When I moved back to New York City as an adult in the late 1990s, the job that got me here was as an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Services. I worked at J.F.K. airport stamping passports and processing immigrants, refugees, tourists, celebrities, and anyone else that came through my line.
In some cases the job could be very humbling and inspiring. For a short time I worked at the federal building in downtown Manhattan interviewing refugees and asylees who were applying for green cards. I met people who would rather be fry cooks in America than engineers in their native country. I met a woman who had seen her family murdered, a man who did time in jail for being gay, and young guy who faced prison time for simply protesting for his rights.
I also saw first-hand how our system is completely broken and is largely not at all in keeping with the traditions of what we consider our great American heritage of immigration. Our immigration laws and policies are a patchwork of corporate influence and ethnic lobbying. There is no comprehensive consideration of the national interest in how immigration is handled in the U.S. and it’s been that way for decades.
In New York City, you know something crazy is going on when people are voluntarily going to JFK Airport when they don’t have to. This past weekend thousands of people flocked there to protest the detention of a handful of travelers by order of a hastily drawn up Presidential executive order travel ban that affected a handful of Muslim-majority countries.
Travel bans like the one issued are done at times when there is a potential immediate terrorist threat. Others that have been cited have been President Carter’s restriction on Iranian travel during the hostage crisis at the time and President Obama’s temporary ban on processing Iraqi refugees in 2011. But those were limited and in response to events happening at the time. There aren’t corresponding crises that would equate to the recent Trump travel ban.
President Trump’s ham-handed executive order is like everything else he has done: a dramatic show without any planning or thought and with no understanding of the issues. He managed to make life difficult for those border and airport inspectors on the front lines of our national defense and energize the opposition. He’s helped open-border advocates position their agenda as more mainstream than it is.
Trump won the election based largely on the strength of his opposition to illegal immigration and within the first week of his administration he’s undermined his greatest political asset.
And the biggest tragedy is that now real patriotic immigration reform is going to be even more difficult to achieve, because any attempt to enact a common-sense agenda is going to be linked to Trump’s bone-headed travel ban.
This weekend’s move also hurt the fight against Islamic terrorism. Keep in mind that our best allies in the fight against Muslim extremists are Muslims from those afflicted countries. Trump’s attempt at a show-business presidency punishes some of the people who worked alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, truly deserving refugees that risked their lives for our servicemen and women.
The decay of our immigration system began in 1965 and it’s had more than 50 years to morph into the mess it is today. It will take years to pass the laws needed to make sensible immigration policy stick. If Donald Trump is serious about really making a lasting change, he would stop his senseless showboating and start drafting legislation with Congressional leaders. That would require time away from TV cameras and social media. That requires real work. Start now!
The most deplorable thing about the general election was the awful choices voters were handed. The wife of a former President and a shady real estate mogul best known for hosting a reality television show? There was no way the outcome could be anything less than embarrassing. Each candidate deserved to lose.
There’s not much negative about Donald Trump that he didn’t say himself. He refused to even read the news during his campaign, brushing aside the pleas of his staff that he prepare for debates or learn about the world he was asking to lead. He’s arrogant and vulgar and his life is a monument to bad taste and delusions of grandeur. He’s been wrong about almost everything. But he was right on illegal immigration and crime and America is so desperate for people to speak at least partially honestly on controversial topics that this paid big dividends at the polls.
Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person with political skills and a mastery of the law and public policy. While there’s no doubt she got to where she was in large part because she is a former first lady, she’d be a formidable candidate and no question the most qualified by experience on the ballot. No one doubted her intelligence or her skill. But her career has been marred by repeated short-sighted judgements based almost solely on political calculation. In the end Hillary Clinton outsmarted herself.
The Clinton campaign followed the conventional wisdom of American politics that says accusations of racism is the Kryptonite of Republican candidates. Anyone so shamed with that scarlet ‘R’ is supposed to meekly apologize for whatever infraction they’ve committed, and sulk off to political purgatory. Trump threw that political calculus out the window and if fortune smiles upon our republic it will be his enduring legacy.
Trump set the stage early with his stand against illegal immigration. It was considered radical and extreme because he delivered a speech with his usual bombast. But the Democrats’ year-long overreaction to Trump’s stand against illegal immigration was their biggest gift to him.
You can’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to demonize those who want to fix it, even if your opponent is an ignorant blowhard. Illegal immigration on the scale we have now suppresses wages, brings criminal aliens into the country, poses serious public health risks, and often places unfair burdens on state and local governments forced to provide higher levels of service for populations that pay little or no taxes. You would have to be a reclusive millionaire not to see first-hand some of the negative effects unchecked immigration has had on our country. Somehow the view from Trump Tower was better than that from Chappaqua.
[N.B.: The idea of building a wall to solve the immigration problem shows just how clueless Trump is. Many if not most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas and Mexican cartels have shown themselves extremely adept at digging tunnels.]
Instead of serious policy solutions to issues of immigration and crime, Democrats delivered pompous moral lectures and in doing so they helped hand the election to Donald Trump. While it was impossible to cast a vote for either candidate, it was fun watching the premature Clinton victory celebration dissolve into a weepy pity party.
But what Trump supporters will soon realize is that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. Trump is no real populist, and he’s aligned himself with religious conservatives hostile to science. It’s good to no longer ignore realities that were verboten in American political discourse, but Trump has never been interested in helping working-class Americans before. He’s a snake oil salesman. His willingness to speak a few harsh truths somehow overshadowed his bulwark of lies and empty boasts.
But the game has been changed in at least one positive way: The valid concerns of working-class Americans can no longer be shunted to the nether regions of the Internet by smearing them as “racist.” That’s the silver lining of Trump’s victory; it may be the only one.
There is a popular meme being widely shared on social media. It depicts several of current crop of presidential candidates and says, “If you are voting for any of these candidates, please unfriend me now …. Just kidding. I’m not twelve.”
It’s a funny meme and one people ought to take to heart. I learned long ago that political views and personalities are not one and the same. Just because someone agrees with you on political philosophy and public policy doesn’t mean they are agreeable people are even good people. You will find that you will completely loathe some of your own allies more than your sworn enemies. A person’s personality is not dictated by their politics.
Some of my most productive and pleasant conversations have been with people on the extremes, the outside of what is considered proper or viable political discourse. These people could speak honestly with me because they had nothing to lose. They didn’t have to put on airs to convince themselves or the world around them who they were. Their outlier status bestowed on them an easy confidence that meant they didn’t have to prove who they were or make a dramatic demonstration to establish their identity at every turn.
I have friends who span the political spectrum from far left to far right. Some of my friends would be horrified that I’m friends with communists, cops, Black Lives Matter protesters, white nationalists, transgender activists, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party activists, Libertarians, and more. I’m friends with active duty military members as well as pacifists, anti-war demonstrators as well as veterans (and some of the most fervent anti-war people I know are veterans).
I didn’t set out to cultivate friendships from every political persuasion, it just happened that way. I’ve met lots of interesting people from all walks of life. I value the friendships I’ve made along the way even though I will always disagree with many of my friends on the important issues of the day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. That would be a strange place and no fun at all. Life is better when your ideas are challenged and you are exposed to ideas on all sides. Many of the opinion writers I read are people I rarely agree with but their arguments are so well written I can’t resist. Also, how will you learn to defend your ideas unless they are challenged by worthy adversaries?
Also, human beings are complex, many-sided beings. The person who may be very conservative on one issue may be very liberal on another. No one worth knowing is a completely blank slate of ideological talking points. No one with a sound intellect can be pigeon-holed into a stereotypical ideological bracket on every matter.
There’s nothing wrong with despising someone’s ideas or speaking your mind when it’s appropriate. But trying to pick and choose your friends by an ideological litmus test will lead you to quickly paint yourself into a corner.
As our American political discourse slides further into the gutter with every new televised debate, it may be worthwhile noting that there are some who saw the satire in our politics decades ahead of time. One such person is Vermin Supreme.
Vermin Supreme, you may know, is a perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises everyone a pony. He’s attempted to turn religious conservative candidates gay by pouring glitter on them and promise to fully fund time travel research.
It was 1992 and as the Democratic primary continued to go on then-Governor Bill Clinton’s only real competition after the early primaries was former California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown was the Bernie Sanders of his day, a more liberal alternative to the establishment favorite who captured the enthusiasm of the younger, more activist wing of the Democratic Party. He swore off corporate donations and set limits on what individuals could donate through a 1-800 number (this was in the days before widespread Internet.)
At any rate, that spring before the New York and Connecticut primaries, Jerry Brown had a rally at the University of Connecticut. This was during my freshman year there. I was a columnist for UConn’s Daily Campus and since I showed up there with a notebook, the campaign staff waved me ahead to the press section where I sat among more serious and established members of the media.
Brown’s rally was at the large theater on campus. The event was well attended and the crowd was enthusiastic. When it was over, I hung out with the rest of the media contingent, most of whom were bored by the whole thing (“Once you’ve seen the candidate’s speech you’ve seen them all,” I overheard one say.) Jerry Brown answered some questions before being whisked over to do a live interview with the local news.
As I watched Brown do the TV interview in the auditorium that was now mostly empty, I noticed a strange figure head down a side aisle unnoticed. He was dressed in a coat made of fur pelts and he had a large boot on his head. He continued walking down the aisle until I lost sight of him. As Gov. Brown wrapped up his interview and hurry away to his next campaign event, I heard a voice amplified by a speaker or bullhorn call out to him.
“JERRY! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER?!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER, JERRY?!?”
Brown looked over in the direction the voice was coming from but didn’t break stride as he exited the building with a gaggle of campaign staff.
As I stood there I spotted this same strange figure coming back up the aisle. He and I made eye contact and he stopped to address me.
“Another candidate avoiding a question about the weather,” he said, shaking his head. He moved on and I had had the strangest political campaign experience ever.
Years later I saw Vermin Supreme on television and was glad that he hadn’t lost the boot on his head and that he was still engaging in the kind of absurd spectacle that has sadly seemed downright dignified compared with some of our discourse today.
I hope Sid Yiddish seriously considers him for his running mate.
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel’s protagonist Stephen Dedalus is listening to an argument his father and aunt Dante are having with a Mr. Casey about the place of the clergy in Irish society. The talk was prompted by the scandal surrounding Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader who was condemned by the Catholic Church. This condemnation set back the movement for Irish independence considerably.
—God and religion before everything! Dante cried. God and religion before the world!
Mr. Casey raised his clenched fist and brought it down on the table with a crash.
—Very well then, he shouted hoarsely, if it comes to that, no God for Ireland!
The passage came to mind as Pope Francis, traveling in Mexico, commented that political leaders who wanted to build barriers to illegal immigration were not truly Christian. He was referencing Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, who has made opposition to illegal immigration a central part of his campaign.
Who are we to argue what is Christian with the Pope? We’ll take him at his word: building walls instead of bridges is not the Christian thing to do. Trump is a big phony and a blowhard who is not a good Christian. Sure thing, Francis.
Let’s not jump on the Trump bandwagon, but let’s also be fine with giving Christianity the boot in the ass out of public life that it richly deserves. Let’s be absolutely fine with America not doing the Christian thing; we’ll be a better and stronger country for it.
Building a society around a holy book isn’t a recipe for success. And like many other religious documents, the Gospel of Christ is full of a lot of very bad ideas. Loving your enemies is masochistic. Turning the other cheek only gets you hit twice. The current Pope comes from the Kumbaya school of Christianity that holds that if we all just love everyone enough, we can create a just and peaceful world. Christianity has (in theory at least) been trying this for more than 2,000 years, I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t work.
Where are the secular social-justice warriors telling the Pope to butt out of our national debate on immigration and sovereignty? Where are all the self-proclaimed “male feminists” objecting to the import of thousands of the unenlightened?
The Christians who are promising love and world peace are just as delusional and self-righteous as the ones threatening fire and brimstone. Both camps will gladly lead us to ruin, if not by the Christian right’s aversion to science and obsession with gays and abortion then by the Christian left’s naïvely embracing those who would destroy us.
Donald Trump is a fraud and a buffoon, and he’s not the answer to our national question. But for all Trump’s idiocy, his campaign understands this simple fact: if you don’t have real borders, you don’t have a real country.
We cannot solve the world’s problems by inviting people from all corners of the world to come live with us. There are other ways to help that won’t harm our country. Any charitable efforts ought to be tempered with a measure of rational self-interest.
Our well-meaning religious friends think that they are doing God’s work and that the magic of their good intentions will somehow turn bad people good and make everything OK. I wish them luck with that, but these beliefs are not a basis for a responsible immigration policy. As a country we need to be the adult in the room.