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“The GOP Is The Party Of Fear”: Scaring The Voters Works; There’s No Reason For The Republicans To Stop

The Republicans might consider themselves as the party of freedom, but their true identity, as Tuesday night’s debate made clear, is the party of fear. All the candidates on stage, with the partial exception of Senator Rand Paul, painted a frightening picture of America as a country that, as frontrunner Donald Trump warned, is on the verge of disintegrating.

“We need strength,” Trump said. “We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.”

Trump is often portrayed as an anomaly among the GOP candidates, but consider the words of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, widely regarded as one of the moderates in the party.

“America has been betrayed,” Christie said in his opening statement, where his words were clearly carefully planned.

We’ve been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have provided to this country over the last number of years. Think about just what’s happened today. The second largest school district in America in Los Angeles closed based on a threat. Think about the effect that, that’s going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering filled with anxiety to whether they’re really going to be safe.

Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children.

One might wonder how Obama and Clinton are responsible for the Los Angeles School District overreacting to a bomb hoax. One might also wonder that about a presidential candidate who uses the Los Angeles incident not to criticize the tendency to overreact to perceived threats but to stoke fear.

But Christie was hardly alone. All the other candidates spoke of an America under siege, no longer respected in the world, with a weakened military, threatened by both homegrown terrorists as well as immigrants and refugees who might be terrorists. To be sure, Senator Rand Paul did enter a few libertarian caveats about the dangers of ranking security above liberty, but even he used xenophobic fear of immigrants to attack rival Senator Marco Rubio. Ultimately, all the candidates played to a politics of fear—and history suggests it will help them in 2016.

How did fear come to loom so large as a part of Republican rhetoric? The crucial turning point surely was 9/11, which gave birth to a culture of fear in America—about which a small but vital literature has emerged, such as Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream (2007), Corey Robin’s Fear: The History of a Political Idea (2006), Peter N. Stearns’s American Fears (2006). Using historical evidence, Stearns argued “that there either more fearful Americans than there once were, or that their voices are louder or more sought after and publicly authorized—or both.”

The best articulation of this culture of fear—and the concomitant willingness to do almost anything to secure an impregnable level of safety or security—can be seen in the 1 percent doctrine as articulated by Vice President Dick Cheney: “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” In effect, Cheney was calling for the United States to become one giant safe space, even if it meant massively overreacting to threats abroad.

Sanctioned by Washington, a language giving priority to safety has increasingly shaped other parts of society, including academia. Last September, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, argued that freedom of speech has to be tempered by an acknowledgement of the demands of safety and civility: “[W]e can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility.”

The culture of fear that grew up after 9/11 inevitably stifled free speech. “As a writer and editor,” Michael Kinsley wrote in The Washington Post in 2002, “I have been censoring myself and others quite a bit since Sept. 11. By ‘censoring’ I mean deciding not to write or publish things for reasons other than my own judgment of their merits. What reasons? Sometimes it has been a sincere feeling that an ordinarily appropriate remark is inappropriate at this extraordinary moment. Sometimes it is a genuine respect for readers who might feel that way even if I don’t. But sometimes it is simple cowardice.”

With both academia and journalism cowed, the years after 9/11 were a golden age for Republicans, when they were able to push a large part of their agenda, not just in foreign policy but often domestically as well. So it’s no surprise that Republicans keep returning to the well: Stirring up anxiety in the electorate has been so profitable for them. In his closing statement in the debate, Christie cagily evoked the memories of 9/ll:

On September 10th, 2001, I was named chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey and on September 11th, 2001, my wife and my brother who are in the audience tonight went through the World Trade Center and to their offices just blocks away from the Trade Center.

I lost touch with them for six hours that day and prayed that they were alive

Reviving 9/11 level fears is now a campaign strategy. Consider the midterm elections of 2014, when alarmist accounts of Ebola patients, “anchor babies,” and ISIS assassins all flooding the United States became a staple of Republican discourse. This fear-mongering paid handsome dividends at the ballot, with the Republicans winning the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House and in state legislatures. Scaring the voters works. There’s no reason for the Republicans to stop.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor at the New Republic, December 15, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | 9-11, Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Representation Fails, Demagogues Thrive”: How America’s Political And Economic Elite Gave Birth To The Trump Campaign

“Trump talks about Mexicans the way anti-Semites talk about Jews.”

There’s a lot of truth in that Christopher Hayes tweet from the night of the first Republican debate. Ominous (and unsubstantiated) talk of rapists and murders streaming over the southern border, demonization of “anchor babies,” calls to end birthright citizenship — Donald Trump’s surging campaign for president has brought xenophobic fears and hostility into the political mainstream in a big way. No one should be surprised that just a couple of clicks to Trump’s right, Iowa radio personality Jan Mickelson has begun to muse with his listeners about whether the U.S. should enslave undocumented immigrants who fail to leave the country.

But political commentators would be wise to avoid sliding too quickly into denunciations of Trump’s supporters and his campaign for falling prey to fascism. Yes, their rhetoric is often illiberal and sometimes blatantly racist. But that doesn’t mean their concerns deserve to be dismissed entirely. Trump’s supporters have reasons for their views, and some of those reasons are worth taking seriously.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise (in intensity if not always in sheer numbers) throughout the Western world in recent years. The severe economic downturn that began in 2008 and the painfully slow recovery that followed has no doubt helped to fuel it. But so has a visceral frustration at what many believe to be a failure of representative institutions to respond to popular discontent about the changing ethnic and economic character of Western nation states over the past several decades.

These institutions have been sluggish to respond to this discontent because two (sometimes overlapping) factions of our political and economic elite strongly support high levels of immigration — or at least oppose doing very much to stop it.

One of the factions — the business class and its neoliberal champions in government, think tanks, and NGOs — believes in a free-flowing international labor market that treats borders as superfluous.

The other faction — liberal lawyers, activists, intellectuals, journalists, academics, members of the clergy, and (once again) NGO staffers — has a deep-seated moral suspicion of nations and political boundaries in general. Why should an American count for more than a Mexican who crosses the border into the United States? Shouldn’t a refugee fleeing violence in North Africa enjoy full political rights upon setting foot in the European Union? Don’t all human beings deserve to be treated equally under the law? Isn’t opposition to such equality an example of bald-faced racism?

Both of these factions make deeply anti-political assumptions, denying the legitimacy of particularistic affiliations and dismissing the intuition that citizenship in a particular political community is a distinction that should not be open to all comers. The first faction denies these fundamentally political distinctions in the name of economic universalism; the second denies them in the name of moral universalism.

Universalism might be the gold standard of truth in economics, moral philosophy, and in every field of inquiry that aims to model itself on the natural sciences. But politics is always about how these particular people choose to govern themselves. Which means that politics can never be conducted entirely in universalistic terms.

It would be one thing if we had reason to believe that the human race was evolving in the direction of a universal, homogenous state in which there would be no one “outside,” and therefore also no one “inside,” a single political community of worldwide extent. The trouble is that there is little evidence that politically based solidarity is withering away. On the contrary, the more that economic and moral universalists get their way in the policy arena, the more they inspire a radically particularistic (nationalistic, often race-based) backlash.

That describes exactly what’s been happening in the United States (and Europe) in recent years. Not only has the federal government been half-hearted at policing the nation’s southern border, but millions of individuals and business owners have flouted the nation’s immigration laws by hiring undocumented workers, most of them below minimum wage. (I wonder: Will the dramatic increases in the minimum wage being enacted and contemplated around the country alleviate or exacerbate this problem?)

The combination of a porous border and abundant jobs is what keeps attracting immigrants to risk crossing into the United States. Then once they’re here, the moralists deny the legitimacy of finding and deporting them. That creates something close to an open-border policy.

A majority of American citizens may support a generally liberal immigration policy — I certainly do — but there’s no evidence they think the border should be effectively abolished. Those for whom this is an important issue are not wrong to see our drift in that direction as, in part, a failure of democratic representation.

And when representation fails, demagogues thrive, promising to serve as something more than a mere representative — something more like a living embodiment of the people’s will.

Enter Donald Trump.

The magnate from Manhattan is still a long-shot to land the Republican nomination, let alone to win the general election against a halfway competent Democrat. But the passions he’s drawn on and stirred up are unlikely to disappear. And that’s where the dysfunction of our political system rightly inspires serious concern.

Everybody in Washington understands perfectly well what the solution will have to be — some combination of much more stringent border controls with a path to citizenship for those already here. This is precisely the kind of deal that Congress (led by GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio) worked hard, and failed, to pass after the 2012 election. It went down in large part because those who care about the issue no longer trust the federal government to impose the crucially important first half of the deal (enforcement of the border). They fear, and not without reason, that the path to citizenship will be enacted with enthusiasm while the border controls will be half-hearted — a combination that would likely inspire even more people to come to the U.S. illegally.

That leaves us stuck: knowing what we need to do but unable to get it done, with some of us tempted to treat a billionaire snake oil salesman as the nation’s savior.

It’s unclear how to go about righting our course. But it certainly couldn’t hurt for the moral universalists among us to acknowledge that their contempt for particularistic political attachments is helping to provoke the very xenophobic passions they rightly decry.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, August 25, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigrant Laborers, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Get The Facts Jeb”: Why Jeb Bush Should Pledge To Roll Out The Welcome Mat For Asian Birth Tourists

Jeb Bush used to be the Mr. Rogers of GOP presidential candidates — a gentle fellow who would put you to sleep a few minutes after coming on TV. Now Bush is the GOP’s Bambi — a frozen deer who doesn’t know which way to turn as the headline-beaming monster truck that is Donald Trump bears down upon him.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Bush’s recent cringe-inducing suggestion that the real abusers of America’s birthright citizenship are Asian birth tourists — not Latino “anchor babies,” as Trump claims.

But as the GOP’s token pro-immigration candidate, if Bush had half of Trump’s cojones, he wouldn’t throw Asians under the bus to save Latinos. He’d tell Trump that “anchor babies” are a problem more hyped up than Trump’s bouffant — and birth tourism is a blessing that America should wholeheartedly welcome.

“Anchor babies” are a myth invented by restrictionists to try and scrap America’s constitutionally guaranteed right to birthright citizenship. The term used to refer to pregnant Latino women who supposedly deliberately and illegally came to America to give birth to American children who would become mom and dad’s green card sponsors. But this scheme can involve wait times of up to 31 years (kids can’t sponsor before age 21, and parents sometimes have to wait 10 years outside America before qualifying). Hence, restrictionists couldn’t find many examples to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria. So now they have dubbed every one of the 300,000 children born to undocumented parents annually as anchor babies whose real purpose is to prevent their unauthorized parents from being deported.

This argument is ridiculous. Vanishingly few undocumented immigrants have children specifically to escape deportation. They have children because they want to — for any number of non-cynical reasons. And yes, this can sometimes help them escape deportation. But don’t conflate that consequence of birth with the motives for pregnancy.

Anchor babies don’t exist in any meaningful sense. Birth tourism, however, does. And that’s a good thing.

No super-reliable figures are available, but the number commonly bandied about puts birth tourist babies at a mere 35,000 annually. Unlike the poor, unauthorized Latino parents of mythical “anchor babies,” birth tourism involves relatively well-off couples, the vast majority from China, who come to America when it comes time to give birth so their kid will score U.S. citizenship.

Another benefit for these Chinese couples: Beijing’s autocrats don’t count children born with other nationalities against a couple’s one-child quota. No doubt, a U.S. passport for their newborn is a huge attraction. But America is not the only destination for couples trying to dodge China’s draconian birth control policies. Mainland Chinese couples also flock to Hong Kong (all of which the pro-life, pro-family conservative editors of National Review Online should understand and applaud rather than running confused pieces like this conflating “anchor babies” and birth tourists to promote their anti-birthright citizenship crusade).

Immigration restrictionists love to deride “anchor baby” parents for being in the United States illegally. But that’s not true with birth tourists. They come here legally. Even a recent Rolling Stone “expose” of Los Angeles-based maternity agencies acknowledged: “Birth tourists, arriving on legal visas, aren’t breaking any laws while in the country.” Meanwhile, a May Bloomberg Businessweek story about these agencies — that for a fee of up to $50,000 help a couple obtain U.S. visas, put them up in hotels during their long stay in America, arrange doctors and hospitals and then passports for their infant — found that most of them go out of their way to coach their clients in “cheng shi qian” (honest visa applications). This is not to say that no one lies, but it is far from standard practice — which is why a Department of Homeland Security raid on maternity hotels earlier this year didn’t seem to come up with many instances of visa fraud, despite a long undercover investigation.

Restrictionists constantly accuse “anchor baby” parents of mooching off American taxpayers by using emergency services for child delivery and collecting welfare through their American child. (Never mind that unauthorized parent-headed households receive far less welfare than native ones of similar income, and are far less prone to welfare dependency.) But none of that applies to birth tourists, who, with few exceptions, pay for the entire cost of delivery out of pocket. In fact, the agency that formed the cornerstone of the Bloomberg story went out of its way to ensure that its clients don’t use public money, and keep copious documentation to prove that.

More to the point, birth tourist babies go home to be raised during their most expensive phase — only to possibly return to America after their 18th birthday, during their most productive phase. In effect, birth tourism allows America to outsource the raising of its citizens, resulting in enormous savings, given that it costs a whopping $300,000 to raise a child in a middle-income family in America today.

Every adult immigrant, even poor Latinos, constitute a windfall for America, given that America reaps the dividends of another society’s investment in them. (Indeed, immigration is arguably a far cheaper way than having children for a society to maintain its population level.) But birth tourist babies are a special boon because they are the product of super-ambitious parents who are obviously sparing no expense or effort to build their child’s full potential and give him/her options.

This is why it is all the more unfortunate that Jeb Bush put birth tourists in the crosshairs of his party’s ugly war on immigration. He has said in the past that Latinos who come to America illegally to give their children a better life are engaging in an “act of love.” This is equally true for Asian birth tourists.

Bush should have used their example to defend and strengthen America’s birthright citizenship against Trump’s attacks. Instead, in his panic about his nose-diving poll numbers, he may have done the opposite — none of which inspires much confidence in another Bush presidency.

 

By: Shika Dalmia, The Week, August 28, 2015

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Birth Tourism, Immigrants, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lack Of Confidence In The American Project”: Sorry, Donald Trump; America Needs Birthright Citizenship

Conservatives usually believe in American exceptionalism, and in upholding the Constitution. Which is why it’s strange to see so much conservative ebullience over Donald Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizenship.

It’s not news that there are a significant number of Americans who are anxious about immigration — illegal and otherwise — and that they exert considerable political clout (though ultimately less than is sometimes breathlessly suggested). And many of those people fret about so-called “anchor babies.” The problem with “anchor babies” is that they’re a myth. (Trust me. As a Frenchman with a fertile wife who often wanted to emigrate to the U.S., I did the research.)

This fight therefore nicely serves to highlight the fact that most (though not all) fears related to immigration belong more to the realm of fantasy than reality.

But it also illustrates something else: how the restrictionist position is all too often born of a lack of confidence in the American project.

After all, the two are inseparable. Birthright citizenship says, quite explicitly, “The American project is so strong, our culture is so strong, our values are so strong, that any baby born on our soil, no matter where his parents come from, will ultimately grow up to be a well-adjusted American, so that we don’t need to wait for him to prove himself to extend citizenship.”

In contrast, the movement to end birthright citizenship says, essentially, “Nope, sorry, that’s not true. We can’t do it. We can’t do it anymore.”

Which, again, goes to highlight the tension between extreme restrictionism in immigration and conservative values. Conservatives typically display above average, not below average, confidence in the American project and in the capacity of judicious applications of American patriotism to solve problems.

There’s another funny intersection between birthright citizenship and the conservative worldview, and I have an unusual window into it. As I said, I’m a Frenchman. France and the United States are unusual in both being nations explicitly founded (or refounded) on Enlightenment values. And one trait they share is that they both instituted birthright citizenship.

One reason was the Enlightenment-driven belief, over and against the feudalism that prevailed in most places in Europe, that citizenship depended on a social contract, not a bloodline, and that your parentage should not therefore change your citizenship status.

But there was another reason (and here lies an entire critique of the Enlightenment, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), a reason we’re not too comfortable with today: empire. The institution of birthright citizenship in France was enacted by France’s revolutionary government and ratified by Napoleon’s civil code, partly so citizens could be pressed into duty in the army. As France expanded, so did its citizenship rolls, as did its citizen army, as did its military might, all in a virtuous cycle (virtuous, at least, from Napoleon’s perspective).

The U.S. enacted birthright citizenship for different reasons, to ensure the citizenship of freed slaves after the Civil War. But the point is that birthright citizenship is historically associated with confidence in the national project, perhaps even supreme confidence.

Oh, and how did it do in France? Well, we got scared of immigrants, so we got rid of birthright citizenship piecemeal over the past few decades.

So here’s the other odd thing about the birthright citizenship debate: American conservatives saying they want to be more like France. Kudos!

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, August 24, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Birthright Citizenship, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Donald Trump At The Wheel”: He’s Driving The GOP Over A Cliff, And The Establishment Can’t Stop Him

After a week’s worth of soundbites from presidential candidates about “anchor babies” and repealing birthright citizenship, it is now clear, if it wasn’t already, that Donald Trump has the steering wheel of the Republican Party firmly in his grasp.

So despite the Republican National Committee’s infamous “autopsy” of the 2012 election — which found that the party could not compete unless it fixed its increasingly toxic image among the Latino electorate — the GOP’s presidential primary has devolved into a contest to see who can demonize and dehumanize immigrants the most. If a sensible, pragmatic Republican Party “establishment” actually existed, now is right about when it would step in. But it doesn’t, of course; so it won’t.

Which is not to say that what passes for the GOP establishment nowadays has gone silent. As recent pieces from elite conservative pundits in Slate and Politico Magazine show, something approximating an establishment is still in the mix. The problem, though, is that this establishment is completely incapable of controlling Trump, much less the party’s overall message. And whether they opt for conflict or cooptation, their attempts to manipulate Trump will inevitably fail.

Because the establishment, unlike Trump, cannot bring itself to see the Republican Party — and the conservative movement, in general — for the clumsy vehicle of politicized resentment and white identity politics that it really is.

True, conservative elites have been playing some version of this game for a while now; using extreme reactionaries to win elections but pretending the GOP is run by urbane, center-right moderates. But those forces used to be disorganized enough that long-shot protest candidacies (like the Pat Buchanan’s in the 1990s) were the best they could do. And that made maintaining the lie — that the conservative movement’s inmates did not run the asylum — a whole lot easier. At this point, however, that’s no longer the case.

Nevertheless, they’re still trying. And thus do we get pieces like this one in Slate, by National Review’s Reihan Salam, which operates from the absurd premise that conservative, iconoclastic minority voters can be brought into the GOP coalition without tearing the whole thing apart. “There appears to be a nontrivial share of black voters who are open to a center-right message,” Salam writes near the end of his piece. “Winning them over,” he continues, “will mean decontaminating a GOP brand.”

If the GOP coalition was the pluralist, cosmopolitan entity of his imagination, Salam would have a decent point. But such a GOP wouldn’t have a xenophobic, populist figure like Trump, whose mantra is that “we” must “take our country back,” as its biggest star, would it? If the Republican Party was comprised of voters who signed-up because they held “conservative positions on issues,” which is what Salam seems to think, then how could an ideological grab-bag like Trump be in the position he’s in?

As Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul complained earlier this summer, Trump is anything but a consistent conservative. But as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who hopes to be the second-choice of Trump’s supporters, seems to understand, the kind of voters who now control the GOP primary don’t see politics through that prism. They don’t love Trump because of any long-held views on taxes or abortion or Social Security; they love Trump because they see him as “one of [them].”

Obviously, Salam is not the only serious right-wing pundit to misunderstand the GOP coalition. He’s not even the only one from National Review to do it as of late. Editor-in-chief Rich Lowry recently wrote a piece for Politico Magazine that celebrated Trump’s influence. Yet he littered his praise with caveats about how Trump’s “bar-stool bombast” and “excesses” obscured his larger, more intellectually defensible views. But for the Republicans flocking to Trump, the rhetoric isn’t an afterthought; it’s what Trumpism is.

Lowry’s attempt to rush to the front of the pro-Trump mob and then try to lead it is relatively feeble. But even if his column was as powerful as it would need to be to get these people’s attention, it would still fail. Because Lowry, like Salam, doesn’t know how to talk to these people, which is due in no small part to his spending so much of his career responding to liberal criticism by pretending these folks don’t even exist. In that sense, speaking to them in their own language, as Trump does, would be a defeat.

Then again, what would Lowry or Salam actually say to these people, hypothetically, to get them to stop making the GOP look so viciously nativist? While the differences between the two groups are in a sense aesthetic, this is a case where style and substance and one and the same. Trump’s backers adore him because he’s willing to say the things they believe, but are told they shouldn’t. For them, a strategy that required no more public talk of “anchor babies” would be missing the point.

And that’s why the GOP finds itself in its current predicament, and why no one should expect a pragmatic, sober-minded establishment to ultimately step in. Until the Trump phenomenon collapses due to the public’s fatigue or Trump’s individual boredom, this is how the GOP primary will remain. The only candidates who’ll survive will be the ones willing to kick dirt on illegal immigrants. They’ll be the ones who stopped campaigning in the GOP of the pundits’ imaginations, opting instead to win over voters who actually exist.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, August 22, 2015

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Immigrants | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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