Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been detaining journalists and immigration lawyers at checkpoints in Arizona and Texas and questioning them about their political beliefs. These are nothing more than intimidation tactics by government employees who don’t appear overly concerned that they work for all citizens of the United States, not merely the current presidential administration and its far right supporters.
CBP has long had too broad an authority, and particularly after World War II when Congress passed laws giving the agency the ability to regularly trespass on citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. In 1953, without public review, the Justice Department specified the zone within which CBP could operate fast and loose with the Constitution at 100 air miles of the United States border. That’s 100 miles within the United States, all around the perimeter, an area encompassing nearly two thirds of the populace.
A sign at the January 2018 Womens’ March in Seneca Falls, New York. Photo by Marc Nozell.
It’s incredible these laws and rules have stayed on the books as long as they have and have withstood review by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has often interpreted the Constitution with an eye toward sustaining the power of the government over the citizen, however, despite the recent miraculous lapse in its ruling on Timbs v.Indiana, which rescinded civil asset forfeiture, also known as cops’ legalized stealing of citizens’ property. That ruling can best be considered an anomaly, at least from the Court’s five conservative justices, who with an even more recent ruling, in Nielsen v. Preap, are back to their usual shoring up of police state encroachments on the Constitution.
George Carlin performing in 2008 in Santa Rosa, California, just months before he died. “You Have No Rights” is the closing bit, and for the album made from this Home Box Office (HBO) special, It’s Bad for Ya, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy. Warning: foul language.
Supposedly these laws are meant to be enforced against illegal immigrants, who after all are not citizens. In practice, their overly broad authority allows enough room for CBP employees with a political agenda to harass and intimidate anyone they care to, citizens and non-citizens alike. The CBP employees can always claim some legal rationale for their capricious actions, and even after offering the flimsiest excuses, they know legal redress of their abuse of power will take years, if it comes at all. This is what happens when fear guides the writing of laws, giving too much authority to law enforcement agencies, and then a lawless presidential administration grasps the reins of all that power. Meanwhile the nation’s courts have too often upheld police prerogatives over citizens’ rights, eroding the meaning of those rights and mocking their supposed inviolability.
Today a United States District Court judge in New York struck down an attempt by the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Judge Jess Furman cited the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in ruling against Commerce Department head Wilbur Ross, who proposed adding the citizenship question on specious grounds. The APA allows judicial review of a rules change by a federal government agency when a lawsuit is brought by an aggrieved party or party, in this case the New York Immigration Council (NYIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others. In other words, the APA gives citizens an avenue to check federal agencies directly, without waiting on Congress, so that agencies can’t change their rules willy nilly based on political whims.
2010 census percentage change in minority population by county, showing an increase in typically Democratic voters in areas that have been Republican strongholds, such as the Southeast and the Mountain West. Illustration by U.S. Census Bureau.
The specious grounds the current presidential administration was using to add the citizenship question involved a far-fetched cover story about getting information to better enable the Justice Department to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, when in practice the question was intended to intimidate mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants and possibly other minorities into not responding to the census questionnaire. Like state voter suppression laws, the census citizenship question could be used as a cudgel by Republicans to beat back the tide of typical Democratic voters and supporters. Illegal immigrants can’t vote, but counting their numbers usually benefits Democratic congressional districts when it comes to apportioning seats in Congress and the distribution of federal funds.
The history of the census in the United States is rife with political intrigue going back to the first one in 1790, when the big question involved counting of slaves. Like Hispanic illegal immigrants today, African forced immigrants in the first century of the republic could not vote, but counting their numbers was still vital for the reasons stated above. Once they could vote, after Emancipation, Southern conservatives did all in their power to ensure they could not exercise their right freely by enacting Jim Crow laws and practices to hinder them, often with threats of violence either implicit or explicit.
2010 census percentage change in Hispanic population by county, showing the widespread nature of the increase. Illustration by U.S. Census Bureau.
Southern white conservatives were Democrats then, in the late nineteenth century and up to the middle of the twentieth century, but shifts in national policy such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act changed that, flipping conservative Southern Democrats over to the Republican Party, where they remain today. In the meantime, African-Americans, attracted by manufacturing jobs in the North that paid better wages than agricultural labor in the South, moved away in great numbers during World War I, a mass migration which had the effect of relieving pressure on what had been the white minority in many congressional districts in the South.
Reapportionment of Congressional seats as determined by results of the 2010 census. State legislatures use these results to redraw districts, sometimes in grievous examples of partisan gerrymandering. Illustration by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Now the Republican, conservative, white population in areas around the country besides the South feels threatened by impending minority status for themselves brought on by the increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrants, legal and otherwise, and by their relatively high birthrates. Thus far their have been no serious proposals for forced sterilization of Hispanics, as their had been for black people one hundred years ago. Instead the tactics of conservative white Republicans, no longer limited to the Old South, but spread around the country, consist of a citizenship question on the census questionnaire designed to drive illegal immigrants further into hiding, and since the immigrants often end up supporting Democrats even if they cannot vote, the intimidation would have the effect of depriving Democrats of additional seats in Congress and federal funds based on population alone. Once the new citizens are able to vote, Republicans have a bevy of voter suppression tactics ready to challenge them. Jim Crow just keeps popping up in new guises, cawing at the poor and unfortunate “Who are you? Who are you?”
“11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
— The Apostle Paul in a letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:11-13, from the King James Version of the Bible.
DNA kits are very popular now, both for people ordering them for themselves and for those giving them as gifts. Sales of kits doubled in 2017 over all previous years, and have increased again in 2018 over 2017. Interest appears to derive mostly from curiosity about immediate ancestors, on which the kits do a good job of enlightening people, and secondarily about genetic health risks, on which the kits dealing with the subject deliver mixed results, needing confirmation from a medical professional.
One area of controversy with the results, at least for Americans, has come from links to African ancestry for European-Americans, and links to European ancestry for African-Americans. Most European-Americans, or white folks, get results that include some ancestry going back to Africa two hundred years or more, usually less than 10 percent of their total genetic makeup. Most African-Americans, or black folks, get results that include around 25 percent European ancestry.
Portraits of six generations of the Sternberg family in Jiří Sternberg’s study, Český Šternberk Castle, Czech Republic. Photo by takato marui. Tracing ancestry is easier in the pure bred lines and close quarters of Old Europe than in the melange of ethnicities and transcontinental migrations of the New World.
Compared to the ethnic homogeneity of most Old World countries, Americans are mutts, and the melting pot was particularly active in the years of heavy immigration from Europe from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Africans brought into the country as slaves until the Civil War eventually made up a larger proportion of the total population through that period than they have since, averaging close to 20 percent of the total for the first hundred years of the republic, and settling to a range of 11 to 13 percent of the total population afterward. It shouldn’t therefore surprise white people taking DNA tests to discover they have at least a small percentage of relatively recent African ancestry.
It is interesting, however, that DNA test results for black people yield an average of 25 percent European ancestry. It is not surprising there has been mixing of the races, despite laws against miscegenation going back centuries, but that black people have a much higher percentage of European ancestry than white people have a percentage of African ancestry, and yet black people are still and always considered black. This is Pudd’nhead Wilson territory, in which even a tiny percentage of African blood is tantamount to an entirely African genetic heritage. In America, once a person has been accepted into white society, it requires a considerable amount of African genetic input, along with other factors involving economics and relationships, for a person to fall from grace, as it were, from whiteness to blackness.
In this 1896 illustration by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), “Man” is precariously at the top of a tree encompassing all life on earth.
The grade has always been uphill, on the other hand, for black people to be accepted into American society, always predominantly white, no matter how much they were genetically European. Initial branding of blackness meant staying black in the eyes of white society until extraordinary circumstances or subterfuge intervened. In all this, what the majority of people, black and white, seemed to have missed was that racial differences were minuscule, along the lines of one half of one percent of the genetics every human being shares. Race itself is an artificial concept, a social construct, rather than a real biological divider.
It’s all in the mind, and those who would reinforce race as a divider of the human species have to perform mental and ethical gymnastics to justify their beliefs since science won’t do it for them. The idea that DNA test results with some percentage of African ancestry are showing merely what goes back millions of years for all of humanity also does not hold up. Yes, everyone on earth does have common ancestors in Africa, but that is not what the makers of DNA home test kits design them to illustrate, since they typically only research genetic relations going back several centuries, that being within the time frame for which they have reliably detailed information on background in their databases.
The immigration scene of young Vito Corleone, played by Oreste Baldini, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Godfather: Part II. Unlike Vito Corleone when he matured, the majority of immigrants, then as now, do not end up engaged in dangerous and unlawful activities, despite what rabble rousing politicians want everyone to believe.
There also appears to be an assumption among even open-minded white people that since Africa is the cradle of all humanity, then Africans themselves must be genetically closer to that cradle than the rest who emigrated to far continents. African ancestry noted in the DNA test results must, they reason, be hearkening back to long ago ancestors white people share with everyone on earth. No. The test results show genetic input from recent African ancestors. And those recent African ancestors have evolved along with everyone else on earth, including Europeans, triggered by similar environmental and social changes pushing them to adapt. The European discoverers should not be so quick to flatter themselves with ideas of inherent superiority that they lose sight of how other societies have adapted quite well under unique circumstances without prizing discovery and conquest above all else as the sine qua non of human existence.
Supporters of the current president gathered outside the State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 25, to protest immigration reform measures being debated by state legislators. They undercut any interest in their arguments by badgering and hectoring brown skinned legislators, state office workers, and even schoolchildren on a field trip as they walked in the vicinity of the Capitol, presumptively proclaiming them illegal aliens, while giving white skinned folks a pass. They reached the epitome of their belligerent ignorance when one of them challenged the citizenship status of State Representative Eric Descheenie, a Native American of Navajo descent.
Besides the ignorance of challenging such a person on his right to be here, there is the sheer gall of doing so. The ignorance has always been there with some people, but the gall has risen to the surface lately on account of how emboldened they feel by the angry rhetoric of their Supreme Leader in the White House. Many of these particular protesters in Phoenix were armed, as well, and their allies in the police stood idly by while they harassed the targets of their hatred.
1848 Mexican Cession of territory after the Mexican-American War. 2008 map by Kballen.
The Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1819. 2013 map by Giggette.
The police were supposedly studiously allowing the protesters room to express themselves freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Strange how the ideology of protesters seems to affect how the police enforce First Amendment rights, though of course nothing can be proven. A similarly scrupulous desire for allowance of free expression strangely affected law enforcement at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and that after an incident in July in Charlottesville when the cops tear gassed for no very good reason counter protesters at a KKK gathering.
Since self-reflection and a balanced view of history are traits that are probably either non-existent or very low on the list for some of the denser supporters of the Ignoramus-in-Chief, any appeal here will fall only on their deaf ears, if at all, and the words will serve merely as preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, on the principle that a trickle of water may eventually lead to a baptism, it is worth a try. Has the schizophrenic nature of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric never struck a discordant chord with any of these Know Nothings? The fact that their economic betters in the Republican establishment, the ones who back their Supreme Leader behind the scenes solely on account of his capacity to put yet more money in their pockets, have no desire to change current immigration policy because it suits their business interests to have cheap, exploitable labor. It has always been so.
From the 1994 Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks as the title character repeats a bit of received wisdom, “Stupid is as stupid does”. Economically and politically the beliefs of the protesters at the Arizona Capitol will never get anywhere because they fly in the face of the moneyed interests who pull all the strings. So what is it all for, then? Blowing off steam from the angry white European descent base of the new hard right Republicans. The rich ones aren’t angry; they have no reason to be, since they are getting everything they want. It’s the people stuck in the economic levels below that who are angry. Why don’t they get angry with the people above them who are ripping them off? Good question, but one for a different day. They are angry with the people they see supplanting them as the most important demographic in this country, fragmenting solid white bread into hundreds of permutations of bagels and tortillas and pita pockets, many of them gluten-free.
Why do they vent their hatred and anger on brown skinned immigrants? Who else is left? The economic and political arguments of the anti-immigrant crowd largely fall apart under scrutiny, at least they do if this country is to continue to operate under the same principles it has going back hundreds of years, when the ancestors of the current anti-immigrants made their way here with little government interference and then, with the active encouragement of the government, violently shouldered aside the indigenous peoples who had been here thousands of years before them. It is a dangerous game that Republican leaders are playing, however, standing aside to let the angry base blow steam so that the moneyed interests can loot the country while everyone is distracted. They are counting on the casualties falling among groups they care nothing about other than their utility to them, such as liberals and immigrants. The people steering the Thief-in-Chief and his hard core minions around like a crazed nozzle spitting vituperation need to understand, though, that high pressure steam has a history of escaping control and blowing up in everyone’s faces.
Early Native American tribal territories, superimposed on the present day western United States. 1970 map by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey. Where’s Arizona, and where are all the white folks of European descent?
It’s not easy leaving one home for another one far off, as anyone who has ever done it can attest. If moving thousands of miles away from family and friends is difficult now, when electronic communication allows people to keep in touch, it was even more difficult in past centuries, when leaving behind familiars often meant permanent dislocation without any further contact. The emigrants, particularly if they were poor, had to be brave to make the momentous decision to leave, and then again to establish a new home.
Economics and politics are the biggest drivers of emigration, even for those leaving the United States. American government agencies don’t keep exact numbers on the amount of people leaving the country, but estimates over the past twenty years are that the number of Americans living abroad either on a temporary or permanent basis have more than doubled, from four million to nine million. People who live abroad temporarily, but longer term than tourists, are considered expatriates. The status of expatriates is usually fluid, with some eventually becoming citizens in their adopted country, and some returning to the United States.
The Emigrants’ Last Sight of Home, an 1858 painting by Richard Redgrave (1804-1888).
As hard as it is to pin down statistics on American expatriates, it seems a reasonable inference from the increasing number of articles published online and elsewhere touting overseas retirement destinations that more Americans than ever are deciding to live abroad when they have a fixed, mostly predictable income. For some of these people, the political situation in the United States may play a role in their decision, as this country more and more resembles the banana republics derided in the past, with obscene income inequality, police state tactics employed by the governing class, and the mass of people working in a condition of debt peonage. Many of the countries listed as desirable retirement destinations are in Latin America, and the reasoning among retirees may be that since the United States has come to resemble those countries politically, at least the change for them won’t be that great on that account, and their money will go further.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, because for centuries the United States interfered in the politics and economics of Latin America, which it regarded patronizingly as its back yard. Latin American countries have lately been working to disengage themselves from the most sordid aspects of American interference, with the most extreme example being Venezuela. At any rate, Latin America is popular amongst expatriate American retirees looking to get the most out of their pension dollars. Europe is generally more expensive, with the more dysfunctional economies of southern Europe offering better deals. Southern Europe also offers warmer weather and high quality health care that is on a par with the rest of Europe. American retirees are more likely, therefore, to emigrate to the sunny beaches of Spain than the frigid fjords of Norway.
Director John Huston, an American expatriate for much of his life, in a cameo appearance early in his 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart. The film was about a trio of down on their luck American expatriates in Mexico. Poverty is a miserable existence anywhere, but it causes even more anxiety among those who are adrift from the support of friends, family, and familiar surroundings. The magazine articles for retirees typically mention a few destinations in southeast Asia, and hardly any spots in Africa or the rest of Asia. Presumably the heavy slant toward Latin America and Europe is because those places offer less of a culture shock to most Americans along with the aforementioned economic advantages and similar political climate. That slant also assumes the major part of the readers are of Caucasian European descent, which is not unreasonable considering American demographics, particularly of the middle class that can afford a comfortable retirement, or at least expects to do so if they can stretch their dollars overseas. Their numbers are increasing.
The propaganda in this country has long been that everyone in the world wanted to come here, and that we could pick and choose who got in. With some quibbles, that was mostly true for a long time. Now that may no longer be the case; now not as many people elsewhere may be attracted to these shores, while more people here may be looking elsewhere. For now, it is the people with dependable income, retirees among them, who are leaving. They are the brave ones, and as the political and economic situation in America swirls down a dark hole, and despite the ever more shrill propaganda about how everything is great, just great, more will surely follow to make their home elsewhere.
“Charlie, that’s beneath you,” Steve Bannon told interviewer Charlie Rose on the 60 Minutes television program this past Sunday, referring to Rose’s remark that we are a nation of immigrants except for the Native Americans. Bannon’s statement was bizarre and nonsensical, and seemed to come from his own peculiarly politicized vision of American history in which admitting that European immigrants largely stole the Western Hemisphere from Native Americans in a shameless display of cupidity and genocide is somehow nothing more than shameful leftist propaganda. So much for honestly facing the truth.
Charlie Brown parade balloon at the 2016 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Photo by Midtownguy2012. Maybe Steve Bannon was referring to all the immigrants in the streets of New York City below the floating Charlie Brown balloon.
Even though Mr. Bannon is out of the White House now, his legacy lives on in the administration’s immigration policy, specifically the recent announcement about ending the Obama era DREAMer policy of granting a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. Mr. Bannon does not appear to care for immigrants, legal or otherwise, no matter what sort of intellectual gloss he slops onto his elitism. He is an unsavory man who sees nothing wrong with declaring war on the brown-skinned peoples of the earth, as long as people other than him and his kind are doing the fighting. The short termed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, in his own succinct way, characterized Bannon absolutely correctly. Mr. Bannon is someone who takes himself too seriously, and is accustomed to overawed admirers reinforcing his own high opinion of himself.
A clip from the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and here featuring Robert Duvall as the gung ho Colonel Kilgore.
For all that, what do Mr. Bannon’s ideas amount to? Not much other than what can be found in the writings of Rudyard Kipling – the White Man’s Burden and all that – but without Kipling’s compassion. Steve Bannon is a man out of his time, which rightly should be about 150 years ago. Perhaps that was when America was great for him and his kind, or at least it was if he ignored the multitude of recent German and Irish immigrants, the millions of African slaves recently freed after the bloody Civil War, and all the Mexicans still at large in the new territories and states of the American southwest as a result of the giant land grab known as the Mexican-American War.
“Charlie Don’t Surf” from the outstanding 1980 triple album Sandanista!by the English band The Clash.
In that world, Mr. Bannon would no doubt have felt at home because his cognitive dissonance about American history would not have been noted by his contemporaries. He would instead have been part of the mainstream of Old Boy elites riding high on the backs of immigrant and poor persons’ labor, while snootily ignoring that fact and looking down on them, the source of his wealth, and of his leisure to engage in what amounts to little more than mental masturbation. Maybe that’s what he meant when he said “Charlie, that’s beneath you.”
The First Thanksgiving, 1621, an early twentieth century painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930). The painting portrays Native Americans as guests partaking of the bounty provided by The Pilgrims, while by all honest accounts of the period the Native Americans generously saved the newcomers from privation in their early years of struggling to survive in the unfamiliar surroundings of the New World. Steve Bannon would no doubt find comfort and confirmation in the relationship of the two groups as portrayed in this painting.
It seems it is human nature to need someone or some group to look down on and cast as the reason for one’s misfortunes. From vilification of Jews and now Muslims, to hatred of black people and now brown people, a lot of folks are always looking for a scapegoat. The rich and powerful know this as well as anyone, and are quick to take advantage of this tendency when it serves to turn away the attention of the masses from the true source of their economic stagnation, which is to say the kleptocracy of the rich and powerful.
Hadrian’s Wall; photo by Mark Burnett. People have always built walls, with varying degrees of effectiveness. This one was built by the Romans in the reign of the emperor Hadrian on the border of England and Scotland, to keep the Scots out of England. It turns out the Scots had more to fear from the English, just ask any Scot.
While it is no longer acceptable in open civil discourse to rant about the evils of the Jews and the blacks, and that sort of talk has been relegated to private conversations among like-minded peers, feelings of xenophobia and revulsion at The Other have found their outlet in public condemnation of Muslims and brown people as long as it is couched in terms of protection from terrorists or crackdowns on illegal immigration. There is probably just as much racism and visceral need for scapegoats as ever, it’s just that now, at least in public, peddlers of base emotional venting know to use code words and dog whistles. Everyone knows what the peddlers mean, but everyone can maintain deniability, whether plausible or not is a matter left to an individual’s tolerance for hypocrisy.
Regarding illegal immigration specifically, the facts are not as scary as the current administration cynically pretends they are, and there is a decent compromise solution called “permanent non-citizen resident status”, which the political science scholar Peter Skerry explains at length in a 2103 article in National Affairs. It’s interesting to note that since many Hispanic illegal immigrants are young men away from home and family and view their presence in the United States as a temporary employment situation only, they tend to be insular and not always on their best behavior, two characteristics which contribute to a poor view of them by the resident, mostly Anglo population.
The workers were “settlers in fact but sojourners in attitude.” . . . Not surprisingly, such transience is not confined to the workplace. Young people detached from the constraints as well as the supports of families back home exhibit what one sociologist refers to as “instrumental sociability,” characterized by transitory friendships, casual sexual encounters, and excessive drinking to a degree uncommon back home.
― Excerpted from “Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration” by Peter Skerry.
The phrase “instrumental sociability”, when referring to Hispanics, can conjure up a tinge of Tortilla Flat stereotyping, but the more accurate similarity in reference is to another subgroup in our culture, the military. The military also is composed of mostly young men who are away from home and family in what they view as a temporary situation, and they maintain an insularity from the community at large where they are based out of what amounts to a mutual, tacit agreement with the locals. The analogy doesn’t go far before breaking down, such as in discussions of the presence or lack of strong leadership and policing within the subgroup, but still it is ironic that many of the people in the larger culture who adulate the military with nearly onanistic devotion are the same ones who most loudly berate brown-skinned “illegals”.
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard together sang the most famous version of “Pancho and Lefty”, a song written by Townes Van Zandt. Here, at a tribute to Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash sings a stirring version.
Before people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, and with supposedly refined ethics, start congratulating themselves over how they are above looking down on people and scapegoating one group or another, they might reflect on the rhetoric following the 2016 presidential election when people just like them, and perhaps they themselves, were quick to berate stupid, bigoted rednecks for the disastrous outcome. The caricature that emerged of the typical voter for the Republican winner was of an Anglo male, middle-aged and older, working class and possibly unemployed, and an uneducated bigot as well. While that demographic did make up a significant part of the winner’s constituency, it was not the majority. The picture that has emerged of the majority is of people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, possibly with refined ethics, and a great many of them were female. It is simpler and more satisfying, however, to berate the stupid, bigoted rednecks living in the trailer park on the other side of the railroad tracks than it is to grapple with how it is that your neighbor on your suburban cul-de-sac, the nice one you’ve known for thirty years and who looks after your place while you’re away on vacation, how that kindly neighbor could have voted that way and done that to you.
This is meant as no defense for being a redneck, because unlike other personal characteristics it is not intrinsic and immutable, but rather the culmination of a number of repugnant beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. People confuse rednecks with good ol’ boys. They are not the same. The protagonists in Deliverance were good ol’ boys; the moronic backwoodsmen they tangled with were rednecks. All this appears to stray far from the discussion of scapegoating illegal immigrants, but not really, because the outcome is ugly whatever the source, high or low, and whether the people at the receiving end are “bad hombres” or “deplorables”.