We’ve Been on the Verge of “the Trump Era” since 1848

Joel:

“Be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”

Those were the words from Jeff Sessions’ recent speech to the border patrol–beyond the dehumanizing language, the fear-mongering, the disregard for facts, the insult to history–that scared me. They were meant to scare lots of us–everyone who doesn’t fit into Trump’s narrow definition of the people he is supposed to be serving (though it’s clear that he doesn’t understand that the president serves, not rules).

Like so many of the words uttered by this administration, Sessions’ warning was also a call to arms. Though his approval rating is at record-settingly low for a modern president, Trump has fans who have been yearning to hear these words.

For others of us, the shock of the election has worn off, but we’re still in some other stage of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression–and have to figure out what will have to accept. It’s not the legitimacy of a Trump Presidency. Whether concerns about Russian interference are merited, we know that voter suppression and an electoral system that weights rural whites disproportionately were the real winners. But we have to accept that more than sixty million of our fellow Americans–most white people, most men, most wealthier people–voted for a person that most voters voted against. Not all sixty million of them were enthusiastic about voting for Trump, but many of them were excited about his racism, xenophobia and nativism, and Islamaphobia. Consistent with findings from the primaries, those more enthusiastic about Trump are more racist by all kinds of measures.

JS

Above, Jeff Sessions, the lawyer for the American people, except for the 69 percent of people in the US who aren’t white men. He’s been waiting since 1848 to kick all the Mexicans out of the country. 

Many conservatives missed this, in part because they wanted to. In his essay in the New York Times historian recently, Rick Perlstein offers some reflections on how he, among many scholars of conservatism, failed to predict Trump. In “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong,” he concludes:

Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in [the intellectual heroes of conservatism]. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage.

To which many of us (and I’m guessing about 100% of scholars of color) responded with a collective eye roll.

Because if you think you understood the American right as distinct from white supremacy and structural racism, no, you didn’t understand the American right, and I’m not really sure you were trying very hard.

For all the accusations liberals live in “bubbles,” your bubble must have been opaque and soundproof if you have been hanging around the rightwing of this country and were unaware of the racial resentment of so many white Americans.

Because Jeff Sessions’ racism—that’s not new. It’s how a man of so few good ideas got this far. If you did not hear it, that’s because you were not listening to Coretta Scott King. And if you were not listening to Coretta Scott King, you are probably not listening to a lot of black people and a lot of women, and so you are never going to hear the information that you need to hear to understand the racism and misogyny that drives the American right. (This does not mean that liberals or progressives are free from racism. Just that it’s not their entire reason for existence, which is the case with so many conservatives; the word itself indicates a desire for the way things “used to be,” which is to say: racist, sexist, homophobic.)

Which is how we get here—depositing adults brought to the US as children, before what a Baptist might call the “age of accountability,” over the border without a proper process for insuring that their rights are protected.

It’s easier to not hear people when you’ve moved them out of the country, but don’t let that make you feel secure if you’re not part of a “deportable” population. A system that won’t let a Dreamer retrieve his papers to prove that he belongs here isn’t going to let you—women, people of color, non-Christians, poor people—speak either.

‘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