Another week in American politics down, another week closer to the end of the American republic. Partisan politics was once the province of logical debate. As the U.S. became comfortable with 24 hour television coverage and gossip pseudo-journalism, personal attack ads became the currency of partisanship. Now, in the parlance of our times, Americans have “kicked it up another notch!” If we don’t like a law, or a tax, or a President, we can threaten to destroy the country or its foundation.
In the past 18 months, we have heard persistent threats and even calls for secession and revolution, by pundits and politicians alike. The universal link is the conservative backlash against Democratic control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. But, breaking away from the defined politics of our time, the fuel for these efforts runs far deeper than any one issue or party. The recent brouhaha over Arizona’s immigration law is, I think, an indication of the real issues that run beneath. In this case of Arizona S. 1070, the backlash hasn’t included calls for secession, but it has reached a fever pitch with the recent calls by Senators Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyle to repeal the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Then candidate Obama, in the early days of the 2008 race, described what he called “a coarsening of American culture”. The violence and profanity which seems to color our discourse, from playground to politics, is a bipartisan threat to our democracy and our way of life. Every confrontation, it seems, is a fight to the death. To compromise, to acknowledge the point of another, to step back from conflict, to be what we used to refer to as “the bigger man” (if you will forgive the chauvinist nature of the remark), has become a mark of weakness. The natural result of this new paradigm is a constant escalation of rhetoric and, eventually, action.
In this escalation and rush to final combat, our society runs by the relevant facts of whatever debate we were supposed to be working on. The running gun battles of immigration, which is at its core a non-partisan issue, illustrates the point. Illegal immigration from Latin America has been an issue for decades now. Rebuking the efforts of at least 5 presidents, the entire issue has proven to be as difficult a problem to solve as any in our country’s history. Democrats and Republicans, business and social workers, humanitarians and the military; no one entity has come up with a plan that could solve all of the problems attendant to this issue. This simple fact, of course, does not stop politicians and blowhards on every side of the issue from claiming to have a solution, and attacking their enemies for their “incompetence”.
So why is this so difficult to fix? I will give you a hint; it doesn’t have anything to do with our Constitution or the respective efforts of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
- We are the greatest country in the world…people want to come here. The American Dream is a powerful draw; we will fight for it, it isn’t immediately apparent why someone else shouldn’t want it as bad.
- Keeping people out is not as easy as building a fence, and Barack Obama’s sponsorship (in the Senate) of the Secure Fence Act hasn’t been enough to convince folks he cares about the issue.
- U.S. citizens are divided on many aspects of immigration, and that division rarely occurs along easy to follow geographical or political fault lines.
- When it comes to anything remotely related to race or religion, Americans (as a whole) have not yet learned how to have adult conversations.
- On all sides, this issue is defined by cultural loss. This loss is a powerful, emotional reaction that is difficult to explain and impossible to rationalize.
I have previously addressed the issue of immigration, and many others with more credibility have weighed in on the subject. Instead of getting closer to some tangible solution, our nation is running away from reason at a breakneck pace. That we have come to a point where someone would consider an appeal of the 14th Amendment is, even in today’s climate, a stunning development. This is the text of that Amendment, ratified in 1868:
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
This Amendment is the core clause ensuring that “All men are created equal” is not just an empty phrase. It is the foundation of every action our republic has taken in support of civil rights; whether for black or brown, women, or the disabled. Furthermore, the specific reasons listed for the assault are absurd. The best estimate for the numbers of babies born to illegals in our nation every year is 300,000. It is the automatic citizenship of those children that the repeal the 14th crowd are targeting. They point to the cost of births, and the “ease” with which their parents can obtain citizenship (due to the children acting as sponsors when they turn 21). These facts and assumptions are somehow warped into repeal being a cornerstone of reform.
For this line of attack to have any merit, the exclusion of automatic citizenship would have to be assumed to put downward pressure on the will to emigrate to this country. There is simply no evidence that this is the case. The majority of illegals entering our country are migrant workers, not pregnant mothers, and many of those interviewed who cross the border do so for the better standard of care rather than a desire for citizenship. This issue, in rational practice, fades into the overarching problem of immigration. We have a nation to the south of our own that is close to our definition of a failed state. Yet it is one we have provided only a fraction of support to in comparison with places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Israel.
That our border with that near-failed state is porous, is the fundamental problem that all of those presidents have failed to solve. The problems with immigration are simplistic, but they are far from easy to grasp. The side effects from immigration generate strong emotions that overwhelm reason, and make simple problems harder to focus on. I provided a link earlier to my suggestions, and I would encourage all to develop some of your own. Define the challenges using real data; much of what has been reported is blatantly false in today’s climate of “political create your facts” journalism. We can solve this problem; we can do so by stepping back, taking a breath, trusting our system of government (if not all of its practitioners), and reasoning out a solution.
We won’t find one that all are happy with, but the history of our United States suggests we will find one we can all live with.
The Rational Middle is listening…