The Deep ‘America First’ Vein

Many speak of Trump’s racist America First movement as if it were a new phenomenon in the United States. It isn’t. In fact it is no more intense, bigoted and widespread than the last outbreak. Take this photo for example. Do you think it was taken in Charlottesville this year? No, it wasn’t. This was from the 1930s in Anytown, U.S.A.

There is a book coming out soon that provides a scholarly look at this disease on the body politic from three-quarters of a century ago. It is called Hitler’s American Friends. Here is a blurb from Amazon.

Anyone who believes that the movement to prevent America joining World War II against Hitler can be confined to Charles Lindbergh and his sinister “America First” movement will be astounded by Bradley W. Hart’s well-researched, well-written and fascinating book. The truth is that isolationism was not a Mid-Western, know-nothing fad; in fact it fed off a deep vein of anti-Semitic, anti-British and often even pro-Nazi sentiment right across America. For every one of the 800,000 members of America First, there were 23 other Americans who were tuning into isolationist broadcasts just before World War Two broke out in Europe. This superb book lifts the lid on America’s dark prewar secret.” – Andrew Roberts, author of Napoleon: A Life and Churchill: Walking with Destiny

The U.S. population in 1938 was about 130 million, many of whom were children. It is thus likely that at least 20% of the adult population were sympathetic to Hitler’s cause in the period leading up to WWII. Many others didn’t much like either side but were vehemently against entering the war, scarcely two decades after WWI, and thus they aligned themselves with the isolationist clique.

The pro-Nazi German American Bund held great rallies in places like New York City, St. Louis, and Chicago. Today they would dominate the news the way Trump’s incessant rallies do.

Keep in mind that the 40% or so still supporting Trump are not all American Firsters. Many are Republicans who simply oppose Democratic candidates and policies. And in any case, that number applies only to voters, who are no more than about 60% of the adult population anyway.


Comrade Donald and Friend

No more needs to be said. Some have long suspected, but the Helsinki meeting confirms it for all who wish to see it. I wonder if they considered Munich as an alternative site?

Who are “We The People”?

The preamble to our Constitution identifies those to whom it applies with the opening phrase “We the People of the United States”. But who exactly are these people? Recent disputes related to immigration, and in particular to illegal immigrants, make this a crucial legal issue. Focusing more closely, I want to address this question. “What exactly makes someone who is not a US citizen or a qualified alien eligible for constitutional protections?” Two Supreme Court decisions are most often quoted in reply to this question.

In Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding (1953), the Court found in an 8-1 decision that a permanent resident of the United States could not be deported without a hearing under the constitutional right to due process.

In Plyler v. Doe (1982), the Court held that a Texas statute which withholds from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, and which authorizes local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The issue of jurisdiction was found to be irrelevant.

But note that both of these cases were understood to apply to persons who are residents of the US. So the issue devolves into what constitutes residency.

Consider the following hypotheticals and see if you can discern a bright line that clearly indicates residency in the US. Have any of the following individuals established residency that is sufficient to qualify for constitution protection?

Someone who approaches the US border and plants his left foot firmly on US soil?

Someone who is standing in Mexico, while waving one foot in the air over US soil?

Someone who visits the US Embassy in Germany? (Our embassies are sovereign territory.)

Someone flying over the Aleutian Islands on a trip from Canada to the Far East?

Someone who trips on a tree stump in Canada and lands on US soil?

Someone who falls overboard into US territorial waters while exercising free rights of passage?

Can you answer these questions confidently, using a clear and unambiguous rule? I believe that I can. The writers of our Constitution never intended that incidental or even deliberate touching of US territory in and of itself confers any kind of claim for Constitutional protection whatsoever. They intended this to apply only to those who purposefully enter our territory, with our explicit or implicit permission, and with the clear intention to remain more than momentarily. There is no other possible reading of either the Constitution or our founding documents like the Federalist Papers. Thus, my answer to all of these questions is “None have established residency.” Do you disagree?

Now consider how the preceding might apply to those sneaking over our southern border. At which point will they have established residency? We have both laws and customs that grant a hearing for claims of refugee status from prospective immigrants. But as far as I know, we have no laws that grant status to those who can’t find sustenance where they now live, or who are at risk from endemic criminality in their homeland, or who simply want a better life for themselves and their families. For those with valid refugee claims, we have policies and procedures in place to process them. But none involve sneaking over our borders.

It is fair to respond that our policies are sometimes overly restrictive and are almost always ponderously slow. But if we can truly claim to be a nation of laws, then these criticisms cannot override legal considerations.

The bottom line seems to be that people trying to avoid our ports of entrance don’t achieve resident status thereby, and hence they are not yet one of “We the People of the United States”. We can grant them due process at our discretion, but I see no constitutional requirement to do so. However, it remains an open question for those clever or lucky enough to escape detection and actual take up residency within our borders.

In his usual bombastic manner, President Trump has called for prompt expulsion of those caught while violating our borders, without due process of law. This has been widely condemned, but I am not so sure that he is entirely off-base with this idea. An old Southern expression comes to mind, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while.

The Wrong Lessons Learned

Republicans apparently have learned all the wrong lessons from 2016. Hillary Clinton spent most of her time and money demonizing Donald Trump and moaning about possible conservative Supreme Court appointments instead of convincing voters that she would make their lives better. It didn’t work. Of course, part of the problem was the messenger, but I believe a major factor was a seriously off-target message.

So, what are Republicans planning for the 2018 midterm elections? In fact, what have they actually been doing in a string of disastrous special elections across the country? I can easily visualize one of their strategy sessions. One leader exclaims, “Look at those attack ads by our opposition last time. They are really well done, aren’t they?” Another vehemently agrees, “Yeah, we need to get some of that!

So here’s the plan, as far as I can see. They are trying to demonize Nancy Pelosi while moaning about the potential for impeachment proceedings in a Democratic-controlled House. See the parallel? Let’s lay aside the obvious fact that this strategy failed for Hillary. It won’t work for Republicans either, for two simple reasons. First, no one really cares that much about old Nancy anymore. Her position as House Minority Leader is relatively low-profile and she hasn’t done much of note for a long time. And second, quite a few real Republicans despise Trump and would happily exchange him for Vice President Pence. They would get the same policies but more effectively managed and without that disgraceful lump in charge.

This is especially true for evangelicals who have been twisting themselves into knots trying to justify their strong support for Trump. They like his policies – a lot – but they are fully aware that Trump is an abhorrent person and virtually the antithesis of an evangelical. As I heard one prominent evangelical leader explain recently, “Life is full of compromises. He is certainly no role model but he is doing many good things.

The lessons of history seem equally obscure to Democrats. I am beginning to suspect that Trump is smarter than he seems. All those crazy tweets provoke his opposition into paroxysms of fear and hatred so that they focus all of their attention on denouncing him personally in apocalyptic terms. What little energy remains is used to attack the perceived consequences of his policies. The problem is that most of his policies actually achieve very little. So really, why should we fear them?

Trump attacks immigrants, both legal and otherwise, and he killed the DACA program. This did have some effect and frightened the targets, but the impact so far is nowhere near what was feared. The federal courts have blocked the worst from happening. He blustered about a Great Wall on our southern border. So, where is it? His Republican-controlled Congress wants none of it. He thundered about disastrous international trade policies. Other than leaving the Trans-Pacific trade pact – probably temporarily, at that – what has he actually done? Not much that I can see. Even his vaunted tariffs are unraveling before they even take effect. He denounced our meddling in the Middle East as fruitless and wasteful, but really, what has substantially changed under his direction? Have we left Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to their own evil devices? Not yet and probably not ever.

But wait one minute! What about the myriad of executive orders and changes to administrative regulations by the Trump administration? Surely they have had a great impact, haven’t they? Well yes, they have, but even a biased observer must admit that some corrected excesses of an overly-enthusiastic Obama administration. And in any case, these are temporary changes. The next Democratic President can, and probably will, reverse all of these once again. So our economy will gyrate from one extreme to another until it falls exhausted and dizzy to the floor. And while Trump boasts about his Supreme  Court appointment of the far right conservative, Neil Gorsuch, this doesn’t represent a change at all. After all, he is replacing Antonin Scalia, who was the most reliable conservative vote on the Court.

Everyone has seen enough after more than a year to know that Trump hasn’t caused the end of the world as we know it. His tax plan is actually quite popular. Democratic attempts to vilify it as a massive giveaway to the rich have had little impact, regardless of the fact that they are perfectly correct. As I have often noted in my blog, envy is a much overrated target for political persuasion among Americans in general. They admire the rich and successful and mostly would just like to emulate them. Moreover, concern about looming deficits sits awkwardly on Democratic shoulders. Who believes that they really worry about them? They just think we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy for the wrong reasons. They have far better ones in mind if they get the chance next November.

The bottom line is that both political parties misread the lessons of the past, squander the opportunities of the present, and plan ineffectively for the challenges of the future. Yet somehow, against all the odds, we survive and even prosper.

What’s wrong with the news?

No one would dispute that news media are currently in bad repute. This was not always so, and in fact not that long ago some newspapers and newscasters ranked very high in public esteem. Some of this drop in the opinion polls is a result of extreme politicizing but there is plenty to criticize on a substantive level.

Here, I want to focus on one important failing that is rarely mentioned. Every story, whether on TV, in a newspaper article or an online report, starts in the middle. The beginning of the story is somehow lost or forgotten, and as a result the story is almost certainly misinterpreted by its recipients.

A new kind of ballistic missile is launched by North Korea. A speaker at a city council meeting is drowned out by angry demonstrators. A massive mudslide destroys homes. There is a confrontation between factions concerned with removing Confederate monuments in New Orleans. U.S. warplanes strike new targets in eastern Syria. There are severe outbreaks of measles in several Midwestern cities. Invasive Burmese pythons are changing the ecology of the Florida Everglades. The Cleveland Indians baseball franchise decides to remove its cartoonish mascot but retain its team nickname. Both Russian Premier Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping force legislative changes allowing them to retain power indefinitely. Average rates on individual health insurance policies increased by 12% last year. An unarmed black man is shot by police in a violent confrontation. The Supreme Court hears a Republican challenge to Maryland’s electoral map.

These are the headlines you read and hear. The latest facts of these stories are presented and discussed – sometimes endlessly and repetitively. Interested parties and stakeholders are interviewed. But all of these stories are half-told. What came before that leads up to this? That is absolutely vital to understanding what has happened, why it has happened, and what if anything is a sensible response.

It is fair to answer that it is impossible to flesh out the full history behind each headline. There isn’t enough time or space, and in any case the audience has too short an attention span to tolerate it. But still, much more effort is needed to fill this news deficit. And clever news organizations could do a far better job of establishing context if they wanted to and if that became the new norm.

The Day the World Ends – Maybe

Thursday, September 22, 2135. Put it in your calendar. The scope of the actual event is a bit uncertain at this time but we will shortly know more when our space mission to asteroid Bennu sends back data. What we do know is that Bennu is on its way. The current chance of a collision with Earth, while far from certain, is big enough to be really scary. This is especially true because its orbit is not exactly known at present.

Bennu isn’t large enough to do the dinosaur thing on us, but it could wreak large-scale destruction. Surprising perhaps, this is particularly true if it struck somewhere in an ocean, as the odds favor by about two to one. Bennu is several times the size of the object that struck near the Stony Tunguska River in Russia on June 30, 1908. That event had the estimated energy of a 10-30 megaton nuclear blast and was the largest impact event in recorded human history.

NASA is taking this very seriously. Right now their Planetary Defense Coordination Committee – yes, there is such an organization – is developing the beautifully named HAMMER program. This stands for Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response, at least that’s their story anyway. If it becomes necessary, this will be our attempted defense. Basically it would fly up there and smack Bennu on the noggin, hopefully with a force sufficient to divert this monster. If it were up to me, I would respectfully call this the Bruce Willis Mission.

When the time draw near, defense or not, we should expect the crazies to be out in their multitudes, standing on hilltops flapping sheets or exhorting everyone to make their peace with God. I wish I could be there to watch the fun.

A Political Epiphany

Yesterday, the surprising Congressional election result in Pennsylvania was all the talk on TV news outlets. Perhaps prematurely, there is a growing belief that this portends a wave election in November, quite possibly throwing the House back into Democratic hands. So their spokespersons in particular were all over the TV happily discussing their prospects. But as I watched, a bit skeptically I must admit, I had a bit of an epiphany.

I remember surfing to Hillary’s web site when she was the Presidential candidate to see what policies she was promoting. Adopting a progressive viewpoint, these seemed fairly sensible and the usual fare. There was a long list of ideas, policies and program proposals. Very long – and therein lies the epiphany.

Think about those having financial problems or fearful about the future for themselves and their families. They could scan down this list and find something to latch onto at, say, item 12 and perhaps items 31 and 32. But there was all this other “stuff” about things that seemed nice but not on point. Can you blame them from coming away from this feeling that their issues were just not that important to Hillary?

Having an abundance of great ideas is actually a failure to focus!

Candidates and their party leaders need to take a risk. They should identify perhaps 4-5 main issues and hit them hard, relentlessly and virtually exclusively. That will omit some things that are important to portions of their base, but that is essential to having discernible clarity and purpose. Failure to follow this rule afflicts both parties, but I think Democrats tend to be the greater transgressors.

If you think about it, isn’t that what Donald Trump did? I think this contributed mightily to putting him over the top.

Of course, all the other issues will come up from time to time in interviews and on the stump. There’s nothing at all wrong with promoting your campaign’s ideas when this happens. But everything can’t be a big deal. It’s possible to have a big tent without having a section marked off for every special interest in it.