Will the Democrats ever stand for something?

If Democratic Party leaders want to be an alternative to the Republicans, they sure have a funny way of showing it, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

HILLARY CLINTON resurfaced last month from her long post-election hibernation with a message: “I’m back to being an active citizen–and part of the resistance.”

And just so everybody knows, if it hadn’t been for Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey bringing up her e-mails, “I’d be your president,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Considering the crisis of the Trump administration right now, the Democrats’ claims about Russian meddling in the election look more believable than before. But as for this losing the election for Clinton, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And as for Hillary Clinton being part of a “resistance,” well…come on now.

All the Russian meddling in the world wouldn’t change the fact that core supporters of the Democratic Party didn’t turn out for Clinton because she represented everything they didn’t like about Washington politics–a devoted servant of Corporate America and the political establishment’s status quo.

So even though she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Clinton let Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant, misogynist, Islamophobic billionaire, get close enough to steal an Electoral College victory because the Democrats offered so little for voters to turn out for.

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DESPITE THIS, the Democratic Party–which ought to be in a good position to challenge a politician as unpopular as Trump–is still debating what it should do next. Some party leaders are concluding this isn’t time to lead, but time to start compromising on key issues.

Issues like abortion.

In April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) threw its support behind Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat.

After a storm of criticism from pro-choice forces, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, DNC Chair Tom Perez–who appeared on a stage with Mello alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders–was forced to publicly reaffirm the party’s support for women’s right to choose.

But some Democrats didn’t get the memo.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made sure instead to emphasize that, yes, the party welcomes anti-choice Democrats. “It’s kind of fading as an issue,” Pelosi told the Washington Post. “It really is.” Pelosi advised Democrats to concentrate more on the issues that affect “working families.”

Of course, abortion isn’t a fading issue–the Republicans have made sure of that by successfully restricting women’s access to abortion services in dozens of states.

Furthermore, characterizing reproductive rights as an issue that “working families” don’t care about–in a country where one in three women have an abortion, many likely in “working families”–is out of step with reality.

Support for abortion rights is one of the main issues that at least rhetorically distinguished the Democrats from the Republicans, and now at a time when it’s so important to take a side, party leaders are discussing whether it might alienate voters they want to attract.

“You know what?” Pelosi said to the Post. “That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States–the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president. Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively, by that.”

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SO UNDERLYING this dispute about whether abortion is a Democratic issue is another discussion about what the party has to do to win over the audience of people who were attracted by Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric in 2016. Leading party figures are opting to downplay so-called “social” issues, like abortion, racism or LGBTQ rights, in favor of “economic” issues.

This warped view of who workers are–the workforce is disproportionately female, people of color and LGBTQ people–and what their concerns include reveals how out-of-touch Democrats are with the people who vote for them. It’s also the case that even by these wrongheaded standards, the Democrats’ populist economic rhetoric is no better in practice for working people than Trump’s.

The fight over health care is an excellent example. In May, House Republicans went after the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), voting for a plan that would eliminate some of the few positive aspects of Obamacare, such as the expansion of Medicaid and a guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

And what was the reaction from Democrats? Something close to rapture. The party that claims to stand for working people stood by and watched as Republicans shredded the ACA in the hopes that this would fatally damage the Republicans with voters.

While most human beings reacted with shock and outrage, Democratic leaders celebrated the fact that the Republicans’ nightmare might help them win a victory in 2018 congressional elections. Democratic strategist Caitlin Legacki summed up the strategy to the New York Times: “Our best shot at stopping the Republicans has always been to let them cannibalize themselves, and this proved that.”

Meanwhile, as Democrats cheered on the Republicans’ passage of Trumpcare, real people with real health care needs face the daily threat of not being able to afford to get well.

Trumpcare is highly unpopular–only 17 percent of the population said it supports repealing and replacing Obamacare with the Republican plan, according to a Quinnipiac Poll. But there is growing frustration with Obamacare, too.

Obama’s health care plan may have included some important reforms, but it also kept in place the worst aspects of for-profit health care, and the result was that insurance became even more expensive for workers.

When Trump and the Republicans threatened to make health care even more inaccessible, they gave Obamacare and the Democrats a lifeline, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. In this context, many people felt they had no choice but to defend the lesser-poison status quo of Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are making similar political calculations when it comes to protecting immigrants under attack from Trump’s new amped-up deportation regime.

In April, as state lawmakers debated making California a “sanctuary state” to stand up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to cut off federal funding to states that didn’t cooperate with ICE and immigration enforcement, some Democrats were cautioning against going too far.

“It may feel good to take certain actions, but that could result in real hurt on the ground,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the New York Times. “My responsibility is to make sure that I bring resources back to my city that come from tax dollars we send to Washington.”

“The civil rights movement was not won by calling Bull Connor a racist,” Garcetti said. “He was a racist. But it was won by saying we should be at that lunch counter.”

Garcetti is forgetting the most important thing that happened at those lunch counters: protest.

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IF GARCETTI’S strategy of concede and retreat sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Democrats used the same strategy during Election 2016–when they nominated Hillary Clinton, the status quo candidate with a history of serving wealth and power, as the candidate they were sure would win easily against Trump.

The party behind Clinton’s “campaign of militant complacency,” as author Thomas Frank put it, never even considered that the people who actually vote might be dissatisfied with the status quo she embraced.

In other words, at a time when many people are looking for more radical solutions, the mainstream Democrats are offering something that’s even further to the right of what already exists. And since they won’t actually stand for something, they continue to fall back on the fact that Trump and the Republicans are just worse.

This reality will lead even the best activists–people who care about changing the world a thousand times more than Nancy Pelosi–to conclude that the most important thing we have to do in the next year is get more Democrats into office, no matter what the compromise.

Thus, Bernie Sanders, who himself is staunchly pro-choice, reached the same conclusion as Pelosi that not every Democrat has to be pro-choice to get his support.

The Democratic Socialists of America unfortunately succumbed to this pressure too when it issued a statement in response to Sanders’ support for Heath Mello in Omaha that refused to take a stand and instead advised its members to “trust our grassroots.”

But trusting the grassroots means taking a stand for its political concerns.

It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton isn’t part of any “resistance.” There is, however, a resistance being built. It had its beginnings before the 2016 election, but having Donald Trump in the White House has led more people to think about that we need to get ourselves organized.

Many people will look to the Democratic Party to take the lead in the anti-Trump opposition, but the Democrats haven’t yet, and show no signs at all of doing so. We have to take part in grassroots organizing that stands up to the attacks of both Republicans and Democrats–and that offers an alternative to the status quo Washington politics we’re expected to accept.

 

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/01/will-the-democrats-ever-stand-for-something

What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observesNew York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

 

counterpunch

THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT

Allan Lichtman predicted Donald Trump’s victory — now he calls for his impeachment

Professor who has correctly called every election since 1984 tells why the current president must be ousted

It is debatable whether President Donald Trump should actually be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. But at this point it is no longer debatable that there should be an impeachment investigation.

As Allan J. Lichtman of American University pointed out in an interview with Salon on Tuesday, “Impeachment should only proceed when it threatens the society.” There are three ways, Lichtman argued in our conversation — and contended in his new book “The Case for Impeachment” — in which Trump’s presidency poses a clear threat to the lawfulness of our government:

1. The numerous conflicts of interest that Trump has refused to address (his dozens of trademarks in China being among many examples).

2. The overwhelming circumstantial evidence suggesting collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian intelligence.

3. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, which would constitute obstruction of justice if it happened — as Trump himself has suggested — because Comey was leading the investigation into the alleged collusion with Russia.

Calling for an impeachment investigation does not require us to prove these charges rise to the level of criminality. It only compels us to prove that there is sound reason to believe they could be true — and unless you are a mindless partisan, that is clearly the case now.

Lichtman himself is something of a celebrity due to his vaunted predictive powers. In 1981 he developed a set of 13 true-or-false questions that assess political, economic, geopolitical and social conditions to determine whether the incumbent party will win the presidential election or not. He has used that model to accurately forecast the outcome of every presidential contest since 1984, albeit somewhat complicated in the years when there was a popular/electoral college split.

As Lichtman pointed out in our interview, the advantage of an impeachment investigation is that it would place the future of an inquiry completely out of Trump’s hands. A special prosecutor or special counsel like Robert Mueller, after all, could be fired at whim by the president. (Consider the case of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor fired by Richard Nixon in the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973.)

The House Judiciary Committee, on the other hand, is part of the legislative branch, which puts it beyond Trump’s reach. If the committee decides by a majority vote to recommend articles of impeachment for the entire House of Representatives to consider, it would then be up to America’s elected representatives to decide whether Trump should join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on the ignominious list of American presidents who have been impeached.

Should the House vote to do so, the president’s fate would then be in the hands of the Senate.

Realistically speaking, it is extremely unlikely that a House of Representatives controlled by a Republican majority would ever vote to impeach Trump, or that a Republican-controlled Senate would then vote to remove him from office (barring an unforeseen smoking gun worse than anything we have seen so far, of course).

For a president to be removed from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him or her on the impeachment charges brought by the House. So in the current Senate, even if every single Democrat (and both independents) voted to remove Trump from office, 19 Republicans would have to join them. Yet even with all of the untoward revelations that have come out about Trump to date, only five Republican senators have gone so far as to support the appointment of a special prosecutor.

To be fair, it’s not clear that that the Democrats can be entirely trusted on this issue either. Let’s say that Democrats manage to retake control of the Senate and House in the 2018 midterm elections — a long shot, but not outside the realm of possibility. That opens the door to impeachment in 2019, right? Well, yeah, but if Trump were to be forcibly removed from office before the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic candidate that fall would presumably face off against President Mike Pence, who could very well be free of Trump’s political baggage.

Pence could still lose such a hypothetical election, of course, but he could also wind up benefiting from the public goodwill that often props up new presidents when they take office under emergency conditions, as was the case for Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. So Democrats may have a political incentive to keep on harping on Trump’s scandals, but they may have less incentive to drive him from office, even if it becomes clear he has broken the law.

It’s lamentable that partisanship has reached a point in this country where the needs of justice can be ignored due to petty self-interest. And yet, even under this dark cloud, there is a silver lining. It is difficult to conceive of a situation whereby the Republicans would move against one of their own in such a historic fashion. But if they did so, the mere fact that leading Republicans had finally decided that Trump’s behavior was unacceptable would demonstrate the necessity of removing him from office.

Similarly, if Democrats were willing to risk the possibility that Pence could serve as much as 10 years in the White House after Trump’s forced removal (under this scenario, the 22nd Amendment would allow Pence to seek two terms of his own), that would be powerful evidence that they had sacrificed their own political self-interests so as to protect the integrity of the greater political system.

Let us not forget that a recent poll found 48 percent of Americans would support an impeachment of President Trump. If appeals to patriotism aren’t enough to sway Republicans and Democrats in Congress, there is a practical political case that could do so as well. As Lichtman noted, public opinion was crucial in turning the Republican Party against Richard Nixon in 1974.

“Impeachment,” he said, “will only really happen if the people want it.”

There is one final and absolutely critical point to be made here: The case for impeaching Donald Trump exists independent of any criticisms of his policies. As I noted during the interview with Lichtman, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was clearly motivated by partisan and policy disagreements rather than any serious criminal offenses on his part, a fact that makes that event a permanent blot on the legacies of the politicians responsible for it rather than a mark of merit.

“I make it clear that Trump should not be impeached because he’s unconventional, because you don’t like his style or because you disagree with his policies,” Lichtman explained. “I disagree with a lot of policies of presidents, but I haven’t written a book before on the case for impeachment. I quote the great expositor of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton in ‘The Case for Impeachment.’ It points out, impeachment should only proceed when there is such a severe abuse of power by the president that it threatens the society itself.”

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. One can only hope that the Republican and Democratic parties will rise to the historical moment, lest they be proved unworthy of it.

 

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs

The Democrats’ hypocrisy fest:

Clinton loyalists are still trying to tar Sanders as a sexist troglodyte. Read the polls — It’s not working 

The Democrats' hypocrisy fest: Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs
Bernie Sanders (Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker)
If there is one thing that Hillary Clinton’s loyalists can never resist, it is a chance to sully the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be a thorn in the Democratic establishment’s side. Last week it was no different, when Democratic partisans seized on an opportunity to vilify and paint the Vermont senator as a cultural reactionary who is willing to sacrifice women’s reproductive rights if it means advancing his populist economic agenda.

This opportunity came when Sanders, on his “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with newly elected Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, made a planned stop in Omaha, Nebraska, to stump for mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former state senator running against Republican incumbent Jean Stothert. The episode began about a week earlier, when the liberal activist website Daily Kos, along with other notable Democrats, endorsed Mello against his Republican opponent, seemingly unaware of the fact that he is not exactly progressive when it comes to abortion (though he isn’t exactly a fervent anti-abortion right-winger either). Then, on Wednesday, an article from The Wall Street Journal reported that Mello had supported a bill as state senator that required “women to look at an ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.”

This predictably created a maelstrom, even though the Journal article turned out to be shoddily reported. While Mello did indeed co-sponsor the 2009 bill cited, it only required the physician performing the abortion to inform patients that an ultrasound was available; it did not require a woman to receive or look at an ultrasound. Nevertheless, over the years Mello has supported other legislative measures — including a 20-week abortion ban — that are no doubt troubling for any progressive. Shortly after the Journal’s report, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, released a statement slamming Sanders and Perez for supporting Mello:

The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today’s action make this so-called “fight back tour” look more like a throw back tour for women and our rights.

After Hogue’s statement, Clintonites quickly took to social media to pile on, using Sanders’ endorsement of Mello as further evidence that the Vermont senator — and by default the progressive left — does not consider women’s reproductive rights and other “social issues” to be nearly as important as economic ones. The implication is that Sanders believes women’s rights are worth sacrificing if it means combating economic inequality or corporate power. (No progressives have ever made this argument, of course.)

In response to the criticism, Mello told The Huffington Post that while he is personally opposed to abortion, as mayor he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” A certain degree of skepticism is warranted, considering Mello’s history of flip-flopping on this issue, but the mayoral candidate is clearly not the anti-abortion extremist depicted by Hogue and others.

Last year Hogue — along with most liberal Democrats — had a far more more forgiving attitude toward Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who, like Mello, is personally pro-life. “I am okay with people having a different moral system than I do as long as they don’t legislate that on me or anyone else,” said Hogue in a statement last July, adding, “7 in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion and some of them are like Senator Kaine, who feel personally opposed but still believe that it’s not for a politician to determine for anyone else. . . . I believe [Clinton] chose Tim Kaine because she trusts the guy, and I trust her.”

Of course, Kaine wasn’t just personally pro-life; like Mello, he also had a history of supporting anti-abortion measures as governor of Virginia. As ThinkProgress reported in July (around the same time as Hogue’s statement), while in office in Richmond Kaine had “pushed for adoption over abortion, promoted abstinence-only education, passed a law that required parental notification for minors wanting an abortion, and banned late-term abortion.” ThinkProgress noted, “He even signed a bill to use state dollars to create ‘Choose Life’ license plates, which funded state ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ — facilities whose sole purpose is to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion.”

So this entire Heath Mello incident appears to be a thinly veiled sectarian attack against Sanders, driven by bitterness and resentment. For the most outraged Democrats, the problem hasn’t so much been that the Democratic National Committee is supporting a candidate who is moderately pro-life — after all, their 2016 vice presidential candidate was moderately pro-life — but that Bernie Sanders (who still won’t call himself a Democrat, much to their chagrin) has supported a candidate who is moderately pro-life.

Needless to say, capitulating on LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights is not an option for progressives — and never has been. If a candidate like Mello were indeed planning to “strip women of basic rights and freedoms,” then Sanders would be well-advised to retract his endorsement and vehemently reject Mello’s candidacy. But that’s simply not the case.

This kind of hypocrisy and bad faith is consistent with the Clinton loyalist strategy over the past year or so — to discredit and vilify Bernie Sanders and the entire progressive movement that has formed around his candidacy. A year ago during the Democratic primaries Clinton supporters were singing the same tune, portraying the democratic socialist as a cultural and political dinosaur and insisting that the candidate’s supporters were a bunch of sexist white guys (that is, “BernieBros”). The Clinton camp even depicted Sanders — who has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association — as a gun nut or a “very reliable supporter of the NRA,” as Clinton once put it. In fact, Clinton advocated the same exact position on gun policy as Sanders did during her 2008 presidential campaign.

In addition, the Clinton campaign has consistently promoted a false dichotomy between economic issues and social ones, in an effort to make it appear that Sanders, one of the most passionate critics of economic inequality and corporate malfeasance, only cares about the first type — a blatant falsehood that is refuted by his 40-year record in politics. Sanders has long been one of the most socially progressive politicians in Washington and advocated for LGBT rights long before it became the politically expedient thing to do. To cite just one example, he strongly opposed the now-infamous 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton camp has basically sought to use Sanders’ passion about economic inequality and political corruption against him, as if someone who is this intense about economic issues must be a “class reductionist” who cares little about social and cultural issues. (It is only mainstream liberals, of course, who treat economic and cultural matters as if they could somehow be separated.) “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow . . . would that end racism? Would that end sexism?” Clinton absurdly asked at one point.

Unfortunately for the Democratic establishment, these disingenuous attacks have failed. According to various polls — including a new Harvard survey released last week — Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. It is not surprising — or perhaps it is deeply surprisingly for some Democrats — that African-Americans, Hispanics, women and millennials view Sanders the most favorably, while white men view him the least favorably.

After just a week on the road, the Perez-Sanders “unity tour” has gotten off to a rocky start. This latest incident reveals the depth of lingering resentment and friction within the Democratic Party. It is clear that many Democrats want Sanders to fall in line and use his influence to serve the party and, as long as he remains an independent gadfly fighting for principles over party, they will keep trying to discredit him. Of course, one of the primary reasons for Sanders’ popularity is that he clearly places principles before party — so we can expect his popularity to keep on growing, even as the smears become more and more desperate.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Cornel West – Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment

The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto

Nancy Pelosi
‘The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.

The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.

The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.

We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.

Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.

And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointment

Our Two Party System is Dead

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God.  Following this far more momentous precedent, it would now be fair to proclaim the death of the debilitating, semi-established duopoly party system that disables progressive politics in the United States.

The analogies are many.

Nietzsche claimed that it would take centuries for the Divine body to decompose.

By this, he did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who created all that is and with whom human beings can have personal relationships.  Materialist philosophers a century earlier could have said that, albeit not in as colorful a way. Nietzsche took it for granted.

His deeper claim was that ways of thinking and being – and forms of civilization — that rested on belief in God were finished as well.

This included quite a lot – not literally everything, but nearly everything of fundamental importance.  In his view, prevailing notions of truth and morality were among the first casualties.

He insisted, however, that it would take a long time for all the consequences to take effect. Therefore, the churches would likely remain full for generations.  The synagogues too, though Nietzsche’s view of synagogues was, to put it mildly, ambivalent; and, though he knew little and cared less about them, the mosques as well.

They might even seem to thrive.  But they would not be what they were because, with the divine corpse decomposing, their foundations were gone.

That, from time to time, there would be periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would flourish therefore does not embarrass Nietzsche’s claim.  Church, synagogue, and mosque attendance might rise from time to time; and, for any number of reasons, some people some of the time might rally around the old, essentially defunct, religions.  But, at its core, it would all be a sham because, whether “believers” know it or not, superseded ways of thinking and being cannot be replicated except in ironic ways.

The implication was that the sooner people realize this, the sooner they see the world as it is and not as they would like it to be, the better the world will be.

It will be better not because people will be happier or because they will have an easier time navigating their way through life’s tribulations, but because it will be more honest.  Like Aristotle, Nietzsche was what we would today call a “virtue ethicist.” Honesty – and authenticity more generally – was high on his list of virtues.

He was also a critic of democracy and egalitarianism and other emanations of Enlightened thought.

And he was a master ironist.   It was in that capacity that — to use a word that Stephen Bannon and other Trumpists have besmirched — he called for the “deconstruction” of the God idea and all that rests upon it.  This was how he would have humanity realize the goal of Enlightened thinking, as described by Immanuel Kant and philosophers in the classical German tradition: it would free humanity from its “self-imposed nonage.”

***

It is impossible, of course, to say exactly when God died.  That death – so consequential for humanity and so irrelevant to everything beyond human control — was a process, not an event.

The death of the two party system in the United States is a process too.  But the consequences are so much more limited, and the time frame so much shorter, that it could look to future historians very much like an event — if there are future historians, that is; in other words, if, despite Democrats and Republicans and Donald Trump, we somehow survive environmental devastation and avoid nuclear war.

If our luck holds to that extent, the 2016 election season could well come to be seen as the moment when the duopoly died or, rather, when the process that did it in reached a culminating point.

For anyone with an even vaguely Nietzschean sense of the order and value of things, it can only seem grotesque to liken the demise of something as inherently base as America’s party system to the death of an idea as foundational and sublime as the Christian  — and Jewish and Muslim — God.

Nevertheless, the similarities are plain and the comparison is instructive.

Enlightenment thinking began to undo the God idea more than a century before Nietzsche came on the scene; and decades before he declared God dead, there were philosophers in Germany – for example, the Young Hegelians (as a very young man, Karl Marx was one of them) – who thought that the question of God’s existence had been settled and that the pertinent philosophical and political questions had to do with why the belief persisted nevertheless.  To probe those questions, the Young Hegelians sought to uncover the human meaning of ideas of God.

The duopoly system in American politics was also mortally ill before the duopoly died – not for nearly as many years, of course, but nevertheless, for a long time, as political settlements go.

The beginning of the end came in the late seventies, when Jimmy Carter was President, and when the political economic order that had been in place since the end of the Second World War seemed suddenly to have become stuck in a permanent crisis – with economic growth impeded and inflation on the rise.

Creditors found the situation intolerable; they also found themselves more empowered than they had been when the ambient economic scene was more robust.

Under these conditions, they were not shy about throwing their weight around in Washington.   Leading capitalists favored the Republican Party, of course; that was in their DNA.  But they channeled money to Democrats too.  Where there is influence to be purchased, they have always been bipartisan.

Within leading academic and policy circles, neoliberal political economists had been marginalized since the time of the New Deal.  Suddenly, their standing changed one hundred eighty degrees as the ruling class, and therefore the political class, took up the neoliberal cause.

The idea was to disencumber markets, capital markets especially, from regulations enacted to save capitalism from the capitalists, and also to give manufacturers relief from regulations that protect the environment.  Another major objective was to diminish the countervailing power of organized labor and other civil society groups, giving capitalists freer rein.

Under the cover of “supply side” economic theories, they also wanted to reform the tax code – effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

And so, a political regime took shape that aimed to undo the progress of preceding decades.  The neoliberals set out not just to stop progress in its tracks, but also to turn back the clock as best they could.

On the Republican side, this led to purging the party of its liberal wing, attacking unions, resurrecting laissez-faire economic policies, and revving up Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and related efforts to bring “the silent majority” on board.  It led, in a word, to the “Reagan Revolution.”

The Reaganites did all they could to set Wall Street free to make money with other peoples’ money, and they encouraged the exportation of jobs to parts of the world where labor was cheap.  They reset the political agenda.  But, at first, they were not able to implement much of the agenda they established – in large part because Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow it.

It therefore fell to opportunists in the Democratic Party to consolidate and expand the Reagan Revolution by bringing the opposition along.  This is the principal “legacy” of the Clinton presidency.

Bill Clinton was the best Reaganite President ever, better than Obama, better than both Bushes put together, better than the villainous old Gipper himself.   He did it because he could; not because he believed in “trickle down” economics or other Reaganite nostrums.  He did it to help himself and his paymasters, by working both sides of the street.

It was a slow process but, in time, on the Republican side, the inmates took over the asylum; while, over the course of the eighties and nineties, the Democrats became Republicans in all but name.

However, to this day, the old duopoly structures, like the churches and synagogues and mosques, have remained more or less unchanged.  In recent years, they even seem to have thrived.

Throughout the long nineteenth century – from, roughly, the War of Independence to World War I – the American party system was comparatively fluid; the Republican Party itself was a product of its transformations.

Since World War I, third party activity has played a far less significant role in American politics.  Third party organizing, on both the left and the right, has come to very little; indeed, most efforts have failed outright.   Even parties that have survived for several election cycles – the Greens, for example, or the Libertarians – have never had more than a marginal impact on the larger political scene.

It could have been different last year.  Disappointed Sanders supporters could have either brought the Greens out of the margins or forged a new electoral presence on their own.    It never happened, however; thanks, at least in part, to Sanders’ defection to the Clinton camp.

And so for the time being, same as it ever was, Democrats and Republicans are all we have.  Nevertheless, the two party system is defunct.  The party machines remain, the apparatchiks are still there, and “politics,” for most Americans, is still about electoral contests between Democrats and Republicans.   But like Christianity, on Nietzsche’s telling, it is all built on a foundation of bad faith.

Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves; trying, in vain, to defy historical currents that are bound to prevail.  This is happening even now, before our eyes. It can sometimes be hard, as it were, to see the forest for the trees, but the evidence is there: each year, the ranks of “independents” grow, and levels of satisfaction with the major parties declines.

Where, not long ago, people identified as Democrats or Republicans, hardly anyone does nowadays; not even people who can be counted on to vote reliably for candidates from one or the other side.

***

As the electoral results from 2016 came in, it looked, for a moment, as if at least the Republicans were riding high.  No one thinks that any longer – not as their decomposition proceeds apace, just as palpably as the Democrats’.

Even on a worst-case scenario, a few more electoral cycles should suffice for both Republicans and Democrats either to dissipate entirely into the ether or else to survive as historical remnants only, hanging on by the skins of their teeth.

Entrenched institutional structures are keeping them both alive for now, but as the parties themselves become increasingly irrelevant, those institutions will be unable to go on playing that role.

Therefore, in not too many more years, the duopoly system will exist in historical memory only – in much the way that, in Nietzsche’s view, the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam will, in due course, join the gods of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Had events played out in 2016 as most informed people thought they would, we would be at that point already.  Trump had, in effect, run against the Republican Party and defeated it; and Hillary Clinton was set to finish both him and the Republicans off.

Many voters hated her (mostly for the wrong reasons), and hardly anyone genuinely liked her, but at least she wasn’t a raving embarrassment.  More important by far, the political, social, economic and media “power elite” was behind her a thousand percent.

But she was such an awful candidate that she managed to lose to a billionaire buffoon.

Having decided that blaming elderly white working class voters in rural areas was unwise, influential Democrats and their media flacks now blame the Russians – with every breath they take.  Could they be that intent on starting World War III?  Or is it just that were they to face up to their own ineptitude, they fear they would lose their grip on the institutional power they still enjoy thanks to the duopoly’s continuing existence?

Whatever the reason, there is comfort in the realization that they, like the Republicans, are doomed.

Republicans need Trump to get their agendas through; Trump needs them because neither he nor his people are capable of governing.   It is a marriage made in hell.

But, sooner or later, as scandals surrounding Trump mount and as more and more Trump voters realize that they have been conned, Republicans will come to the realization that they are better off without the Donald, after all.

And Trump, desperate to hold onto his credibility by keeping, or appearing to keep, the promises he made while campaigning, will find it expedient that he would be better off without Republican deficit hawks tearing those promises to pieces.

Many, probably most, Trump voters could care less about the Republicans’ several agendas.  They didn’t vote for Trump because they were pro-Republican or even because they liked him.   They voted for Trump because they were fed up with the Democratic Party, and because they were inclined to think that a rich businessman who says whatever is on his mind would be a better “change agent” than a money-grubbing Washington insider who talks in weasel words.

Being in thrall to unjustifiable and patently false, but quintessentially American, beliefs about the essential goodness of rich businessmen, they thought that Trump was beyond feathering his own nest, and that he would know how to shake things up and make change – for the better — happen.

Boy, were they wrong!

As a rule, people resist admitting their mistakes.  But with Trump and his band of dunces calling the shots, it should not take much to convince the voters Trump duped that the man is more like the Wizard of Oz than the Ayn Rand hero they imagined him to be.

The problem, though, is that those voters were right last November about Clinton and the Democrats; and, except for some hand wringing about the need to be less dismissive of the sad sacks Trump duped, nothing much in that department has changed.

What has changed, however, is that, outside the Democratic Party and at its fringes, an anti-Trump resistance movement is taking shape.

As long as Trump and his minions remain preposterous, that movement will not subside the way that, for example, Occupy Wall Street did.  That condition is sure to be fulfilled; Trump and the people around him were born preposterous.  They cannot help themselves.

If the Democratic Party holds fast to its ways, the anti-Trump resistance will sweep them aside – either directly, by leading voters out of the morass that the Democratic Party has become, or, on the Tea Party model, by taking the Party over and transforming it beyond recognition.

Either way, the Democratic Party’s days are numbered.

The Republicans’ days are too.   Indeed, it is a miracle that the GOP has survived for as long as it has under the weight of its cultural contradictions.  And yet, that jumble of yahoo theocrats, rightwing libertarians, conformist suburbanites, High Finance buccaneers and well-heeled members of the Country Club set has so far managed to hang together.  Could that hideous mélange long survive Trump and the Trumpists too?  The chances are slim.

Nietzsche asked: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

We could ask, with similar justification, what are the duopoly’s institutional structures and engrained habits of thought and practice now if not the final resting place of a party system that would long ago have passed away, but for the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to maintain their stranglehold over the body politic?

The duopoly is dead; and the sooner this fact registers, the better off everyone who stands to gain from (small-d) democracy will be.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/17/our-two-party-system-is-dead/

Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world

Everyone’s wrong on immigration:

This entire debate is built on cruel and false assumptions. Here’s the truth: Immigrants’ rights are human rights

Everyone's wrong on immigration: Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world
(Credit: Getty/John Moore)

There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, March 6, 2017

The immigration debate has become mired in myths, falsehoods and half-truths, with little clarity among liberals or conservatives alike. Conservatives think there’s nothing wrong with Trump defending America to keep “the bad ones” out because, after all, every sovereign nation should have that right. Liberals concede the point, but modify it a bit by claiming exception for the “good ones,” such as the Dreamers (those who were “brought” here at a young age “due to no fault of their own”). Immigrants’ rights advocates seek an elusive middle ground, even as the terrain of immigration has shifted from morality or economics or even national identity to the spectacle of crime and punishment.

Most Americans who have no direct experience with the immigration system are easily misled by xenophobic claims that often sound commonsensical, such as the (false) notion that immigrants drive down wages and make those who are native-born lose their jobs. They may not want to go to the extreme of taking up arms to defend the nation — as do the Minutemen on the southwestern border — but they passively accept the myths. What many don’t realize is that each time a right is taken away from immigrants, with implied consent, it eventually affects citizens’ rights, too. To remain distant from the issue is no longer an option for any of us. Secretary Ben Carson’s comment above had less to do with our past history with slavery than our future ideal for immigrants.

We want to shut ourselves up behind a wall — paid for by Mexico, of course — as we turn citizenship into a privilege derived from exaggerated notions of loyalty. Such self-disciplining consciousness is the other side of the overt criminalization of immigrants. American citizenship has become the sole passage to a utopia of freedom by way of crushing the undeserving other, the poor immigrant.

What is going on? Why has the country turned so anti-immigrant (despite hollow claims from politicians that we remain “a nation of immigrants”)? Did 9/11 cause this? Is it because of President Donald Trump? Or is there something predating terrorism or the authoritarian upsurge? Is changing sentiment toward immigrants rooted in rational anxieties, such as concern about jobs? Or does it represent a free-floating, pessimistic discourse that is as much a part of our self-construction as the optimism we’re more used to hearing?

Here are some of our most damaging misunderstandings in this defining area of national policy:

1. There is no line to get into.

Americans seem to think that if you are a capable person somewhere in the world, you just need to get in line, and if everything checks out, you’re in. Or if you have relatives who have spent their life in America and you want to join them, you’d join the line. The idea that people should “get in the back of the line,” a mantra we hear every time the topic of so-called comprehensive immigration reform comes up, doubles down on the nonsense.

There is no line. There is only a nightmarish engagement with an immigration bureaucracy for those lucky enough to deal with it.

Perhaps there is a theoretical line. If you are a sibling of a Filipino citizen, you may wait up to 20 years to get in — if your family member will take full financial responsibility, at the risk of being pursued in court if an emergency compels you to seek public assistance. If you are a high-skilled immigrant in demand by Silicon Valley, you may seek an H-1B visa. But you must be the type of person who fits corporate America’s vision of a good citizen in every aspect of your life. Immigrants with technical skills arrive on a presumed pathway to citizenship, even if theoretically they are temporary immigrants.

What if you are a bright young person with a visitor visa but want to study and live in the United States? Adjusting your status may not be easy, and if you run afoul of any technicalities, you’re out of luck and “illegal.”

What if your visa has lapsed, yet you found the resources to establish a life here, marrying a citizen and having children? Can you correct your status? You’d have to prove hardship of a kind that would satisfy the immigration bureaucracy, a fantasy of torture and devastation for yourself and your family, rather than any realistic definition of hardship.

The line is a fantasy. Those whom corporate America desires go straight to the front anyway, their papers awaiting them and their families. For those who have ever struggled in life, who may be from poor backgrounds but want to better themselves through education and civic participation, the options are limited.

Many of us know someone who may be an outstanding citizen in every respect, even a prominent member of the community, except for the lack of technical legality. They may even have the money to pursue a legal avenue. Have we ever considered why these people choose to remain “illegal”? If there were a line for accomplished immigrants who desired to fix their status, wouldn’t they join in?

Shouldn’t the immigrant, without having to be tied to an absurd mythology of hardship, be able to fulfill the desire to stay, based on equities built up that would be lost with the finality of deportation? Isn’t that what most people imagine when they say those who want to stay should “get right with the law,” that they should pay the fines and “get their citizenship”? Our immigration practices have become so distorted that such possibilities do not really exist.

2. The distinction between legal and illegal is meaningless.

Both restrictionists and reformists love to say, “I’m for legal immigration but against illegal immigration.” The current regime’s most prominent nativists love to make this claim, even as their intent is to end legal immigration, just as we did, more or less, during the 1920s.

Yet a more absurd proposition is difficult to imagine, given a government that encourages underground migration and suppresses official migration with every resource at its disposal. An immigrant is always in a tenuous situation — as our predecessors knew well before we formalized whom we wanted and whom we didn’t — as he or she moves from temporary to permanent, denizen to resident, illegal to legal, or in the reverse direction, with ambiguity clouding the definition at any given time.

Before neoliberalism reshaped immigration policies in the 1990s, professional workers used to be in an extended limbo because their status, once they were sponsored by an employee, wasn’t exactly clear. They were not supposed to be here, but they were and already working for their sponsor, based on the probability that their labor certification would be approved. We never had a problem with “illegality” in the case of professionals, though we have cleared things up in their favor quite a bit since then.

On the other hand, what is your status if you applied as a refugee from, say, Central America 20 or 30 years ago? Your application was provisionally approved, but has fallen into limbo; a deportation order has not been issued, but your status has lapsed. We wanted you when there was a “Soviet-sponsored” Marxist insurgency that we were fighting, but we don’t care about you when we’ve decided to leave homegrown turmoil alone. Meanwhile, you’ve gone to school, had children, started a business, employed workers and paid taxes. Your children are allowed to sponsor you when they come of age. Shortly before they are able to do so, are you legal or illegal? Do you become legal the day they apply for you or do you have to wait until approval? In the years it might take immigration officials to decide your case, are you legal or illegal?

Many of us know of such ambiguous situations, which apply to all migrants, except those whom corporate America has desired unreservedly over the last 30 years, since we brought immigration into line with neoliberal economic needs. Our federal immigration laws consist of layers upon layers of irrational, inconsistent, even bizarre and inexplicable exceptions, preferences, loopholes, punishments, waivers, mandates and discretions that render the division between “legal” and “illegal” meaningless.

3. Immigration law is by nature exclusionary and racist.

We didn’t always have a federal immigration bureaucracy. The idea began in the 1870s and 1880s, when we had finished building the railroads and accomplished enough developmental goals to feel that we could dispense with cheap imported labor. The presence of large numbers of Chinese and other Asians on the West Coast led to the complaints about unfair job competition that we hear today, buttressed by similar inflammatory rhetoric. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was our first immigration law, setting the tone for our federal bureaucracy ever since then.

For Justice Stephen Johnson Field, who ruled on the first important case upholding exclusion, Chae Chan Ping v. United States in 1889, Chinese people “remained strangers in the land,” forever alien and unassimilable. We went from individual states setting the conditions for immigration to a federal bureaucracy founded on excluding a subpar race from tainting our racial stock.

From our country’s foundation until our first immigration laws, our openness allowed us to successfully assimilate immigrants of diverse origins, all of whom had at first been looked upon suspiciously, such as the Germans and the Irish. Once we established a federal bureaucracy, it needed continuous rationales to sustain itself and grow. After excluding Chinese people, the country moved on to Japanese people, and then Eastern and Southern Europeans including Jews, followed by subversives during the cold war and finally Muslims and Arabs as the latest targets for exclusion.

Some of us may be under the illusion that we follow objective criteria to decide who comes in and who stays, observing standards that make moral, economic or political sense. That has never been the case since the beginning of federal immigration policy.

The targets have varied, but the logic remains the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, progressives, trade unionists, eugenicists and respectable politicians of all stripes were angered by large numbers of “inferior,” disease-carrying, non-English-speaking Southern and Eastern Europeans, so we shut them out with the 1924 national origins quota system and decided instead to unofficially bring in large numbers of Mexicans.

We preferred Mexican immigrants persisting in limbo to European immigrants we would have to accommodate as citizens. We just had to make sure to periodically evict them from territorial assertion, as we did during the Great Depression, and as we did when we followed up the Bracero Program (importing guest workers) with Operation Wetback (involving mass deportation), a pattern that repeats to this day. We might say that we had an unofficial bracero program since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement until today, but we now want to expel that labor force.

Our history of exclusion is inherent in the nature of the bureaucracy and in all the laws that have been passed to empower it. During World War II we decided not to admit Jews seeking refuge from the European inferno. The logic of Asian exclusion easily led to the internment of Japanese-Americans by our most progressive president. Today we willfully exclude some of the best and brightest amont us, if they happen to be Latino or Muslim or Arab. Exclusion affects whole classes of people and causes great national damage each time.

4. The contemporary havoc goes back to the 1996 law.

But the repugnant national origins quota system, the internment of a whole race of people and the persecution of individuals because of political beliefs are all things in the past, right? We don’t do these things anymore, do we? After all, what was the great liberalization of the 1960s all about, if not to end such practices?

In reality, some of the most barbaric practices we as a nation have followed in terms of removal, slavery and exclusion have come back in full force due to a reconceptualization of immigration under the 1996 law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The key word here is “responsibility,” used in a twisted neoliberal manner, placing burdens that are not so much responsibilities as refusals of humanity.

Though Trump’s so-called travel ban has been getting all the attention, the infinitely greater area of concern is his targeting of every immigrant as potentially a “criminal alien” subject to “expedited removal.” The authority that Trump needs to put his genocidal plan into action was gifted to him under the 1996 law. It vastly expanded the definition of crimes and included everything from shoplifting to child neglect as “aggravated felonies” that could lead to deportation without appeal. “Expedited removal” means that the traditional safeguards offered to those under deportation proceedings are gone, and prosecutorial discretion is limited to the point of nonexistence.

The distinction between legal and illegal is intentionally blurred in such laws. “Aggravated felonies” retroactively subject not just undocumented people but legal permanent residents to deportation. Countless permanent residents have fallen under the net of this repressive law, one of the worst in our nation’s history. Years or decades ago someone may have copped a guilty plea to a misdemeanor to get a lighter sentence, as is common in our criminal justice system. An encounter with the police, bringing the earlier “crime” to light, may abruptly destroy that person’s life.

The 1996 law severely curtails the chances for refugees to have a fair hearing, while asylum seekers are presumed guilty when making a claim and put in a mandatory detention that can last for years. Families who have experienced torture in countries that the U.S. has often had a hand in destabilizing are then placed in detention among hardened criminals and made to wait for years before knowing their fate.

The 1996 law was part of the same movement toward “personal responsibility” — a euphemism for blaming victims for social crimes against them and then punishing them — that also resulted in “welfare reform” and expanded the reach of counterterrorism in a law that became a precursor to the Patriot Act. These three laws — on immigration, welfare and terrorism — overlap in some respects, for instance in curtailing judicial review or ending public assistance for legal immigrants.

5. Neoliberal economic policies are the main cause of “illegality.”

So-called illegality is a self-created bureaucratic problem, which is convenient for the neoliberal state to address as a criminal matter. It comes in handy because it keeps the lid on demands for democracy across racial lines, and it maintains a permanent underclass without rights, acting as a counterweight against universal fairness in the workplace.

The modern problem of illegality began in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. That agreement offered a set of advantages to American big business and agriculture, creating tremendous pressure on Mexican small industry and farms and leading to the displacement of millions of workers, and many of them headed north. NAFTA freed capital movement at the same time as it restricted labor movement. So on the one hand, we created dire pressure for migration northward — to call it “push and pull” seems disingenuous, as if referring to inexorable laws of economics — at the same time as we cut off pathways to legal migration.

Before the 1990s, we always had a pattern of circular migration from Mexico. Migrants came and went; they didn’t necessarily want to stay for good. Almost 30 million Mexicans entered the country between the start of the Bracero Program and the 1986 immigration law, but most of them went back. But the neoliberal regime made the price of mobility prohibitive. Border controls became so repressive, and the price of re-entry so high, that many migrants decided to put down roots. The children of these migrants have become the Dreamers we now claim are the immigrants worthiest of our compassion.

When we wanted cheap agricultural labor we willfully let in large numbers of immigrants whom we did not want to assimilate. Now that the latest phase of globalization has run its course, the Trump regime wants to repatriate these people, long resident in our country, back “home.” We can always crack the wall open a bit when we need a new burst of cheap labor.

Under neoliberalism, we shuffle off unwanted labor to our private detention system, which daily commits horrors on a scale worthy of history’s worst nightmares. Our policy preference is to put immigrants in detention for long periods of time before expelling them, so that they become revenue-earners for private prisons. Under Trump we are about to witness a massive resurgence of the private prison industry, which lobbies for criminalization of immigrants.

6. Comprehensive immigration reform is a boondoggle.

In every version it appears, comprehensive immigration reform, a favorite prescription of both parties, is nothing but a Trojan horse to sneak in and formalize existing inhuman practices. Each immigration reform bill has been increasingly regressive, starting with the one that actually passed, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Every comprehensive immigration reform proposal attempts to do three things: 1. It further criminalizes and delegalizes growing categories of people, reducing pathways to citizenship, while offering some sort of legal status to those few who qualify within increasingly narrow boundaries. 2. It seeks to convert immigrants into guest workers to the extent possible, implementing a regime that strays from linear outcomes. 3. As a bargaining chip to sway restrictionists, who may have problems even with limited forms of legal status, it implements new policing measures to harden the already militarized border.

Comprehensive immigration reform is no solution. The 2006, 2007 and 2013 bills were each more draconian than their predecessors. The last one, under Obama, was much harsher than the ones Bush wanted. Militarization, which already stands at mind-boggling levels, with more than 20,000 border patrol agents, would have gone up drastically in each immigration reform bill. To the extent that a wall can exist, it already does. Each time an immigration reform bill is proposed, its legalization provisions don’t become reality, but its militaristic provisions come true by other means.

Ever since the 1970s — with the arrival of Southeast Asian and Caribbean refugees, and the growing visibility of Asians in our population — sharply restrictionist moves have been packaged as comprehensive immigration reform. Environmentalist John Tanton has been at the fount of most recent anti-immigrant advocacy. His Federation for American Immigration Reform, along with associated organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, seeks to end legal immigration. Immigration reform bills have moved this goal closer and closer in sight, until Trump can almost smell victory. FAIR and its affiliated organizations are consulted by the press on every policy move and given equal footing with the vast array of pro-immigrant groups.

7. The Dreamers have been a destructive wedge issue.

This relates to my point about how some immigrants who are offered ambiguous legalization, rather than universal access to citizenship being offered to everyone under predictable conditions. The Dreamers are the splinter group artfully deployed to silence the demand for rights for all other immigrants.

The concept of the Dreamers arose in the early 2000s (Sen. Dick Durbin was an early proponent), once the 1996 legislation had had time to do its work. Instead of welcoming the immigrant, as we had done through all our history, we would welcome only the Dreamer. Anyone not certifiably a Dreamer would not belong.

Who exactly is a Dreamer? A Dreamer is the postmodern version of a slave, embodying the idea of the pliant immigrant with which we seem most comfortable. The Dreamer is brought here against his will (evoking the rhetoric of slavery), yet harbors no resentment toward the white majority who have enslaved his people. The Dreamer is not expected to mind that his parents may not be recognized as people, even if they have present in the community for decades. The Dreamer willingly pays for college out of pocket, putting up with all the obstacles strewn by anti-immigrant states, particularly in the South and Southwest. The Dreamer is unashamedly invested in the capitalist dream that he or she will have to purchase, as a consumer but not a citizen. The Dreamer is expected to be grateful for grudging symbols of identity, a temporary work permit or a driver’s license. The Dreamer begs to be granted the least token of recognition in return for partaking in our collective dream.

What about elderly and disabled people, the creative and artistic, the bohemian and nonconformist, all those not employed in the professions that neoliberalism elevates? What about the parents of Dreamers? What about those who have committed any transgressions? They don’t count as Dreamers;, they are “criminal aliens.”

The Dreamer is seen as accepting exclusion as a principle in return for being made a provisional part of our nationhood. No doubt Trump will use the Dreamers to split the rest from this small slice, to whom he might grant minimum concessions on the road to ending legal immigration. The Dreamers would be expected to go along, because all comprehensive immigration reform bills, former President Barack Obama’s included, have separated the “good” from the “bad.”

8. Immigrant rights are human rights.

There is a debate whether constitutional rights extend to all “persons” present in the United States or only to citizens. The Constitution clearly says that rights belong to persons, not just citizens. Today the rights of noncitizens are being abridged as perhaps never before, and there’s a paramount need for the defense of the idea that immigrants have all constitutional rights.

Are freedom of speech and association, due process and equal rights limited to citizens? Such would not seem to be the case if we look at much of our judicial history. Yet there is plenty of judicial precedent for those who want to construct a vision of constitutional rights applying to all people.

When the Chinese Exclusion Act set up the federal bureaucracy, states such as California and Arizona started passing legislation discriminating against immigrants. The courts held at the time that equal protection applied to persons, not just citizens, for example in striking down laws that discriminated against Chinese owners of laundries in California. And in the Truaux v. Raich decision, the Supreme Court held in 1915 that Arizona could not restrict the employment of immigrants.

The important recent landmark case is the Plyler v. Doe decision of 1982, when the Supreme Court held that Texas was obligated to provide access to kindergarten through grade 12 education to all people, regardless of status. In succeeding years, the precedent set by the Plyler decision, when it comes to immigrants’ right to public services necessary for a fulfilling life, has not been consistently applied. Also, if kindergarten through grade 12 access is vital, then isn’t the same true for higher education?

We tend to assume that people present on our soil have access to constitutional rights, at the very least the right to due process and habeas corpus (which was stripped from immigrants in the 2005 REAL ID Act). In reality, we have intentionally created a vast population of essentially stateless or displaced people, refusing to extend constitutional rights to them, regardless of the letter and spirit of our founding documents.

Once we go down that path and create two regimes of law, one for citizens and one for everyone else, then it is inevitable that the regime created for immigrants will start affecting citizens as well, and constitutional rights will become restricted for all, as indeed has been the case over the last few decades. We cannot pretend anymore that what happens to “them,” as immigrants, does not affect “us,” as citizens. In every area of law, from the rights of consumers against corporations to the rights of citizens against the police, we have seen a drastic diminishment. Much of that has to do with our callousness toward immigrants.

9. The president has almost unlimited powers.

To the extent that Trump will be able to have his ban against Muslim immigration approved by the courts (and we seem to be headed toward extension to more Muslim countries), it will be because of the plenary power doctrine.

Ever since the federal immigration bureaucracy came into being, the courts have ceded vast powers to the executive to set the guidelines for immigration. Trump will make full use of this authority, some of it latent, some of it used by other presidents.

The Chae Chan Ping decision of 1889 was the first case, soon after the Chinese Exclusion Act, where the plenary power doctrine became inscribed, justifying the government’s power to exclude. After World War II, several landmark cases that were decided amid an atmosphere of Cold War paranoia — Knauff v. Shaughnessy (in 1950), Harisiades v. Shaughnessy (in 1952) and Shaughnessy v. Mezei (in 1953) — reaffirmed plenary power. Immigrants trying to return to the country were stopped or detained, based on alleged subversive views. Granting such unlimited powers is only asking for trouble when an unscrupulous administration comes along to take undue advantage.

Trump will test the limits of the plenary power doctrine with a range of executive orders and legislative initiatives. The only check on his power to do with immigrants as he wishes is for the courts to return firmly to precedents where limits on plenary power have been acknowledged — and for the courts to take a stand against the existence of this power in the first place.

10. Open borders are the only way to go.

We are in a situation of chaos, breeding technical illegality, because federal regulations have become too complex. Comprehensive immigration reform of any type would make these laws even more cumbersome by drastically curtailing family unification (our quotas, even after the 1965 liberalization, have always been vastly insufficient to the needs) and thus inviting more illegality. I don’t want to rest my case for open borders on the economic justification, but studies in the 1980s noted that world economic output would double if open borders prevailed everywhere, and studies in the 2000s showed even greater gains for the world economy.

Americans often compare the nation to a house, arguing that immigrants who enter without inspection or overstay their visas are like robbers whom we have every right to detain and expel. But a country or even a state or a city or a neighborhood is not a house (just as it is simplistic to compare a country’s budget to a household’s). The nation is dynamic and includes all of us. The nation is an abstraction is only as good as the operation of freedom within it. The same is even truer of the world. If the world cannot be put inside a border, then a country trying to do the same is foolish.

A wall is a fantasy, not a reality, that makes us economically and politically weaker. None of the moral grounds for exclusion make any sense, despite our knee-jerk resort to national sovereignty. Imagine if America had kept admitting Asians throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, instead of allowing them in only after 1965. Imagine if we had continued allowing Southern and Eastern Europeans after 1925. Would we have been a more progressive country, less likely to have succumbed to the burdens of an empire, with a more global outlook in the crucial midcentury years?

Today immigrants are treated as criminals for their violations, with deportation as the ultimate life-altering penalty, and yet immigrants are not provided the rights due to a criminal defendant. Immigration is and always has been a civil matter; it is not a crime to be present without authorization. We have in essence two sets of laws, one for immigrants, who do not have the rights of defendants when charged with “crimes,” and one for everyone else. The only solution to this anomaly is to cease treating immigration violations as crimes and to completely end detention for immigration. If an immigrant commits a crime, he or she should be prosecuted under normal laws, as a criminal defendant not as a “criminal alien.”

Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce the complexities, to end the web of regulations and exceptions — which, just as in corporate law, favor the powerful at the expense of the weak — and to finally shed immigration laws altogether.

Immigration should become a purely voluntary affair, no different than filing taxes. We trust citizens to do that, reporting millions of dollars in income. So why can’t we trust people to report their status and file for changes based on equities they have built in our community? As soon as a person steps on our soil, he or she should have full constitutional rights, so as to not be subject to exploitation. Why can’t we visualize immigration without government regulation? We certainly did very well with that regime until the federal bureaucracy emerged in the 1880s, and with revived global understanding we can do so again.

President Donald Trump is taking advantage, for white nationalist purposes, of a legacy of tragically unfair rules that have defined our immigration system ever since it has existed. We are now bearing the full fruits of a system that was begging to end in catastrophe.

In the first six months of 2011, more than 46,000 immigrants with at least one U.S. citizen child were deported by the Obama administration. In the 10 years following the passage of the 1996 law, more than 12 million people were forced to agree to voluntary departure. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Trump is dramatically apprehending immigrants in public venues — a theater of cruelty meant to terrorize everyone — and causing great consternation, this exact process of splitting up families has been going on for two vicious decades, in numbers that classify as one the world’s major human rights calamities.

Countless numbers of immigrants, even legal permanent residents, have been hauled away from their families, their communities, everything they know and love, based on some minor misdemeanor they may have committed decades ago, which has suddenly been reclassified as an “aggravated felony,” and is cause for their deportation to places they have no memory of. Such immigrants do not have the right to be heard by a judge except in a perfunctory manner, with little room for clemency based on individual circumstances.

We do not call our immigrant detention facilities concentration camps, but at any given time we have about 34,000 immigrants serving time in prisons far from home, waiting to be deported. Is this any different than the prison regimes of the most brutal governments we have protested?

Migration is a human right. A person anywhere in the world has the right to migrate, just as there is a right to free speech or association. In fact, most other rights follow from the right to migrate. If governments are allowed to lock up people behind walls, then it’s only a matter of time before other rights will dissipate, too. If we do not recognize migration as an inviolable human right, and if we do not give up the idea of the wall, we are bound to lose human rights for all of us.

American citizenship, by having become associated with the hypernationalist project, will at first look enviable and untouchable, but ultimately will be so cheapened as to be worth nothing. For the courts, as they face the Trump assault, the challenge is clear: Do away with the plenary power doctrine and extend full constitutional rights to immigrants. Rights should depend on personhood not citizenship, as some of our best legal minds have recognized throughout our history.

One thing that would strongly push the country in the opposite direction than the one Trump intends is for individual states, particularly progressive states in the West or Northeast, to pass laws as favorable to immigrants as the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have been unfavorable. What if, say, California were to pass legislation extending full human rights to all people present in the state? That would set up a historic confrontation, bringing out all the anomalies in our inhuman immigration regime for due public consideration. “Sanctuary” would become a constructive, constitutional, universal concept, not a purely reactive one against police powers.

Every time we say that we should let immigrants stay because they do the dirtiest work that native-born folks aren’t willing to do, we should remember that we do not justify our ancestors’ arrival with that logic. We deserve to be here because we have a human right to be, just as we accepted this in the centuries preceding racist federal bureaucracies. We are here because we are humans, not because of our utility toward someone else’s comfort.

 

Anis Shivani is at work on a novel called “Abruzzi, 1936.” His most recent books are “Karachi Raj: A Novel,” “Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems” and “Soraya: Sonnets.” “Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century: Conversations” comes out in April 2017.