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“The Constitution The Republicans Can’t Stand”: They Use Their Pocket Constitutions For The Parts That Come In Handy

If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.

The Second Amendment — every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word “Obamacare”!

But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.

In its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of enslaved people were disqualified from U.S. citizenship. After we fought a civil war, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, which overturned Dred Scott in its opening lines, declaring, “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.”

During the congressional debate over the 14th Amendment, both its supporters and detractors recognized that this birthright citizenship clause would apply to everyone born on U.S. soil, not just the descendants of slaves. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the U.S. could not deny citizenship to Wong Kim Ark, a California-born son of Chinese immigrants, because the 14th Amendment guaranteed him citizenship.

Yet, anti-immigrant activists and their allies in the GOP are now fighting against this most American of constitutional principles.

In an immigration plan released this week, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for ending birthright citizenship. No matter that he didn’t say how he would do that (while most people acknowledge that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the policy, some claim it was never included in the 14th Amendment in the first place). His Republican rivals started jumping to join him. Scott Walker told reporters that he “absolutely” wanted to change the Constitution’s definition of citizenship, adding, paradoxically, that “to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country.” Ben Carson said it “doesn’t make any sense” to allow “anchor babies.” Bobby Jindal joined the fray. So did Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum had already expressed their support for undoing the citizenship provision, with Paul sponsoring a constitutional amendment to do so and Santorum saying the 14th Amendment doesn’t even say what it says.

Jeb Bush has been getting unearned credit for acknowledging that birthright citizenship is a “constitutional right” that we shouldn’t “take away” — just a few days after implying that if he had a “magic wand” to change the Constitution he would use it to do just that. Similarly, John Kasich has renounced his previous support for repealing birthright citizenship, but now says he doesn’t want to “dwell on it.” Carly Fiorina’s and Rick Perry’s passionate defense of the 14th Amendment is that it would take too much work to change it. This is what now passes for moderation. What ever happened to defending basic constitutional rights?

The Republican presidential contenders’ rush to badmouth a basic constitutional right — in an apparent attempt to appeal to their supposedly Constitution-loving far-right base — speaks volumes about what they really mean when they talk about constitutionalism. They use their pocket Constitutions for the parts that come in handy. The rest of it? Not so much.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People for The American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, August 20, 2015

August 21, 2015 Posted by | Birthright Citizenship, Republicans, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Our Collective American Blind Spot”: To Teach Only ‘American Exceptionalism’ Is To Ignore Half The Country’s Story

In late July, the College Board, the administrators of the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, issued new guidelines for teaching AP United States history. One change was to add a section on “American exceptionalism,” a concept as old as the country itself that the United States is qualitatively different – and, arguably, better – than other nations.

While “exceptionalism,” at its best, nurtures civic pride, at its worst, it blinds Americans to the country’s long history of remarkably unexceptional ideas and actions. What George Santayana so neatly encapsulated over a century ago remains painfully true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As a historian and tour guide, I often see this collective American blind spot on display as I lead walks of historic New York City. On Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace, a quaint carving of a witch on a broomstick is a jumping off point for discussing the deep anti-Irish sentiment in the city following the influx of immigrants after the 1845 potato famine. Political cartoonists like Thomas Nast depicted the Irish as apes and Catholic bishops as monsters; “No Irish Need Apply” signs appeared in shop windows.

As I tell these stories, I can see the anger grow in some of my listeners. One woman flat-out told me to stop talking. “You can’t say that,” she admonished. “It’s not true.” I clarified that these were not my opinions, but those of many Protestant New Yorkers a century and a half ago. “No,” she repeated. She did not want to know about an America where such things were possible – which, of course, meant she didn’t want to confront the idea that she might still live in such a place.

Similarly, in Chinatown one day, my explanation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively banned Chinese immigration for six decades, led one visitor to launch into a tirade about America’s porous borders. I shook my head – not at his critique, which had some valid points – but at his inability to connect the country’s history with his own past. You see, he was Chinese American. The Chinese Exclusion Act had been an affront to his heritage; current immigrants were an affront to his political and economic ideals. He saw no link between the two.

In revising their standards, the College Board is hoping to bridge this gap between the nation’s history and students’ contemporary experiences by providing “sufficient time to immerse students in the major ideas, events, people and documents of US history,” where before “they were instead required to race through topics.” The revisions were also a reaction to conservative input on the AP curricula revision process – beginning in 2012, there had been a groundswell of conservative criticism against the proposed standards, which the Republican National Committee argued “emphasize[d] negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The College Board sought input from teachers, historians and parents to shape teaching guidelines that present a “clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history.”

Unfortunately, the new standards have also softened the language about the country’s most shameful episode: its 244-year history of slavery. As recent “heritage not hate” rallies centered on the Confederate battle flag illustrate, there is perhaps no greater myth in America today than the idea that the Civil War was predominantly about states’ rights. Well, it was about one right: the right to own Africans as chattel.

In Texas, new textbooks minimize the role of slavery in the Civil War, despite the fact that the state’s own “Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union” explicitly stated that the Confederacy was “established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity” and that “the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free….” Gone from the state’s new books are mentions of Jim Crow or the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the “you can’t say that” woman in Central Park writ large. This is especially troubling since Texas’s large population means that its curricular standards influence textbook buying in other states.

America is, in fact, an exceptional place. Founded by groups as diverse as indigenous Native Americans, Dutch merchants, English separatists, Spanish missionaries, French frontiersman and Africans – both free and enslaved – the country’s diversity stretches back four centuries. Each of these groups, and the many immigrants who followed them, brought strengths, and weaknesses, with them. We are right to celebrate the strengths, but if we don’t shine a light on the weaknesses, we are ignoring at least half the story.

 

By: James Nevius, The Guardian, August 3, 2015

August 9, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, American History, The College Board | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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