The Trump Administration’s war on the poor


Dear Rebecca:

Yesterday I noted a House GOP proposal to criminalize poverty among undocumented migrants. Turns out that’s not the only trick Trumpistas have up their sleeves.


The Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a rule that would make it legal for employers to pocket their workers’ tips, as long as they pay those workers at least the minimum wage. The proposed rule rescinds portions of longstanding DOL regulations that prohibit employers from taking tips. We estimate that if the rule is finalized, every year workers will lose $5.8 billion in tips, as tips are shifted from workers to employers. Of the $5.8 billion, nearly 80 percent—$4.6 billion—would be taken from women who are working in tipped jobs.

The one small bit of good news in this is that restaurant workers would be paid minimum wage — one reason that tipping is a moral imperative for some of us is that waiters and waitresses are often making $2 an hour without the tips; it’s up to customers to make the job even close to lucrative enough for waitstaff.

But everything else about the proposal is reprehensible. When I tip, it’s my intention that the money goes to my server; if they’ve made a deal to share tips behind the scenes with other grunt level workers, I’m fine with that. My intention is not to give additional money to the restaurant’s owner: That’s why I pay the bill.

The proposal is in some ways worse than it looks on the surface: The current minimum wage hasn’t been raised in 9 years; the purchasing power of the minimum wage peaked 50 years ago. One likely result of the proposal: Crappy-paying jobs will become, over time, even more crappy relative to the pace of inflation. The working poor will work even more poorly.

I often can see the rationale behind my conservative friends’ policy proposals, even when I disagree with them. This idea? No. I don’t think rank-and-file conservatives disdain poor people — many of them are working poor. But I think conservative leaders have an absolute disdain for he poor. (I’m probably being generous.) I don’t know how else to read this and the aforementioned immigration proposal.

It’s just picking on people who can’t afford to fight back. Shameful.

— Joel

The immorality of Trumpist immigration enforcement: Criminalizing poverty

Metal Prison Barbed Fence Wire Detention Jail

Dear Rebecca:

The good folks at Cato, a libertarian think tank, have an analysis of the Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act, a House GOP bill that “is a comprehensive immigration reform bill posing as a DACA fix.”

Here’s the horrific part:

The worst enforcement provision is criminalizing simply being in the United States without status or violating any aspect of civil immigration law (p. 170). This would turn millions of unauthorized immigrants into criminals overnight. It would also criminalize legal immigrants who fail to update their addresses, carry their green card with them at all times, or otherwise abide by the million inane regulations that Congress imposes on them. Take, for example, the status provided to Dreamers in this bill. It requires them to maintain an annual income of at least 125 percent of the poverty line (p. 396). If they fall below that level for 90 days—not only are they subject to deportation again—they would be criminals. This bill literally criminalizes poverty among Dreamers.

I honestly don’t care about the rationale for this measure; I don’t care to try and examine it even-handedly. Criminalizing poverty — even among immigrants — is immoral and wrong. It’s a policy that’s wrong on its face, and it has the added compounded sin of making it even more difficult for that immigrant ever to climb above the poverty level. If it’s not purely evil, it’s dumb. Either way, the anti-immigration crowd continues to show a dearth of humanity.


The immorality of Trumpist immigration enforcement


Dear Rebecca:

I’ve suggested before that Trumpist immigration enforcement might be an act of injustice far worse than the offense of illegal immigration. We have two more examples this week of why it might be so.

First, we have the story of Jorge Garcia, a Detroit man being deported after 30 years in the United States. He was brought to the United States when he was 10; his deportation separates him from his wife and two children, all of them U.S. citizens. Please, read his story.

Second, we have this atrocity:

US border patrol agents are routinely sabotaging water supplies left for migrants in the Arizona desert, condemning them to death, humanitarian groups have said.

Travellers attempting to cross into the US from Mexico regularly die of dehydration, as well as exposure to extreme heat or cold, so aid groups leave water bottles and emergency stocks such as blankets at points throughout the Sonoran desert.

A video released by the groups showed border patrol agents kicking over water bottles and pouring away their contents. A statement from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it was aware of the footage and that it was filmed around six years ago.

In the first case, a family is destroyed and disrupted — no doubt causing ripple effects in the community — because a man was born on one side of the border but, through circumstances not of his making, lived on this side of the border. As best I can tell, his actual presence in the country was doing nobody harm. Which means the greater harm is done by deporting him.

In the second case, people are being condemned to death and suffering to thwart the possibility of them being on the wrong side of the line.

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My friends in favor of immigration restrictions believe that a country has a right to make rules about who gets to come in and who doesn’t. They are correct. But that doesn’t make these kinds of enforcement actions moral. We’re condemning people to death for, in essence, not following bureaucratic rules. We’re destroying families whose only offense was actually committed by an older generation — unless, of course, you want to start making the case that 10-year-olds are in control of where older relatives take them.

That is wrong. It is a sin. It is a sin being carried out in our name.


Guns on campus: The threat of guns makes us less likely to fight back

CW: Sexual harassment

Hi Joel,

Last week, I shared a post about the AAUP’s argument that guns on campuses violate the First Amendment rights of professors. In response, several readers shared their own stories about how guns on campus have affected them with me. I share them here with identifying details removed.

  1. An adjunct instructor teaching a night class finds herself alone in the room with the student who is the last person in class to finish his final. She’s grading while he completes his exam. When she looks up, he’s masturbating. He’s well over 6 feet tall and between her and the door. She freezes while he smirks. He puts his penis back into his pants and drops the exam off on her desk, then leaves the room. Should she have confronted him in the moment? Should she walk to her car on her own or call campus police for an escort? If she requests an escort, will they demand to know why she did so? Should she report him, knowing that a Title IX investigation might not force him off campus, so she’ll have to see him again next semester–and he might be very angry about the fact that she reported him? Does he carry a gun?
  2. A chair is in her office when the department administrative assistant knocks. A man in his 30s has come to the department asking for help publishing the writing of his father, who was a member of the faculty years ago and is now deceased. The man is insistent that the department has access to his father’s files and demands that the department help him locate them and publish them. He’s agitated and upset–and also recognizable as a registered sex offender who, a few years ago, kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 14 year old boy over a period of days. He’s already violated the terms of his parole once. He stands in the doorway of the chair’s office, insisting the someone help him with his problem NOW.  He is intense and argumentative and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. He’s known to be unstable, but the terms of his conviction don’t require him to stay off campus, even though there is a daycare center in the basement of the building. Should the chair attempt to force him out the door? Call campus police (and, if so, how)? What if he’s carrying a gun?
  3. A faculty member known as a “tough grader” has angered some members of her class. They discuss how much they hate her using an app that allows students at the college to share messages anonymously. Soon, students are calling for her to be raped and murdered. The university cites students’ First Amendment rights in making such comments, arguing that, since the posters do not indicate a time, place, or plan to murder or rape her, they do not amount to a true threat. Campus security will escort her on campus but not to her home one block off university property. Since she does not know who is making the threats and the university will not press the anonymous app for the information, she is unable to know who she should be cautious of.
  4. A man on faculty sends dick pics messages to a number of women who are graduate students in his program, uninvited. He lets them know, too, that he has a conceal and carry permit and carries regularly on campus. In this state, revealing that you conceal and carry is a violation of the conceal and carry permit law, but the graduate students are fearful of reporting someone who knows that this is the law and violates it anyway.
  5. A couple co-chairs a department and uses their position of power to coerce graduate students into sexual relationships. A graduate student in the program goes out to dinner with them one night and wakes the next morning to find herself in their apartment, the victim of a sexual assault. When the student reports the assault to the university, the co-chairs argue that the relationship with consensual. The university launches an investigation, but the co-chairs get new jobs elsewhere before it concludes.

What do these cases have in common?

Sexual harassment or assault, obviously, but also the victim’s lingering and reasonable fear that the perpetrator will follow up the first case of harassment or assault with gun violence. In each case, the incident happened on a campus where guns are permitted–and in some cases, the perpetrator made sure to mention this to the victim.

Can people who aren’t legally carrying guns come to campus and commit such acts? Of course. After all, in each of these cases, the perpetrator was willing to break the law in the first place in order to engage in harassing or violent behavior. But adding legal guns to campus (to any setting, since the above situations could happen in a variety of workplaces) only increases the danger. And it makes it very hard to intervene in the first place. Should an adjunct insist that a student stop masturbating in front of her Should a chair kick an apparently unstable sex offender out of her office? Should a faculty member be able to tell her students to stop making threats about her on an anonymous board? Sure–but those acts are much harder to do when there is a greater chance that the person you have to stand up to is carrying a gun.


Image result for guns on campus

Everyone is at increased risk when people on campus can carry guns. 

Want to know what happened in each case?

  1. She quit the job and never came back to campus.
  2. She eased him out of the office with the instructions that he should contact another professor who would know more about this, then called campus police to alert them to his presence and shared the incident with the whole department, which is still figuring out how to basically appease him so he won’t come back.
  3. She asked for some reasonable accommodations, including a peep hole in her office door. She was denied them. She quit.
  4. The students found help in a faculty member who brought the case to the university. In the meantime, the offender found a new job elsewhere.
  5. They resigned before they were fired. At least one of them still teaches in higher education, according to their Linked In profile.

It’s not just victims who lose here. It’s students, who deserve teachers who are focused and unafraid and who shouldn’t ever have to worry about violent retribution for refusing the sexual advances of sexual harassers. It’s teacher, who shouldn’t have to be afraid of students. And it’s the entire project of knowledge-making, which is losing people–especially women–in these cases.



Having it both ways on MLK Day

Dear Rebecca:

My friends at the Trumpist website AmGreatness are having a dilly of a day. First they published this:

On this day, which is no ordinary holiday for no ordinary man, let us speak a truth: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. He loved America, not because of the rightness of America, but because of the rights that were (and remain) so absolutely American: the right to protest for right, the right of freedom of assembly, the right of freedom of speech, the right of the freedom of the press.

He was a man of the Word, with a passion for upholding the true meaning of the words of one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. He countered physical force with soul force, because he knew—and it is a testament to the greatness of America—that he could awaken the goodness within the conscience of America.

They also published this:

The nation of immigrants concept is problematic in other ways. If this is the defining mark of the nation, the newcomer is the quintessential American, more American than actual Americans, in spite of his language, manners, and actual political ideas. By ignoring actual voters, a fetish is made of voting, even if the new American uses the procedures of self-government to impose substantive ends like sharia, socialism, or Satanism. The mere act of fleeing a bad place does not show they know or can adapt to the qualities that made this country a desirable place. Like locusts, they may simply be on the move, having destroyed their homelands—whether consciously or by accident—they may now destroy this place, and then move on to destroy another. (Emphasis added.)

This piece, one of the editors says, is one of the most important pieces ever published at AmGreatness. Ugh. It should tell you something about the dark, petty heart of the “Greatness agenda” that its soul is so small and selfish.

I won’t claim to know what MLK would’ve thought about immigrants and immigration. Suffice it to say: Under no circumstances would he have compared immigrants to locusts. He would’ve considered them children of God.


My only hope is that by praising Martin Luther King Jr., someday my friends will try to emulate his example a little more.

That’s all I can say, charitably, today.



Dogs, Fleas, Trump, & Republicans

Hi Joel,

To your own plea with conservatives who continue to support Trump, I share some advice from Ben Franklin (also probably Seneca and definitely my grandma).

You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. 

And the prophet Amos:

“Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”

The Message phrases Amos 3:3 this way: “Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren’t going to the same place?”

You hang out with Trump, you’re going to end up in moral bankruptcy.


Image result for trump hitler

Is it fair to compare Trump to Hitler, as Philadelphia Daily News did in this cover and many, many other newspapers, magazines, and editorial cartoons have done? It might not feel “fair,” but people judge you based on you who hang out with. And many people worldwide have deemed Trump racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic. They will view you that way, too. Is this the person you want to squander your reputation on? 

“Blood and Faith”

Hi Joel,

I just finished reading Damon T. Berry’s Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism, (Syracuse University Press, 2017). Central to his argument is the idea that white nationalism isn’t framed internally (at least not always) as about hating non-whites but as about “protecting” whiteness. It’s why we see things like “It’s Okay to be White” posters on campuses and warnings about “white genocide.” While no one ever make the argument that it’s not okay to be white or really thinks that the world’s white population will be systematically exterminated, these are appeals to white resentment about losing power–and they are threats to nonwhite people on campuses. Berry eloquently argues that it is “loving attachment to the imagined racial community” that produces racial hatred (14).

Blood and Faith

Above, the cover of Blood and Faith shows a roof with a cross on it. 

As Berry points out, though, none of this is new. In writing about the early 20th century, he observes,

“To many Americans of that era, it seemed like the world was not working for them, the nation was imperiled by elites, a code for Jews, and that there was no future in hoping that any established institutions could set right what was wrong.”

Sound familiar?  This seems to be much of the explanation offered for the 2016 election. Economic reality was not keeping pace with the expectation of entitled whites. Anti-semitism was rising. Republican incompetence and overt efforts to undermine government as a force for the common good were paying off.

By the middle of the 20th century, white nationalists were not just “recovering and recoding old-time racism” as a political strategy for the Republican Party but attempting to

“fix what they regarded as conservatives’ failure to keep central the ideals of race that had previously guided immigrant policies, upheld segregation, and maintained white control of central private and public institutions” (77).

The italics there are mine. Berry is referencing our 1920s immigrant policies, in force through the mid-60s, that placed quotas on immigration based on nation of origin. The goal wasn’t to bring to America the immigrants who most needed to flee or the ones who had the skills to enhance America’s economic or cultural interests but the ones who were white. Mid-century whites were angry that political conservatives weren’t taking up the racist policies of the past. Many of the people Berry profiles wrote for outlets like National Review or were part of the John Birch Society but ultimately didn’t feel that these icons of conservatism were properly anti-Semitic or racist.

The logic of white supremacy is the logic Trump that uses now. There is nothing about a Norwegian (who Trump wants more of) that makes them useful to the US. Indeed, it is immigrants from the places Trump most despises who do so much of the hard work here: farm work, meat packing, sanitation work in hospitals, hotel cleaning, elder care and child care. By Norwegian, Trump just means white. He wants white immigrants.

Trump is not alone in his thinking. Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act that gave us Asian exclusion and quotas for European immigrants. And it stood as law for 40 years over 6 presidents. Berry writes:

“The ideas that defined American white nationalism in the years after World War II were not born in the subterranean currents of the extreme right in the middle and late twentieth century but in the mainstream colonialist logic that began to take shape five hundred years earlier” (74).

In other words, this is a much longer history. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore that this is a strategy of today’s white nationalists.