Will U.S. Citizenship Remain A “Birthright”?

Just when you might have thought the debates about immigrationboth legal and illegalcould not become more difficult and emotional, there is yet another controversy now brewing: President Trumps plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order for those whose parents have entered the United States illegally.  This executive order, should it actually come to pass, would certainly be immediately challenged in federal court, and it could be several years before the matter works its way up to the Supreme Court for an ultimate resolution regarding the meaning and intent of the 14th Amendment.

For a nation populated by immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, this issue obviously has special resonance, and it collides with our national identity as a nation that has always welcomed everyone to our shores.  The reality is, of course, starkly different.  

When the early American period of frontier expansion, which required a large and ready pool of immigrants ready to risk all in order to seize lands held by others, came to an end toward the end of the late 1800s, immigrants piling into now-established cities and towns became an increasing irritant to those already settled in place.  More restrictive laws were soon enacted to stem the influx of foreignersbringing their cultures and languages ashore to dilute the supposed purity and perfection of this new nation.  The taint of otherness that greeted many new immigrants to this country was often based upon the crudest ignorance and bigotry, but Americas population nonetheless became ever more diverse over time as a sometimes unfair and occasionally arbitrary system of legal immigration was developed and refined over the decades to come.

However, over the past several decades the number of people residing in the United States illegally has skyrocketed, and their unlawful entries have been enabled by both poorly conceived and executed governmental policies and the efforts of private organizations advocating on behalf of unrestricted immigration. Unsurprisingly, many pressing questions have arisen regarding how to respond to an undocumented population that has been estimated to range from 11 to 22 million adults, adolescents, and children.

President Trump won election partlysome might say primarilybased on his promise to stem the tide of illegal immigration to the United States, and over the first two years of his administration we have all been witness to the many political firestorms that have accompanied his efforts to both harden our borders and expeditiously expel those who circumvented or ignored legal requirements for entry.  Many states and local governments have responded to this effort by asserting their local sovereignty and refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authoritiesand some have even advocated for abolishing ICE, the agency now tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations now on the books.

Now added to this mix is the question of whether American citizenship will continue to be automatically granted to the American-born children of illegal immigrants, which is an issue quite separate from the ongoing discussions concerning how to resolve the legal status of those brought here as children by parents who entered the United States illegally and raised them in this country.  As one can easily see, the many layers of complex problems that require resolution by Congress and the courts defy tidy morality and easy answers.  

The inherent sloppiness of realityin this case compounded by decades of shortsighted thinking regarding immigration policies and enforcementguarantees that a substantial number of Americans will be dissatisfied with the resolution of the cases of the many millions of people who live in the United States but have no legal basis for continuing to do so.  We know many innocents will be made to suffer due to the past stupidity of our government.  Moreover, given that it is functionally impossible for America to absorb everyone who wants to live in our great nation, many will be compelled to leave so that some may stay.  The forced exodus of those who have grown accustomed to life in the United States and presumed they could remain forever because our immigration policies regarding illegal entry were apparently all but forgotten will cause real pain to both those compelled to leave and those left behind.

The newest wrinklethat of the possible limitations of the 14th Amendmentwill be a topic of heated debate.  Originally crafted after the Civil War in order to confer immediate citizenship to freed slaves, the question of whether this Constitutional amendment applies equally to the American-born children of those who entered America illegally has never been fully resolved, and the fear among advocates for the undocumented is that federal courts now being rapidly reshaped by the conservative appointees of President Trump will tend toward a circumscribed interpretation at odds with the more expansive and welcoming immigration policies they favor.

There is little doubt that stricter enforcement of existing immigration lawsand perhaps a landmark reinterpretation of the 14th Amendmentwill divide Americans in the years ahead.  Attempting to either deport or legitimize tens of millions of people will have a major impact upon many families and communities, and there is no doubt this will be a political and social wedge issue in our nation for a long time to come.  However, the alternative, which boils down to an open border policy, is simply not feasibleespecially given the incredible number of people who are desperate to live in America in order to escape economic hardship, political persecution, and violent crime in their own countries.

All we can really expect looking forward is more anger and anguish.

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Bombs Away?

The recent spate of mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats was abhorrent. Sadly, those who are angry—and likely isolated and delusional—can terrorize us in a variety of ways, but attempting to murder others with anonymous bombs is particularly cowardly and awful.

Thankfully, law enforcement has already identified and arrested a suspect, and one can only applaud the incredible work of the FBI and others who worked so skillfully and quickly to apprehend him. We are lucky indeed that no injuries resulted from these explosive devices, and continued investigation will discover whether others were involved with these criminal actions.

Now let us take a step back, count to ten, and watch the actions of a dangerous and disaffected looney become immediately tangential to the political blame game that will blaze through the media between now and the midterm elections—and likely far beyond.

This is the sad and divided nation that we live in today. Rather than simply be grateful that an obviously crazy individual was captured and no one was hurt, we are going to have to portion out the blame for a crazed bomber to one party or politician based upon our own blame-filled political beliefs. How fortunate we are that the period between now and the midterm elections can be packed with some extra bitterness and bile beyond that which already is poisoning our national dialogue.

For the record, it is my belief that trying to find a logical reason to explain the actions of those who are clearly mentally unstable is itself just a bit crazy. Keep in mind that President Reagan was nearly killed in 1981 by a cuckoo who believed that political assassination was the ideal way to impress a famous actress—these oddballs aren’t renowned for their logical and linear thinking. The history of political violence throughout our world’s history is basically a parade of lonely losers who were deluded enough to believe that killing a leader would somehow redeem their miserable and empty lives.

It would certainly be for the best if all our pundits and politicians could refrain from riling up their viewers and supporters in their eternal quest for ratings and votes, but this will never happen. Conflict is, perversely enough, a winning strategy; to pretend otherwise would be both foolish and naive.

Moreover, because we quite naturally revel in hearing that the viewpoints and actions of others prove our own moral and intellectual superiority, our increasingly partisan news and information systems have ready and credulous audiences. More and more hearing and reading no thoughts other than those that match our own, daily tailoring what we hear and read to match our preconceived notions about the “reality” of the world around us and those who inhabit it, creates an intellectual echo chamber that only further narrows our already narrow minds and hardens our hardened hearts.

The word bombs that destroy our tattered unity will only become worse if we do not take action. Therefore, I suggest that we consider reviving an updated version of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy that we heedlessly and needlessly discarded in 1987 which required news and information programs to present contrasting viewpoints regarding the issues of the day. This policy was not a perfect solution—and discussions about implementing any similar policy will crash into today’s enormously complex and interconnected digital world—but it did provide for some welcome and necessary measure of balance regarding the presentation of news and opinion.

Our nation and its citizens are poorly served by the hyper-partisanship of our media today. The very existence of, for example, a super conservative Fox News and an abundantly liberal MSNBC—both sneering at the sheer stupidity of the other side—contributes little to creating the bipartisan consensus that is necessary to govern a country as diverse as our own. Each monocular and insular side of our national dialogue is equally culpable for creating the anger and divisions within what is perhaps now ironically called The United States of America. We are anything but united at the present time, and it will be a long and difficult road back from the chasm where we now stand—suspiciously staring at one another.

For any improvements to occur, we will also need to surrender that which is so precious to so many: a smug and intellectually lazy sense of our own correctness. As hard as it might be, admitting we can be wrong is the necessary first step to national reconciliation and unity.

It’s Beginning To Smell Like 1968 Again

Political prognostication is a tricky business.  Even the experts with every resource at their fingertips can be very wrongthe Presidential election of 2016 being the most dramatic recent exampleso now we armchair political gurus perhaps have a little more credibility should we want to engage in an educated guesstimate prior to an election.

So far I am batting a thousand.  Immediately prior to Election Day on 2016, I published my prediction that Donald Trump would win.  At the risk of screwing up my perfect record, I am going to hazard some thoughts regarding the critical midterm elections that are only weeks away.

First, regardless of the actual outcome, we are still going to remain a divided nation.  Fundamentally irreconcilable ideas regarding government regulation, foreign policy, law enforcement, LBGTQ rights, immigration (both legal and not), abortion, gun control, economic policy, entitlement spending, public education, military policy, public aid, and a host of other issues often make it difficult to find common ground. This election is apt to further harden these battle lines and further thrust our nations courts into the impossible position of acting as the moral and cultural arbiter for America.  Given the desire of so many to forcefully and continually assert their uniqueness and individuality at every turn, it is sometimes difficult to discern what truly binds us together as one nation.

However, our present state of despair and dissension is what drives my electoral prediction: It will be a good night for the Republican Party in generaland President Trump in particular.  Why?  I believe we are about to see an eerie rerun of the 1968 elections.

Richard Nixon won the Presidency in 1968 despite being a deeply divisive figure who was reviled by the D.C. political establishment (Sound familiar?), and the Republican Party picked up seats in both the House and the Senate.  The country was deeply divided politically, violent political rhetoric and actual political violence plagued our nation, upheaval at all levels was the order of the day, and calls for a revolutionto restructure America echoed through the culture and our pre-digital media world.  Words were wielded as weapons, liberals demanded action to improve systems they deemed unfair, and the signs of change seemed everywhere one looked around our nation and the world.  The stars seemed lined up for a Democratic night at the ballot box.

However, Richard Nixon and the Republican Party—positioning themselves as the party of law and order, traditional values, and the protectors of realAmericans—waded through the morass and did just fine.

There are, of course, many differences between today and fifty years ago, but the single most important and salient similarity is the Democratic Party found itself aligned with forces that, either rightly or wrongly, were associated with chaos and a lack of respect for both our nation and realAmericans.  

Just think back over the past two years.  Many on the left seem willing to brand those who disagree with their views as bigots and cretinsyou know, deplorables”—which means it is necessary impeach public officials with differing views, remove the President from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, drag Republicans into court and pummel them, censor conservative opinions on social media they find objectionable, shut down campus speakers and professors who are not liberal, dox government officials, harass politicians and their families in public, and generally display the emotional maturity of sugar-infused eight year olds in all their public and private communications.  Although the obvious retort by those doing the ranting and raving is that this is all the fault of Donald Trump and his itchy Twitter finger, the reality is that many Democrats have been quite willing to pump up the volume of their resistancein order to energize those voters whom they believe will be their margin of electoral victory.  Incivility and confrontation are thought be a winning combination.

This brings me to my reason for predicting a good night for the Republicans.  Although standing at the barricades and screaming at your opponents garners lots of media attention and self-congratulations for being brave and woke, the reality is that most people arent much into revolution and are going to default to voting for candidates who speak quietly and with a minimum of incendiary rhetoric.  The mistake that Democrats made in 1968 is analogous to the mistake that Democrats are making todayjust because you are marching doesnt mean everyone else is anxious to fall into line behind you.  The basic American character is evolutionary and not revolutionary, so votersexcept for the loud and partisan feware innately suspicious of those who excitedly promise to circumvent the deliberately slow and pokey mechanisms of government in order to right all the wrongs of the world.  Given the cacophonous clashes that have become cable news and social media staples over the past several years, the body politic is weary and will cast their votes for whomever seems to promise some much needed peace and quiet.

Injustices, of course, still abound, but a general respect for our laws and institutions still abidesand most would prefer reforms over revolt.  Although well-timed ambushes and clever insults sometimes succeed in the short term, voters will inevitably opt for those candidates who seem to exude stability and evince some degree adult behavior.  Provocation gets attention, but conciliation wins elections.

The dark genius of President Trump is that he knows how to needle his opponents into inflammatory words and behavior that work to his advantage.  Perhaps the greatest political counterpuncher to ever occupy the Oval Office, he continually starts fights in order to goad his opponents into madness or stupidityor both.  If you doubt this, I hold up the recent spectacle of Senator Elizabeth Warren shooting herself in the foot regarding the matter of her Native American DNA.  If ever there was a dumber and more pointless political stunt that managed to both amuse opponents and infuriate allies, one would have to look very hard to find it.  Well played, Mr. Trump.

Therefore, my midterm election predictions are thus: Republican gains in the Senate and a near stalemate in the House.  This will drive President Trumps opponents madder stilland further strengthen his hand looking toward the elections in 2020.

Guys and Dolls

Every semester I give my students a new set of articles to use as the topics for their essays up until midterm.  I look for ones that will offer opportunities for thoughtful discussion based on the facts and viewpoints provided so that my students can improve their writing and critical thinkingskills.  Sometimes, despite my best efforts, some articles just don’t seem to grab my students’ attention.  However, on occasion I hit the jackpot and pick a topic that—for reasons that I could not possibly have anticipated—hits a nerve and inspires some very interesting student writing.

This semester I added an article by Suzanna Danuta Walters entitled “Why Can’t We Hate Men?”.  At the point when I sent this to be copied for my classes, I could not have known that the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh would become an epic battle between the rage of sexual assault survivors demanding to be believed and the insistence of others that condemning without corroborating evidence—however strong the beliefs and emotions of the victims—is a mistake.  Partisan passions, scandal mongering media, and showboating politicians all helped to create the most incredibly divisive and mutually destructive nomination battle possible, and both the process and outcome will be studied and discussed for decades to come.

Not surprisingly, Professor Walters’ article has been the basis of a lot of student essays so far this semester, and the responses have run the gamut from agreeing that men are the source of most of the evils in our world to more evenhanded responses that saw her viewpoint as perhaps simplistic at best—and flat out insulting at worst.

Hatred tends to blind us to the complexity of the people whom we hate.  Just looking around at my classes on any given day I see men who are fathers, loving husbands, awkward singles, straight, gay, bisexual, talkative, shy, daydreamers, focused, politically conservative, aggressive, withdrawn, politically liberal, cerebral, apolitical, sad, upbeat, overwhelmed, confident—and virtually every other descriptor I can think to use.  To label all of them as brute oppressors and terrifying antagonists of women seems both foolish and impossible to support empirically.

This being said, our national dialogue about the sexual assault and harassment of women is both necessary and belated.  Human history has also been the history of organized warfare, daily violence, and cruel dominance—and a good portion of this has been perpetrated by men and has harmed women.  To argue otherwise would be ridiculous, and to fail to understand the pain of victims would be to deny the darkness that lies beneath our civilized veneer.

However, is it OK to hate men?

I would argue not.  Although we are all part of many groups and subgroups—and gender is perhaps the most easily recognizable grouping of all—men are not part of a collective hive mind and so must be assessed on an individual basis.  It is impossible to predict the behavior of individuals from the tendencies of the group.  In almost every collection of individuals—regardless of how they are sorted—you will find cruel and cowardly people mixed in with those who are decent and brave.  To presume every man is an animal and rapist—and so neglect the many good men in this world—might satisfy the rage of some, but it will build walls where none need exist and create a society that is far more lonely and suspicious than is actually necessary.

It is also appropriate to point out that men deal with a host of challenges as a group that are sometimes forgotten in the rush to castigate them for their “testosterone poisoning” or whatever the other clever insults of the day might be.  Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to commit suicide, account for over 90% of workplace fatalities, and are now far less likely than women to finish high school or earn a college degree.  Were we to point to this harsh statistical evidence of pain, danger, and ignorance affecting practically any other group in our nation, outrage would result—and a rush to find solutions would follow.  Unfortunately, men are presumed capable of bearing their pain on their own—or are somehow deserving of it—which are sad and isolating beliefs that condemn many to lives of misery and, worse yet, make them feel that asking for help is a sign of “unmanly” weakness.  Neither men nor women benefit when inane preconceptions based on gender alone drive our decisions or viewpoints.

Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 Presidential election convinced many that America is too innately misogynistic to ever overcome the more unfortunate aspects of the history of relations between men and women, but only the most blindly partisan could fail to note Secretary Clinton’s obvious shortcomings as a candidate.  Perhaps the better lesson to take away from her defeat in light of how so many women obviously did not cast their votes based on gender identity alone is that both women and men are looking more and more beyond mere surface realities regarding one another.  It could be the case that our perceptions are both more sophisticated and more nuanced than elite opinion could possibly imagine, and myths regarding how men and women see political and social issues dramatically differently might need to be discarded along with so many other ignorant and insulting ideas from the past regarding gender.

I hope there can be less hate and more understanding, less shouting and more listening—and more empathy and less derision—where relationships between men and women are involved.  Our differences are actually insignificant compared to all that binds us together as humans, and we should not allow partisans on either side of any issue seek to divide us for political gain.  There has been more than enough hurt and harm, and it is now time for healing to begin.

 

Want Change? Stop Subsidizing Failure.

It seems to me that our nation currently faces three major continuing crises—deficient public education, opioid abuse with its resulting fatalities, and unaffordable healthcare—that are both true and far reaching.  Unlike so many other crises that affect only one segment of the population or which are dependent on highly questionable data for support, these three are beyond any question fundamental, destructive, and ongoing.  However, after years—or even decades—of diligent effort and literally trillions of dollars of spending collectively to solve them, perhaps it is now worth asking a single, rude question: Is there the very least possibility that government can ever solve any of these problems?

Our current destructive track toward national bankruptcy, which is forever fueled by our propensity for shoveling gobs of government cash at whatever the crisis du jour might be, begs the question of whether problems born of human greed, human stupidity, and human weakness can ever be solved by even the most well-intentioned and thoughtful application of taxpayer money.  Given that government can sometimes barely keep the snow shoveled on a sunny day, it could perhaps be the case that attempting to reconfigure the human spirit to eliminate human frailty is beyond the reach of even the most dedicated government official or employee.

Consider, for example, the many decades—and many trillions of dollars—that federal, state, and local governments have spent trying improve our nation’s mediocre public schools.  By any rational reckoning, we are no better off academically than we were back in 1983, when the “A Nation at Risk” report was issued.  The majority of America’s students still receive their diplomas despite obvious academic deficiencies that will hobble their progress in college and careers.

Seemingly the only clearly demonstrable improvement—albeit a depressing one—all these years of stupendously expensive “reforms” have produced is that our nation’s education bureaucracies have become much better at fudging the dismal numbers to provide the temporary illusion of progress.  The depressing string of test score, graduation, and grade scandals in so many cities and states—now being joined by increasing evidence of dereliction of duty regarding student discipline and safety—has exposed a great many of these supposedly miraculous “improvements” in America’s public schools as nothing more than spreadsheet legerdemain or active fraud.  

Taxpayers are, however, regularly reassured that their local school districts are just one more spending increase away from solving all of their problems because it somehow turns out—when it comes to public education, at least—that prior failures are a guarantee of future successes.  Why any rational person would approve one thin dime of additional funding for failing schools seems to make little sense at first glance, but it is necessary to keep in mind that student success is essentially tangential to the operations of our nation’s public education system.

Why do our schools never improve?  Simply put, everyone understands how the game is played, and the subpar status quo turns out to have many proponents.  Students know that their school system desperately wants to graduate them so that no uncomfortable questions are asked about their ignorance; therefore, it is perfectly possible to glide through the system with little or no effort involved—which is just fine with many children and adolescents.  Teachers know that pencil whipping students through the grades is easy, eliminates the fuss and inconvenience associated with actual education, and keeps the paychecks rolling right in.  School administrators want to point to big, shiny graduation numbers while assuring parents that their child’s terriblestandardized test scores are just a result of test anxiety or poorly designed assessments.  Local communities and their leaders love any good news about their schools that will help to escalate property values and are perfectly willing to accept the free day care that is obligingly provided.  Elected officials never tire of posing with smiling children—particularly if some sort of shiny trophy is being held up.  Contractors and labor unions enjoy building new schools and completing the steady stream of work that arises from basic facility maintenance.

Consequently, everybody wins in the short term, but the long term consequences are appalling.  However, given that our national zeitgeist is to live for today and not worry about tomorrow, our public school systems continue just as they are—and they will continue to be strikingly mediocre no matter how much money is spent to improve them.  A relatively small segment of high-powered parents will always make certain that their children are assigned to the subset of schools, teachers, and classes where some actual learning might take place, the broad middle spectrum of students will continue to float through classes that require a minimum of effort, and the troublemakers and the troubled are always hidden where they can do the least harm to themselves or others.  Meanwhile, everyone cheers at the football and basketball games, Prom is fun, and diplomas are eventually handed to the literate and illiterate alike—just another successful school year in America.  Smile for your photos, everyone!

Our national crisis of opioid abuse is yet the latest chapter of our never ending concerns over our human love of mood-altering substances.  Our country’s history has been one of drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever we can lay our hands upon to blot out either the horrors—or the dreariness—of the day.  Grandma and grandpa were smoking weed in the park.  Your parents were doing Jell-O shots and raiding mom’s medicine cabinet.  Now it’s Fireball and Fentanyl.  Who knows what will be in vogue a few years from now?

Although it could certainly be argued that some of the drugs readily available today are a bit too powerful and dangerous for casual recreational ingestion, the bottom line is that 99% percent of use is strictly voluntary—although incredibly risky and demonstrably stupid.  Presuming that cutting off access to one drug or another is going to sober up our constantly buzzed nation is the same fallacy that led us to our misbegotten national experiment with Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s, which produced little but systemic corruption and deadly crime as a result.  

I would prefer that everyone stick to beer, but our nation’s drug and alcohol addled MacGyvers will always find some stronger substance to screw up their bodies and minds when the opportunity arises.  Those who want to use drugs and alcohol, will do so; those who do not, will not.  Spending time and money explaining the dangers of drugs and alcohol to both young and old alike has probably not changed a single mind—but it provides both the illusion of action and many paychecks to those who do the explaining.  However, all across our great nation, America is still drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever is available—and this will continue as long as our planet spins around the sun.  

Addicts straighten out their lives, if they ever do, only when the damage to themselves or others becomes too obvious to ignore—or their minds and bodies simply can no longer take the unending abuse.  Until that day arrives, all the well-meaning government programs in the world won’t do much other than create a national infrastructure that, perversely enough, helps to ease the lives of addicts rather than forcing them to face the consequences of their behavior.  Is continuing to pour money into abundantly ineffectual drug and alcohol treatment programs a good idea?  Make your own decisions about that, all you overtaxed citizens out there.

Finally, watching our government leaders and their minions continue to botch up a mission as basic and important as ensuring that Americans can afford to go to a doctor for necessary medical care is rather like watching a YouTube video of a puppy endlessly chasing its tail—all that frenetic action produces no discernible result.  Anybody with the least brain in their heads realizes that medical device and equipment makers, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate hospital chains have conspired for many decades to raise costs to the stratosphere in order to generate ungodly profits.  Patients and their needs are a hindrance to the real mission—keeping the stock price soaring.  The only way that the overall cost of medical care will actually drop is if Medicare, Medicaid, patients, medical providers, and private insurers simply refuse to pay inflated charges and demand steep and permanent price cuts.

However, price discipline will never happen because it would cause the profits and stock prices of the medical profiteers to drop precipitously (and eliminate a lot of well-paying jobs besides!), which would send these businesses immediately scurrying—cash in hand—to our complicit and compliant government for protection from actual marketplace pressure.  After positioning themselves as champions of change in order to catch all the campaign contributions that are certain to follow, our nation’s elected leaders and their anonymous bureaucratic minions will spend many years—and election cycles—laboring to produce “reforms” that are a boon for the business of medicine but an unmitigated disaster for the economics of healthcare.  Money will get shuffled about, our taxes will be raised in order to pay for all our newly affordable healthcare(however much sense that makes) and the true cost of reforms, such as they are, will be masked by yet more crushing government debt to maintain a fundamentally uneconomical and unfair healthcare system.

Government will never solve these problems—education, drug abuse, and healthcare—but it will happily spend our nation and citizens into the poorhouse trying.  In the meanwhile, perhaps we need to provide a few reminders to those concerned.

Students need to remember that studying your school book instead of your cell phone is the only sure path to academic success.  Our nation’s opioid addicts need to learn—sometimes to their great discomfort—that the high live is no life at all.  All those government officials and consultants trying to “reform” healthcare—and enjoying the ease provided by our tax dollars while they do so—are welcome to continue to fiddle around endlessly while avoiding the ire of their corporate masters, but the fact will always remain that our opaque, decentralized, and bureaucratized healthcare system is a prescription for maximum expense with minimum results.

Want change? Stop subsidizing failure. Start insisting on personal responsibility. Reduce expenses by firing the parasites that spend their time explaining away their waste of our nation’s wealth, health, and youth. We need no more study—we need results.