When I was a child, world maps in American school classrooms showed the United States at the center of the world. It always confused me, as I couldn't figure out why those land masses on the far right and left edges of the map were cut off. For better or for worse, the days of centering the United States are over. We are living through the end of the American Century.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 6 DAY OF ACTION: #FreeTheFamilies
What’s happening: Nearly a hundred families are held by ICE in detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania, simply because they came to the US seeking safety and a better life. After COVID-19 was confirmed in family detention, a federal judge ordered ICE to release all children in its custody. But the problem is, the judge can’t order the parents’ release too. As it responds to this court order, ICE can act on its legal authority to release the families together, as it has historically done. Or…ICE can choose to keep parents locked up indefinitely while releasing their children, or ask parents to choose to stay together as a family in detention—an awful, no-win situation for migrant families. We can’t stay silent as this happens. ICE has the choice to do the right thing.
Action: Collectively throughout the day on Thursday, August 6, we will barrage the social media accounts of ICE and DHS leadership with hundreds if not thousands of comments from our movement demanding ICE and DHS to #FreeTheFamilies. They will only release families together if they feel the cost of sustained outrage and activist pressure.
YOU CAN DO THIS TOMORROW, TOO! OR THE NEXT DAY!
Leave (several!) comments on the most recent post across these accounts:
Sample messaging (but do personalize your comments too!):
#FreeTheFamilies from detention so they can be #SafeAndTogether
#LiberenALasFamilias en detención para que puedan estar #SegurosYJuntos
#LageFanmiYo retire yo nan detansyon pou yo ka an #SekiriteEpiReteAnsanm
#LibérezLesFamilles en détention pour qu’elles puissent être #EnsembleEtEnSécurité
Staying detained in danger with your child or separating from them indefinitely all during a pandemic…that’s a situation no parent should have to face #FreeTheFamilies #SafeAndTogether
Permanecer detenidos en peligro con sus hijos o separados de ellos indefinidamente durante una pandemia…es una situación que ningún padre ni madre debería enfrentar #LiberenALasFamilias #SegurosYJuntos
Rete fèmen nan kacho ak ak pitit ou oswa an danje ou ka separe ak yo pou toutan pandan yon pandemi … se yon sitiyasyon okenn paran pa ta dwe retwouve l ladan #LageFanmiYo #SekiriteEpiReteAnsanm
Être détenu avec votre enfant ou être séparé de lui indéfiniment pendant une pandémie…c’est une situation qu’aucun parent ne devrait avoir à affronter #LibérezLesFamilles #EnsembleEtEnSécurité
The fate of families in detention rests in your hands. To ask parents to separate from their kids or stay detained indefinitely is no choice at all. #FreeTheFamilies #SafeAndTogether
El destino de las familias descansa en tus manos. Pedirle a los padres que se separen de sus hijos o permanezcan detenidos no es una opción. #LiberenALasFamilias #SegurosYJuntos
Sò fanmi ki nan detansyon yo chita nan de pla men w. Mande yon paran swa pou l separe ak pitit li, oswa li rete fèmen nan kacho pou toutan gen tan, ni youn ni lòt pa w chwa serye. #LibereFanmiYo #SekiriteEpiReteAnsanm
Le sort des familles en détention est entre vos mains. Demander aux parents de se séparer de leurs enfants ou de rester en détention indéfiniment, ce n’est pas un choix. #LibérezLesFamilles #EnsembleEtEnSécurité
Families can’t remain detained any longer as COVID-19 spreads like wildfire. Nor should parents be left behind in detention without their children. #FreeTheFamilies #SafeAndTogether
Las familias no pueden permanecer detenidas por más tiempo mientras que COVID-19 se propaga como un fuego descontrolado. Los padres no pueden ser dejados atrás en detención sin sus hijos. #LiberenALasFamilias #SegurosYJuntos
Fanmi yo pa dwe rete fèmen nan detansyon lè COVID-19 ap vale teren potre dife nan chan kann. Ni paran yo pa dwe rete dèyè nan detansyon san pitit yo. #LibereFanmiYo #SekiriteEpiReteAnsanm
Les familles ne peuvent plus être détenues tant que la COVID-19 se répand comme une traînée de poudre. Les parents ne devraient pas non plus être détenus sans leurs enfants.#LibérezLesFamilles #EnsembleEtEnSécurité
These last few months have been a wake-up call for white people about the pervasiveness of our society’s structural racism. (I say “for white people” because for Black people and other people of color, this is not news.) There is a lot to think about in terms of how even—or perhaps especially—those of us white folks who consider ourselves to be progressive and nonracist can help dismantle barriers that may have been invisible to us. It’s not enough not be racist. We need to become actively antiracist.
Today, as part of my own journey toward becoming antiracist, I’m going to share some commonly used words or phrases that have racist origins or connotations. No, not the obvious words (the N-word, “uppity,” or the like) that no self-respecting liberal would ever dream of uttering. But there are numerous words and phrases in English that turn out to have deeply racist roots, or that have developed racist connotations over the years. I discuss a few of them here. Some of them I’ve long known, and some I have just learned about recently.
When a word or phrase may not have had a racist origin but has taken on racist undertones through usage over the years, I think white people have to follow the lead of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color): if they say the word is racist and hurtful, we must take them at their word.
Please feel free to let me know of other troublesome words or phrases I may have missed by leaving a comment.
* * * * *
Articulate. The word itself is not racist. But using it to describe a well-spoken Black person is racist. It implies surprise at the fact. Just don’t say it.
Blackball, blacklist, black magic, blackmail, black mark, etc. All of these terms racialize the use of “black” to describe things that are bad or wrong. They reinforce the notion that black=bad and white=good.
Cakewalk. This term refers to something that is an easy victory, but it originated as a dance that enslaved Black people performed on plantations, where owners would hold contests in which slaves would compete for a cake. The dance, and the phrase, was later popularized through minstrel shows
Cat got your tongue? American slave owners often used a whip called a “cat-o’-nine-tails” to flog victims. The pain was so intense that those on the receiving end couldn’t even speak. Asking the victim “cat got your tongue?” was thus an especially cruel taunt.
Eskimo. European settlers in North America used this word—thought to come from the French word esquimaux (referring to a person who makes the nets for snowshoes)—for the indigenous people living in the Arctic region, who mostly called themselves Inuit. Many colonists used it in the mistaken belief that it meant “eater of raw meat,” connoting barbarism and violence, which means it was deliberately meant to be offensive.
Fuzzy wuzzy. This was originally a term used by British colonial soldiers in the 1800s to refer to members of an East African tribe, and later became a derogatory way to refer to African people’s hair texture.
Gyp or jip. To be “gypped” is to be shortchanged or swindled. But the word comes from “gypsy,” which itself is an offensive term referring to the Romani people, who face widespread discrimination across Europe.
Grandfather clause or grandfathered in: According to a decision recently published by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, “‘grandfather clause’ originally referred to provisions adopted by some states after the Civil War in an effort to disenfranchise African American voters by requiring voters to pass literacy tests or meet other significant qualifications, while exempting from such requirements those who were descendants of men who were eligible to vote before 1867.” I can’t believe I didn’t know this before.
Long time no see. This is a common phrase in American English—I’ve used it myself when meeting up with someone I haven’t seen in a long time—but it may have originated as a way to mimic Chinese or Native American speech patterns in English.
Lynch mob. The literal meaning is fairly obvious, but when not used literally this term can be offensive when used to describe situations that fall far short of the murderous, racist violence that lynch mobs actually perpetrated. Think, for example, of Clarence Thomas describing the congressional hearing in which Anita Hill testified about how he had sexually harassed her as a “high-tech lynching,” or Donald Trump likening his impeachment to a “lynching.”
Master bedroom/bathroom, master/slave. While it’s not clear whether the owner’s bedroom in southern plantations during the slavery era was called a master bedroom, the real estate industry is gradually retiring the term, using the word “primary” instead. Similarly, many tech engineers in computer technology, who have used “master/slave” terminology to describe software and hardware components where one process or device controls another, are now replacing that with “primary/replica.”
Mumbo jumbo. Typically used to suggest that someone is talking nonsense, this derives from contempt for the religious rituals that enslaved Africans brought with them to America—in the Mandinka language, Maamajomboo describes a masked dancer in a religious ceremony. (Note, too, that Little Black Sambo’s parents were named Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo.)
Nitty gritty. This phrase may have its origin in the slave trade, referring to the detritus found in the bottom of slave ships once the enslaved people had been removed from the hold. “Nit” may refer to the parasitic insect of the same name that would likely have been abundant in the abhorrent conditions in the ships making their way across the Middle Passage. Grits, of course, are the inexpensive, coarse-ground grains that were used to feed enslaved people.
No can do. Meaning “I can’t do that,” this is a 19th-century phrase that mocked Chinese immigrants’ speech patterns in English.
Off the reservation. Commonly used to describe someone who is deviating from the norm, this phrase originally referred to Native Americans who refused to accept the limitations on their mobility caused by the creation of reservations where the government forcibly moved them. Historically, Native Americans who were found “off the reservation” were often killed.
Paddy wagon. This was 19th-century slang for the horse-drawn vans police used to round up drunk Irish immigrants. I hadn’t heard this phrase for a long time, until Donald Trump used it when he was exhorting police to be rough when throwing “thugs” into the back of a “paddy wagon.” (See also thug below.)
Peanut gallery. In the days of vaudeville, cheap seats—in the back of a theater, or on a balcony—were called the “peanut gallery.” These were the seats where Black patrons were forced to sit.
Picnic. Some have contended that the word “picnic” has racist origins, but the story is a bit more nuanced. Folk etymology suggests that the word comes from “pick-a-nig,” referring to racist lynchings where a Black person was randomly “picked” and hanged for the entertainment of whites. However, etymologically the word is much older and derives from the French pique-nique, referring to a social gathering where each attendee brings food (from the verb piquer, “to sting” or “to bite,” which may have referred to a leisurely style of eating). Nonetheless, the fact that African Americans were often lynched in settings that were picnic-like, for the entertainment of white people, means that the word “picnic” carries racist connotations for many Black folks in the United States.
Sold down the river. Referring to some kind of devastating betrayal, the origin of this term was literal, not metaphorical. It was commonly known during the slavery era that conditions for enslaved people were increasingly brutal the farther south one went down along the Mississippi River. Thus a person who was “sold down the river” was being sold into inhumane, brutal conditions that often ended in death.
Thug. The word itself—meaning a violent criminal—may not be inherently racist. It comes from a Hindi word, thuggee, derived from ṭhag (ठग), which means deceiver, thief or swindler. (Thugs were professional thieves and assassins who operated in India from the 14th through the 19th centuries.) However, given how the word is now being used by right-wing media and politicians to describe just about every Black victim of racist violence, let’s assume it is being used as a substitute for the N-word, and never use it to refer to any person of color.
When Mary Trump started writing her very interesting book, Too Much Is Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, one of her biggest fears was that the Narcissist-in-Chief would be responsible for loss of life by wittingly or unwittingly starting a war. At the time, she had no idea that he would be responsible for a huge number of American deaths through his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But neither Mary Trump nor many other observers have focused on what I firmly believe to be true: that Trump is not just responsible for the thousands upon thousands of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Trump is, in fact, largely responsible for the entire global pandemic, and the millions of deaths, untold suffering and economic devastation that will ultimately result from it.
It has been widely reported that the White House ignored the pandemic response plan the Obama Administration left for the new administration. The Trump Administration later dismantled the federal government’s pandemic response team (the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense) in May 2018.
Around the same time, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before the U.S. Congress that “[w]hen you have a respiratory virus that can be spread by droplets and aerosol … there’s a degree of morbidity associated with that, you can have a catastrophe.” He went on to say, “We’ve experienced in [the] real world those types of things. The one we always talk about is the 1918 pandemic which killed between 50 and 100 million people.” Dr. Fauci couldn’t have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet he basically predicted the COVID-19 pandemic—and nobody in the Trump Administration listened.
Relatively less attention, however, has been paid to the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had a U.S. public health official—a medical epidemiologist—embedded in China’s disease control agency until the Administration eliminated the role in 2019.
The American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, “was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases,” according to an article from the Reuters news agency. She was forced to leave her post—officially known as Resident Adviser to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China—as the result of a bitter U.S.-China trade dispute that erupted in July 2019, during which it was announced that her position would be defunded and eliminated as of September 2019.
Had Dr. Quick remained in her position in China, she might have served as a valuable liaison between Chinese and U.S. officials when early signs of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in China’s Wuhan province in November 2019—the virus that causes the disease that has been dubbed COVID-19 (CO standing for “corona,” “VI” for “virus,” “D” for disease, and “19” for 2019, the year the virus and the disease emerged).
This is only speculation, of course, since there have been suggestions (which the Chinese government has disputed) that China was also negligent and delayed letting the rest of the world know about the gravity of the virus that emerged in Wuhan. But it’s possible that if Dr. Quick (or someone else in her position) had remained in China, she could, in fact, have alerted not only the U.S. but the rest of the world about the virus weeks earlier than Chinese officials did—and months earlier than the Trump Administration notified the American public. If so, the entire course of what became a worldwide pandemic could potentially have been suppressed.
For this reason, I say that the entire global COVID-19 pandemic is Donald Trump’s fault. I won’t even get into his Administration’s deplorable “response” (if you can call it that) to the crisis in the United States, where we have four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases.
Suffice it to say that the man has blood on his hands.
* * * * *
SOURCES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING (more or less in the order in which these topics are addressed above):
A friend posted this useful chart on her Facebook page today. It was created, and posted on Instagram, by a graphic designer. When I first looked at it, it made a lot of sense. It’s simple, easy to follow and clearly sets out the steps one should take after one gets tested for the COVID-19 virus.
Then I noticed one glaring issue that makes clear that this flow chart definitely did not originate in the United States. Before reading on—can you spot which chart applies to the United States, and which one applies to, you know, civilized countries?
Apparently, in Australia (which is where the chart’s creator, visual artist Beci Orpin, resides), state- or territory-level public health authorities contact each patient who gets a positive test result to instruct them on next steps. For example, in Victoria, it is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)—as listed in the chart above—that performs this function. The point is that in all Australian states and territories, there are public health workers who will follow up with infected patients and make sure they get the advice and care they need. There are also 31 public health networks (PHNs) that coordinate health services in local areas.
Here in the “greatest country in the world” we also have federal and state public health authorities, but their leadership and funding have been decimated, and they are certainly not contacting every person who tests positive for COVID-19. (Why would they? It’s not as if we have a national healthcare system in the United States. And it’s not as if we have a national strategy of comprehensive testing and tracing of COVID-19 cases.)
So I doctored up Beci Orpin’s chart to provide a US version. Good luck.
Trump has unleashed his secret federal police onto the streets of American cities. Ever since this president’s inauguration, many horrified American critics who could foresee what was coming have nonetheless been reluctant to use the “F” word (Fascism), much less compare Trump and his supporters to the “N” word (Nazi). But just as individuals (and countries) go bankrupt—in the words of Ernest Hemingway—“gradually, then suddenly,” so, too, do democracies slide into fascism gradually, and then suddenly.
Trump’s “secret” police force isn’t so secret anymore, since it has now been reported in multiple credible media outlets that he has been deploying paramilitary officers domestically from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), two components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He has done so by reassigning these officers to the Federal Protective Service (FPS). However, they remain anonymous on the streets, bearing no official government insignia or identification on their uniforms. When they confront protesters, they do not identify themselves. When they make arrests, the vehicles in which they take people away are unmarked.
All of these actions are signs of creeping fascism.
Though by their very nature, these paramilitary operatives are unnamed, they do in fact constitute a new kind of secret federal police. Where have we heard of this before? Let’s see. Remember something called the Gestapo? Yes, I’m going there. It may not be evident to most Americans, but Gestapo is not a German word. Instead, it is an acronym. GE stands for “geheime” which means “secret.” STA stands for “staats” which means “state” or “national” (which we would be more likely to term “federal” in the United States). And PO stands for “polizei” or “police.” So Gestapo stands for secret federal police.
The German Gestapo was created by Hermann Göring in 1933. It became a national agency in 1936, under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. The Gestapo engaged in extralegal and extrajudicial repression of any activity the Nazi Party considered unacceptable. You’ll recall that the Nazis weren’t defeated until 1945.
I shouldn’t have said “creeping” above. Fascism has long since crept its way into American daily life. We’ve moved beyond “gradually” and have arrived at “suddenly.” Anyone who is not terrified is not paying attention.
* * * * *
“How did you go bankrupt?” a fictional character named Mike is asked in a well-known American novel. “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.” Often misquoted, and misattributed, this quote comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises.
The always sharp and incisive Lawrence Reichard — a journalist and activist based in Maine — writes this “Letter from America” to the world. What exactly is happening here? Where will this all lead? I dearly hope his concluding line is prophetic.
* * * * *
July 23, 2020 Lawrence Reichard
It is an odd thing to live in the United States right now. The greatest empire in the history of the world has devolved into a twisted, macabre, grotesque caricature of itself, and the world looks on in astonishment and horror. My good, dear friend Heidi texts from Cologne, Germany about unidentified government agents snatching Black Lives Matter protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon and forcing them, with heavy weaponry, into unmarked vans. “This is fascism, no?” she writes. I reply. “Well, yes, it is.”
On night 52 of the Portland protests, a Wall of Moms shows up, to protect the protesters. Mothers in bicycle helmets facing off against government agents equipped for war. The agents wear camouflage, in a city, at night. The point isn’t to blend in — it’s to intimidate and frighten. And federal agents that normally guard the border tear gas the mothers. Mothers. That’s what we’ve come to as a country..
But it doesn’t work. Instead of scaring off protesters, protester ranks swell, as columnists around the country warn of creeping fascism.
It gets worse.
In the midst of a global pandemic, President Trump pulls out of the World Health Organization and threatens to cut funding to the CDC, something he already did well before the pandemic struck — despite clear warnings from the outgoing Obama administration that a pandemic would almost certainly strike at some point.
In October 2019, prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore ranked the US first among 195 countries in pandemic readiness, and number one in all six categories surveyed. Eight months later the US is number one in COVID-19 infections. Number one in deaths. And Trump, in astonishing tone-deafness, brags about the Hopkins study. With a population of 331 million, the US has 142,000 deaths. With a population of 95 million and four percent of US per capita GDP, Vietnam has zero deaths.
My good friend Peter Millard is an MD and epidemiologist. I tell him Trump could scarcely kill more people with COVID-19 if he tried. Peter agrees.
As COVID-19 tears through the South and Southwest, cities in Georgia try to mandate face masks in public, but Georgia Governor Brian Kemp blocks the move. Atlanta, the biggest city in Georgia, mandates masks anyway, and Kemp sues the city. In an extraordinary move, Kemp personally sues Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is isolating at home with COVID-19. In our greatest crisis since World War II, we’re at war with ourselves. We’re eating our own.
Kemp shouldn’t even be governor. In 2018, he stole the election against the dynamic, charismatic African American Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. Kemp was Georgia secretary of state from 2010 to 2018 and he oversaw the closing of 1,688 polling places and the purging of 340,000 voters. Kemp “won” the election by 54,763 votes.
A secretary of state overseeing an election in which he himself was a candidate. We have become a banana republic.
A secretary of state overseeing an election in which he himself was a candidate. We have become a banana republic.
On June 23, 2020, Kentucky held a primary election in which more than 95% of the state’s polling places were closed. Louisville, with a population of 600,000, had one polling place. The media barely noticed.
In a July 19 on-camera interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Trump refused to commit to respecting the outcome of his upcoming November 3 re-election bid.
And none of this is imagined, invented or exaggerated. I couldn’t possibly make this up.
But there are signs of hope. The Portland protests show no signs of ending. Or even slowing down. In the 58 days since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Floyd’s name has become known the world over and has ignited a global fight for racial justice and equality such as the world had never seen before.
Even corporate America is behind it. Even golf, game of the rich and the corporate. Golf tournaments on TV are now regularly interrupted by 30-second heartfelt racial justice messages delivered by black sports icons. As the messages say, there’s no turning back. Though events are still playing out, history has spoken. And Trump is lining up solidly on the wrong side of this history.
As stated in a New York Times opinion piece, Trump knows only one song. It’s a song of anger, resentment, bitterness, hate and division. But it’s not playing. Trump’s numbers are in veritable free fall and he may take Republican control of the senate with him, reducing Senate Majority leader, kingmaker, and Trump enabler Mitch McConnell to a backbench status little above that of the teenage senate pages that scurry around the chamber floor delivering messages here and there.
History suggests Trump may be heading for the biggest defeat in 231 years of US presidential elections, perhaps eclipsing incumbent Richard Nixon’s 60.7% to 37.5% thrashing of George McGovern in 1972.
The strain is showing. Trump has for decades craved public praise and adulation, and now he faces the biggest test of public approval of his life. Will he respect the November results? He is already laying the groundwork for not accepting them. He has already said the election will be fraudulent, because of mail-in ballots, something the US has used for more than 150 years, and which Trump himself uses.
But Trump may have made a key mistake. On June 1, Trump used tear gas to clear a path through a peaceful protest for the sake of an election-style photo op, holding up a bible — upside down — in front of a Washington church. This from a man who rarely goes to church. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper went with him. Both men later said they didn’t know where they were going or for what purpose. It’s hard to say what’s more shocking: that they — the country’s highest military figures — didn’t know where they were going, or that they publicly admitted they didn’t know.
But the damage was done. Trump had humiliated these career military officers before the world.
In another extraordinary move, both men later expressed regret, for being duped and for allowing themselves to be used as campaign props. And in a point missed by American media, Black Lives Matter likely played a role in those remarkable mea culpas, as BLM has unleashed a global tsunami of reckoning.
Those public expressions of regret must have been deeply humiliating to Trump, but the man who has tweeted 200 times in one day, was silent on this abject rebuke of his rule. The rebuke was reminiscent of congressional testimony earlier in the Trump era in which a high-ranking Pentagon official assured a congressional committee the military would not let Trump get the country into an ill-advised war. It is a measure of the surreal nature of these times that such unprecedented testimony barely raised an eyebrow in the US media.
Given all this, it’s hard to imagine the military would allow Trump to not abide by November’s verdict. But all indications are that Trump doesn’t have the requisite fortitude anyway. Trump has threatened military action against Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, but aside from the seemingly endless US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan — which he inherited — all Trump has done in three and a half years is bomb a far corner of a Syrian air force base where there were, perhaps by design, no Syrian forces. And when peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside the White House, Trump hid in a White House basement bunker intended for use in nuclear war. Trump later claimed he was inspecting the bunker, a claim widely ridiculed in the media.
No, Donald Trump won’t refuse to leave if he loses. He doesn’t have the guts.
As I wrote in my post yesterday (July 21), the law enforcement personnel Trump has deployed on the streets of Portland, Oregon (and has promised to deploy in Chicago, New York and other cities “run by liberal democrats”) come from two sub-agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These are two of three new immigration agencies (the third being U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS) that were created within DHS when it absorbed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which had been part of the Department of Justice.
Evident in the very names of these two agencies is the fact that their mandates are to enforce immigration and customs-related laws—both at the border (CBP) and in the interior (ICE) of the United States. So why are two immigration agencies being used to patrol the streets in a city that is not on an international border, and to make arrests having nothing to do with immigration or customs enforcement?
As I mentioned yesterday, I think the main reason is that Trump has been rebuffed in his desire to use the military for these types of operations. So he turned to a politicized agency that, by the way, is already the country’s largest federal law enforcement organization, with more than 60,000 law enforcement officers on its payroll. Moreover, unlike other federal law enforcement agencies—such as the FBI, the DEA or the ATF, which have specific domains of authority defined by federal statute—DHS’s statutory authority includes the discretion to transfer agents from one component of DHS to another. The administration is taking advantage of this loophole to second CBP and ICE officers to the Federal Protective Service (FPS), a federal agency whose job is to protect federal property.
But there is another, more insidious reason why it should not surprise us that Trump is using armed border patrol and other immigration enforcement officers as his storm troopers. As Dina Haynes, Professor at New England Law, writes, “Racist, regressive leaders around the world have been instrumentalizing racism, discrimination, and ‘othering’ to further their nativist goals.” Immigrants were Trump’s first scapegoats, but it’s an easy next step to scapegoat anyone who challenges his authority by suggesting that they, too, are somehow “others” who seek to destroy our country. The administration has been quite successful in instrumentalizing anti-immigrant sentiment to justify expanding administrative authority. (This in an administration that purportedly wants to “deconstruct the administrative state.”) The result is the sort of authoritarian crackdowns we are now seeing, including in Portland, where the administration is using national security rhetoric to justify letting DHS operate far beyond its jurisdictional limitations.
In a Facebook post where Angelo A. Paparelli, a highly respected immigration lawyer, posted without comment a New York Times opinion piece about what’s happening in Portland (see Michelle Goldberg’s great column, “Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun”), a contrarian commenter started right in by suggesting that Angelo must “love anarchy” and “hate America.” Nothing in his post, or in his history, would suggest anything of the sort. Why do Trumpers so often resort to this kind of rhetoric? And it rarely helps to respond with facts and figures. These Kool-Aid drinkers have long since absorbed the Orwellian dictate, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Remember, Trump himself said in 2018, “Just remember what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Yes, it’s all fake news—except when it suits him. Then it’s all the Democrats’ fault.
My friend and fellow immigration law warrior Rebecca Eichler recently posted the image I am sharing here. It’s a relevant update of the famous prose poem by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Fascism is here. In America. Today. The question is: will you resist, or will you collaborate?
* * * * *
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING (more or less in the order in which the related topics are discussed above):
If you aren’t already reading Heather Cox Richardson‘s daily newsletters, I highly recommend them. She is a professor of American history who brilliantly puts current US events into historical context. She also broadcasts live on Facebook twice a week, and in today’s video she connects the dots to demonstrate how Trump is using the Department of Homeland Security to create a false narrative about violent anarchists on the streets in Portland (and soon other cities as well) in order to scare people into voting for him in November.
Keep in mind that to date, the worst the protesters in Portland have done is spray graffiti on some government buildings and deface a statue commemorating the Confederacy. Meanwhile, unmarked, heavily armed federal officers have cracked skulls and swept peaceful protesters off the streets into unmarked vans. Is this the kind of country any of us wants to live in? A place where the government engages in extrajudicial violence and disappearances?
The military, for all its faults, is an essentially apolitical (not to mention disciplined) institution. After the debacle where Trump manipulated the military into clearing the streets near the White House of protesters so that he could pose with a bible in front of a nearby church, military leaders made it clear that they would not let themselves be used like that again.
So now Trump is using law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security — especially two of its sub-agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — to serve as his storm troopers. DHS is a thoroughly political institution, created by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, and CBP and ICE, which are both full of virulently right-wing white supremacists, are more than willing to do Trump’s bidding.
In 2016 (and again in 2018), it was caravans of supposedly violent immigrants who were said to pose a national security threat to our country. (Funny how news of the caravans essentially disappeared after the elections.) In 2020, it will be purportedly violent anarchists in — wait for it — Democratically-led cities who allegedly pose an existential threat to our democracy. The language to this effect that 45 used in his recent “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence” is extraordinarily deceptive, incendiary and dangerous. When has a nation’s government ever gone to such lengths to protect monuments to traitors? The so-called violent left-wing extremist is just a straw man. The real threat comes from the government-sanctioned brown shirts on our streets.
Richardson also makes the point that although most presidents want to be re-elected (except for the few, like LBJ, who chose not to run for a second term), the lengths to which Trump is going to gain re-election is unprecedented in American history. After all, what’s the worst that can happen if a president is not re-elected? That he (or, someday, she) is condemned to a life of too much golf and millions of dollars in lecture circuit earnings? It’s not a bad gig.
But in Trump’s case, something worse awaits him, as it is almost certain that once he leaves office, he will be subject to multiple criminal charges. The only thing protecting him from indictment now is a Department of Justice policy (it’s not even a law) that a sitting president cannot be subject to criminal charges. So he is using all of the government resources at his disposal to distract the populace from his disastrous lack of leadership that has allowed a virulent coronavirus to kill thousands of Americans, and to convince the electorate that only he can save us from the violent overthrow of the US government.
It’s all utterly despicable, and leaves me in deep despair. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is stripping the country for parts while they have the chance. We are living through the end of the American Century, brought to you by our sponsor, Trump Inc.