Point Austin: Race, Raids, and ... Us
Trump's latest outrage fits a pattern from D.C. to Texas
You certainly do learn something new every day. Under U.S. House precedents dating as far back as Thomas Jefferson, it is less culpable to be a racist than to be called one. That meant that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was temporarily ruled out of order for saying, quite accurately, that Donald Trump's denunciations of four U.S. congresswomen – telling them to "go back to the countries they came from" – were both malicious and explicitly racist. Because in parliamentary tradition, directly criticizing the king was forbidden, a House member calling a Trump a trump is normally considered a violation of congressional decorum.
But these are not normal times. If they were, the title of the resolution under House discussion – "Condemning President Trump's racist comments directed at Members of Congress" – would have been out of order. House Republicans forced a (failed) vote to strike Pelosi's comments from the record, and made a similar attempt when Rep. Eric Swalwell accurately quoted Trump's own racist words (re: "shithole countries"). In our topsy-turvy political world, a now-central GOP project is to generate inflammatory racist rhetoric to reinforce institutionally racist policy, then feign outrage when anyone calls Republicans to account for racism.
Although the full resolution won't be widely read, the simple, factual declaration – that Trump's "racist comments ... have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color" – is worth official memorialization. The "whereas" clauses reflexively cite the Founding Fathers (awkwardly acknowledging the original American sins of indigenous genocide and slavery), but the lengthiest quotes on the importance of immigration to U.S. life and culture belong to Ronald Reagan: "Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young ..."
The Party of Reagan
Despite this invocation of the GOP's modern patron saint, House Republicans did not embrace the call to celebrate American diversity. It's impossible to watch this latest debate, or the latest squalid Trump behavior, without reference to the ongoing racist project of the entire Trump presidency – beginning with his racist birtherism, moving through his official, ongoing racist campaign against Muslim immigration, and of course his demonization and repression of Mexican and Central American immigrants, the latest "wave of new arrivals." Hardly noticed is his recurring violation of standard law enforcement confidentiality – repeatedly threatening "raids" on "illegals" without other purpose than to terrorize our communities while energizing his racist supporters.
It's bad enough that Trump acidly insults sitting congresswomen, and his GOP colleagues fall in line to defend him. Much worse is the official mistreatment of Central American refugees, including children, corralled like animals and intentionally abused, in the craven hope that cruelty will discourage them, or others to follow, from pursuing their claims of refuge or asylum. "If we ever closed the door to new Americans," said Reagan, "our leadership in the world would soon be lost."
A Long Tradition
In Austin right now, it's also impossible to consider what's happening in D.C. and on the border without seeing connections to the current uproar over City Council's decision to decriminalize homelessness. The attempt to move to a more just and more productive approach to visible poverty – while understanding it's a difficult problem with multiple aspects – has been met with hyperbolic backlash from those who haven't bothered to learn the details.
The worst, most visible response came from Gov. Greg Abbott, who not only ranted about the new policies but disseminated lies about homeless people causing a Downtown car accident. The Travis County Republican Party similarly misrepresented the city's actions, seeing an opportunity not to offer constructive solutions (other than "lock 'em up") but to foment anti-homeless hysteria, echoing the anti-immigrant hysteria that is now – thanks to Trumpism – their party's core political strategy. They do it because they have no positive alternative, and because it works.
I'd say I don't recognize my country – the 2016 election taught me a lot about the unexpectedly widespread appeal of explicitly racist politics – but then I recall "the descendants of Native people and enslaved African Americans" whose inalienable rights to citizenship and the "American Dream" have always been degraded, abused, stolen, and subject to the arrogant – and yes, racist – dismissal by people like Trump and far too many of his Make America White Again supporters. Their relentless appeals to the worst aspects of American history indeed need to be condemned – and ended, once and for all.