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Distraction and Desperation

With less than six days before the midterm election polls close the news is even busier than usual.
Some lost and lonely loser in Florida stands accused of sending mail bombs to at last a dozen prominent Democratic politicians and activists, and another lost and lonely loser is in a Pennsylvania jail awaiting charges of slaughtering 11 Jews as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue. An hilariously inept plot to frame the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” for ’70s-era sexual harassment has fallen apart, and is now the subject of a federal investigation of its own. There are the usual campaign issues, too, such an ongoing debate about mandating that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions which the Democrats seem to be winning and the Republicans are reduced to lying about. The economy continues to chug along well enough, but lately the stock markets have been up and down and mostly down.
Given all that, we’re not surprised that President Donald Trump is mostly talking about the impending invasion of Middle Eastern terrorists and Central American lepers who are marching the last 900 miles or so of their journey to America’s southern border, along with the rest of the invading army of dark-hued others who are already here. Trump is promising to send as many as 15,000 American troops to join the thousands of National Guardsmen and Border Patrol agents currently in place to turn back a few thousand unarmed and no doubt worn out asylum-seekers, and threatening to repeal the 14th amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship with an executive order. All the die-hard fans are cheering it on at Trump’s non-stop rallies and on certain conservative media, but to most of the rest of us it smacks of desperation.
The last invasion of the southern border by thousands of walking and unarmed asylum-seekers mostly petered out by the time it arrived at the border, with the usual Border Patrol contingent well able to handle the resulting 14 arrests for illegal immigration, and this one looks no scarier. Trump freely admits he has no proof that it’s being organized and funded some of those prominent Democratic politicians and activists who recently received pipe bombs in the mail, and none of those certain conservative media have yet to document any Middle Eastern terrorists or lepers, so more military power than we’re currently deploying against the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State combined seems an overreaction. We still like to think ourselves law-and-order conservatives, but we hail from a more hopeful era when even the most rock-ribbed Republicans thought that the border laws could be enforced without violating the Posse Comitatus Act or America’s treaty obligations to grant due process to the claims of asylum-seekers, and without building tent cities and orphaning children and all the other cruelties that today’s law-and-order crowd seem to crave.
Back in that more hopeful era the law-and-order sorts of rock-ribbed Republicans used to venerate the Constitution and insist it be interpreted according to its plain language, and to disdain the use of executive orders by power-grabbing presidents, but that’s no longer the case. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution plainly states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside,” and way back in 1895, when there was a “Yellow Peril” that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and long before the damned liberals infested the judicial system, the Supreme Court ruled that plain language meant that even though a impoverished cook named Wong Kim Ark was born to Chinese parents his birth on American soil had conferred him American citizenship. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the legal scholar who’s married to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and numerous other old-fashioned Republican types agree, and even many of the Republicans who think we would well be rid of birthright citizenship say that it shouldn’t be accomplished by the stroke of a presidential pen.
Trump in turn “tweeted” back that “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!” The entirely autodidactic constitutional scholar then laid out his argument in two separate “tweets.”
“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ Many legal scholars agree …
“Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) “stuff.” Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be decided by the Supreme Court!”
Such elegant English prose is hard to argue with, but we’ll take a stab at it. Birthright citizenship might well be ended some day, and perhaps for good reason, but surely it makes some difference if it happens the constitutional way or or some other way. We have no more idea what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ than Trump does, but we suspect the Supreme Court of 1895 had a grasp of the concept, and we’ll dare Trump to say that only the citizens in the United States are subject to its jurisdiction. We’ll also note that White House press secretary couldn’t name of those legal scholars who agreed with Trump, and that don’t consider former Senator Harry Reid any sort of constitutional authority. The nasty term “Anchor Babies” refers to immigrants who bring their family into the country through the nastily-termed “chain migration,” and although that’s also a fair debate we’re disappointed that Trump prefers to discuss it in admittedly nasty terms. We’ll take Trump’s word for it that he’ll keep us safe, and we’ve little doubt that any executive-ordered alterations to the previous understanding of the 14th Amendment will be settled in the Supreme Court, and we’ll be interested to see how those plain-text originalists that Trump appointed rule on that.
In the meantime, Trump will have trouble distracting attention from all the rest of the news, little of which currently benefits his Republican party. The pipe bomber and the Synagogue shooter can’t credibly be blamed on the damned Democrats, as all the mail bombs were sent to his most frequent “tweet” targets, and he was snubbed by both Republican and Democratic public officials and some of the grieving families when he paid a consolatory visit to Philadelphia. The “Russia thing” chugs along, Obamacare is somehow polling better than the Trump tax cut, the stock market goes up and down, and that slow-walking invasion is still a thousand long miles away and the midterm elections are just five short days hence.

— Bud Norman

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A Long Weekend of Bipartisan Hate

Last Friday some dreary chores had us up and about earlier than usual, so we wound up listening to Rush Limbaugh’s program on our car’s AM radio, and were further dispirited to hear a once formidable voice of conservatism making an utter fool of himself. Through the rest of the day, we unhappily found, much of the rest of the conservative punditry was doing the same.
On Thursday Limbaugh had assured his audience that the person who had been sending mail bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and liberal activists was surely a “Democratic operative,” as “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing,” so he struggled to explain the breaking news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested with seemingly convincing fingerprint and DNA evidence a fellow who wasn’t at all a “Democratic” operative and sure looked an awful lot like a die-hard supporter of Republican President Donald Trump.
Limbaugh initially seized on a report from some internet publication he had to admit he’d never of that the suspect was registered to vote as a member of the Green Party, and was also a member of the Seminole Indian tribe, but within the hour he was obliged to tell his listeners to disregard that as every news medium you’ve ever heard of confirmed that in fact the suspect was a registered Republican ever since Trump won the party’s nomination and the Seminoles disavowed any kinship to the man. There was also some widely televised footage of the suspect’s van, which was covered with with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat and liberal-hating decals, but by the end of the broadcast Limbaugh was agreeing with his “ditto-head” callers that those decals looked suspiciously faded than they should be in the Florida sun, and that a “deep state” conspiracy was still plausible.
By the end of the day a lucky Washington Post photographer and several Facebook users were showing their year-old pictures of the decal-covered van, the suspect’s own voluminous social media postings showed him to be a die-hard Trump supporter, the Cable News Network came up with some footage of the suspect waving a sign at a Trump rally with the same “CNN Sucks” motto that was emblazoned on his van, a former employer and several friends of the suspect and even one of his lawyers told interviewers about his intense affection for Trump, and pretty much every news medium you’ve ever heard of had ample evidence that just maybe some Republicans do sometime do these things. Even then, though, some talk show hosts and their callers and internet posters and some more prominent conservative voices were grasping at the straws of those un-faded decals to keep their “deep state” conspiracy theories afloat.
All of which was quite embarrassing to such old-fashioned conservatives and pre-Trump Republicans as ourselves, who prefer to acknowledge how very complicated those stubborn facts can be. Limbaugh likes to call himself the “Mayor of Realville,” so he should be realistic enough to concede that even Republicans human beings occasionally do awful things, and that it sure does look as if this is one of those times. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter assured her readers that “From the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber, bombs are a liberal tactic,” but she seems to have forgotten the death-toll-record-setting domestic terrorist bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City and that bombing of an Atlanta gay bar and several bombings of black churches that can’t credibly be blamed on liberals. Fox News hosts Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera were also peddling the “deep state” conspiracies, but at least Dobbs deleted his “Tweets” and Rivera frankly admitted that he had “outsmarted” himself.
They’re all quite right to argue that from the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber to the latest Antifa thuggery certain people on the left have been guilty of abominable behavior, and that all along prominent Democratic politicians and leading liberal voices have engaged in rhetoric that arguably incited such violence, but we wish they’d also acknowledge the craziness on the right and their rhetorical role in it, and start urging their revved-up faithful to calm the hell down and face up to the damnable fact that none of us are blameless.
On Saturday we awoke to the dispiriting news that some hateful man had slaughtered 11 American Jews and wounded several others as they worshipped God at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It will be hard for the left to pin the blame on Trump, who has an overly well-regarded Jewish son-in-law married to a favorite daughter who’s a Jewish convert and therefore a couple of Jewish grandchildren, as well a very Israel-friendly foreign policy, but neither can the right plausibly blame the massacre on the left. The ancient and still-inexplicable hatred of Jews can be found in both parties and on both sides of the political spectrum, but here’s hoping that the mainstream voices on both sides will condemn it without blaming the other.

— Bud Norman