Muslims and diversity at the expense of America’s security. Like with the “totalitarian” charge, however, this characterization falls into a logical trap. Apparently, since America hasn’t closed the door on the War on Terror, and political correctness has marked much of the White House’s relationship with this initiative as a subset of relationships with the Muslim community in the United States, it must be that a more delicate, nuanced handling of the situation is ineffective. By this logic, once again, being an asshole is evidently the correct way to approach these matters, and measures such as banning Muslims are supposed to reverse our fortunes. Even though terrorism experts insist that this is having the exact opposite effect. But what would they know?
We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
The phrase “culture war” implies that there are two sides intent on the other’s destruction, and while this sentiment definitely applies for Breitbart and its readers, the reverse, I would argue, does not hold as true. Liberalism in the United States, broadly speaking, tends to focus on civil liberty and equality, and thus fighting for Americans as a whole, rather than fighting against someone or something, as in the amorphous notion of “the Left.” Moreover, while liberalism certainly can err on the side of failing to assign responsibility to groups or individuals for their role in economic, moral and social shortcomings, perhaps explaining in part the rise in popularity of the alt-right, to say that it is “winning” the culture war is a stretch, to say the least. After all, when media types find themselves writing articles about what the alt-right entails because they themselves don’t know what that is, let alone their readers, it’s hard to argue you’re winning anything, let alone making much of a dent in the national consciousness.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Like I said in my previous piece, Twitter seems to be doing just fine without you, Mr. Yiannopoulos. And speaking of the alt-right, if Donald Trump is seen as a key figure in this movement—whether he recognizes it or not—he, for one, has been given free reign to use social media as a soapbox, or to hit back at his detractors like the petulant child he is deep down. The fact of the matter is Twitter is a business, and unfortunately, it likely has to deal with the more unsavory aspects of some people’s behavior, or else ban them and risk seeming like the “totalitarian” institution alt-right sympathizers envision them to be. Again, though, I submit, it’s not a question of free speech—it’s that the alternative right’s bullying ways impinge upon the First Amendment rights of other users, namely those of wanting to have certain material remain private and of wishing to feel safe in the online environment. These wants are not unreasonable, and should not be negotiable, what’s more. So, Milo, when it comes down to it, it appears it’s just you and a select few other poor sports who are not welcome on Twitter. Congratulations on this dubious distinction.
Linda Stasi, writing for the New York Daily News and obviously taking Leslie Jones’ online harassment quite personally, recently clapped back at her would-be aggressors and others that seem to fit the alternative right mold:
Instead of doing anything to improve yourselves, you waste your lives online spewing hatred, misogyny and racism. How ’bout getting off your asses and doing something to improve the world?
You have declared open warfare on women like Jones because she’s black, a woman, accomplished. But you really hate her because you aren’t any of those things.
Because you aren’t, you instead insult women by calling them by body parts, and by using ugly sexual references.
You are such dimwits that you think it’s clever to post nonsense like telling women who’ve accomplished much in life to get a life. News flash: If their lives were any bigger, they’d explode. Meantime, you’re the ones writing hate mail to celebrities you’ve never met. Seriously, losers: Time you all got a life.
It may be a bit of an oversimplification to depict the anti-SJW crowd in this way—as jealous, lazy, sexually frustrated, whiny white guys who hide behind their keyboards. As is the nature of many stereotypes, though, they exist because more often than not, they are true. And while some delicacy might be warranted with members of the alt-right because of the remote possibility they might represent a physical or other danger to the people around them, this should not be taken as a sign of defeat. If anything, it might actually be advantageous to Hillary Clinton and those outside the alt-right to let them think they’ve won something, only to emerge more confident and determined in promoting progressive ideas in the future. So, no, in short, the alt-right isn’t alright, nor are they, in most cases, right. And until they, by and large, learn to express themselves in ways that command respect, they should not receive it.