In November of 2017, avid Donald Trump supporter Mark Lee, as part of a panel of Trump voters speaking with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, spoke about Trump’s possible collusion with Russia in the context of religious faith. His comments, which made the rounds on the 24-hour news cycle/water-cooler political discussion loop, were truly astonishing to many. Here’s the one that had people, if not up in arms, scratching their heads:
Let me tell you, if Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, “Hold on a second: I need to check with the president if it is true.” That is how confident I feel in the president.
You read that right. Hold on, Mr. Savior, I have to ask President Trump if what you’re saying is God’s honest truth. Beyond the seeming absurdity of this scenario—Jesus returned just to tell Trump supporters about his connection with Russia?—the expressed faith in Trump above all others (and I am not using the word faith lightly) was duly baffling.
When Camerota pressed Lee for additional context, Lee, a pest control business owner who expressed vague notions of Trump being an advocate of the little guy, America-first, a drainer of the swamp, and a non-politician, stressed his belief that Trump is a good person, and that he (Trump) “has taken so many shots for us.” Presumably, that “us” is the American people, and any backlash is related to jealousy of his constant “winning.” Dude can’t help it if he’s so famous, handsome, and rich—that’s just how he rolls.
Any number of observers might choose not to share Mark Lee’s views. Heck, I sure don’t. Still, as extreme as Lee’s stances might seem, they may not be that far off from other people’s admiration for or faith in the current President of the United States. Reza Aslan, author, commentator, intellectual, and religious scholar, recently authored a video for Big Think about his notion that the Trump presidency is a religious cult. At first blush, Aslan’s comments might seem as grandiose as Lee’s. Trump as a cult leader? And his devotees are the ones who have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid?
For all our skepticism, though, Aslan does make his case in a very well-thought-out manner. First, before we even get to “why” certain Americans feel compelled to hold up Donald Trump, there’s the matter of “who.” Aslan cites a statistic that 81% of white evangelists who voted in the 2016 election went for Trump. That’s pretty significant, especially when considering that’s a higher percentage than George W. Bush received, an actual white evangelical. What else is significant about this figure? Well, for one, 67% of evangelicals of color who voted cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. Thus, when Aslan instructs us not to ignore that there is a racial element to Trump’s support, we would be quick to agree that he ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
As to why, however, white evangelicals “acted more white than evangelical” in their backing of Trump, as Aslan and others have put it, one element Aslan points to is the influence of what is known as the prosperity gospel. Loosely speaking, this is the idea that financial success is God’s blessing, and through faith, preaching the word of God, and, of course, generous donations, one’s material wealth will increase. In other words, if the Lord didn’t want you to have that Mercedes-Benz, he wouldn’t have made it so dadgum shiny. This is the sort of Christianity that Aslan explicitly dismisses and rejects, associating it with the likes of “charlatans” like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, but given Trump’s boasts of wealth and ostentatious displays of such, it makes sense that Christians who adhere to this doctrine would back him, even when his spiritual credentials are, er, lacking.
Additionally, Aslan points to Trump’s promises to afford secular benefits to white evangelical groups and other religious affiliations. In Trump’s apparently ambiguous vows to “give them back their power,” Aslan points to Trump’s willingness to defend Christians in their goal of making a stand on specific issues—even if he may not agree with their positions on those underlying issues—as well as his indication of intent, for instance, to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations like churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Just a few days ago, Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Treasury not to find churches guilty of “implied endorsements” much as secular organizations wouldn’t be. Never mind that this could help create a slippery slope that allows churches to bypass campaign finance laws and effectually become partisan super PACs. That sweet, sweet support from the religious right is too much to ignore.
Meanwhile, all of this may merely be prologue to a separate conversation we need to be having about Donald Trump, morality, evangelicals, and the intersection of the Venn diagram of their circles. As Reza Aslan insists, none of the above explains why white evangelicals have gone from a voting bloc that has insisted on a candidate’s morality as a significant qualification for office to one that eschews such concerns—in the span of one election cycle, no less. To reinforce this idea, Aslan highlights the fact that, re Trump, self-identifying atheists were more likely to consider morality as important than white evangelicals. So much for being “values voters.”
As Aslan reasons, this is more than can be reasoned away by talk of race or the prosperity gospel or the Johnson Amendment, and points to a different conclusion: that Trump, his presidency, and his most influential supporters have turned a significant portion of his white evangelical base into a religious cult, and a dangerous one at that. From where he (Aslan) stands, all the signs are there. For one, he points to Trump’s infamous remark that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose votes as being a kind of prophetic revelation. Aslan also alludes to statements made by Pat Robertson that he (Robertson) had a dream in which God took him up to Heaven and Trump was seated at His right hand—the space traditionally reserved for Jesus Christ—and Robert Jeffress, Robertson’s pastor, who said that he (Jeffress) prefers Trump as a candidate to someone “who expresses the values of Jesus.” Suddenly, Mark Lee doesn’t sound so out of place.
The implications, in short, are scary. As Aslan instructs, cults, particularly when confronted by the realities of the world, do not tend to end well. The Trump presidency, for all its claims of stability and success, by most objective accounts is on the brink of collapse, its central figure “spiraling out of control,” as Aslan puts it, and the subject of regular conversations about impeachment or other removal. In the perhaps likely event that leadership fails, the response for cult followers is often to double down on the group’s mantra, and this creates, at least in Aslan’s mind, a very perilous situation for the country at large. As he closes his address, “The only thing more dangerous than a cult leader like Trump is a martyred cult leader.” Ominous, indeed.
Reza Aslan is a religious scholar, and since he often approaches worldly matters from a spiritual frame of reference, even with his treatise on why Donald Trump’s presidency is a religious cult, there would likely be doubters and dissenters on this point. On the right, because so much of politics these days involves taking sides, this is all but a given. Naysayers would undoubtedly highlight Aslan’s Iranian heritage and Muslim beliefs (in reality, his faith is more complex, having been born into a Shia Muslim family, converting to evangelical Christianity, and then converting back to Muslim, all while largely regarding religion as nothing more than a series of metaphors and symbols designed to express one’s faith), as well as his anti-Trump animus (after Trump’s comments on the 2017 terrorist attack in London in which a van struck and killed pedestrians on London, Aslan referred to POTUS as a “piece of shit” and “man baby,” comments that, ahem, didn’t go over too well with then-employer CNN). Never mind that that Aslan is a theologian and literally talks about, thinks about, and writes about this stuff for a living. Because he doesn’t care much for Trump, his opinions must therefore be invalid, right?
For the non-shameless-Trump-backers among us, though, there might similarly be reluctance to characterize the President’s following in terms of a destructive religious cult, since these societies tend to remind us of devices of works of fiction set in apocalyptic times. To this, I submit people may be understating just how abnormal Trump and his presidency are. Besides, as many would aver, we are in the midst of a crisis right now, one primarily borne of climate concerns, but not without worry over its political stability. Trump just pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal without an apparent replacement strategy. Does this make the world safer? Does this instill confidence that the U.S. is a country that honors its agreements and is therefore worthy of trust? On both counts, the answer is a resounding “no,” and that should inspire concern from Americans regardless of their political orientation.
Then again, maybe it’s just that devout Christians can be hypocrites or otherwise twist the Bible to suit their purposes. Phil Zuckerman, professor at Pitzer College and someone who specializes in studies of atheism and secularity, among other topics, penned an essay shortly after Donald Trump’s upset 2016 electoral victory regarding the role of religion in the election’s outcome. Zuckerman—who also cites the statistic about 81% of white evangelicals voting for Trump, as well as 56% of American voters who attend church at least once a week going for the orange-skinned one—points to other disappointing tendencies of the Christian right.
For one, they tend to regard men as superior leaders and reinforce values that support male dominance over obeisant females. They also hate, hate, hate homosexuals, and tend to fear and hate other religions, dividing people into a saved-unsaved binary. Furthermore, fundamentalist Christians place a stronger emphasis on authoritarianism, and mistrust and reject the science which clashes with their faith. Or, as Zuckerman frames this, they are a sanctimonious lot, a subdivision of the American electorate that touts morals and yet voted en masse to elect someone in Trump who is the epitome of immorality. As with Aslan’s criticisms, people would be wont to use context to dismiss Zuckerman’s views. He made these comments not long after Election Day, and thus was probably harboring strong feelings at the time of his piece’s publication. Also, he’s interested mainly in secular studies. Maybe he just hates religious types. PROFESSOR, YOUR BIAS IS SHOWING.
Maybe, maybe not. Irrespective of Reza Aslan’s invectives directed at President Trump and Phil Zuckerman’s discontent with strong Christians for voting for someone clearly not of the same mold, this sense of devotion to Trump by a significant portion of the American people is startling and disconcerting, especially in light of the comparisons between Trump and Jesus. These are the same kinds of “values voters” who, say, conceive of gun ownership as a God-given right. Fun fact: the right to bear arms is a constitutional amendment contained in the Bill of Rights, not one of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill. Gun ownership increases the likelihood you will violate this precept. How does one reconcile these two apparently competing interests?
One oft-cited biblical passage, Matthew 10:34, in which Jesus is believed to have said that he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” may just as well speak to Christ’s existence dividing (as a sword would cut) people based on their belief, if not a faulty translation from the original Koine Greek. Psalm 144 in the Book of Psalms, another quoted portion of the Good Book, has been translated as, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.”
This is context-dependent, however. David, in speaking of bodily strength, ascribes true strength to God, and prays to Him to rescue him and his people “from the cruel sword.” In this context, David is King of Israel at a time when war among rival groups is common, and what’s more, the ending of the psalm expresses a hope for peace. This seems like quite a departure from the rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, which would have you believe in its promotional videos that America resembles a scene from The Purge. Lock ’em and load ’em, ladies and gents. Conflict is brewing, and nothing shouts His love like the cold steel of a .45.
Mark Lee’s pro-Trump comments seemed crazy at the time of first utterance, and a mere six months later, still do. As the Trump presidency wears on, though, at least until anything manifests with respect to impeachment or other means of removal, and as Donald Trump’s support from his base not only holds steady, but grows, one wonders whether Aslan’s depiction of Trump as a salvific figure, as something more than an inspiration to those blinded by patriotism, is accurate. For white evangelicals who support him, in particular, Trump’s actions should prompt them to look critically at their set of beliefs and the importance of morality to their worldview. Whether or not their apparent abandonment of their principles holds beyond Trump’s presidency, meanwhile, is anyone’s guess, and is hard to approach with any sense of faith on the part of those who already don’t believe in him.
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While those directly involved with the movement and others sympathetic to the cause may view it in a more redeeming light, Occupy Wall Street, for many, will remain little more than an historical footnote, or worse, an outright joke. For all the attention raised by OWS about corruption in government, economic and social injustice, and the greed of Wall Street—remember “we are the 99?”—there are any number of retrospective criticisms about Occupy Wall Street after the fact that, if they don’t explain why the movement has all but dissolved, they at least speak to its limitations. Among the major criticisms of the Occupy movement are that it was characterized by a lack of clear policy goals or message, a lack of minority representation, that it targeted the wrong audience (i.e. Wall Street, as opposed to Washington), that it was populated by privileged white “slack-tivists,” and perhaps biggest of them all, that it did not produce the kind of lasting legislative change needed to inspire participants and sustain its momentum. To this day, within progressive circles, some of which formed from its ashes, OWS remains a cautionary tale of sorts owing to how quickly it died out, as well as a reminder of the challenges that liberal-minded organizations still face today.
In the wake of the recent Parkland, Florida shooting that resulted in 17 deaths and has since captivated the thoughts of a nation, the calls have been widespread and loud for meaningful action on gun control/gun law reform. In truth, a response of this magnitude, the likes of which hearken back to initial reactions to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, seems overdue. That mass shootings in schools can and likely will continue to happen, though, because they have continued after the massacre in Newtown, or even the Columbine High School shooting—which will see its 20th anniversary in April 2019—brings the same questions of sustainability and potency to bring about change of this activist energy that dogged the Occupy movement.
Back in October of last year, Liana Downey, an author, strategic advisor, and teacher, penned an op-ed about the inherent flaw in asking for “gun reform” wholesale. For all the finger-pointing done toward Republican lawmakers and the NRA for standing in the way of measures like expanded background checks and bans on assault rifles and various other semi-automatic or fully automatic firearms for civilians, Downey finds fault with activist groups that lack specificity in their goals and the language they use. She writes:
CBS News reported that the response of democratic legislators to the Orlando Massacre was to “shout down Speaker Paul Ryan and demand a gun control bill.” Was that helpful? It sounds like action, but what were they actually asking for? Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America told supporters on social media to “use this form to call your US senator and demand action on gun violence now, and pass it on.” What action? Terms like ‘gun control’ and ‘gun reform’ are notoriously vague. Do they mean tightening background checks or that the government is “coming to take your guns”?
This ambiguity is deliberate. Knowing full well that the pro-gun lobby is quick to raise the cry “they’re coming to take our guns”, most politicians and protesters — even those in support of reform — hide behind indirect terms, in the hope that they won’t ruffle feathers. Yet the opposite happens. Those who lobby on behalf of the gun industry, whose job it is to keep demand and supply of guns growing, seize on the lack of clarity and paint a doomsday scenario for gun owners.
The problem caused by the lack of a clearly-defined goal is two-fold. The first, as Downey explains, is that it galvanizes support amongst the “opposition,” as it were. In this instance, those who oppose gun control out of concern for what it means for their ability to own guns outright worry about greasing the slippery slope toward repeal of the Second Amendment, perhaps fueled by a general sense of distrust toward the federal government. The second, though, is that the lack of direction makes it hard to build and sustain a movement. Nearly 20 years removed from the Columbine tragedy, advocacy for gun control has been, as Liana Downey terms it point blank, a “failure,” because it has been unclear, because it hasn’t defined an end game or measurable goals, and because it hasn’t done enough to inspire. That is, on the last point, while our anger and sadness might naturally prompt us to want to take action, vague notions of effecting “gun reform” do not exactly tingle the spine, to borrow from Downey’s verbiage.
For her part, Downey suggests establishing a concrete goal of cutting the lives lost each year due to gun violence in the United States in half—roughly 15,000, according to available statistics from the last five years—and in doing so, echo the strategy of similar campaigns that have proven successful, such as the reduction of deaths due to drunk driving by some 12,000 fatalities per year due to the advent of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Not only does this goal provide guidance for activists, but as Downey argues, it allows one to be scientific. Downey goes into length about hypothesis testing with respect to reducing opportunities for fatal gun violence to occur, and I’ll let you parse through the diagrams and such if you feel inclined. Suffice it to say, though, that having a clearly-defined mission makes tracking deaths and compiling statistics on gun violence easier. Which is especially helpful when the Center for Disease Control has its funding to research effectiveness to reduce gun violence cut or blocked by Congress. Thanks a f**king lot, NRA.
Of course, this still leaves the matter of the political power that gun manufacturers and the gun lobby possess. Where there are laws or proposed bills to protect firearms and ammunition makers on either the supply or demand side, there is usually the influence of lobbyists to be found. As Liana Downey views the relationship between proponents of gun control and those more resistant to reform, there are two options for the former: 1) diminishing the influence of gun manufacturers, or 2) inviting them to the table to help achieve the goal of reducing gun-related deaths. Re #1, while this is possible, with the NRA so entrenched in the realm of congressional politics, and so organized and capable of mobilizing its base, to boot, this is agreeably tough sledding. Re #2, however, with the goal of reducing and tracking gun violence firmly established, any refusal of the gun lobby or sponsored members of Congress to act becomes political fodder for those who want to advance legislation which will bring about meaningful, positive “gun reform.” Or, as Downey puts it, it becomes clear that those who stand in the way of change “value money, not Americans.” Indeed, if we can’t agree to this end, we seemingly never will.
Much of the focus on the Parkland massacre, as it invariably does with any mass shooting, has been on whether or not this tragedy was preventable. From the various profiles I have seen online of the shooter (I refuse to name him because I believe this attention should be devoted to the victims, not the perpetrator of such violence), he would seem to fit the stereotype of the would-be school shooter. A sufferer of various mental health disorders. A loner. His mother recently died. He was upset after a break-up with a girl. Expelled from the very school he shot up. And, of course, he seemed to really, really like guns, as evidenced by disturbing social media posts attributed to him. It also appears the FBI was made aware of his potential for violence as recently as last month, but indicated that it failed to follow established protocols that would’ve resulted in the shooter being assessed as a “potential threat to life.” Aside from the obviously regrettable notion that the Florida shooting may have been averted, that this gives, ahem, ammunition to the likes of Donald Trump, who has decried the U.S. intelligence community as a matter of self-preservation and because he is a wannabe dictator, as well as Gov. Rick Scott, a man with an A+ rating from the NRA, is unfortunate in its own right.
Whether we want to play psychologist and figure out what went wrong with the shooter, or take on the role of internal affairs and wag our fingers at the school district or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or even take on gun and ammunition manufacturers for their supposed culpability in these events—personally, I favor only holding manufacturers responsible in cases where they knowingly or negligently sell to the wrong people or a defective product, or for deliberately misleading the public and investigators—the above concerns shouldn’t take us away from the central discussion we need to be having about what steps we can take going forward to reduce gun-related violence and deaths in America. This is where Liana Downey’s concept of hypothesis testing with respect to variables which may lead to a decline in the fatality rate comes in, whether regarding a change in the sheer number of guns in our country, legal restrictions on access for certain individuals, technological improvements designed for safer use, or some other modification to existing laws and policies. Whatever is likely to have the biggest impact and can feasibly be put into place, that should be the focus.
This is not to say, it should be stressed, that the subjects of mental health and of accountability for law enforcement related to school shootings like this aren’t meritorious and shouldn’t be pursued. As someone diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I support increased attention to mental illness and removing the stigma that too often accompanies people who deal with associated disorders. I also believe in accountability at all levels of government, though I am wary of assigning blame when it is recognizably difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of the movements of all people within a given area or to respond in a timely manner to an imminent threat of violence. As I understand, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the shooting, had recently conducted drills designed to bolster preparedness in the case of violence such as this. This may have prevented additional loss of life, but 17 lives were still ended on the day of the shooting, and a community is still coming to grips with its devastation. There’s only so much that can be done in these circumstances. The point, before you or I fail to be able to see the proverbial forest for the trees, is that these are worthy conservations to be having, but separate from or in addition to the gun control issue. Besides, it’s not as if mental health issues are a prerequisite for mass murder. In fact, numerous doctors have responded critically to President Trump’s insistence on talking about the mental health of the shooter in the aftermath of the tragedy.
That the national consciousness is as devoted as it is to bringing about political change is commendable. However, as Occupy Wall Street or perhaps even the #MeToo movement would teach us, we need to be clear and specific in what we’re asking for, and we need to make sure we follow through in measuring and tracking the variables that will have the greatest impact in reducing deaths related to gun violence. To put this another way, “gun reform” is an admirable pursuit, but as Liana Downey and others would insist, it won’t get us anywhere.
I can only imagine what the family and friends of those lost in the Sutherland Springs, TX church shooting are feeling, and while my emotions and opinions pale by comparison, after hearing of this recent event marked by unimaginable cruelty and loss of life, my immediate reaction was not of anger or fear or frustration or hopelessness or sadness, but of a vague resigned exhaustion over it all. Another week, another mass shooting. The same questions and suspicions. Who was the shooter? Were there warning signs about his intent to kill? Was he affiliated with ISIS or some other terrorist organization? What was his political orientation? Did he suffer from some personal trauma or mental illness? I’m sure you can think of more examples of the type of analysis that accompanies these sorts of tragedies, but that’s not my point. The point—one that I’m sure is not lost on scores of Americans on both sides of the aisle—is we’ve been here before. Aurora, Charleston, Columbine, Fort Hood, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook Elementary, Tucson, the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, VA—the list of sites of high-profile mass shootings goes on and on, and exceeds what I can or would want to remember. Moreover, when considering these flashpoint instances of extreme violence, the freshness and overlap is such that it exacerbates the extent of our hurting and our sorrow. Before we are even done grieving and saying our prayers for the victims and loved ones of one event, another one occurs and our focus shifts. With act after act of gun violence, a bad dream becomes a recurring nightmare accompanied by the fear we’ll never wake up.
In addition, highlighting the incidence of mass shootings in the United States, in part, obscures the totality of gun-related violence in the country today. As of November 11, the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit formed in 2013 to provide free public access to information about gun-related violence in the U.S., recorded 53,197 gun-related incidents in 2017 alone, 13,375 resulting in death and another 27,338 resulting in injury. This includes 310 mass shootings, 633 instances of children 0 to 11 killed or injured, and 2,825 instances of children 12 to 17 killed or injured; these events, it should be noted, may be concurrent, but the numbers are still upsetting. Even more disturbing is the notion these tallies do not even reflect the majority of gun-related deaths in America: suicides. Over 60% of fatalities involving guns in the United States are self-inflicted. To top it all off, it’s not as if the gun violence situation is getting better. According to the Center for Disease Control, firearm-related deaths in the U.S. rose in 2016, the second straight year of an overall increase in mortality rates after close to 15 years of being largely unchanged. Even if the spikes may be due in large part to violence in places like Chicago, where many of us essentially have come to expect firearm-related deaths and injuries, the specter of guns casts a long and dark shadow on America’s profile. According to a study published in February 2016 in The American Journal of Medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than in other developed countries, and 25 times more likely on average to be killed by guns than in the 22 other high-income nations referenced in the study. Even when suicide rates are comparable between the U.S. and a given high-income nation, Americans who take their lives are eight times more likely to do so with the help of a gun. These kinds of numbers would appear to be beyond the power of positive spin to put a shine to them.
It’s about this point in the gun law reform discussion that, in the face of verifiable quantitative data about just how profound the problem of gun violence is in America, the argument usually shifts to consideration of Second Amendment rights and discussions of mental health. Concerning the former, this provision of the Bill of Rights is interpreted as the “right to bear arms” for all people, and as many might contend, perhaps gun ownership shouldn’t be a right so much as a privilege. Certainly, the “right” to bear arms pales in comparison to the rights to, say, food and water, and furthermore, blindly pointing to the existence of the Second Amendment ignores the context in which it was created. That is, this right of gun ownership was intended for militias—not every Tom, Dick, and Harry—and I’m reasonably sure the Founding Fathers were not imagining semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, or the like when including this provision in the Bill of Rights. As for the latter, the concern for mental health in this context is a red herring. Gun advocates who point to mass shooters as “unstable” sorts are doing so primarily because it is a convenient out. To put this another way, if these people were so concerned about improving mental health and access to affordable, high-quality treatment in the United States, they wouldn’t wait until there’s a tragedy to talk about this matter—nor would they resort to stock answers like this when prompted to respond to acts of unspeakable violence.
Otherwise, critics of gun control cling to the notion that having one or more guns in this situation—you know, not possessed by the shooter but by someone who intercedes to stop him or her—would save lives, and/or separately allude to the perpetrator not being a “responsible” gun owner. This time, I’ll begin with the latter. Identifying someone as a responsible gun owner is a nebulous distinction. By this, I mean to say that there doesn’t appear to be a broad consensus as to what constitutes responsible gun ownership. Is it keeping a firearm in a locked box or safe? Is the weapon stored separately from the ammunition, or does one keep it loaded out of necessity to act fast in the event of an intruder? I may be merely telegraphing my own ignorance about gun ownership as a non-owner here, but standards of care or safe storage look to vary by locale or with the assumption of risk of the user. I personally don’t want a firearm in my house for my own protection, and I definitely would not want a gun in the house if I had one or more children under my roof. On the part of the former, there’s a term for this belief: “the good guy with a gun” assumption. Even with respect to the Sutherland Springs massacre, Donald Trump and his FOX News-watching brethren will point to instances like Stephen Willeford, neighbor and bystander, shooting the assailant in the leg and torso and chasing him in a car after the fact. Not only did this all still equate to a loss of life, however, but the evidence suggests these types of interventions are outliers more so than the norm. We all are not John McClane in Die Hard. Trying to play hero could get you or other innocent people killed.
While much ado is made about who uses firearms in cases of extreme violence, why they do so, where and when the shootings take place, and how they go about procuring these deadly weapons, in looking at the big picture and trying to answer the big question of “What can we do to reduce gun violence rates in America?” the obvious crux of the matter is that there are simply too many guns. Statistically speaking, there is about one gun for every person in the United States, far surpassing the next-closest nation. As apparent as the problem of access to guns is, any action that is retroactive in nature to address the pervasiveness of the gun violence crisis is liable to produce a conflict of epic proportions, one that would see clashes between the liberal left and conservatives and libertarians who hold individual and states’ rights sacrosanct. Myth-making or not, the NRA and other Second Amendment supporters seem to have succeeded in spreading the narrative that the “godless” left is “coming for your guns.” Cue Charlton Heston’s famous line about prying his gun from his “cold, dead hands,” and so on and so forth. That there wasn’t a more significant backlash in the wake of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by an armed “militia” led by Ammon Bundy speaks to our national fixation with guns, not to mention it highlights a profound difference in the way whites with firearms and people of color with firearms are approached. With story after story about blacks being shot by police during routine traffic stops or low-level arrests, it appears only too likely the occupation in Oregon would have transpired much differently—and with way more bloodshed—if these armed militants were black or brown.
If taking people’s guns is therefore not a viable answer, and if people aren’t willing to cede possession of their weapons, looking forward, how do we enact policy that allows us to make real progress on the subject of gun control and gun violence? Going back to the idea of gun ownership being a right versus a privilege, let me deal in the context of an analogy, as I so often like to do on this blog and—annoying my friends and family in the process—in my personal life. Automobiles, like guns, involve pieces of metal moving at relatively high rates of speed. Based on their size, weight, momentum, and other factors, cars et al. have the power to injure and kill. This applies to not only drivers, but pedestrians as well, a thought reinforced by an alarming number of recent acts of violence on innocent bystanders at political rallies and as part of terroristic attacks. Owing to how dangerous operation of a motor vehicle can be, ownership and use is more of a privilege than an absolute right. Beyond the potential limitation of cost, there are numerous proverbial hoops through which to jump if one is to legally be able to share the road. You must be of a certain age specified by the state in which you reside, you must pass both a written and road test, you must register and insure your vehicle, and you must regularly maintain it, not merely for issues of performance and long-term viability, but to pass inspection and satisfy federal standards designed to ensure safety and to limit the emission of substances regarded as damaging to the Earth’s environment. These provisions of law, mind you, did not happen overnight, but are a function of the efforts of automobile safety advocates and other interested parties. Buying, driving, and owning a car is, in short, a big deal.
In terms of overall utility, a gun is far less useful than an automobile. With respect to a car, this may be a necessity for the individual, especially if his or her job/profession involves driving and relying on public transportation is impractical. Guns, meanwhile, are designed to intimidate, injure, or kill. Sure, there’s the notion that a firearm can be carried and owned as a measure of self-defense, but even then, the optimal outcome is that shots aren’t fired. In this sense, guns primarily confer the benefit of a sense of protection for the holder—even when this may be illusory. (By the way, don’t even get me started about the use of guns in hunting. If we’re talking about it as pure sport, I have no regard for this “tradition.” Play a deer-hunter simulator, why don’t you?) So why are guns so much more readily available in the United States when they have a far less redeeming social value than something like a motor vehicle. By now, it should be evident that the gun lobby in the United States has more clout and more influence than most single-issue advocacy groups. Whether or not you approve of their stances on various topics under the gun control/gun law reform umbrella, the National Rifle Association, represented in its lobbying efforts by the Institute for Legislative Action, is effective in impacting policy and mobilizing its members and supporters. Like President Trump, the NRA appeals to anti-government types and stokes feelings of anger and fear that “their” way of life is at risk of being taken away by runaway liberalism. It also makes use of gun clubs, gun magazines, gun shops, and other methods of communication to amplify its voice. The NRA is as entrenched a group in American politics as they come, and this has made, to a large extent, resistance to change so resolute.
So, does this mean that the gun lobby is unassailable and that positive steps forward become too long and heavy to take? No, I don’t believe this is the case, and I think analogies like the car vs. gun binary can be instructive. In saying this, I am mindful of the reflexive defense employed by gun advocates that cars kill thousands of people a year and we don’t blame the cars for the violence they help create, so why vilify guns? For one, as we’ve talked about heretofore, a car’s worth to society easily exceeds that of a gun’s. Guns are not critical to the American economy like cars are, nor are they essential for most people’s survival. In this respect, the comparison to automobiles as brutal killing machines is an apples-to-oranges parallel. Moreover, assuming we are putting dissimilarities aside in line with the wishes of Second Amendment fanatics, let’s put our money where our mouth is and treat gun ownership like car ownership. Let’s require that prospective gun users pass both a written and physical proficiency exam before they can become licensed to carry and operate a firearm. Let’s mandate that these weapons, like cars, get registered by their owners, and furthermore, that these owners obtain proof of insurance in the event of an incident. In the interest of safety, and if we can do this for cars and other vehicles, why can’t we do it for guns? In the case of a car accident, your seat belt and/or the airbag might save your life. In the case of a shooting, unless you happen to be wearing a bulletproof vest, the odds of not dying are decidedly not in your favor.
The straightest path to progress on this issue is a legislative one, and whether we are talking reform at the federal or state level, it initially appears we are chasing our tails by offering a solution at odds with the wishes of the gun lobby. The pursuit of advancement on gun law reform, however, was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and commensurate with the notion of the long haul for gun control, changing the political process and elevating new leaders to become lawmakers will take time. Both of these efforts are worth the time and energy, though, as much as our sense of exasperation over the same tragedies repeating themselves ad nauseum—not to mention the sheer stupidity and embarrassment of the Trump administration—may be. Despite the bluster of the NRA and other Second Amendment apologists, most Americans want sensible measures enacted to limit the ability of individuals who would do harm to others to legally procure deadly weapons, even if, in specific cases, existing gun laws may not have been sufficient to prevent a tragedy such as Sutherland Springs. We’re all sick and tired of hearing about these kinds of shootings. Let’s not allow our fatigue to bring us to a state of complacency when authentic change is possible.
We are in the midst of a culture war. Well, at least as some on the right would have us believe. President Donald Trump, for one, has used this kind of rhetoric to great effect on the campaign trail and continues to try drive a Russia-sized wedge between his supporters and the mainstream media. Recently, conservative talk radio host, television personality, and author Dana Loesch delivered a diatribe along these lines that got a lot of attention—mostly for the wrong reasons, but still. Loesch’s depiction of the United of States of America today on behalf of the NRA is nothing short of “madness,” a word she herself uses in setting a near-apocalyptic tone. Here are her words, and if you haven’t seen the video (you can Google it if you want—I’m not linking to that shit), I swear I am not making them up:
They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”
All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.
And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.
I’m the National Rifle Association of America. And I’m freedom’s safest place.
Apparently, our country is on the brink of catastrophe, and the NRA is America’s last hope for salvation and freedom. You know, not to self-aggrandize or anything. Dana Loesch’s rant is an emotionally-laden one, so on some level, it seems unfair to really sift through her comments and pick them apart. Then again, this is propaganda which has the power to motivate and influence people’s decisions, particularly in a negative direction, so—what the hell—let’s tear this speech to shreds. My $4.63 (two cents, adjusted for inflation):
They use their media to assassinate real news.
As opposed to fake news? Which is the real news and fake news, in this equation? Just checking. If we’re going to be conjuring images of unrest and trying to raise doubts about the fairness and soundness of the mainstream media, we should know who our so-called friends and enemies are, right? Right? Not only is Loesch remarkably vague in this demonization of the other, but she’s using some awfully loaded language from the jump. “Assassination” usually applies to the murder of someone notable or revered. Loesch could have used “kill” or even “destroy,” but instead, she chose to invoke a context in which the President is under attack and in immediate danger. Never mind that Donald Trump has been a consistent aggressor with respect to the news media, even going so far as to re-Tweet a depiction of himself nailing the likes of CNN with a wrestling move. For someone in the crosshairs, Trump sure lashes out at the MSM a lot. It’s at least a two-way street, but our President would imagine it as nothing more than a witch hunt—even when the news media has largely pulled its punches, sacrificing a certain standard for the sake of clicks, ratings and views. In other words, both sides have been doing their part to diminish a free press.
They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.
OK, so the “Donald Trump is Hitler” angle was always apt to be overblown, but when the man is being cheered on by David Duke and white nationalists across the globe, it’s not a completely absurd comparison, especially not when someone like Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister, has accused Trump of “acting like another Hitler.” I’m actually less concerned about Dana Loesch’s allusion to Hitler here, and more disturbed by the attack on schools as a bastion of liberal indoctrination. If teaching children to respect women and people of other nations, races, and faiths is wrong, then so be it, because you’re sure as hell not getting that from our President.
They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”
We’ve heard this line ample times before, especially from the right. Why do these celebrities have to wax political all the time? #StayInYourLane, am I right? Except for the idea that politics affects pretty much everything else, and these celebrities are not only entitled to their views, but arguably should be engaged when the direction of the country is involved. I don’t denigrate Scott Baio for expressing his conservative political views. Maybe I might denigrate him for lacking talent as an actor, but like I said, he can say and think what he wants. This is America. Speaking of views, what, pray tell, is wrong with a politician like Barack Obama commenting on “the resistance?” It’s literally been his job to be involved in politics, and he led the freaking country for eight years. If Trump is doing a shitty job, who better than his Barack-ness to render his opinion having done the same job?
All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.
Um, Ms. Loesch, it’s American tradition to march and protest, not to mention completely legal unless it veers into the realm of violence and destruction of property. Even then, you’re describing a minority of instances and bad actors, and while we’re on the subject of the police and of bullying and terrorization, what about the fear that people of color face when they are made to understand that being stopped for a broken taillight may end up in their effective murder at the hands of an officer of the law? What about someone like Philando Castile being shot several times despite trying to warn the officer who stopped him that he was legally carrying a weapon? That to me is madness. Not to mention racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia can and should be called out and decried. There’s this notion going around that political correctness is holding us back as a nation, but it’s burdensome only to those who don’t practice it and who don’t genuinely believe people should be loved and respected.
And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.
Let’s get this straight: I don’t hate the police. I respect the job they do, thank them for keeping us safe, and appreciate the danger many of them face every day. I would even concede that most who wear the badge are good cops, and I think most Americans, liberal, centrist, or conservative, would feel the same way. Nonetheless, when officers of the law do not do their jobs correctly, or otherwise act in bad faith, that outrage is arguably warranted, especially when police forces show little interest in trying to admonish police for their bad behavior or even actively try to suppress the evidence. Again, any protests should be respectful and non-violent, but this is not to say they are unfair, and furthermore, one might submit that if anyone should want bad cops exposed, it’s others within their ranks.
Enough about our women and men in blue, however. Loesch here talks about fighting a “violence of lies” with “the clenched fist of truth.” First of all, what the heck is a “violence of lies?” Based on the dictionary definition, she is either referring to the conscious act of trying to hurt, damage, or kill something, or a strength of emotion/destructive force. Either way, it’s an odd turn of phrase, akin to calling a group of cows a gaggle. Besides, she points to the left and cries foul, but the same can be and has been said about the right, and I may be biased, but the criticism is way more justified.
One last thing: the clenched fist is a symbol of the resistance you have taken great pains to demonize. You and your conservative ilk are in power now, so kindly, ahem, step off, or else I have a new hand gesture involving a particular finger and pejorative meaning waiting in the wings
The thing that always gets me about the National Rifle Association and appeals to “freedom” is that it always seems as if the organization and its supporters are depicting a situation by which the “godless” left is coming for their guns. Except I never actually hear anyone on the left say we should take away the right to bear arms. This last election cycle, Hillary Clinton distinguished herself from Bernie Sanders by appearing tougher on guns, even going as far as to support the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in a bid to bring suit against gun manufacturers. (I myself, perhaps unsurprisingly, sided with the latter, because I don’t see the value in such litigation except in instances where the manufacturer clearly was at fault in creating a product that malfunctions or knowingly sells to a criminal element, but this point may be debated.) Still, even Clinton has never advocated abolishing the Second Amendment outright. Sure, she and others (including myself) may call for a restriction on sales of military-grade weapons to civilians, but this seems pretty sensible. Of course, “sensible” may be a relative term when it comes to gun policy and gun reform in the United States, but do with this sentiment what you may.
While we’re speaking in “sensible” terms, let’s state something which is obvious, but nonetheless bears repeating. The purpose of guns is to harm, intimidate, and kill. Sure, it may be used for hunting, but that still fits the bill. #DeerLivesMatter. Otherwise, people may blow off steam and practice their target shooting, though if they really wanted, they could—I don’t know—go to the bar instead. The most legitimate reason why anyone not already required to carry a firearm per their job or role should own a firearm, as I see it, is for defense of his or her home. Beyond that, the justifications largely appear to fall flat. Guns result in pieces of metal moving at high rates of speed. In this respect, they are like cars, huge masses of metal which are designed to move at high rates of speed. Cars, like guns, have the potential to kill. For this reason, before being able to legally drive one, people must first be old enough, and must pass both a written and road test. Because they can cause destruction, including to one another (not to mention they can cost a shit-ton), there are any number of car insurance companies as well. Automobiles, in short, are a big deal and require the requisite know-how and safeguards to operate, but hey, they get you where you need to go.
So, let’s get this straight: cars, which are comparatively much more useful than guns, require much more documentation and proof of proficiency than guns, devices designed solely to frighten, maim, and/or end a living thing’s existence. Wait, what? Relatively speaking, it is frighteningly simple to get a gun legally in the United States of America. A June 2016 report by Doug Criss for CNN put this matter in jarring perspective when it considered how a gun is easier to get than any number of things in this country. As noted, it is easier to get a lethal weapon than a driver’s license. You don’t need to pass any knowledge or proficiency exams, nor do you even need, in most cases, a license or permit. Furthermore, whereas new drivers in a state like Maryland must go through a probationary period, there is no such requirement for firearms. Just go to the shop, get a gun and some ammo, load that sucker up, and get to shooting!
Criss provides other examples as well, and of considerably less danger, to boot. For a passport, you need to prove your identity as a citizen, file paperwork, submit a photo, and wait about six weeks for processing, whereas with guns, if buying from a private seller, you likely don’t even need a background check. You may be limited to the amount of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine you buy in a month because it can be used to make meth; no federal law places such a limit on the number of guns you can purchase. For a divorce, it may take several months to finalize; the most stringent gun buying laws in individual states would have you wait mere days before you can take home your shiny new lethal weapon. Even getting a puppy may require you to be 21 or older, provide personal references, and submit to a home visit when adopting from an agency. A gun is nowhere as cute and cuddly, and necessitates no home visits or personal references. And, as we’ve firmly established, it can kill you.
The influence of the National Rifle Association as a subset of the larger discussion of the issue of money in politics should trouble Americans regardless of their political affiliation, though certainly, those on the left particularly concerned about this matter should be especially alarmed. Not only is the NRA obviously well-connected in terms of access to politicians and availability of funds to devote to lobbying efforts, but they are also well-organized in terms of communicating with their membership and putting them on a path to action. In a piece from last year for NBC penned in the wake of the Orlando shooting, Leigh Ann Caldwell explored how the NRA exerts influence beyond mere political contributions to individual candidates. The Association can give to the major political parties as well as committees within their ranks at both the state and national level. Its five-million-plus members can also donate of their own accord, not to mention the NRA has its own super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization for the purpose of political campaigns. To top it all off, and perhaps most significantly, the NRA communicates constantly with its membership, informing them about gun-related votes, advising them how to vote, and even spelling out how specific lawmakers voted on the issues so as to apply political pressure accordingly, with people at the ready to send E-mails, letters, and phone calls in line with this function. Oh, and they register people to vote, too. At a time when Republican efforts to curtail the vote for the Democrats’ traditional systems of support are as strong as ever, this detail is not insignificant.
So, how do we solve a problem like the NRA? The answer is both a simple one, i.e. funding resistance efforts, and a complicated one, in light of how entrenched its power is and how effectively it marshals resources when a vote is involved. Back in 2014, Tim Dickinson wrote about how to beat the NRA in seven not-so-easy steps for Rolling Stone. Though perhaps a bit obvious, though decidedly necessary to mention given its history and investment in politics heretofore, the first step Dickinson outlined was committing to a generation-long battle against the gun lobby. With that, the next recommendation was to develop a local strategy of supporting gun control initiatives to amplify the position of the pro-reform White House. Of course, now man-baby Donald Trump is President, so the equation changes quite a bit, but the point of acting at the state and community level is yet highly relevant.
The other five steps vary in terms of how compelling they are, notably if you happen to be a progressive like myself, but they are worth deliberating. #3 involves politicizing disaster, because the NRA already does it and little has moved the proverbial needle outside of “making a political issue of the tiny coffins of dead children in the wake of a school shooting.” In advertising, they say sex sells, but maybe the anti-gun-violence activists among us need to fight fire with fire and play on the public’s emotions. Along these lines, #4 involves taking swift action to capitalize on tragedy. As Dickinson would have it, think less Barack Obama and more Andrew Cuomo. #5 is to bring Big Money to the table. This seems to be akin to dancing with the devil, but there is value in the idea that this money would be linked to a broad base of gun control activists with their own ability to donate and vote to the cause. #6 is to “think bigger than mayors, moms, and martyrs.” That is, create a movement that isn’t limited to concerned mothers and families of victims, and that has a simple message about ending gun violence and making communities safer. Finally, #7 involves preparing for setbacks and retaliation from the National Rifle Association. After all, if, in the wake of shooting after shooting, we are still lagging behind in terms of the use of background checks, waiting periods, and limiting sales of weaponry designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time, we need to understand that the NRA is primed to play both offense and defense. So far, it’s been a winning formula for the gun lobby.
Speaking of setbacks, Dana Loesch’s propaganda rant on behalf of the NRA was criticized not only by proponents of gun reform, but many gun owners as well as being a bit much. Still, if we would expect this to seriously hurt the National Rifle Association and its ability to recruit, we would be patently naïve, and we should be duly worried about how some of the organization’s supporters might interpret Loesch’s broad message. Loesch et al. frame this is as a “culture war,” but some might heed the call to action armed with more than just the clenched fist of truth, if you catch my drift. Lastly, in accordance with Tim Dickinson’s ideas, we must understand there is no, ahem, silver bullet when it comes to fighting the NRA’s influence. It will take money, it will take community involvement, and most of all, it will take time. When the NRA points, three fingers point back in terms of its contributions to limiting the freedom of Americans everywhere to enjoy safety without the fear of gun violence. If you think this is a self-defeating principle, however, feel free to talk to those onlookers at the Trump presidency still waiting on impeachment.
On the eve of the start of Black History Month, President Donald Trump didn’t disappoint his conservative fans or white supremacist supporters when he announced his nomination of silver-haired white dude Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court left when Justice Antonin Scalia left this Earth and departed for that big courthouse in the sky. Gorsuch, despite being the youngest SCOTUS nominee in a quarter of a century, has the pedigree of a Supreme Court Justice. He’s studied at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford—not a shabby hand, eh?—and in terms of his professional career, he’s been a clerk for a United States Court of Appeals judge and two Supreme Court Justices (Byron White and Anthony Kennedy), worked in a D.C. law firm, was principal deputy to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum at the DOJ, spent time as a Thomson Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, and has served in his current role as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit out of his duty station in Denver, Colorado.
In other words, Judge Gorsuch is, unlike a number of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet, eminently qualified for the position for which he has been tapped, and for that, I respect the man. Do I think he should be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, however? In a word, no. It’s nothing personal. I mean, heck, I didn’t know who the guy was until Pres. Trump’s prime-time announcement. Regardless, as I’m sure a number of key Democrats do, I have concerns about his priorities as a jurist and whether or not he would let his political and personal/spiritual ideologies interfere with his interpretation of the Constitution as a member of SCOTUS. Accordingly, I feel the Dems should take their time and do their due diligence before rubber-stamping Neil Gorsuch into service on the highest court in the country. After all, and if nothing else, it’s only fair.
On that last note, let’s take a few steps back and consider the current political climate in which we’re operating. In a vacuum, given his extensive experience, Gorsuch might not be considered a terrible pick, or at the very least, Democrats might have been more willing to work with the Trump administration and Republicans on moving along the confirmation process at a brisker pace. With Pres. Trump in the midst of signing a slew of grotesque executive orders to start his tenure in the Oval Office, however, and in light of the GOP’s obstruction of the Democrats’ own pick to fill Scalia’s vacant seat in the Supreme Court in the remaining months of President Barack Obama’s run as Commander-in-Chief, a measure of resistance on the Dems’ part might not only be advisable, but warranted.
Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, and Obama officially nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy on March 16, 2016. The move on President Obama’s part to pick Garland, in addition to selecting someone highly experienced in his own right, was intended to force the hand of Republicans in the Senate. Would GOP lawmakers confirm Merrick Garland and resign to having a Supreme Court Justice many of them admired, but wasn’t as conservative as the more vocal factions within their ranks would have liked, or would they be a dick about things and refuse to hear Garland on principle that he was Obama’s choice and therefore had to be neutralized? Um, I think you know where this is going. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans chose to be a dick about things. No hearings. No votes. Nothing. Essentially, they refused to do their jobs, claiming they lacked sufficient time to process Garland’s nomination and that the incoming President should decide who fills the vacant SCOTUS seat—even though they realistically had plenty of time to respond to Merrick Garland’s bid, and there was no standard or tradition which prevented a President of the United States from nominating someone to fill a sudden vacancy in his or her final year in office. Yup, Senate Republicans were being huge dicks.
Now, of course, the shoe is on the other proverbial foot, with of course the difference being that the Republicans had a majority in the Senate then and do now, which explains why they’ve been so keen to try to ram-rod President Trump’s Cabinet picks through the confirmation process. Not only do Republican leaders seek this treatment with Neil Gorsuch, however, but to an extent, they seem to expect it. The aforementioned Mitch McConnell had this to say about what he hopes to see from his Democratic Party counterparts:
In the coming days, I hope and expect that all Senate colleagues will give him fair consideration just as we did for the nominees of newly-elected presidents Clinton and Obama. This is a judge who is known for deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, even when it leads to results that conflict with his own political beliefs. He understands that his role as a judge is to interpret the law, not his own viewpoint.
Well, Sen. McConnell, you certainly talk a good game. Indeed, McConnell is not the only person to speak highly to Gorsuch’s credentials or his education, and Trump’s nominee has been known to diverge from his conservative principles when it suits him. Still, this blanket praise for Judge Gorsuch seems to be what we should anticipate from our federal jurists at somewhat of a minimum. Deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, interpreting the law and not one’s own viewpoint—these, one might argue, are important ethical standards for any judge. That is, Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be assumed to be or propped up to be superior to other judges just by virtue of remaining free from bias. By this token, we should ask nothing less of the man, especially if he is to take up residency on the Supreme Court.
As for the timing of the SCOTUS nomination, Mitch McConnell conveniently leaves out what happened not at the onset of Barack Obama’s tenure, but in its twilight: that of the refusal to even dignify Merrick Garland’s nomination with a response. Thus, if Republicans are indignantly claiming that Democrats delaying votes to request additional disclosures from and information about key Cabinet picks or seeking to drag their feet on confirming Mr. Gorsuch is fundamentally and substantially different from their move to block Garland’s nomination so as to eliminate their chance of replacing the late Antonin Scalia with someone other than another version of him, let me not mince words by offering that this is complete and unmitigated bullshit.
Moreover, claiming that “the people” should be effectively allowed to pick the next Supreme Court Justice nominee by choosing the President is also balderdash, hogwash, and poppycock. Not only should politics not get in the way of going through the motions on reviewing a candidate for a SCOTUS vacancy (i.e. if you want to be dicks and refuse him after giving him a hearing, OK, but at least give him that), but numerous constituents did use their voice during the months of the GOP refusal to acknowledge President Obama’s nomination, and it was in protest, with the common refrain from those in dissent being “Do your job!” Especially for members of a political party that has made it a habit of treating those buoyed by the social safety net as lazy, shiftless sorts, refusal by Republican Party leaders to entertain Obama’s selection in the name of politics could be seen as blatantly hypocritical. At any rate, rather than heed the desires of all their constituents, Mitch McConnell and Co. catered to their base. Not terribly surprising, but ideally, not how lawmakers professing to act in everyone’s best interests should be acting.
Before we get ahead of ourselves in conceiving of Democratic Party resistance to Donald Trump’s nomination for the Supreme Court as political ransom, if not brinkmanship, it should be stressed that key Democrats do see legitimate reasons, if not to vote against Neil Gorsuch outright, to, if nothing else, demand the chance to engage him directly on his views and trends within his judicial record. Richard Primus, in a well-thought-out piece about Gorsuch for Politico, identifies him by the designation “Scalia 2.0,” a nod which probably won’t gain him much traction with Scalia 1.0’s detractors. This passage, in particular, perhaps best encapsulates the thrust of Primus’s article, and in doing so, puts President Trump’s nomination in a historical context:
The most sensible way to think of Gorsuch may therefore be to imagine what Scalia might have been if he had come along thirty years later. Scalia came of age at a time when legal conservatives were doing battle with a relatively liberal Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, they framed their views in terms of judicial restraint and deference to majoritarian lawmaking. Gorsuch’s generation of conservatives, which has lived its whole adult life with a more conservative Court, seems more inclined to see majoritarian regulation as the problem and the judiciary as a good solution.
If Richard Primus makes this very general distinction, though, why the allusion to Judge Gorsuch as a new version of Justice Scalia? Despite the two men operating or coming of age, so to speak, in different eras, they share the same staunchly conservative views on a number of key issues, including abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, and firearms, which obviously appeals to the right. Meanwhile, noting the divergence within the quoted passage above, Neil Gorsuch tends to differ from Antonin Scalia on the dimension of the role of the courts in relation to business regulation, favoring instead greater judicial discretion and, therefore, diminished capacity for regulatory agencies to interpret existing statutes, and on the specific issue of the First Amendment, Gorsuch appears inclined to view “religious freedom” more expansively, which would stand to give businesses and closely-held corporations more leeway in how they operate and how they pay their taxes (or don’t). Again, a seeming victory for the religious right, notably evangelicals, who came out strongly for Trump in the 2016 election. In all, the concern is that Judge Gorsuch, as a Justice on the Supreme Court, would favor corporate interests over the concerns of average Americans, and would emphasize “religious freedom” over individual liberties and freedom from discriminatory business practices.
In all, representatives from both parties would appear to have important decisions to make in the coming days and weeks regarding Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. For Democrats, the chief concern is whether or not they should compel Republicans to seek 60 votes to confirm President Trump’s nominee. Under a procedural vote known as cloture, the minority party in the Senate has the ability to require the approval of 60 senators to end the debate over a candidate for a position as vital as Supreme Court Justice and advance to an up-or-down vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, has indicated his party’s intention to seek this strategic avenue rather than to acquiesce Gorsuch’s confirmation, though some Democrats conceivably could be concerned about employing this tactic only to have it used against them in the future, and would accordingly opt to fight harder another day on another issue.
Republicans, meanwhile, could override the 60-vote requirement of the cloture-filibuster-strategic-thing-a-ma-jig—you know, assuming the Dems actually go ahead with a unified front in favor of such a maneuver—by making use of the so-called “nuclear option.” This would involve an actual change of the rules for filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, enabling the GOP to push Neil Gorsuch through the confirmation process like poop through a goose. Donald Trump, because he is a big, stupid baby and wants to get his way all the time, has advised his Republican confederates to use the nuclear option at first sign of a potential deadlock on Gorsuch’s nomination. (Side note: even when not involving actual nuclear weapons, Trump seems way too eager to use the nuclear option. Dude may have a nuke problem, in fact. Just saying.) Understandably, despite their recent history of dickishness, Republican leaders may be reluctant to “go nuclear,” along similar lines as to why Democrats might be hesitant to insist on 60 votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch. As this report by Jake Miller for CBS News details, such a rule change would come fairly close on the heels of a shift in 2014 to require only a 51-vote majority to confirm non-Supreme Court judiciary and executive branch nominees, and could be seen as greasing the ever-slippery slope away from what many would argue is a necessary system of checks and balances for the federal government. Besides, they, too, by changing the rules of the engagement, run the risk of having this tactic turned around on them.
I, of course, as a registered Democrat and as someone who would like to see the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate, if not the House and White House eventually as well, have a dog in this fight over Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I hope Senate Democrats filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and do whatever is in their power to prolong the confirmation process in light of ideological differences they have with Judge Gorsuch. You know, push back a little. Show us party supporters you have a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Granted, challenging Republicans on the Gorsuch nomination and taking back control of the executive and legislative branches is only as good as the commitment to truly progressive policies and principles, something which isn’t exactly guaranteed from a party that just went all in on Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee. In the short term, however, Neil Gorsuch can and should be resisted as an extension of Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s pro-business, anti-personal-freedom agenda. Case closed.
We’re roughly two weeks away from the general election, and I, for one, can’t wait for it all to be over. I know—this could bring us closer to Donald Trump winning, and this would be my least preferable scenario. Still, the whole process has been an ugly one, no matter what side you support (or even if you support a side; I’m voting for Jill Stein, even if she has issues with understanding how quantitative easing works). I am, as a function of wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Jersey state Democratic Party primary, a registered Democrat, and have donated to Sanders’ campaign prior to its suspension, as well as his new fledgling progressive-minded organization Our Revolution.
Between my newfound party affiliation and Bernie lending his support to Hillary Clinton, I can only think it was between these two sources that Hillary, the Dems and her campaign got access to my E-mail address. The result? The other day, following the final presidential debate, I counted, out of my 50 most recent messages, how many were from HRC or HillaryClinton.com. There were 21 of them—42%. That’s approximately two of every five E-mails. Factor in pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama, and we’re over the 50% mark. If these messages were sent in any other context, and perhaps if there were not the perceived threat of the worst presidential candidate in modern history hanging over our heads, I would consider this harassment.
Speaking of the last presidential debate, if you follow me on Facebook (hint, hint, follow me on Facebook), you’ll know I didn’t watch it. It’s not even because I’m refusing to vote for either candidate—it’s because these affairs have been brutal to watch since the start of the whole presidential campaign, to be honest, and I’m sure many of you share this belief. Reading the transcript, here’s the briefest summary I can give (note: I am not know for my brevity) for the topics they discussed:
Supreme Court justice nomination
Wait, didn’t Barack Obama already nominate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court? Oh, that’s right, Mitch McConnell and other douchebag Republicans have refused to hear him. So, Chris Wallace of Fox News fame posed the first round of questions for the night on this subject, and how the Constitution should be interpreted by the Court. Hillary Clinton, as is her style, more or less pandered to any group who would listen sympathetic to liberal/progressive causes, throwing in the decisions in Citizens United and Roe v. Wade in for effect. Donald Trump, meanwhile, after whining about Ruth Bader Ginsburg a.k.a. the Notorious RBG going in on him, affirmed his commitment to being a pro-life candidate and to upholding the sanctity of the Second Amendment.
In his follow-up, Wallace first asked Clinton to respond to this reference to guns and gun control, in doing so, invoking the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District Columbia v. Heller which stated that Second Amendment protections apply to handgun ownership, including for the purpose of self-defense. HRC opined that she supports the Second Amendment, but that she favors restrictions on gun ownership. For our children. Cue the emotional-sounding music. As for Trump, Chris Wallace addressed his stance on abortion and reproductive rights, pressing the GOP nominee for specifics on how he would advocate the Supreme Court handles such matters and whether or not he would call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Taking a page out of his standard playbook concerning answering questions on concrete policy points, Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, deferred on this matter, saying if overturned, the matter would go to the states, and refusing to comment on whether or not he would like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. That’s right, Donald. Squirm like a fetus in the womb anytime someone tries to nail you down on substance.
Ever opportunistic, Hillary Clinton seized on Trump’s past and present comments on women’s right to an abortion like an evangelical attacking a Planned Parenthood supporter. Without being asked, she criticized her opponent for suggesting he would de-fund PP and would punish women for terminating their presidencies. Chris Wallace then queried the Democratic Party nominee more pointedly on whether or not the fetus has constitutional rights and why she supports late-term partial birth abortions. And Hillary was all, like, BECAUSE IT’S 2016 AND IT’S A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE WHAT SHE DOES WITH HER OWN F**KING BODY. Except she was, um, more politically correct in her answer. That emphasis is mine. And I mean every word. Including the f**k part.
Donald Trump, by the by, when also prompted about this subject, in particular, late-term partial birth abortions, replied that he was absolutely not OK with tearing the baby out of the womb “in the ninth month, on the final day.” But this implies that ending pregnancies in the final trimester is a common practice, when statistics indicate this practice is more rare. To Clinton’s credit, she denounced Trump’s talk as “scare rhetoric” and “unfortunate.” Which it is. If there’s one thing Donald Trump likes, beside suing people, it’s scaring the hell out of them.
And invariably, the candidates had to talk about immigration. Bleh. I bleh because we already know where there is going for Donald Trump. Amnesty is a disaster. We need strong borders. People are getting killed all over the country by illegal immigrants. Drugs are pouring in. The Border Patrol endorsed me. Talk about scaring the hell out of people. Although I might also bleh with respect to Hillary Clinton. Not because she favors amnesty. Or that she pointed out the idea “rounding up” undocumented immigrants and deporting them is unfeasible. Or that she vows to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days. It’s that she leads with a story about “Carla,” a woman from Las Vegas who’s worried her parents will be deported because they immigrated illegally. Do people actually get swayed by these personal stories brought up in the context of debates? What about my friend Emilio who immigrated illegally from Costa Rica, works three jobs, and once saved a school bus full of children from careening off a cliff? I just made him up, but how would you know for sure unless I told you?
The two candidates then squabbled about whether or not Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico was a success (it pretty much was a disaster), whether or not Hillary has supported border security or a wall (she supported a fence), and whether or not, under Clinton’s plan, you would have open borders or a continuation of Obama’s legacy of deportation (hard to say, but why weren’t the candidates asked more about this?). Also, Trump used the word “bigly.” I think. Or was it “big-league.” This is probably the biggest debate within the debate, and either way, the man who uttered it sounds like an idiot. Even if bigly is, apparently, a word.
This is where the debate started to veer off into the realm of the childish. The rancor between the two candidates was set off in this instance by Chris Wallace’s question about a quote from Hillary Clinton from a speech given to a Brazilian bank for which she was paid $225,000 and in which she uttered the line, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Clinton asserted she was talking about energy in that case, an excerpt from a speech which was made known through a Wikileaks release, and then quickly pivoted to the idea Russian hacks have made this information possible. Taking this line of discourse and running with it, she connected the dots, as many have, to Vladimir Putin deliberately trying to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election, and went on the offensive against Donald Trump, lambasting him for not condemning the attacks and actually encouraging hacks against her and the Democratic National Committee.
Because the name “Putin” out of HRC’s mouth is apparently a trigger word for him, this started Trump frothing at the mouth about how she, the “17 intelligence agencies” she cited, or anyone else in America could know for sure whether it was Russia, China, or Elliot Alderson behind the hacks. Then Hillary said she wasn’t quoting herself. Then Donald said she had no idea, and that she only hated Vladimir Putin because she had outsmarted her “every step of the way” in Syria. Then Chris Wallace tried to intervene and point out that, you know, it probably was the Russians who did it. Then Donald Trump said he and Putin were totes not friends, and that Russia is building warheads and we aren’t, and that is soooooo not cool. Then Hillary Clinton said it’s funny you talk about nuclear weapons, Donald, because you can’t be trusted with them. Then Trump was, like, nuh-uh, I have a bajillion generals who support me—Mr. Wallace, she’s lying! Then Clinton was, like, you said it. Then Trump was, like, did not! Then Clinton, was, like, did too! Then Wallace threatened to turn the car around and go back home if the candidates did not behave themselves, and that they wouldn’t get to go to McDonald’s if they kept fighting.
Conversation about how to “fix” the American economy between Democratic and Republican candidates tends to be a study in contrasts, and in the case of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s competing plans, so holds the model. Clinton’s agenda, as she frames it, hits on the now-firmly-established progressive Democratic Party platform goals: more jobs in infrastructure and clean energy, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, debt-free college, raising the corporate tax rate, etc. Put more simply by her, though, her plan is better because it’s not Donald Trump’s plan. Trump, meanwhile, shot back by saying Clinton’s scheme would significantly raise taxes for the average American. And then he complained about NATO and NAFTA, claimed he would renegotiate trade deals, and vowed to cut taxes on businesses. Because America is “dying.” So, um, yeah.
Hillary rebutted by saying that Trump’s tax plan would only add to the national debt, and that trickle-down economics marked by cutting tax rates for the wealthy haven’t worked, both of which I believe is true. Of course, when she did, she invoked her husband presiding over an economy which saw the production of a surplus—even though any president’s direct positive influence over economic affairs tends to be minimal—and played the Barack Obama card, touting his success in the face of a terrible recession despite having nothing to do with it personally, and using his track record as an unconvincing answer to Chris Wallace’s question about how she would improve upon Obama’s efforts. Thankfully for HRC and her supporters, Donald Trump’s answer to the same question was even worse. Wallace directly confronted the Republican candidate about the lack of realism in his plan, and Trump countered by once again blaming NAFTA and talking about how his opponent called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals. Which is true, but that doesn’t illuminate anything new or fundamentally sound about your economic goals.
The candidates said some more things about the economy, but it was mostly self-congratulatory bullshit. I, Hillary Clinton, came out strongly against the TPP—when it was convenient for me to do so. I, Donald Trump, built a tremendous company single-handedly—with my family’s name and a million dollars of Daddy’s money. At the end of the day, it’s vaguely insulting for either of these candidates to try to insinuate they care genuinely about the middle class in this country, because they are so far removed from it they seem to lack the ability to see things from the requisite perspective. Let’s move on to the next segment before I start to lose it here.
Fitness for President
If you ask me, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is particularly fit for the office, but let’s give this its own recap anyhow. Trump claimed all those women who accused him of sexual advances were liars. Clinton said, “What? Not hot enough for you, Donald?” Trump said he never made disparaging comments about his accusers, and that no one has more respect for women than he does.
The audience laughed. As they should have.
Donald Trump then pivoted to Hillary’s scandals. Hillary Clinton, predictably, pivoted off Trump’s pivot, going after him for making fun of Serge Kovaleski and starting a war of words with Khizr and Ghizala Khan. Chris Wallace then steered the discussion back to alleged Clintonian misdeeds, specifically charges of “pay to play” within the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. Hillary said everything she did as Secretary of State was for the benefit of the American people. Trump and even Wallace called bullshit on that. Of course, Donald Trump tried to claim 100% of the donations to the Trump Foundation went to charitable purposes. Bullshit all over.
Hillary fired back by saying there’s no way we could know this for sure, because someone won’t release his tax returns. Trump fired back at this firing back by saying that if Clinton didn’t like him taking advantage of tax loopholes, she should have rewritten the laws. Chris Wallace then closed this round of questioning by asking Donald Trump about his claims that the election is “rigged” if he doesn’t win, and that he will accept the results of the voting regardless of the outcome.
And Trump wouldn’t. He said he’d keep us in suspense. The audience didn’t laugh. Because it’s not funny. Not at all.
Ahem, no, we’re not talking about places outside the United States where Hillary Clinton can use Wi-Fi on unencrypted devices. Chris Wallace started the segment by asking Hillary about having a plan after the removal of ISIS from Iraq and other areas in which a “vacuum” may be created by tearing shit up. A pertinent question, if you ask me, for a woman who seemingly never met a regime change she didn’t like. Hillary threw out some vague details about Iraq and Syria that communicated to the audience she knows things about the Middle East and foreign policy. Mosul this. Raqqa that. More intelligence at home. No-fly zones. Sounds good, Hill. You did your homework.
Donald Trump—ugh. Do you really think he had anything constructive to say on this topic? Whatever the case, Hillary Clinton harped on his initial support for the Iraq War. Trump was all, like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Clinton then literally told the audience to Google “Donald Trump Iraq.” Ugh, again. Donald Trump brought in Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton’s judgment from the primary season. Hillary Clinton was all, like, well, look who’s supporting me now. Trump was all, like, shut up. Clinton was all, like, make me.
Chris Wallace then threatened to put both of these children in “time out,” and quickly moved the conversation along to Aleppo. Wallace basically called Donald Trump a liar, liar, pants on fire about past remarks he’s made about the Syrian city. That it has not fallen. That the Russians have, in fact, been bombing resistance fighters and not ISIS. Trump talked about…Iran? Hillary was then asked about the potential perils of a no-fly zone. Which she answered by commenting on the vetting of refugees and that picture of the 4-year-old with blood pouring down his face. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE DIRECTLY ANSWER A F**KING QUESTION? YOU’RE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF SHIT IF YOU WIN!
Finally (read: mercifully), Moderator Wallace brought the debate to the final topic of the night: the national debt which looms over the head of the United States like a cheaply-made Chinese version of a guillotine. Donald Trump was queried about why he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about matters of this nature, because his plan economic plan sucks eggs. Trump had some sort of answer about a “tremendous machine” and negotiating trade deals again. So, yeah, it sucks eggs. Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t add a penny to the national debt, and how she would rebuild the middle class. For families. For America. And a gentle breeze blew through her hair, while over the arena, one lone bald eagle was heard cawing. It sounded like…freedom. Or maybe that was the sound of Susan Sarandon trying not to throw up in her own mouth.
Chris Wallace closed by asking both candidates about entitlements as drivers of the national debt. Donald Trump talked about cutting taxes. Wallace replied that this wouldn’t help with entitlements, dumbass. Well, he didn’t say “dumbass,” but he probably was thinking it. Trump replied to this reply with some junk about ObamaCare. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Sorry, that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. Hillary Clinton answered by saying that we would put more money in the Social Security Trust fund—somehow. She also took a potshot at her rival by saying her Social Security payroll contribution would likely go up, and that his would too unless he found a way to get out of it, which prompted Trump to call her a “nasty woman.” Which, not for nothing, gives HRC’s feminist supporters ammunition, because they hear “nasty woman” and think over a century of patriarchal oppression. It’s probably not how Donald Trump meant it, let me note. After all, no one has more respect for women than he does. Seriously, though, he was in all likelihood just reacting like the petulant child he is deep down.
The candidates, even though they were not asked to prepare closing statements, were nonetheless entreated by Chris Wallace to indulge him with something off the cuff. Hillary reached out to Americans of all political affiliations, and vowed to stand with families against powerful interests and corporations. Yeah, sure, Hillary. Donald Trump said we are going to rebuild our military, take care of our veterans, respect the police, fix inner cities, lift up African-Americans and Latinos, and overall, Make America Great Again. Yeah, sure, Donald. On that inspiring note, the final presidential debate was concluded. May God have mercy on all our souls.
The final presidential debate, seemingly, was focused a lot more substantively on the issues than previous forums. Unfortunately, that still didn’t necessarily mean the audience in attendance or at home got too much out of it. On one hand, you have a bloviating (good SAT word!) blockhead with few defined policy goals and little respect for other human beings. On the other hand, you have an arrogant panderer repeatedly trying to goad her opponent into personal attacks and seemingly content to take a victory lap three weeks before the general election. Indeed, from a media perspective, the three biggest takeaways from the event seemed to be: 1) “bigly,” 2) the “nasty woman” comment, and 3) that Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the election unless he won. On the third count, the liberal media was especially shocked and appalled, but at this stage, are we really that surprised? If the election is “rigged,” then you didn’t really lose, right? Except for the fact the mainstream media propped you up as your campaign gained traction for the sake of ratings, meaning you had an unfair advantage over a number of your Republican opponents during the primaries. But sure, the whole thing is rigged. Democracy is dead. Stick a fork in it.
Like I said, I’m, like, so over the presidential election, and chances are you are too. But that might not be such a bad thing. Roughly a fortnight away from the general election, I would like you to consider that come November 8, you stand to be voting on more than just the presidency, and these candidates and initiatives may have their own lasting consequences, perhaps more so than the executive office itself. First of all, let’s speak to the various referenda that will dot ballots across the United States. Numerous states this election are considering such issues as the death penalty, marijuana legalization, and the state minimum wage. These are important issues, and in the case of capital punishment, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death. And there are other referendum votes which, if you’re a liberal like myself, could be devastating if enough people don’t turn out to vote or otherwise don’t care enough to sift through the verbiage. Both Alabama and Virginia are weighing whether or not we should make unions weaker. Louisiana has a measure on the statewide ballot to decide if college boards for public colleges and universities should be able to establish tuition and fee rates without legislative approval. Going back to the idea of the minimum wage, South Dakota has a proposal for a youth “sub-minimum” wage for anyone employed under the age of 17. Not only am I against such a measure on principle, but logically speaking, how do you have something below the minimum? It’s like giving someone an F-minus. You’ve already f**king failed the person—now you’re just being a jackass on top of it.
And yes, there are implications for the U.S. Congress as well, particularly in terms of the Senate, where 34 of the 100 seats are being contested, 24 of them held by Republicans. If Democrats win enough seats—at the current breakdown of 54 Republican, 44 Democrat, and 2 independent, a net gain of six would guarantee it—they would take control. The implications of this? As Paul Ryan warned his supporters, this means the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, who is an independent and caucuses with Dems, would take the reins. In case you suffered amnesia or are too lazy to scroll to the beginning of this post, guess who that is. Yup, a guy named Bernard Sanders. As the Vox article linked above indicates, progressives have used Ryan’s warning as a rallying cry, and in the span of two days raised almost $2 million. That’s no small potatoes. While even I, as a Sanders supporter, would actually be nervous at such a situation because of Bernie’s lack of willingness to compromise at times, noting the GOP unabashedly promotes its agenda to the point it regularly plays chicken with government shutdowns, I am encouraged about having a strong voice for the American people in a position of prominence. Plus, if it pisses off Paul Ryan, I’m generally all for it.
So, yes, the presidential election is vitally important. Democrats who enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton, in particular, need to show up at the polls. Even if you hate both Clinton and Trump, though, don’t stay home. There’s more than just their names on the ballot. After all, you could always vote for a third-party candidate or write in the candidate of your choice. (Deez Nuts, anyone?) More than that, though, I’m talking about down-ticket candidates and critical ballot initiatives. Those lawmakers resisting positive change for the sake of their constituents and for the American people at large are counting on voters to be apathetic or uninformed, and to not protect their (the voters’) interests and rights. When you press the button in the voting booth on November 8, I encourage you to think of those “regressive” sorts. And when you do, use your middle finger—for me. It’s your vote. F**k ’em.
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.
You may have heard the Senate was scheduled to vote on four pieces of legislation regarding gun control. Well, it happened—and all of them failed to pass. Big shock, I know. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposal to allow the Attorney General to deny firearms and explosives to suspected terrorists was defeated 53 – 47, falling short of the needed 60 votes to pass. Sen. John Corryn’s (R-TX) bill to permit authorities to delay a gun sale if a judge rules there is probable cause to deny the firearm outright failed by the same margin. A proposal from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to expand background checks for all gun purchases, even through gun shows and online, was split 56 – 44. And Sen. Charles Grassley’s (R-IA) bill to increase government funding to run background checks without requiring their expansion likewise failed to reach the magic number of 60, with Democrats reacting negatively (and understandably so) to an amendment which would allow people involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution for a “mental illness” to buy a gun once released.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) put it pretty succinctly when he said, “Senate Republicans ought to be embarrassed, but they’re not, because the NRA is happy.” It’s no secret that, regarding Congress’s persistence in acting against the desires of a majority of Americans with respect to gun control, the National Rifle Association, a small but powerful (and persistent) group is the one pulling the strings in the Republican Party. With all of the above votes, splits occurred more or less along party lines. So, if you are dismayed by the results of the above exercises in futility, you know who you have to personally thank.
Why is the NRA so resistant to an expansion of background checks, in any form? I’ve heard a number of their talking points before on this matter, but just for kicks, I decided to sift through a more detailed explanation on why the National Rifle Association rejects all attempts to promote gun control. On the official website for the NRA-ILA, or the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, there is a page regarding background information on background checks in the U.S., the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and various arguments surrounding these topics. The following is my attempt to make sense of the NRA’s rhetoric herein. Feel free to read ahead—or skip down to the conclusion if you think you know where this is going.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), 77 percent of criminals in state prison for firearm crimes get firearms through theft, on the black market, from a drug dealer or “on the street,” or from family members and friends. Less than one percent get firearms from dealers or non-dealers at gun shows.
What this citation doesn’t show, however, is that only 2% of all firearm-related crimes in the U.S. are homicides. Flipping this relationship around, the results are pretty staggering. This same report found that 60% to 70% of all homicides from 1993 to 2011 were committed with a firearm. That’s a majority, and it doesn’t even begin to consider those gun-related deaths which are suicides. To speak of the sources of firearms in terms of all firearm-related crimes is disingenuous, as much as insisting that guns are irrelevant in homicide statistics would be obviously foolish.
According to the nation’s leading criminologist specializing in the study of murder, “Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weapons legally. Certainly, people cannot be denied their Second Amendment rights just because they look strange or act in an odd manner. Besides, mass killers could always find an alternative way of securing the needed weaponry, even if they had to steal from family members or friends.”
This argument cites a column by Northeastern University professor of criminology James Alan Fox, who makes a number of valid points about gun control and mass shooters. The NRA’s reference curiously, though, leaves out the closing of the article. In spite of all of Fox’s arguments which would seem to go against gun control advocates’ contentions, he has this to say about potential legislative solutions:
Sensible gun laws, affordable mental-health care, and reasonable security measures are all worthwhile, and would enhance the well being of millions of Americans. They may do much to impact the level of violent crime that plagues our nation daily. We shouldn’t, however, expect such efforts to take a big bite out of crime in its most extreme form. Of course, a nibble or two from the prevalence of mass murder would be reason enough. And efforts to promote real change in our social policies would be a fitting legacy to the tragedy in Newtown.
In short, even James Alan Fox doesn’t believe in throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater when it comes to gun laws designed to make us safer. Even if these reforms may not stop mass murders, which are salient, newsworthy events, there nonetheless may be merit in passing new restrictions on gun sales.
None of the mass shootings that President Barack Obama named in a White House speech on gun control in January 2016, would have been prevented by requiring background checks on private sales of firearms.
I’d like to give you a comprehensive report which the NRA-ILA cites with this statement, but it doesn’t exist. Even though this claim may be true, the NRA is essentially citing itself. Just a point of caution. Moreover, these are but a few examples that don’t speak to the possible effect of background checks on mass shootings on the whole. This article by Alan Yuhas in The Guardian points to statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety—an organization with a clear bias, but still—that illustrate a negative correlation between states that require background checks for all gun sales and incidence of mass shootings. Meaning as background checks go up, mass shootings tend to go down.
And there are additional food-for-thought-type stats cited in the Yuhas article that don’t relate to mass shootings necessarily, but do invoke a link between domestic violence, guns and fatalities, and likewise suggest background checks might be helpful in restricting access to guns for would-be murderers. All this with a ban on gun research and publishing data that the NRA has, in large part, effected, so think of what else we might find with fewer restrictions on access to data.
But, wait, there’s more! In explaining why it opposes more background checks, the NRA has a number of reasons at the ready related to the notion “gun control supporters are not being honest.” Here’s a sampling of the best points—a dubious distinction, to be sure.
Background checks are not “the most important thing we can do.”
The NRA-ILA is referencing a quote by Michael Bloomberg about background checks being the “single most important thing we can do to reduce gun violence,” and then cites a number of articles which point to a reduction in crime, none of which list gun control among the reasons crime has declined. That’s all well and good, but first of all, how can we list gun control among those reasons, when the NRA itself has all but single-handedly blocked attempts at reform? Secondly, again, it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison that is being made. The NRA is talking about a reduction in all crime, not just gun violence or mass shootings.
Thirdly, in enumerating the reasons why crime rates have gone down, some of the underlying causes are fraught with their own issues. We’re putting more criminals behind bars, but this is leading to overcrowding in prisons and is hurting whole communities, predominantly those populated by minorities. Policing is more proactive, but it’s not above criticism (allegations of brutality, civil asset forfeiture, a growing militarization of forces—shall I go on?). And there are fewer opportunities for home invasions related to the recession—because people can’t afford to live in their houses anymore or are otherwise have been foreclosed on by their lender(s). Not exactly a rosy picture, is it?
The NRA here is referring to a claim President Obama made regarding the notion 40% of firearms are sold without a background check, which has since been debunked, and quickly hereafter, a record low is referenced in the number of murders in the U.S. Yet again, this is a red herring from the NRA—whatever homicide rates are, there’s nothing to say background checks for all gun purchases can’t be implemented. These are two separate issues.
It’s not “92 percent” either.
OK, fine, how about 90%? Because that’s, like, what a bajillion polls will tell you about the notion that a vast majority of Americans want to see an expansion of background checks. The NRA-ILA points to one vote in Washington state in November 2014 in which only 59% of voters approved a private sales background check initiative as evidence. But that’s one vote in one state! And the initiative still was approved by a majority of voters!
Prior to an exhaustive recounting on the history of background checks on guns in America and the requisite Works Cited list, the NRA-ILA, on this same page, ticks off several gun regulations as proof that “federal gun control laws are already strong enough,” as if these restrictions, in them of themselves, are inherent proof of this logic, such that we don’t require additional considerations for “online” or “Internet” firearm sales. To stress, I am not target the audience for this litany of objections against the U.S. government and their supposed overreach. Nevertheless, a number of these provisions seem fairly sensible to me:
Federal law prohibits transferring a firearm to anyone known or believed to be prohibited from possessing firearms. Sounds good to me. If you shouldn’t have a gun, you shouldn’t have a gun.
Federal law prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a handgun outside his state of residence and prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a rifle or shotgun from a non-licensee outside his state of residence. Cool. On the subject of guns, I feel everyone who owns or sells one should be licensed.
Federal law prohibits anyone from transferring a handgun to a non-licensee who resides in another state (with rare exceptions), and prohibits a non-licensee from transferring any firearm to a non-licensee who resides in another state. This is essentially the same idea as the last specification, except involving transfer rather than acquisition of a firearm. Either way, you now know my stance regarding licenses for gun ownership and sales.
Federal law prohibits the acquisition of a firearm on behalf of a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms. Exactly. I don’t know how you’d prove that much if you’re the seller, but this seems logical.
Federal law also prohibits dealers from selling rifles or shotguns to persons under age 18. Yeah, I don’t know think I need to tell you this, but people over the age of 18 don’t always exercise great caution and judgment when using firearms. So, do I support guns for individuals under the age of 18? Hells to the no!
In fact, now that I get the sense that the major aversion to background checks is that they are supposedly ineffective at deterring gun violence and that they are inconvenient for prospective gun buyers, let me play devil’s advocate, from the perspective of the anti-gun control voter. If an expansion of background checks for all purchases/sales of guns won’t work in preventing gun-related homicides, nor will checking people seeking to buy firearms legally against databases such as that of a terrorism watch list, why not let us try anyway? I mean, are you worried about the potential cost? If so, are you that willing to put a price on measures that might save lives?
Or let’s look at these matters another way. If background checks are a symbol of the overreach of the federal government and of stripping away our personal freedoms, namely that of the Second Amendment, then why aren’t you as concerned about the hypothetical situation of the government invading the privacy of Muslims and others it regards as a threat? Isn’t that overreach and, in all likelihood, a violation of the Bill of Rights? Or is it OK if it happens to someone else, one of them? You can’t have your cake and eat it, too—no matter what Donald Trump says.
Maybe as a non-gun-owner I just don’t understand, but as a concerned citizen, I can’t see any justification for failing to expand the use of background checks for all firearms transactions. Not any good one, at least. We can cherry-pick the statistics that support our points. We can use the Second Amendment as a crutch. We can say “guns keep us safe” until we’re blue in the face. On all counts, though, I think these positions fail to hold up under further scrutiny. Background checks may not have prevented the Orlando shooting or any number of mass shootings in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean they’re not the right thing to do.