If Trumpism is what Christianity has to offer, I’ll happily go to hell

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Jesus Christ:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday offered a full-throated defense of the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border, saying that having kids does not give migrants immunity from prosecution — and found justification for his policies in the Bible.

In his remarks, Sessions hit back at the “concerns raised by our church friends about separating families,” calling the criticism “not fair or logical” and quoting scripture in his defense of the administration’s tough policies.

“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Sarah Sanders doubled down.

What would Jesus do? Rip families away from their children, apparently.

For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, 36I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

I guess that kind of stuff is just for liberal snowflakes.

To the Christians who support this stuff: This is your witness. All of us are imperfect — we all fall short of the glory of God, as it were — but seriously: People are forming their view of your God, your faith, based on your support of this man and his cruel policies.

I don’t think that fairly represents your God or your faith. Some among you don’t think so either.

But let’s say Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders are right, and I’m wrong: That the tearing apart of families is precisely the kind of thing God is in favor of.

Well: I want no part of that religion. Not even if that God is the end-all be-all power of the universe. I’d rather go to hell than worship such cruelty.

Luckily, I don’t think that’s the case. And I think you follow Trump because you want so badly to defend your freedom to practice your faith as you see it. But you’re inflicting wounds on your church in the process. It’s not too late to change.

The Feds took her child — while she was breastfeeding

9 Common Breastfeeding Myths: Breast Milk Quality and Quantity
Now, imagine a federal agent ripping the baby away in this very moment.

Good God:

The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.

When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed, Natalia Cornelio, the attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, recalled from her interview with the woman, who had been detained under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer anyone caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution.

Once again: If you support this, I don’t want to hear a damn thing about your pro-life beliefs.

Put another way: If you’re a person who complains about government tyranny when OSHA makes you file safety plans in triplicate, but you’re cool with this, you lack all moral sense.

A friend gently admonished me a few days ago after I lamented America’s lack of mercy. “Turning the cheek is what Jesus and the apostles taught and modeled on a personal level. They understood and taught that government needed to be tough at times. I wish you were able and willing to make that crucial distinction.”

I am able to make that distinction. But there are moral limits: Otherwise there are no Nuremberg trials, no mocking invocations of “just following orders.” There are legal limits: The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” which would seem to include ripping a baby from her mother’s arms while breastfeeding — but conservatives famously (and conveniently) interpret that provision with absurd narrowness.

In America, at least, government supposedly serves at the behest of its citizens. When an agent rips a breastfeeding baby from its mother’s arms, it does so on our behalf. And the people who do the ripping — they’re not automatons. They’re people, with their own independent moral agency. I wonder what the agent in this story did that night. Did he or she go home, have dinner with family, help son or daughter with homework?

Was he or she even slightly troubled by taking a baby from its mother?

How do they justify this?

America, like any  country, has a right to set immigration limits and enforce them. But as I’ve said before, the Trumpian methods of enforcing the border may be — morally, if not legally — a greater crime than crossing the border without permission.

A key feature of any crime worthy of the name, it seems to me, is that the act of committing it is clearly and negatively disruptive, either to an individual life — a person may be injured, killed, deprived of property or merely their sense of well-being — or to the community at large. (Indeed the disruption to an individual is seen as a disruption to the community: That’s why criminal prosecutions are carried out in the name of the state, rather than individual victims.)

It’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration is a somewhat arbitrary crime. We know instinctively if somebody’s committed a crime when robbery or a murder or an assault takes place; these crimes have been understood and punished throughout the history of humanity. Immigration? There’s a lot of legislative negotiating that goes into deciding where the lines are drawn. Illegal immigration isn’t a crime because the conscience is shocked by it so much as it’s a crime because a committee somewhere decided that it is.

In this understanding, one understands that ripping a baby from its mother does far more harm than her crossing of a border.

In this understanding, one understands deporting a young man who has no memory of his native country is hurtful and unnecessary.

In this understanding, one sees that robbing a community of people who have become its members — business owners, workers, classmates — is more disruptive to a community than failing to have paperwork in line.

Every family separated, every grandparent deported, every Dreamer who is left to rot in an unfamiliar country — they are wounds we are inflicting on ourselves. We can’t see it yet. But we will.

Not-war is better than war


“Hooray for President Trump.”

Yes, I did write those words at The Week today, but please, please, stick with me on this.

See the point of the column is to suggest that Trump sucks, but that not-war is better than war. And if Trump somehow stumbled into not-war at the Singapore summit, I’ll take it. Preferable to the deaths of innocents.

The key:

The details of the agreement matter less than the the fact that war fever seems to have cooled. Trump can claim victory and go back to being a disastrous president in virtually every other respect. For the moment, he seems to have averted a war that was looking increasingly likely. And sure, it was probably a mix of ill-considered bravado, ego, and ignorance that led him to this result. The process was never going to be pretty.

What’s more: History suggests that a few months or years from now, this president or his successor will realize that North Korea has done little or nothing to denuclearize, and it’s possible we’ll re-enter the cycle of threats and cajoling that has long defined the U.S.-North Korea relationship.

But for now we’re not going to war. That’s good. Hooray.

Some people are reading the column as praise for Trump, but that’s only true in a very, very backhanded fashion.

‘We’re America, bitch’: Mercilessness in the 21st century

We Americans are a terrible, merciless people.

I don’t think that’s what anybody wants to hear. I hate saying it. It’s a declaration that won’t make me popular, and I’m certain some of my conservative friends will roll their eyes — or worse — and suggest I’ve finally decided to join the  “blame America first” crowd. I guess I’ll live with that.

Because the evidence is increasingly incontrovertible. Here is the latest:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that fear of domestic violence is not legal grounds for asylum in a closely watched immigration case that could have a broad effect on the asylum process, women who have endured extreme violence and the independence of immigration judges.

Mr. Sessions reversed a decision by a Justice Department immigration appeals court that had given asylum to a woman from El Salvador who had been raped and abused by her husband. The appeals court decision had overruled earlier orders in similar cases.

This, of course, follows last week’s Justice Department ruling that there is no legal distinction between being an enthusiastic member of a terror group and a person who was forced to do slave labor for that group.

Which follows the Trump Administration’s decision to “discourage” immigration by separating parents from their children as a matter of deliberate, cruel policy.

And that, of course, follows two years backlash against refugees of all stripes — a backlash that preceded Donald Trump, led in part by then-Gov. Sam Brownback. Brownback, who is now Trump’s “ambassador for international religious freedom.” (That’s a sentence that feels like ashes in my mouth.)

In other words: This utter absence of mercy — this is who we are, we Americans. This absence of mercy is one of the defining qualities of our governance and rhetoric in the Trumpian Era. (And oh, dear God, I am guilty. I am guilty.) This mercilessness is delivered in our name, on our behalf, by a president loved and applauded by many of America’s best-known Christians.

The news of Sessions’ decision comes, not incidentally, as this little nugget reached the public view:

The best distillation of the Trump Doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking. I was talking to this person several weeks ago, and I said, by way of introduction, that I thought it might perhaps be too early to discern a definitive Trump Doctrine.

“No,” the official said. “There’s definitely a Trump Doctrine.”

“What is it?” I asked. Here is the answer I received:

“The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.”

That the Trump Doctrine should be summarized in misogynistic terms is, of course, no surprise. And it gets to the heart of everything about this administration — and the country Donald Trump defines: An overconfident phallocentric swagger that plays best on a teen nighttime soap, but which — again — displays no qualities of mercy.

This is who we are. This is how we’ll be remembered. This is what we’ll be lying about to our grandchildren when they ask what we did during this era. All we can do is hope that those same grandchildren show us the mercy we’re withholding from those who need it so much.

And if they don’t: It’s no better than what we deserve.



Kris Kobach is using the Census to hasten Kansas’ political decline

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Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state known for his anti-immigration activism, is quoted in a New York Times story that describes his lobbying for a 2020 Census question to determine which US residents are citizens. This, I think, is very interesting:

In the email to Mr. Ross, Mr. Kobach urged the addition of the question, saying that including undocumented immigrants in the decennial count of the United States population would, among other things, lead to the problem “that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

I’ll leave the citizenship question alone for now, except to note that its inclusion in the 2020 Census is opposed by nearly everyone but Kobach types. Here is what I find interesting:

• Kobach is running for Kansas governor.

• Kansas population is growing so slowly, the state might lose a congressional seat after the Census. But it might not.

• A big reason Kansas’ population has grown in recent Censuses (Censi?) is the rise of non-citizen immigrants, mostly those who work for meat-packing plants in the southwest part of the state.

Between 2000 and 2010, for example, the state’s population grew by 165,000 residents. Nearly 112,000 of those new residents were Hispanic.

Lose them, and there’s a much bigger chance Kansas loses a congressional seat.

Maybe that should happen anyway: There’s a democratic argument that political power should move, like people, to the cities and away from rural areas — and the fact it hasn’t is one reason we now have Donald Trump for president.

But it’s weird for a man who would be Kansas governor to offer arguments that would, on their face, hasten the state’s political decline. I guess Kobach is consistent in his anti-immigrant fervor, which props for intellectual honesty. But that fervor now appears likely to come at the expense of the state he seeks to govern. It’s an odd decision.

The immoral incoherence of Trumpist immigration policy (or: Donald Trump really does like people who didn’t get captured)

The Board of Immigration Appeals has decided that an El Salvadoran woman, “A-C-M” in court documents, should be removed from the United States because she poses a threat to security — she once received “military type weapons training” from  an El Salvadoran guerrilla group the US designated as terrorists way back in 1990, and US law allows the removal of migrants when “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is a danger to the security of the United States.”

Sounds reasonable, no?


The problem? The woman offered “undisputed testimony that she was kidnapped by guerillas in El Salvador in 1990 and was coerced into undergoing weapons training and performing forced labor in the form of cooking, cleaning, and washing their clothes.”

In other words: Nobody disputes that the woman was forced into a life of servitude.

It gets worse: “The respondent was forced to witness her husband, a sergeant in the Salvadoran Army, dig his own grave before being killed.” If anybody deserves pity, surely it’s this woman.

Not according to the Trump Administration

The government’s response? There is no “self-defense or duress exception” to the law enabling deportation for serving with terrorist groups. There is — according to the Trump Administration — no legal distinction between between being the victim or perpetrator of a crime.

Read the decision here. The case hinges on whether the woman provided “material support” for the guerrilla group. Since she did the work, the majority of the BOIA decides, she’s gotta go.

Donald Trump once dismissed John McCain’s time as POW by saying “I like people who weren’t captured.” Now his government is turning that sentiment into policy.

A dissenting member of BOIA notes: “Individuals arriving in this country from ‘some of the most dangerous and chaotic places on earth . . . may not have been able to avoid all contact with terrorist groups and their members, but we should not interpret the statute to exclude on this basis those who did not provide ‘material’ support to them,’ since ‘[m]any deserving asylum-seekers could be barred otherwise.’

Does anybody doubt that’s the point?

To interpret the law in such a fashion is to leave one’s moral sense at the dry cleaners while at the office: It is foolish at best, immoral at worst. Given that Donald Trump is in charge, I think we can assume that both are true.

The Constitutional crisis? Donald Trump has no shame.

Trump Shameless

I have a new piece up at TheWeek.com, arguing that the Founders designed presidential pardon power with the idea that presidents would be too ashamed to use that power badly.

A glance at the Federalist Papers tells us two important things about the president’s pardon power: First, that it was expected the power would be used to correct injustices — including cases where the law had fallen too hard upon someone who was properly convicted. Second: The Founders expected the president’s temptation to misuse his pardon power would be tempered by the fact that, well, he wouldn’t want to look like he was misusing his pardon power.

“The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74. “The dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind.”

In other words: A responsible president wouldn’t want the public shame of granting an unjust pardon.

Trump’s not really known for his responsibility, though, is he?

James Madison famously wrote: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The idea is that the Constitution is built to check and balance bad behavior.

But in the case of a president who might want to pardon himself for high crimes and misdemeanors, it’s not at all clear the Constitution does that. The Founders were relying on officeholders not to be good, but to want to avoid the public criticism that goes with overt acts of self-dealing. The incentives make sense. They just didn’t anticipate the utter shamelessness of Donald Trump.