Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Trump's election and major threats to American democracy

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about the outcome of the Presidential election. Because I assume it's obvious to everyone that in two months, the inmates will officially take charge of the asylum.

But I do know the incoming President made it a central campaign promise to deport all undocumented immigrants. Like on most everything, he was vague and sometimes self-contradictory on that. But he did promise that he would make a two-year push to deport them all. He explicitly referred to the deportation program under President Eisenhower, which was literally called Operation Wetback. It was a brutal operation that directly resulted in numerous deaths. And that was under Dwight Eisenhower, who in Republican terms then was considered a moderate or even a liberal.

That also involved about two million people forced out of the country. Today it is commonly estimated that there are 11-12 million, playing a far more significant role in the economy. American agriculture is almost completely dependent on *undocumented* labor. I've seen one historian claim that expelling 12 million people would be the largest forced migration in all of history. I don't know how it may rank in the Guiness Book of Humanitarian Horrors. But it would involve a lot of very real horror. Trump very recently promised that immediately after inauguration he would deport 2 million "criminal" immigrants.

For a bit of history on Project Wetback, see: Joshua Keating, Trump Praises Eisenhower’s Deportation Program, Fails to Mention It Was Called “Operation Wetback” Slate 11/10/2015; John Dillin, How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico Christian Science Monitor 07/06/2006.

Pilar Marrero in Incrédulos, grupos pro inmigrantes prometen “resistir” ante una presidencia Trump La Opinión 09.11.2016:

Donald Trump fue electo presidente de los Estados Unidos de América, sobre una plataforma que incluyó la promesa de deportaciones masivas, la construcción de un gran muro entre Estados Unidos y México y el reforzamiento del sistema policial fronterizo, triplicando la cantidad de agentes de inmigración y anulando medidas ejecutivas de ayuda a los inmigrantes.

[Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America on a platform that included the promise of massive deportations, the construction of a big wall between the United States and Mexico and the reinforcing of the frontier police system, tripling the number of immigration agents and annuling executives measures to support immigrants.]
And she writes, "los grupos que por años han luchado contra las deportaciones y la militarización de la frontera, y por una reforma migratoria, buscan reagruparse y comenzar una lucha que se presenta titánica" ("the groups who have been fighting for years against deportations and the militarization of the frontier, and for immigration reform, are seeking to regroup and to begin a fight that appears to be titanic").

There is also the very real effect of systematic, segregationist voter-suppression efforts targeting especially black and Latino voters. Rick Perlstein summed up the state of play on those recently in GOP Voting Fraud Squads Are Nothing New Washington Spectator 11/04/2016.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to immediately evaluate those, as this article by Justin Elliott notes, What We Don’t Know: The Full Effect Of Voter Suppression and Voter ID Laws ProPublica Electionland 11/08/2016:

As journalist Ari Berman, who covers the voting rights beat, pointed out today, this is the first presidential election in half a century without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby County v. Holder invalidated federal oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination.

But quantifying exactly how much the changes have depressed turnout is nearly impossible.

“It’s exceedingly difficult to measure the effects of voter ID laws,” says David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. That’s because, Becker notes, “it’s incredibly hard to know who’s choosing not to vote because of barriers.”
But "not easy" is far from meaning "impossible." There are ways to determine the effects of voter suppression, as the Justice Department did in the early 1960s in court challenging segregationist voter suppression laws then.

Ari Berman, who is quoted there, has been doing great work reporting on this nefarious practice in its various forms. He explained in a piece in May the stakes involved, Voter Suppression Is the Only Way Donald Trump Can Win The Nation/Moyers & Company 05/10/2016:

Unless there’s an unexpected turnaround in his terrible numbers among nonwhite and young voters, there’s only one way Trump can win the general election: by massively suppressing Democratic voters or hoping they don’t show up on Election Day. Trump could do this by supporting new voting restrictions adopted by GOP-controlled states (17 have new restrictions in place for the first time in 2016), urging his supporters to create chaos at the polls and running a breathtakingly negative campaign that demobilizes his opposition.

Trump’s support in the primary directly correlated with racial resentment toward African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslims. “The higher you scored on racial resentment, the more likely you were to support Trump; the more you resented immigrants or professed your white ethnocentrism, the likelier you were to plan to vote for Trump,” wrote Tom Edsall in The New York Times. It’s not a stretch to imagine Trump supporters trying to block these same voters from the polls.
We probably won't have a decent picture of how that worked in yesterday's election for a while. As Ari noted there, "Studies have shown that restrictions like voter-ID laws can reduce voter turnout by 2 to 3 percent, with the largest drop-off among young, first-time and African-American voters."

Then there is campaign-financing system, which the Republican-dominated Supreme Court made orders of magnitude worse with their Citizens United decision. I wrote just after that decision in 2010:

President Obama addressed the issue in his weekly address on 01/23/09 01/23/2010, the White House transcript of which is grandly titled, President Obama Vows to Continue Standing Up to the Special Interests on Behalf of the American People. As they often do, many of the words sound right (my emphasis):

But this week, the United States Supreme Court handed a huge victory to the special interests and their lobbyists – and a powerful blow to our efforts to rein in corporate influence. This ruling strikes at our democracy itself. [my emphasis]
This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.

I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections. [my emphasis]
But will he fight for real solutions? Sadly, he pleaded for a "bipartisan" solution, which has become for the Obama administration and the current Senate leadership at least an offer of preemptive surrender.

We currently have one Party, the Republicans, who are both strongly partisan and willing to fight for their goals. We have another Party, the Democrats, who are lukewarm partisan and not notably willing to fight for the goals that are most important to their Party's own base and to the majority of the people.

Sadly, the Party that is made up of fighting partisans has also become an authoritarian Party hostile to democracy and the rule. (See Bush v. Gore, the Cheney-Bush torture policy, to take two examples among many.)

It really is remarkable for the President of the United States to say of a Supreme Court decision:

This ruling strikes at our democracy itself.

I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest.

But those words at this particular moment in time remind me of what's been so gut-wrenching disappointing to even Democrats like me, who never viewed Obama as some kind of democratic messiah. His actions haven't matched up to the urgency of his words.
There will be a lot to say about the 2016 election. For a long time. But this are some of the most urgent issues that stand out for me on the morning after.

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