Two Un-Asked Questions on the Immigration Scandal

It is altogether fitting and proper that the key concern with the Trump administration’s immigration policy is the separation of children from their families.  As it pertains to what is a misdemeanor crime, that policy is unconscionable and utterly despicable on every level.  And, while the buck must stop at Trump’s desk, this administration is busily trying to pass it both upward and leftward, simultaneously.  Meanwhile, an ineffectual Congress has failed to bring this sorry chapter in American history to a close, and must shoulder much of the blame for enabling Trump, themselves.

Lost in the finger pointing, twitter storming, xenophobic fascist ranting of Trump and his minions, are two key questions which have thus far gone un-asked by the media and by the American people.  The questions are simple; the answers could speak volumes about the nation we are becoming and the future we might have to endure.

A few days ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her function as Trump’s Press Secretary, conducted a press conference in which she was repeatedly asked to explain the policy of removing illegal immigrant children from their parents.  She never managed to give a plausible explanation, and confused the actual law with administration policy.  At one point, still referring to their policy as law, she stated that “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”  Coming on the heels of Jeff Sessions’ citing of the bible and Romans 13, “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes” (a verse that has previously been used as a defense for slavery), the first of our questions should have immediately been asked by the assembled press.

That question is simply, this:  In a nation established on many principles, one of which is a strict separation of church and state, how can any policy of our government be justified by an interpretation of bible doctrine? 

The bible has no more place in the workings of our government than your daily horoscope or the fortune cookie from your lunch.  Ultimately, basing our system of government on the bible or any other manner of religious text, amounts to the abrogation of the single most important of our rights, the third article of the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That third article is at once the one that establishes our individual freedom to practice a religious faith, or to not practice one at all.  Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Druid or atheist, all are equal and all are free to practice their religion free from interference by the government.  It is, in equal parts, a freedom of religion (ours) and a freedom from religion (yours).  For that reason, for the sake of living in a nation where all of us are created and treated equally, religion must be kept out of the running of our government.  This is an issue which should be of the utmost importance to atheist and believer alike.  Once a nation adopts a state sponsored religion, all others are subject to  censure (think Iran) and those people “not of the faith” become blasphemers. 

What is the current administration really doing by citing the bible as justification of their policies?  They are passing the buck, upward.  That buck which should stop at Trump’s desk is now laid at the feet of God.  “God says that this should be so.”  Folks, this is the first rung on the ladder leading to a Christian form of Sharia law.  It is the process by which the necessary humanity of our law is pushed aside and our lawmakers are absolved of all responsibility or culpability for inhumane practices and policies.  It is also well worth noting that the areas of bible doctrine most frequently quoted come from the Old Testament, the “thou shalt nots” which routinely strip civil liberties from those governed.

The second question, which has yet to be pressed upon the administration, is one which, when answered thoughtfully, would reframe our understanding of the underlying implications of this malign policy.  Why are we vilifying and turning away these immigrants at this point in time?

The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that these immigrants bring with them criminal behavior, and more importantly, take jobs away from American workers.  Neither of these allegations holds any water.

A 2016 article from the Migration Policy Institute (link below), indicates that of the 11 million people living in this country illegally, some 820,000 of them possess a criminal record, but only 300,000 of them have a felony conviction and 390,000 were serious misdemeanants whose crimes merited modest jail time or community service.  In terms of percentages, 7.5% of the illegals in this country have some manner of criminal record, 2.7% have a felony conviction and 3.5% have a misdemeanor with jail time.  By comparison, about 8.6% of the American adult population has a felony conviction.  All things considered, your illegal immigrant neighbor is somewhat more likely to raise the quality of behavior in your neighborhood, not lower it.

That leaves us with the jobs which illegal immigrants are scamming from honest, hard-working Americans.  What jobs are those?  Operating under the assumption that these illegal immigrants are coming into this country without papers and are not on the social security rolls, the jobs that they are taking are predominantly “under the table,” working as restaurant help, picking fruits and vegetables, serving as day laborers, and usually, working for less than minimum wage.  What American wants those jobs?  What American could afford to live on those jobs?

When we frame the question, “Why is illegal immigration a problem, right now?,” we should look backward and ask, “Has it been a problem, before?”  During the 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, it was not perceived as a problem.  Back then, the average American household did quite well on a single wage-earner’s income, bought a house, fed a family, paid its bills and sent kids to college.  Immigrant laborers brought down the costs of our fruit and vegetables, and our dinners out.  But illegal immigration was perceived as a problem in the 1930’s, during the depression and dustbowl era, when millions of American citizens had no jobs and were struggling just to make ends meet for their next meal.  When American workers had to pick cotton, fruit and vegetables because there were no other jobs, and were willing to do so for starvation wages, then those immigrant workers became unwanted competition.  And here we are today, where families with two wage earners are having a hard time paying their bills, are renting because they can’t afford to buy, or are watching their homes being foreclosed upon as their savings erode.  Truth be told, if we take the long view of the American standard of living (despite the assurances of this and prior administrations), it has been in a reasonably steady decline for the past forty years.  If our leaders were to reverse this trend by bringing meaningful jobs to this country and putting us back on top of the heap as an industrial superpower, the concerns about migrant labor would vanish overnight.

As much as I hate to do so, I have to quote Bill Clinton on this one; “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Of course, Clinton did his own part to wreck that same economy, send our jobs overseas and, in his own way, pin the blame on the immigrant.  This is not  a problem owned solely by Trump; his is just the most malicious approach to it.   

The problem is that the trend in our nation toward a service economy based on crappier and crappier, low paying jobs, is not one which is likely to be reversed, any time soon.  The stranglehold on wealth in this country which sees it moving inexorably to the top, based on fossil fuels, big pharma, health care, armaments, war and the variants of the insurance industries, is only tightening.  American jobs are not coming home from overseas.  And now we can add to that shortlist, the physical management of human beings.  Under Clinton, we saw the advent of the privatized prison system, one in which many of our leaders (including Attorney General Jeff Sessions) are reputedly invested.  There is a lot of money to be made in the incarceration business.  And right now, there are people and corporations making large sums of money separating children from their parents in policy maneuvers which strive to make felonious that which were previously misdemeanor crimes.

It is up to us to demand of our journalists, our fourth estate which purportedly is there to keep us informed and hold our leaders accountable, that they ask the questions that really matter, the ones that point to the underlying truths about the workings of our government and the influence over same that wealthy corporations, individuals and institutions hold.  Too often, those journalists are striving for the sensational, because it sells papers (and more importantly, advertising).  But it is in the nitty-gritty details that we find the mechanisms shaping our own future.  What will that future be?  One where justice is meted out based on a 2000 year old text?  One of detention camps, work camps and xenophobia run amuck?  That decision is still ours, if we have the fortitude to make it.

Bill Clinton on illegal immigration:


Feeling Sorry for Donald Trump

It has been a busy week for Donald Trump, and the wheels look to be coming off the wagon.  With the firing of Steve Bannon, the resignation of Carl Icahn, and now the resignation en masse of the entire Council on the Arts & Humanities, the Trump administration is running out of eyes to blacken.  Add those names to the growing list of fired or resigned cabinet members, and we see in just how much disarray this administration really is.  Since taking office in January, he has already fired or seen skedaddle Michael Flynn (National Security adviser), Derek Harvey (Middle East adviser for National Security Council), James Comey (FBI Director), Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff), Walter Shaub (Office of Government Ethics Director), Anthony Scaramucci (Communications Director – the second such of this administration), and Sean Spicer (Press Secretary).

In a way, you have to feel sorry for the guy.  And I do, I truly do.  Don’t get me wrong, as a human being, the Trump we have come to know is a detestable, boorish, creep.  He has earned that on his own merits.  His knowledge of the workings of the world and of the historical context in which it needs to be understood, are almost invariably wrong.  He can’t seem to be bothered with half-truths; he has launched himself headlong into absolute irrationality.  For most of us, we have to scratch our heads and ask, “How could anyone think that?”

And that is the important question.  That is where our lesson needs to be learned.  The next time it is suggested that we have to elect an extremely wealthy “businessman” to the Presidency, “because he will understand the economy,”  we should ride that messenger out of town, on a rail, tarred and feathered.  In our history, we have elected eight men to the office of the Presidency who came to us from the world of business.  Of the eight, only two will be remembered favorably, and only one of them for the actions taken while he was in office. 

It would take three hundred or more pages to accurately dissect the administrations of these men, so I’ll have to paraphrase it here, running the highlight reel.  The first was Warren G. Harding (#29), who died in office after just two years and left us most notably with the Teapot Dome Scandal, wherein his administration had leased Navy petroleum reserves to private oil companies, without a competitive bidding process.  In other words, his administration was turning a buck by selling off that which they managed but did not own, a prime example of early venture capitalism.

Harding was followed by Calvin Coolidge (#30), who proclaimed that “The business of America is business,” when the rest of the country was operating under the vague notion that the business of America was supposed to be freedom and government of and by the people.  Coolidge oversaw the deregulation of large corporate interests as government shifted to working for the corporation, and put in place the policies that would lead to the Stock Market Crash in 1929.

Herbert Hoover (Hoobert Heever) (#31) inherited Coolidge’s America and managed to shepherd the country from the 1929 Crash, straight into the Great Depression.  He will never be remembered as anything but an abject failure as an administrator.

Harry Truman (#33) became president on the death of Franklin Roosevelt and proved to be a very able administrator indeed.  Nicknamed “Hydromatic Harry (a shiftless son-of-a-bitch)” while in office, he has none-the-less come to be regarded as one of our better Presidents, implementing the Marshall Plan for the restoration of Europe (which made the United States the world’s #1 industrial power), the creation of NATO and the founding of the UN, and negotiating the early stages of the Cold War between the Russians, Chinese and ourselves.  It is important to note that as a “businessman,” Truman was a small-businessman, the owner of a haberdashery.

Jimmy Carter (#39) will also be remembered well, but not for his time in office.  Carter is a fine human being who has sought to lead by example, well into his nineties.  But his administration was a disaster of epic proportions, including staggering double digit inflation, the botched Iranian hostage rescue and a cabinet of ill-informed people, particularly in terms of foreign policy, who bungled our reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and furthered the decline of our global position throughout the middle east (the Camp David Accords notwithstanding).  His business?  We all remember that Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, not an oil man or a real estate mogul.

G.H.W Bush (#41) came to us as big oil money and a “thousand points of light,” but managed to steer us into NAFTA, the first Gulf War (which, to his credit, was superbly prosecuted), and an economic recession with a recovery so weak that we elected a hillbilly to the office in his place. 

Of course, GW Bush (#43), scion of GHW Bush, the elder, led us into Afghanistan, the second Iraq War and the “global war on terror,” while surrounding himself with the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Haliburton.  We continue to dig out from that morass, today.

And now we have Trump (#45), born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his daddy’s fortune in his hip pocket.  The ultimate “businessman.” Real estate tycoon, steak salesman, casino mogul, beauty pageant impresario, and TV game show host.  Sounds legit.  But here we are, barely eight months into his four year hitch, and the rats are fleeing the sinking ship while he continues to drill holes into it to let the water out.

And I feel sorry for the guy. 

I feel sorry for Trump in the same way that I feel sorry for all these other richer-than-you-could-ever-imagine schnooks (popularly referred to as the 1%).  You see, in his life, Trump has never needed to be right.  When you have that kind of money, you can do anything you want, think anything you want, believe any cockamamie idea that comes down the pike, and you’ll still come out fine.  Fortune Magazine ran an article on him in 2015 which demonstrated that the man who is worth an estimated $5 billion would have been worth as much as $13 billion if he had just put his money in an index fund and sat on it ( ).  In other words, his bungled business ventures have cost him almost $8 billion, but he is too damn rich to even notice.

By contrast, look at a small businessman like Harry Truman.  Anyone who has ever owned or managed a small business can tell you that they can’t afford to be wrong.  One error in judgement, one bad investment, one failed advertising campaign, can set a small business back or even force it under. 

While Americans applaud the brashness and financial devil-may-care attitude of the fabulously wealthy (politicians or celebs, is there a difference?), what we consistently see from these people is that they operate on a set of misapprehensions that would confound anyone with a decent, twelfth grade education.  By all means, plop these folks down in a reality TV show, so we can kick back, point at the screen and have a laugh at their expense.  But don’t expect these people to make decisions on your health care, on your civil liberties, or give them the keys to the nuclear arsenal. 

In the end, I feel sorry for Donald Trump, not as a president with an administration destined for the shredder, but as a failed human being.  Boor, loudmouth, creep, however you wish to think of him, Donald Trump, in my estimation, is a stupid person, stupid in the sense of possessing a profound ignorance about damn near everything.  In an alternate universe, he might be an eighth grade dropout, panhandling on a street in a major city, unable to read a classified ad and find even minimum wage work.  He might be someone convinced that the moon landing was faked, that the sun orbits the earth, or that the planet is just 6000 years old. 

Instead, he is someone in a finely tailored suit, with a much younger, very attractive wife, a perpetual “whatever!” expression and the might of the world’s most powerful military behind him.  But none of that fixes stupid.  He clings to the belief that climate change is a Chinese hoax, that there is some manner of equivalency between nazis and the decent people who stood up to them in Charlottesville, that our own LGBTQ community poses a threat to our military, that immigrants are destroying our country and its economy, and that we can bomb our enemies into democracy and friendship.  I am saddened by his ignorance, not just for the sake of our country, but for the sake of a man who will live out the rest of his life, wallowing in money and never comprehending all of the things which can not be bought.  One appellation for Trump would be to call him a “cynic,” a person who believes that people are motivated by self-interest alone, and not by a sense of honor or for other unselfish reasons.   Or as Oscar Wilde defined, a cynic “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  Today, we are paying the price for Trump and seeing that there is indeed no value in him.  He has become pathetic.