Monthly Archives: November 2016

How GOP Conflicts Over Immigration Helped Pave the Way For Donald Trump

Yesterday, I explained how a dangerous nostalgia for America’s past helped contribute to the rise of Donald Trump. Today, I will explain how intra-party disagreements over immigration also played a role. In the first place, it is important to note that from its formation, the Republican Party has had clashes over immigration. When the GOP was founded in the 1850s, many members of the anti-immigrant American Party (better known as the “Know Nothing Party”) joined. While it may seem incongruous, there were a significant number of Northern WASP politicians who favored both more rights for black people and greater restrictions on immigration. Thaddeus Stevens and Henry Wilson, two of the most radical antebellum politicians when it came to slavery and African Americans’ rights, spent time as Know Nothings in between being in the Whig Party and joining the Republican Party. Other Republican figures, however, opposed the Know Nothings and defended the influx of non-Protestant immigrants from Europe. These individuals included people like Charles Sumner (whose liberalism toward African Americans rivaled Stevens’s and Wilson’s), William Seward, and Abraham Lincoln. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively banning Chinese immigration. There was significant division within the Republican Party about the legislation. President Chester A. Arthur, a Republican, signed the bill. In the House, only a little over a quarter of the Republicans who participated in the vote opposed the bill; nonetheless, this was far higher than the less than three percent of participating Democrats who voted “nay.” In the Senate, nine Republicans voted “yay,” fifteen voted “nay,” and fourteen abstained. Every Democratic Senator either abstained or voted in favor of banning Chinese immigrants. One of the chief Senate critics of the bill was George Frisbee Hoar, a Massachusetts Republican who compared discrimination against Chinese immigrants to discrimination against African Americans. For the most part, albeit with significant variation, Democrats seem to have been less hostile to European immigrants, while Republicans seem to have been less hostile to Asian immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Besides the views of the two parties, another significant dynamic was noticeable in debates about immigrants from China and other Asian countries. Labor unions largely favored immigration restriction, while railroad executives, a largely Republican constituency, opposed it. The GOP likely maintained its position as the less xenophobic party toward Asian immigrants partly because both Yankee bleeding hearts and railroad magnates were often members. In 1900, a Stanford University Economics professor named Edward Ross was fired for speaking out against Asian immigration and stating that, “Should the worst come to the worst, it would be better for us to turn our guns upon every vessel bringing Japanese to our shores than permit them to land.” Even in 1900, this was a controversial proposal, and Ross was fired for his speech. Some details, however, are crucial. Firstly, Ross was a progressive, and his anti-immigrant speech was made at a labor union meeting. Secondly, he was fired because Jane Stanford, widow of railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and cofounder of the university, demanded it. Ms. Stanford called Ross a man who “steps aside and out of his sphere to associate himself with the political demagogues of this city, exciting their evil passions, drawing distinctions between man and man, all laborers, and equal in the sight of God, and literally plays into the hands of the lowest and vilest elements of socialism, it brings the tears to my eyes.”

Since then, wealthy Americans, particularly those from the business sector, have tended to oppose strict immigration laws. Bernie Sanders undoubtedly surprised some leftists by declaring that open borders were supported by the Koch Brothers, but he was quite correct. In 2011, Republican presidential contender and entrepreneur, Herman Cain, garnered controversy for advocating right-wing policies on immigration that included an electric border fence that would kill illegal immigrants who tried to climb it. However, the National Restaurant Association, a group Cain led in the 1990s, has called for “a clear path to legalization” for undocumented immigrants. While I am sure that many wealthy Americans have sincere reasons for favoring open immigration, many of them are also dependent on both legal and illegal immigrants as a source of cheap labor. On the other hand, many working class Americans, largely but not exclusively white, vote Republican partly because they see illegal immigration as a threat to their jobs and want GOP politicians to crack down. Republican politicians are thus put in a bind, especially as many of them likely employee illegal immigrants themselves. How does the party resolve these competing desires from constituents? They have largely responded with a two-pronged approach. Firstly, they use conservative rhetoric on immigration, including in some cases advocating that American-born children of illegal immigrants not be considered citizens, despite the disturbing racial implications of this proposal. Secondly, they generally refrain from trying to fully lock down the border and deport all illegal immigrants once elected. Consider the administration of George W. Bush. His actual immigration policies were quite moderate. While opposing amnesty, Bush favored a guest worker program, declared mass deportation impossible, and allowed the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

What does all of this have to do with Trump? One of the factors in his rise to power is that a significant number of working class Republicans feel that the GOP Establishment has misled them about immigration, promising “border security” and deportation, then reneging to please corporate donors. Trump promises to curtail illegal immigration once and for all. Many of his proposed solutions are impossible to carry out, cruel, or, in the case of ending birthright citizenship, discriminatory. However, they have an appeal for members of the Republican base who feel that the elites in their party have repeatedly deceived them on immigration. This is the inevitable result of making campaign promises that one has no intention of fulfilling. Eventually, the people who voted for you based on those promises often stop voting for you and start supporting someone else. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a fiscal conservative and support liberal immigration policies for humanitarian reasons. But I am well aware that some of my fellow fiscal conservatives who support immigration do not have solely humanitarian motives. And I oppose the decision of Republican politicians to play both sides of the fence on immigration, both because it is unethical and because it has helped put Trump dangerously close to the presidency. For a final thought, it is interesting to look at a parallel between Trump and the aforementioned Leland Stanford, who served as Governor of California from 1861 to 1863. Trump himself has used immigrants as low-wage guest workers while engaging in vile xenophobic attacks. Like Trump but in contrast to the idealistic Ms. Stanford, Mr. Stanford warned the California legislature that Chinese immigrants should be discouraged. He argued that they came from an inferior race. And again similarly to Trump, Mr. Stanford’s corporation was importing thousands of Chinese workers to construct the Central Pacific Railroad.

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When Nostalgia Gets Deadly: The Connection Between a TV Tirade and the Rise of Donald Trump

Most people get nostalgic about something at some point. I myself get nostalgic for deep public swimming pools, 2-D animated Disney films, and the pre-1960s Republican Party. But oftentimes, nostalgia involves subscribing to an inaccurate vision of the past. In 2012, a clip from Aaron Sorkin’s T.V. show, The Newsroom went viral. In the clip, William McAvoy, a character played by Jeff Daniels, rants that America is not the greatest country in the world–but it used to be. I am posting the latter part of the tirade here because it is most relevant to the point of this blog: “So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?! … It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Given how inaccurate this statement is, one would think that the clip would have gone viral because people were marveling at how silly McAvoy sounded. Instead, the speech resonated with many people, who felt that Newsroom had hit upon a great truth about our country. Granted, in addition to the predictable anger from conservatives who saw the clip, it also did end up getting significant criticism from history aficionados. These people pointed out that McAvoy was ignoring the oppression in previous eras of millions of Americans who were not white, heterosexual, cis men. Now there is certainly no denying that bigotry and discrimination remain major problems, but it is also clear that they were more extreme in previous generations; we don’t have legalized chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, or sodomy bans anymore. Women can vote, and while Native Americans are still being denied sovereignty and land/water rights, there is a significantly more widespread commitment among white Americans to treating them fairly than there was 50, 100, 0r 150 years ago. Our immigration laws are less geared toward keeping out non-WASP immigrants, and we have less government censorship, more due process, and no active military draft. There is a greater degree of understanding toward disabled people. Rape laws, child abuse laws, and spousal abuse laws have slowly but surely gotten stricter. The list goes on and on. One can debate about whether or not America is currently great, but it is simply untenable to make the case that it no longer is great but used to be. Of course, the people who talk about America being better in the past, whether they be right-wing or left-wing, are usually white, heterosexual cis men. You do not often see black lesbians or Cherokee male-to-female transsexuals making such a claim. Of course, there is a degree of irony in this viewpoint even coming from Aaron Sorkin: Sorkin is Jewish, and in past eras, universities often had quotas limiting the number of Jewish students. Herbert Hoover had to be talked out of his original policy of not having more than one Jewish person on the Supreme Court; the current Supreme Court has three.

I do not believe that Sorkin or most of the people who forwarded around the Newsroom clip are bigoted. It is true, however, that there is a myopic vision and a warped sense of the past intrinsic in these sorts of nostalgic speeches. And whether liberal Newsroom fans want to admit it or not, there is an undeniable parallel between McAvoy’s attempted history lesson and Donald Trump’s bigotry-fueled “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump and large numbers of his supporters believe that the United States has gone downhill. To many of them, a key part of America’s decline is the progress of feminism, racial equality, and LGBT rights. Other Trump supporters probably do not think very much about the history of oppression in the United States, instead focusing narrowly on specific, individual aspects of life that have admittedly gotten worse for many lower middle/working class white, heterosexual cis men. This myopia makes them less inclined to question the sinister undercurrent of Trump’s nostalgic rhetoric, just as some white, heterosexual, cis male liberals failed to think about how McAvoy’s speech could come across to Americans from groups who most certainly had it worse in the past.

In fact, Trump has benefited from an apparent double standard: it appears to be more socially acceptable to state that America used to great but no longer is great than it is to say that America is now great but did not used to be great. Michelle Obama was raked across the coals by conservatives for suggesting that perhaps she had once not felt patriotic but was now proud to be an American. Few of those conservatives have dared point out the obvious unpatriotic implications in Trump’s slogan. And try being a presidential candidate and saying that the framers of the Constitution were hypocrites and that America is a great country now but was not great until the 1960s. Let me know when you are done getting screamed at. If you are lucky, you might get a writing job at Huffington Post, but your political career will probably be over. Nostalgia reigns supreme when it comes to what you can and cannot get away with saying about America. The danger in all of this is not only failing to acknowledge the past sufferings of many Americans. There is also a real danger that this sort of nostalgia will lead to people being swayed by a leader who promises to effectively return our country to a previous era. To this I say, be careful what you wish for.

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Why Clinton Must Win

About three and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post explaining why I would prefer that Clinton not be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. Well now, she is the nominee, and it is time to support her in order to stop Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson are all candidates that I would much prefer to Clinton. All of these candidates have a policy record more in keeping with mine than Clinton does. Johnson is a real social liberal-fiscal conservative and LGBT rights supporter, and Sanders and Stein are consummate civil libertarians who, most importantly, have far better LGBT rights records than Clinton. Unfortunately, Sanders did not win the nomination, and Stein and Johnson do not have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. Our choices are either Clinton or Trump. Clinton has come around slowly on equal rights for LGBT Americans, but she has come around. Trump has promised to try and turn back the clock on LGBT rights. He hopes to appoint judges who will reverse the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage, supports right-to-discriminate legislation, and cannot decide on whether or not transgender Americans should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. But Trump’s bigotry goes far beyond LGBT Americans. The following is a not-necessarily exhaustive list of groups that Trump has denigrated:

  1. LGBT People
  2. Native Americans
  3. Black People
  4. Women
  5. Muslims
  6. Middle Easterners
  7. Jews
  8. Disabled People
  9. Japanese Americans
  10. Poor People

Clinton has always favored racial and gender equality, while Trump has always opposed it. His denigration of people different from him is not limited just to bigoted personal attitudes. For one thing, as indicated above, he has repeatedly shown a willingness to let bigotry influence his public policy. For another, during the debates, he did not even deny point blank that he and his father discriminated against black people in their real estate business. So this strongly suggests that he was guilty. The alternative is that he wants Confederate Flag-waving, swastika tattoo-adorned, white-hooded skinheads to think he did so that they will vote for him. Additionally, he has admitted to and been accused of sexual abuse. So again, he’s probably guilty, and if not, he sure is acting like it.

But do not think that just because you are a white, cis male, able-bodied, middle or upper class heterosexual WASP that Trump is going to leave you alone. He has advocated government censorship against protesters who burn the American Flag and journalists who displease him. After being more vulgar than any president in recent memory, he demanded that the FCC fine National Review‘s Rich Lowry for making a joke about Carly Fiorina cutting his testicles off. We can add that to the list of Trump’s sins–making me side with Rich Lowry. I hope that the news networks and late night comedians have enjoyed the ratings boost that Trump has given them, because if elected president, “The Donald” might try to throw them in prison for sedition. I have to give John Kasich credit for a point his campaign raised in an ad: even if Trump does not have you in his crosshairs yet, he could easily try to upend your existence six months down the road.

Let me be honest: I am a single issue voter–my policy is to vote for whichever candidate has the best LGBT rights record and is not otherwise a bigot. For that reason alone, Clinton is the obvious choice. But even if I were to look at all the issues and try to weigh them equally, I would still vote for Clinton, because even on issues where Trump seemingly takes a better position than Clinton, his stances are basically meaningless. Let’s consider some. I am generally anti-gun control. Trump wrote in 2000 that he favored banning assault weapons, but in fairness, this was also when he disliked David Duke, so we know he has changed a lot since then. More important is the fact that nothing about Trump’s worldview of authoritarian big government suggests that he will uphold gun rights if elected. When leaders impose a police State, they generally favor confiscating guns to prevent an uprising. I am very concerned about Clinton’s past support for the Iraq War and fear that she will be fairly hawkish as president. However, it has been proven that Trump was lying when he claimed to have always opposed the Iraq War. And with him as president, I would be afraid of waking up one morning to nuclear Armageddon, because he is so belligerent, erratic, and megalomaniacal that he might annihilate another country because he was in a bad mood. Trump seemingly is less supportive than Clinton of trade deals that lead to American workers losing their jobs. But with his own business record of laying off employees to move operations overseas, there is no reason to trust him on this issue either. What about his promises to end the U.S. government’s policy of cozying up to brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia? Well, linked with his hypocrisy on free trade, he lined his pockets with money from Saudi Arabia, and he has lots of kind words for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, so once again he cannot be trusted on this issue. I disagree with Clinton’s views on health insurance policy, but Trump himself called for national health insurance back in 2000 and actually suggested earlier this year that he favored an individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance before he backpedaled. And yes, Clinton is a big spender when it comes to the federal budget. But Trump’s calls for increased military expenditures and a border wall are very difficult to reconcile with the idea of low federal spending. The only way that he will be able to fulfill his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall is by going to war–which again, will cost money. And if he fulfills his promise of tax cuts, then that will simply give us the Reagan-Bush, Jr. combination of high spending without the revenue to pay for it, plus the associated increases in the national debt and deficit. I implore everyone not to vote for Trump. I am endorsing Hillary Clinton, since she is the only candidate besides him who has a chance of winning. And I encourage others to vote for her as well. But if you feel that you cannot bring yourselves to vote for Clinton, then I urge you to vote for Johnson or Stein. Just please do not vote for Trump. If he gets elected, it won’t just be Mexico paying for it. We will all pay dearly.

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