by John Walters
This will be typed with some trepidation. I am typing this for the same reason that I asked the question that led to the argument that ultimately led to this blog post: because I’m looking for an honest answer to my question. And I’m hoping you can help by offering some advice, solicited, as to whether I was completely off-base to even pose the question. All I’m asking for are your candid replies. Thanks.
“So if you were the president, what would you do about the border?”
That was the question I asked an old friend last week and in the time it would take to repeat the query, I went from old friend to Typical Middle-Aged Racist White Guy. I could see the look in my friend’s eyes. I could see the change happen that quickly.
Is it a fair question? As I was thinking of composing this, I thought of how in the past it was common to begin an argument with “If there’s one thing that we can all agree on…” To begin with common ground on both sides of an argument.
But in the Age of Trump, sadly, I have learned the hard way that there are far fewer things that we can all agree on than I used to believe. So while I was about to write, “If there’s one thing we can all agree on, separating children from their parents and keeping them in conditions that are worse than what the common felon endures at Riker’s Island is flat-out wrong,” I’m not sure we can even all agree on that, unequivocally. But I do know that I believe that it is flat-out wrong. Unequivocally. Racism is wrong. Unequivocally. And that takes precedence over how well one’s stock portfolio is doing. At least it does to me.
The horrors of the border internment camps. ICE raids on chicken processing plants. Trump’s latest plan to suspend any type of habeas corpus in the aforementioned camps (making them in effect a Guantanamo base for illegal alien children). Any of two dozen or more disturbingly cruel and outright racist practices under the Trump administration (take a bow, Stephen Miller), which itself was launched with incredibly racist propaganda about the types of people Mexico was sending us. All of this is cruel and evil and downright un-American. No doubt.
However, the Founders of this country, men inspired by the Age of the Enlightenment and who had only lived in a world ruled by despots and kings, understood well, and sought gamely, to create a nation in which individuals were treated equally regardless of race, religion or economic standing. And for this to happen, they believed, the nation’s foundation had to be laws and our adherence to them.
Now, of course, as you and I and Colin Kaepernick know, all laws are not enforced equally. But the point is, they’re supposed to be. And one of the reasons the phrase “a more perfect union” exists in the preamble of the Constitution is because it embraces the idea that, as a nation, we can always improve. Blacks were not free when the Constitution was ratified. Women did not have the right to vote. America has never been perfect, and it is certainly far from perfect lately, but the ideas behind the Constitution seem to be: 1) we can always get better and wiser (hence the allowance of Amendments) and 2) laws are the cornerstone of a society where people are as free as possible while also adhering to what Rousseau described as “the Social Contract.”
In other words, you cannot be for freedom of speech right up until someone says something that you do not like. The law, all laws, need to be based on general values that a society espouses. Not on particular circumstances. Not on emotions. And if enough of us no longer believe that a law properly represents our values, it can be repealed. Or a new law passed.
Which brings me back to the border. And sure, if you want to include the U.S.A.-Canada border, by all means, go right ahead. Let’s begin with this: If you or I travel to any country outside the United States, we know enough to bring our passports. All developed nations have rules about foreigners entering their country, even if it’s just a matter of an agent glancing at your passport for a matter of seconds before passing you through.
So I guess what I’d like to ask is if those Americans who cannot stand Trump (raises hand) have an actual policy, a guideline, for border crossings that are not undertaken legally. Should it be like the 55 m.p.h. speed limit where, hey, we have it so that we can enforce it if we want but 99 times out of 100 we drivers know they never will? Should there be no law at all and, Hey, c’mon over, everyone? Should it be strict?
I’d argue that one of the main reasons, if not THE main reason, that Trump got elected was because he tapped into the latent racism of far too many Americans, and he used illegal border crossings as his gateway drug. And because, at least to me, no one on the Democrat side had (or has) a better counter-proposal than to tap into the emotional aspects of the situation (the Emma Lazarus Syndrome of “Gimme your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”).
So that what you had on one side was a return to Nazi Germany and on the other side was Morris Albert singing “Feelings” and in between there was just this giant vacuum where common sense should exist. Where we, the people, just ignored the fact that you can’t even begin to address the issue if there’s not a proper law in place. There are decent people who bleed red and blue, I believe, who are frustrated by only hearing the extremes from either side.
You can talk about why ICE isn’t raiding the people who employ illegal aliens as opposed to the illegal aliens themselves (I know I have in this very blog). You can talk about how Mexicans and immigrants from other Central American countries who did not arrive legally are some of the hardest workers and friendliest people you’ll ever meet (this is something I know first-hand, I’d say better than 95% of you reading this). But as you talk about all of that, you are deflecting away from the question. Because it’s not about whether someone coming to the United States illegally is the best cook in your kitchen or an MS-13 member (or both).
It’s about, Should we bother to enforce laws? Are our laws obsolete? And, if law-abiding citizens see that their government is not enforcing laws, how long until those citizens stop respecting laws themselves?
I don’t think (“I think we can all agree…” except that we cannot) you can call yourself a true American if you don’t root for anyone who wants to come here and make a better life for himself, herself, or their family. After all, you’re almost certainly here because someone on an older branch of your family tree did just that. I’m 100% on those people’s sides and I care not one whit about their color, their race, their sexual orientation. If nothing else, 30 years of living in New York City, where we have every conceivable type of person living in extremely cramped conditions and yet people get along just fine, has taught me that.
But, as someone who desperately wants to see Trump out of office, and who sincerely wants every child in a cage reunited with his or her parents tonight, I don’t at all think it’s racist or un-American to ask of a Democratic candidate, So IS there a plan for the border? As it stands now, the MAGA base would put up a wall, which is the enduring symbol of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign (a successful one, I might add, no matter what the popular vote was).
But it feels to me that the opposition (count me in) has to this point come up with nothing better than sharing heart-wrenching stories of either families who have been torn apart or individuals working three jobs to raise their kids. Emotions aren’t laws. Human-interest stories that Lester Holt can narrate on NBC Nightly News are not a response to the sinister xenophobia of Trump’s policy.
Be it on a sports team, on a restaurant staff, or as a United States citizen, I find the operation works best when we have a clear set of guidelines and we hold each other accountable. Isn’t it possible to empathize with every single person who is attempting to come to America while also asking, Do we even have a guideline for who enters and, if so, is it something we are willing to enforce? Or is that something no Democrat would ever do because he or she would never want to alienate their voter base? Which, come to think of it, is something right out of Donald J’s border policy playbook.
Thank you for reading. I’m sure this will all just go down as White Mansplaining, but that’s the world we live in now.