As the damaging and absurd government shutdown continues with no end in sight, it’s time to take stock of its central premise. Is it fundamentally about national security? No. Is it fundamentally about immigration policy? No. It’s fundamentally about racism. Trump is determined to keep his reputation as the tough guy who stands up for white people who want to keep out brown people.
As Trump and his Republican enablers try to advance ex post facto justifications for the border wall and the shutdown, let’s get underneath the specious claims of the apologists.
If this was really about national security, we’d be talking about intelligence, radicalization, countering violent extremism by disrupting networks and modernizing terrorist watchlists. No serious national security expert obsesses about a border wall. As former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas Rasmussen wrote, “for every dollar spent on a $5 billion southern border wall, American public safety could benefit exponentially more from spending it on counterterrorism elsewhere.”
If this was really about immigration policy, we’d be talking about modernizing our outdated immigration system in order to create a regulatory regime that manages immigration intelligently rather than represses it ineffectively. We would be talking about the need to synergize, 1) the legalization of undocumented immigrants already here; 2) legal immigration reforms that respect rather than ignore market realities and family dynamics; and 3) targeted enforcement that levels the labor market playing field for all concerned such that immigrants are here legally, employers can hire them legally and labor rights are enforced equitably.
So, what is this border wall shutdown all about? It’s about a memory device concocted by campaign operatives Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg. It’s about a racist rally chant. It’s about Trump appealing to white grievance by saying he is going to keep out the brown people with a medieval wall. It’s about appealing to the lowest instincts of his base voters with the simplest and stupidest of prescriptions. It’s about Trump’s implied promise to stop the demographic changes underway to make America white again.
This brings us to the faux outrage by Republicans in Congress toward Rep. Steve King (R-IA). After years of racist comments and policy proposals from the Iowa bomb thrower, Republicans have decided to make King a sacrificial lamb. They seem determined to tell all those suburban voters they lost in 2018, “look at us, we are against racism, come back.” Meanwhile, just about all Republicans in Congress enable and coddle the wall-obsessed President, the man who has employed virulent racism and xenophobia to get elected in 2016, to mobilize Republican voters in 2018, and to appease the right-wing talkers that has now led us into the longest shut down in American history.
As former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes on Jan. 14, in a Washington Post column entitled, Republicans need to condemn Trump’s brazen bigotry: “If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP’s relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness … By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.’”
The real reckoning with racism in the GOP may start with Steve King but must move quickly to Donald Trump. A good place to start would be to stand up to the President, reopen the government and engage in good faith debates about national security and immigration policy.
That this prospect seems so distant and unimaginable tells us all we need to know about the cancer of racism that is rotting the Republican party from the inside out.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of América’s Voice.
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