Why Should Mexico Pay for Trump’s Wall?

Hi Rebecca:

Looks like we’re on the verge of an extraordinary moment: The Republicans control the White House and both branches of government, yet the government might still shut down this weekend.

Why? Because President Trump doesn’t want to sign a spending bill that doesn’t include funding for his “big beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico. And it doesn’t look like such a bill can pass Congress at the moment. Thus: A standoff.

Some folks have pointed out Trump’s request for funding means he’s violating his campaign pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall. (Trump and his allies say those payments will come, eventually, just you wait.) And that’s fine. But nobody seems to have asked a basic question: Why should Mexico pay for Trump’s wall?

This isn’t the same as asking if Mexico will pay for the wall, which is a dubious premise on its own. No, the question is why they should.

Say you and I live next door to each other. I put up a fence to keep our properties separate. Would there be any world we can dream of in which I’d legitimately expect you to pay for my decision to defend my property?

No?

I’ve asked this question a few times and never received a satisfactory answer. Best I can tell, there’s some alpha maleism going on here — a sort of “Why are you hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” of international relations. There’s no reason for Mexico to pay for the wall … except as a show of submission to the U.S.

And submission is what President Trump seeks, it seems to me.

Makes sense. The building of a wall is an act of fear. A ridiculous one, when you think about it. The same people who want the wall are often the ones who go on and on about the superiority of American culture. Yet this supposedly superior culture is threatened by the presence of people speaking Spanish in public places.

When bullies act out of fear, they often do it by acting extra alpha-maley — in essence, like bigger bullies.

Maybe there’s some other, good explanation. But as it stands, making Mexico pay for a while just a way of making sure that people know that we might be afraid of the outside world, but America still commands hegemonic power.

Yours in tough guyness,

Joel

What Do Harry Styles and Ted Nugent Have in Common?

Rebecca:

I was going to let you have the last word on Harry Styles, class and gender.

But this happened.

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Yes. That’s Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and Kid Rock flanking President Trump.

And the reaction was about what you’d expect.

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Now. I’m no fan of Nugent, who’s a racist, or Sarah Palin, who’s a dimwit. Kid Rock? Not really, though I’ve grooved to “I’m a Cowboy, Baby” once or twice in my time.

But man, the reactions went there in a hurry, didn’t they?

You wrote:

What constitutes “good taste”—which is definitely not boybands!—is defined by those with the most cultural capital, those who have not just the money but the education, leisure time, and access to difficult-to-access content. “Poor taste” isn’t just bad taste; it’s the taste of those with lower levels of cultural capital. This doesn’t align perfectly with economic class—Donald Trump eats his steaks well-done, with ketchup, proving that money can’t always buy good taste—but economic class opens up opportunities for cultural capital.

So here’s the thing about Donald Trump, as well as the Establishment that seems to disdain him so: I’m convinced that (with some exceptions) the Establishment disdains him not because of the godawful things he (seems to) believe and advocate, but because he’s a reality TV-starring, WWE-wrasslin’, KFC-eatin’ yokel.

He’s Jed Clampett. He’s Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.” He’s nouveu riche even though his riches aren’t all that nouveau.

This isn’t to discount all the ways Trump is genuinely awful. But his genius is seizing on the snobbery the Establishment has for the Stuff That Belongs to the Commoners and embracing it wholeheartedly, and not in a “who’s he kidding with his love of pork rinds?” attempts to appear in touch.

If Trump watched less TV — or simply the right kind of TV — and talked about books more, a lot of the powerful people who profess to oppose him would roll over like puppy dogs for him.

This makes the task of defeating Trump more difficult. Democratic policies may help the poor more than Trump’s proposals to massively cut taxes on the rich, but all it takes is Keith Olbermann screaming “white trash” and you’ve lost the war. Our snobbery, ultimately, is going to kill us.

— Joel

 

Our Authoritarian America: A Dreamer is Deported

Rebecca:

My heart is heavy tonight. I am angry and I am sad and I am trying to address the ensuing issue in a civil way. But I’m finding it difficult.

Let USA Today explain:

Federal agents ignored President Trump’s pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico, the first such documented case, a USA TODAY examination of the new administration’s immigration policies shows.

After spending an evening with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., on Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, grabbed a bite and was waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached and started asking questions.

Montes was twice granted deportation protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Barack Obama and left intact by President Trump.

Montes had left his wallet in a friend’s car, so he couldn’t produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn’t retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation policy.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things: This event proves that the Trump Administration is both racist and authoritarian.

Why racist?

First, we don’t know why the Border Protection officer approached Montes in the first place, but on the face of it — and this could change with more information being made public — it appears that he was simply brown at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re a Latino citizen of America and you live in Calexico, your citizenship probably won’t prevent you from being approached, with suspicion, by federal agents. It is a layer of oppression only brown people will have to experience.

Second: Advocates of the “deport ’em all” stripe maintain, often, that race isn’t the reason they favor restrictive immigration, but culture. This was expressed most forthrightly in the now-infamous “The Flight 93 Election” essay by Michael Anton, now a Trump Administration official. He wrote:

“The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”

The “ceaseless importation” is a disturbing phrase in and of itself, reducing immigrants to subhuman widgets meant to be packed into a cargo hold for use later by Walmart shoppers. And let’s just forget that Anton believes “more Democratic” is equivalent with “less American.” (Note to Anton: (Bleep) you.)  But fine: The idea is that a free nation can only be preserved by people who have learned, love, and will work to preserve liberty.

So why deport Dreamers then? Yes, they came to the United States against our rules, but they did so when young and malleable — they’ve been immersed in our culture, in our schools, and consider themselves, for all intents and purposes, American.  If there’s a group of immigrants who can be considered to have a “tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,” it’s the Dreamers.

Deporting them doesn’t get rid of people who share American values. It does reduce the number of brown people in America. Draw your own conclusions.

As for “authoritarian”: We now live in a country where, if you left your ID in the car, you can be swept off on the street — and deposited in another country three hours later. I’ve been around bureaucracies; you can barely get a driver’s license in three hours. The feds were able to establish Montes’ citizenship in that time? Or was his failure to prove himself immediately the fault line?

Note to Latino citizens of America: Keep ALL your papers and IDs handy at all times.

What this tells me: Manuel Montes probably has more of a “taste for liberty” than all the self-styled patriots who find his deportation a reason to cheer. “Liberty for me, but not for thee” isn’t liberty at all — it’s a caste system. It’s ugly and — I would’ve thought until now — un-American.

I guess I was wrong. A great evil is being done in our names.

Repenting.

— Joel

Is It Manly to Like Harry Styles?

Rebecca:

How about a change of pace? Harry Styles — the former One Direction standout — gave a solo performance on SNL this weekend, and it was kind of great.

I feel like I shouldn’t mention this, except today I caught this excerpt from Styles’ interview with Rolling Stone:

“Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.

Which made me wonder: How much of my music tastes have been shaped by a desire to avoid pop music? And how much of the whole rockist hipster aesthetic is shaped by, well, sexism?

Am I a Radiohead listener for really bad reasons?

Contemplating.

— Joel

On the Usefulness of (Heather Mac Donald’s) Bad Ideas

Rebecca:

I went to a conservative Mennonite Brethren college where the dominant theology was — and officially remains — that homosexual activity is a sin. Despite the official view, a Bible professor of mine brought to campus a pair of gay men, Christians if I recall correctly, to talk about how they squared their lives with scripture.

It was an interesting hour, and in retrospect I admire those two men for braving what they knew would be a deeply hostile audience. (Particularly at the time, in the early 1990s, when the fear of AIDS added an additional layer of anger and terror to the topic.) I don’t remember specifics of the discussion that day, though I’m sure I can guess what the arguments were. I do remember, though, that it was a highly emotional day.

One more thing I remember: A sense that day that many of my classmates (and, to be honest, probably myself) regarded the encounter as a debate to be won, rather than contemplating this possibility: That beyond who could best cite and wield scriptures, there were actual, real lives to be contended with. It was one of a series of events in college that shaped me into who I am today: Quasi-agnostic, firmly liberal, and ardently gay-loving.

I don’t want to suggest that hearing gay men express the truth of their lives is the same as letting racists come to campus to spew ugly ideas. But I do want to suggest that a good education can and does occasionally include exposure to ideas that we regard as utterly incorrect. Not just because our minds will be changed, as happened in my case. There are several reasons.

Let me back up and preface those reasons with this: We agree that Heather Mac Donald is the purveyor of bad ideas that promote the glorification and empowerment of cops and often, nearly always, do so at the expense of minorities. We differ a little bit, though, in one aspect: I’m very frustrated with campus leftists who have tried to shut down her talks at colleges; you wonder why a college would invite Mac Donald to speak in the first place.

And I recognize that your objections are grounded in rigor, compassion, and a deadly low tolerance for bullshit. You ask: How many times do Black Lives Activists and their supporters have to say “Black Lives Matter… They matter here!”—as was chanted during the Q & A after MacDonald presented her thesis that the criminal justice system isn’t racist and that “America does not have an incarceration problem; it has a crime problem”—before Claremont McKenna decides that its students don’t have to put up with such stupidity on their campus?” I love the concern, the love for students, and the love of high academic standards that are all mixed up in that question.

And it’s a good question. Let me parse my answer carefully. I don’t think a good education requires a college to invite Heather Mac Donald to speak. But if a college — or a student-led club therein, which is often the case in these matters — chooses to bring her to campus, I believe it can be of some use.

Three reasons:

Even bad ideas are worthy of scrutiny. Here’s my best example of this, Rebecca: Your own career.

Your book, “God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right,” examines Westboro Baptist Church and its place in American theological traditions. Westboro’s ideas are awful and ugly and disreputable — even churches that can be honestly described as “anti-gay” want no part of the Phelps clan. You examined the ideas closely, and you spent a fair amount of time with the Phelpses to boot. That was painful, I’m guessing. But the work is valuable. It wasn’t accomplished by turning away.

So one way to respond to Heather Mac Donald is to protest. Another is to treat her as an opportunity to study. What does she believe? What are the antecedents for the belief? Put her in context. That context, I think, reveals how small and shallow her ideas are.

Because we too easily believe in our own righteousness. All of us are prone to confirmation bias, “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.” Sometimes the best way to test our own ideas is to temper them against the hard edge of contrary belief, even beliefs that — at first blush — we might consider foolish. Where better to do such testing than in college?

Understand: I don’t think I’m suddenly going to find Heather Mac Donald persuasive. But the exercise of testing my beliefs against hers can be a valuable one. They can sharpen my ideas and arguments, or at least help me anticipate the objections to my own ideas and be ready with an answer.

The first two reasons are too light and ephemeral, admittedly. Mac Donald’s ideas have real-world consequences, cause real-world pain. Why burden our students with that pain? The real-world answer?

The spread of bad ideas doesn’t stop at campus borders. Heather Mac Donald earns a living doing what she does because A) there’s enough of an audience for it and B) a portion of that audience is willing to pay for it. And judging by the November 2016 voting results, there are plenty of Americans who believe the kinds of things she believes to shift the balance of power in this country. The ideas that count don’t always stand up to peer review, but they must be contended with nonetheless.

I’m sorry for students of color who have to put up with this bullshit. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to argue for your rights, your very being as a human. It’s unfair. And it’s easy for me, because I’m a white guy, to talk about good and bad ideas when mostly it’s theory to me — I’m unlikely to endure a stop-and-frisking anytime soon.

But the bullshit is out there. It is widespread. It is powerful. How many times do BLM supporters have to say “Black Lives Matter?” There’s no limit. There probably never will be. There will always be people who subscribe to notions we believe are mistaken, and so the work of pushing back never, ever ends. That’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. So our colleges and universities might as well equip students to do that work.

I wrote elsewhere recently: “Free speech requires forbearance from us, as well as persistence. It means we must counter bad speech with more speech, then do it again, then again and again, long after it seems to us the argument has been settled. And we do it because we want the same forbearance extended to us.”

Again, I don’t think it’s necessary that colleges and universities welcome bad ideas into their midst. But I can see the use of it. And in any case, I still think the proper response when Mac Donald ventures onto your campus is not to try and prevent her voice from being heard. Instead, make your own heard. And be ready to prove your ideas are better. Drowning out the voice of our opponents does not furnish such proof. It looks, in fact, like weakness.

I’ll let you have the last word in this thread. Thanks for hearing me out.

—Joel

 

‘Illegal Immigration’ is About to Be More Illegal

Rebecca:

You recently noted that the term “illegal immigration” can be something of a misnomer:

But, actually, simply being here without proper documentation is a violation of the law punishable by civil, not criminal, penalties. Improper entry—coming into the US when you don’t have the proper authority to do so (swimming the Rio Grande, scaling the stupid wall we already have)—is a criminal offense punishable by up to 6 months in a jail and a small fine. To be found guilty of improper entry, the state has to show evidence beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that you entered improperly—just like with other crimes. Unlawful presence is also a violation of federal law—but it’s a civil offense, not a criminal one. When Americans travel abroad and overstay their visas, we often address this with a bribe.* When visitors to the US are not presently here lawfully, we can deport them—but that doesn’t make them criminals.

About that…

This morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona to announce a new get-tough approach to immigration enforcement, directing federal prosecutors to pursue harsher charges against undocumented immigrants. “For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country,” Sessions said, “be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”

In his remarks, Sessions said nonviolent immigrants who enter the country illegally for a second time will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor but a felony. He also recommended that prosecutors charge “criminal aliens” with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year minimum sentence. In January, President Donald Trump expanded the definition of which immigrants can be considered “criminal” to include anyone who has committed “a chargeable criminal offense,” which could include sneaking across the border.

I’ve mentioned before that immigration law falls into a weird area where crime is concerned — somebody stabbing another person is something we can all identify as a trespass, but breaking immigration law means you’ve violated standards that a quorum of legislators decided upon one time, and from which there might’ve been some serious dissent. It’s a crime in the same sense that barbering without a license might understood to be a crime: Maybe it’s not, really.

This is even weirder. Jeff Sessions has decided, apparently on his own — certainly without the input of Congress — that entering the United States is not just a crime but a felonious crime, akin in the federal system of laws to bank robbery or taking a kidnapped person across state lines. It’s a bureaucratic change — not a change in the severity of the actual offense — that will nonetheless have real consequences in the lives of real people.

This might be less objectionable if Sessions — and the president he serves — didn’t continually conflate undocumented immigration with worse, real crimes.

As he proposed stiffer penalties for nonviolent immigrants, Sessions also targeted gangs and cartels “that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders.” Invoking unusually severe language in the written version of his announcement, Sessions proclaimed, “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”

But as Mother Jones notes: “In contrast to the dire picture Sessions painted, crime rates in American border cities have been dropping for at least five years. Even after a year of increased violent crime—which officials said had nothing to do with cartels or spillover violence—El Paso, Texas, is among the safest of its size in the nation.”

We’re going to send people to prison for the crime of believing in the promise of this country. And we’re going to do it on the basis of a lie. I hate the Trump Era.

— Joel

Brandishing Black Bodies to Defend Against Racism

Rebecca:

I’ve used this space to occasionally praise unorthodox conservatives. So let me now mention a conservative whose ideas I really, really dislike.

Her name is Heather Mac Donald. She writes a lot for City Journal. And she writes, mostly, about how cops are awesome and how criticism of cops is bad. (Her recent book is called “The War on Cops.”)  I’m oversimplifying here, but not by much.

Anyway, I’m torn. I hate Heather Mac Donald’s ideas. But I think she has the right to express them. And last week, we watched as campus protesters at Claremont McKenna College tried to prevent her from being heard. Which forces me to … rush to Heather Mac Donald’s defense.

Here’s the short version, which I’ve expressed before: A mob can violate the right to speak just as surely as a government agent with a warrant. The best solution to bad speech is more speech, better speech. These are concepts that liberals have long defended, and should keep defending!

I suspect you and I have a bit to quibble with there, but trust me: You’ll like my defense of Mac Donald more than you’ll like Mac Donald’s defense of herself.

Which goes something like this:

I prefaced my speech by observing that I had heard chants for the last two hours that “black lives matter.” I therefore hoped that the protesters were equally fervent in expressing their outrage when five-year-old Aaron Shannon, Jr., was killed on Halloween 2010 in South-Central Los Angeles, while proudly showing off his Spiderman costume.  … And though it was doubtful that any of the protesters outside had ever lost a loved one to a drive-by shooting, if such a tragedy ever did happen, the first thing he or she would do is call the police.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. There’s few things I hate worse than the brandishing of black bodies as a defense against police brutality against blacks. And Mac Donald does it here expertly. So let’s make a few things clear

First: The existence of crime in no way mitigates the responsibility of police to act lawfully

Second: The existence of crime in no way mitigates the right of communities and individuals to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

Third: This “but what about black-on-black” murders is a typical, loathsome evasion of the issue of police brutality questions. It implies, in racist fashion, that black people don’t care about black lives unless there’s a white person to blame for the death. And that’s crap.

Let’s talk about the Aaron Shannon case, for example. In fact, there was a substantial community response to and outcry against his death. AP reported contemporaneously:

Immediately after the shooting, at least a half-dozen city-funded gang interventionists, experts who are often former gang members, and other volunteers hit the streets in a bid to prevent retaliation.

Residents incensed by the killing of a child were quick to provide details to police, who Friday announced the arrests of Marcus Denson, 18, and Leonard Hall, 21. Both are alleged members of the Kitchen Crips, which for years has been warring with a subset of the Bloods known as the Swans.

Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon estimated as many as 15 additional shootings were stopped.

This doesn’t even mention the $75,000 reward the community managed to put forth to get the killers arrested. All in all, a robust community response. One that Mac Donald surely would’ve known about if she’d done even middling research on her topic. (I found it with  a quick Google search.)

Maybe she did. But her use of Aaron Johnson indicates to me she’s mostly willing to brandish black bodies — not even as a defense against allegations of brutal, racist policing, but as a deflection against it. And it strikes me there’s something profane about using the dead body of a five-year-old black child as a bit of rhetorical jiu-jitsu.

Which is why it might be easy for me to throw in with the people who tried to prevent her from being heard, I guess. But I also believe free expression is made especially for expressions we find objectionable. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Heather Mac Donald’s right to express her views should be protected. But those views are still tripe. I can and do believe both things.

— Joel