Not a Prayer

On the last Friday evening in April, America caught a break. There was no big news, which for most Friday evenings of the Trump presidency had been the rule. This was the exception. President Trump didn’t fire Robert Mueller. He didn’t fire anyone, and no one of any significance resigned, or was forced to resign. President Trump didn’t announce we would now leave NATO or NAFTA or the World Trade Organization either – or formally withdraw from the Geneva Conventions – or leave the UN and toss those folks out of their big blue building on the East River, across the street from Trump’s big black Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza – a far more impressive building. All the damage had been done before Friday evening. See How a Week of Triumph for Trump Was Convulsed by Chaos and Contradiction for all the details – and the dashing young French president was gone, after subtly showing everyone what any sensible president does – which Donald Trump didn’t notice, even if everyone else did. Angela Merkel was in Washington on Friday evening, and those two loathe each other – she won’t flatter him – Germany is not France – but there was no news there. He didn’t call her a useless old hag and she didn’t call him a spoiled man-child who knows nothing. It was all dreary business – just the boring stuff that never drives any news cycle.

That’s a good thing, not that things in America are all that good. There’s other news, much of it distressing, but hidden by the blare and glare of the outrageous, and much of it is just as outrageous. The Los Angeles Times published one of those lengthy in-depth investigative pieces – Pulitzer Prize bait for next April’s awards – that showed things are worse than anything reported in the outrage-of-the day normal news cycle. America doesn’t have a prayer. America is trying to deport its own citizens:

Immigration officers in the United States operate under a cardinal rule: Keep your hands off Americans.

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake, making wrongful arrests based on incomplete government records, bad data and lax investigations, according to a Times review of federal lawsuits, internal ICE documents and interviews.

Since 2012, ICE has released from its custody more than 1,480 people after investigating their citizenship claims, according to agency figures. And a Times review of Department of Justice records and interviews with immigration attorneys uncovered hundreds of additional cases in the country’s immigration courts in which people were forced to prove they are Americans and sometimes spent months or even years in detention.

This is America now:

Victims include a landscaper snatched in a Home Depot parking lot in Rialto and held for days despite his son’s attempts to show agents the man’s U.S. passport; a New York resident locked up for more than three years fighting deportation efforts after a federal agent mistook his father for someone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen; and a Rhode Island housekeeper mistakenly targeted twice, resulting in her spending a night in prison the second time even though her husband had brought her U.S. passport to a court hearing.

They and others described the panic and feeling of powerlessness that set in as agents took them into custody without explanation and ignored their claims of citizenship.

Kafka wrote about this sort of thing in The Trial – a surreal tale about a man locked up with no explanation. Even those who are putting him on trial don’t know what the charges are – but everything proceeds anyway. It can’t be stopped. He’s guilty, of something. No one’s sure what that is.

This is the same sort of thing, with a twist, an electronic twist:

The errors reveal flaws in the way ICE identifies people for deportation, including its reliance on databases that are incomplete and plagued by mistakes. The wrongful arrests also highlight a presumption that pervades U.S. immigration agencies and courts that those born outside the United States are not here legally unless electronic records show otherwise. And when mistakes are not quickly remedied, citizens are forced into an immigration court system where they must fight to prove they should not be removed from the country, often without the help of an attorney.

The Los Angeles Times investigative piece tells the stories of  examples of this sort of thing, in thousands of words of depressing detail, with additional explanation of the ever-changing rules of citizenship, but it comes down to this:

The task of proving citizenship can mean digging up the birth certificates of dead parents and finding work records from decades ago to show they lived in the country long enough to confer citizenship on their children.

Such legal fights “can be really, really difficult,” especially if the person is locked in a detention facility, said Ashley Tabbador, a federal immigration judge in Los Angeles who spoke in her capacity as president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges. “Unless the person is able to come forth with enough facts,” Tabbador said, judges are likely to side with ICE.

That means they don’t have a prayer, and Nancy LeTourneau adds this:

The burden of proof of citizenship fell on the person detained – not the officers who locked them up. That means that, as ICE becomes much more aggressive in their approach, we run the risk of becoming a “papers please” country for brown people.

I remember being horrified in 2008 when the Bush administration performed this country’s largest workplace immigration raid in Laurel, Mississippi. The ACLU reported that workers in the plant were “segregated by race,” meaning that if you were brown, you had to produce your papers and if you were white, you were free to go.

That is the kind of hell that is unleashed on all brown people in this country when anti-immigrant fears are flamed.

The fears have been flamed. That is America now, and then there’s Andrew Sullivan:

Sullivan is a conservative political commentator, a former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books. He was a pioneer of the political blog, starting his in 2000. He eventually moved his blog to various publishing platforms, including Time, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and finally an independent subscription-based format. He announced his retirement from blogging in 2015. Sullivan has been a writer-at-large at New York Magazine since 2016.

Sullivan’s conservatism is rooted in his Roman Catholic background and in the ideas of the British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott. In 2003, he wrote he was no longer able to support the American conservative movement, as he was disaffected with the Republican Party’s continued rightward drift on social issues during the George W. Bush era.

That’s who he is, and someone who started out elsewhere:

Sullivan was born in South Godstone, Surrey, into a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent, and was brought up in the nearby town of East Grinstead, West Sussex. He was educated at Reigate Grammar School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a first-class Bachelor of Arts in modern history and modern languages. In his second year, he was elected President of the Oxford Union for Trinity term 1983.

Sullivan earned a Master of Public Administration in 1986 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, followed by a Doctor of Philosophy degree in government from Harvard in 1990.

So he’s not some uneducated “brown” immigrant, but he is gay, and now a citizen, even if getting there was hard:

Sullivan was barred for many years from applying for United States citizenship because of his HIV-positive status. Following the statutory and administrative repeals of the HIV immigration ban in 2008 and 2009, respectively, he announced his intention to begin the process of becoming a permanent resident and citizen. On the Chris Matthews Show on 16 April 2011, Sullivan confirmed that he had become a permanent resident, showing his green card. On 1 December 2016, Sullivan became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Sullivan will never be detained indefinitely and forced to prove that – he’s white and famous – but he just crossed the pond for a visit with his family over there, and he noticed a few depressing things:

London is close to unrecognizable from the city I knew as a teen. Its skyline has a touch of Dubai to it – the wealth is tangible, even obscene, the prices absurd, the energy young and incredibly diverse. “It’s not our capital any more, is it?” my brother asks, as if seeking confirmation from me. I can see what he means, by virtue of not being there continuously as change accumulated and transformed.

In a little less than a week in London, I have yet to buy anything from someone English. Everywhere I hear foreign accents or one of the more than 300 languages London now incorporates. Thirty-seven percent of the capital’s population is foreign-born – the same as New York City – and that share is predicted to be 50 percent by 2031. But New York has always been a thriving immigrant city; newcomers have always defined the place, and it’s just one of several vast metropoles in America. But London is the overwhelmingly dominant city in the U.K. and has never previously been a city of immigrants in the English psyche. London, in fact, is synonymous with the essence of England, and has been a national center since the Roman era. The counties surrounding it are called the Home Counties, because London has always been home.

That means that fears have been flamed:

I’m an American now, and became one in part because I fell in love with its racial and cultural diversity. But most people, not gifted with a great education and lucky breaks, are not able to hop and skip between capital cities, finding each metropolis increasingly and pleasantly like the other. They’re in suburbs and small towns, or in the rust-belt north, whence Orwell’s patriotic (emphatically not nationalist) socialism sprang. And they’re anxious – in a way that the young are not anxious. For the under-40s, economic insecurity, college debt, and inability to own a home drive the angst. For the over-40s, it’s a sense that the England they identified with, that gave their lives meaning and pride – the England that was nearly destroyed in the “finest hour” of 1940 – this “sceptered isle,” is disappearing.

That’s the reason for Brexit. Period.

The discussion of Brexit that follows tracks all the ins and outs of politics over there – it’s messy – but there’s the situation here, and Sullivan cites that the 2017 PRRI/Atlantic study of the key voters who have gave us Trump:

Sixty-eight percent of white working-class voters said the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. And nearly half agreed with the statement, ‘things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.’ … Only a small portion – just 27 percent – of white working-class voters said they favor a policy of identifying and deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally. But among the people who did share this belief, Trump was wildly popular: 87 percent of them supported the president in the 2016 election … Nearly two-thirds of the white working class say American culture has gotten worse since the 1950s. Sixty-eight percent say the U.S. is in danger of losing its identity, and 62 percent say America’s growing number of immigrants threatens the country’s culture.

Sullivan understands that now:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has called these people witting enablers of white supremacy because they voted for Trump, conjuring up images of men in white hoods lynching and murdering African-Americans. But many of them voted for Obama twice. Clinton called half of Trump voters “a basketful of deplorables.” But a majority of white women voted for Trump. The left intelligentsia regards them as bigots, racists, xenophobes, and even “privileged” – attitudes and statements that are re-broadcast every hour of every day to the white and culturally anxious viewers of Fox News. What few on the left seem to see is that cultural anxiety, given the ethnic and cultural transformation of the last few decades, is an entirely predictable and entirely understandable response. If people felt that someone in charge actually saw their point of view, sympathized with it, and attempted even minor changes to accommodate it, we would have a different politics. But all they had was Trump. And all they still have is Trump.

And it’s the same in Britain:

This country’s core identity is thousands of years old. Yes, it has long accepted immigrants, but until the 1950s, net immigration was a rounding error. Since then, it has exploded. In the last 20 years, it has reached American levels. For those whose self-understanding is wrapped up in bluebells and tea, in English accents divided solely by class and region, in a nearly all-white and all-English country for centuries, these times are culturally terrifying.

So the Brits did what they could:

It wasn’t their economic insecurity that gave us Brexit. It was that no one in charge even sensed their unease. Elites – and I count myself among the guilty – gave them nothing by way of reassurance or even a sense that they were understood instead of reviled. So all they had was Brexit. It wasn’t a rational decision; it was their only way to have their voices heard. Their pride and self-identity are bound up in it now, just as a critical slice of America’s is bound up in Trump – which is why, despite the mounting evidence that the Brexit gambit is a disaster, they will never let it go.

And here, our own “they” will never let go of Trump, and that is that:

We have been fools on mass immigration, we have been fools for preventing an honest debate about the benefits and drawbacks of diversity, and we have been contemptible in our contempt for so many of our fellow citizens. Both countries are now paying a terrible, terrible price.

That was Sullivan’s Friday evening column. Neither Britain nor America has a prayer, and that’s something that came up on the oddly uneventful last Friday evening in April in a completely different way:

The chaplain of the House said on Thursday that he was blindsided when Speaker Paul D. Ryan asked him to resign two weeks ago, a request that he complied with but was never given a reason for.

The sudden resignation of the chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, shocked members of both parties. He had served in the role since he was nominated in 2011 by Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Catholic. In an interview, Father Conroy was categorical: His departure was not voluntary.

“I was asked to resign, that is clear,” Father Conroy said. As for why, he added, “That is unclear.”

This, however, is clear:

Father Conroy’s resignation is all the more contentious in Catholic circles because Mr. Ryan is a Catholic conservative, whereas Father Conroy is a Jesuit, a branch that is viewed by some as more liberal.

Asked whether differences in politics were a factor in his ouster, Father Conroy said: “I do not want to politicize this. I have thoughts about it, but I am not contributing to that.”

But, he said, Capitol Hill is an inherently political place. “There are Catholics who are Republicans and there are Catholics who are Democrats,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a religious divide; there certainly is a political one.”

This may be a fight between the social-justice Jesuits like the Pope, and Conroy, and Catholic conservatives like Ryan, and Mel Gibson out here in Hollywood, but it may be something else:

Though Father Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House floor in November, when Congress was debating tax overhaul legislation.

“May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” he prayed. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

About a week later, Father Conroy said, he heard from the speaker’s office. “A staffer came down and said, we are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.”

Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

Conroy didn’t get it:

“That is what I have tried to do for seven years,” Father Conroy said. “It doesn’t sound political to me.”

“If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health,” he added. “If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing.”

Father Conroy said that was the only time anyone from the speaker’s office had ever chastised him for veering into the political realm. “I’ve never been talked to about being too political in seven years,” he said.

Those were seven good years:

When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, Father Conroy gave him a personal blessing in Spanish. He has traveled with congressional delegations to Southeast Asia and to the Middle East. He has also acted as personal spiritual adviser to many members of both parties, and to their families.

“I’m going to miss that kind of stuff,” Father Conroy said. But, he added, “There will be another ministry.”

He’ll be fine, and this is a minor matter – and the Establishment Clause implicitly forbids the House to have a chaplain of any sort anyway – but the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank knows Conway’s sins against Ryan and the Republicans:

He prayed to God that lawmakers would help “the least among us.”

He prayed for them to follow the example of St. Nicholas, “who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned, gave comfort to the lost.”

He admonished lawmakers “to serve other people in their need” and “to pray for the unemployed and those who work but still struggle to make ends meet.”

After an immigration deal collapsed, he urged “those who possess power here in Washington be mindful of those whom they represent who possess little or no power.”

He prayed for lawmakers to be “free of all prejudice” and, after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, to “fulfill the hopes of those who long for peace and security for their children.”

Dana Milbank, who is Jewish and thus has no dog in this fight, nevertheless sounds suspiciously like a social-justice Jesuit:

Only in this perverted time could a priest lose his job after committing the sin of crying out for justice for the poor. But then, look around: Everywhere are the signs of a rising kleptocracy. The $1.5 trillion tax cut did make winners of corporations and the wealthy. And actions since then show that the Trump administration is making losers of the poor.

In a speech to bankers this week, Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney spoke of the “hierarchy” he followed when he was in Congress: “If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Also this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was on Capitol Hill, defiant as lawmakers grilled him about his lavish expense account (at a time when Trump wants to cut the EPA budget by 25 percent) and coziness with corporate lobbyists – most notably renting a condo at a sweetheart rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist…

Meanwhile, Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, this week proposed to triple the rent charged to the poorest families living in subsidized housing. “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable,” Carson explained. It’s hard to sustain help for the poor when you’re proposing to cut HUD spending by 14 percent next year – and when you’ve borrowed $1.5 trillion to give tax breaks mostly for the wealthy.

And then there’s Conroy:

He prayed, generically, for compassion. In the prayer that earned him Ryan’s reprimand, he merely reminded lawmakers that “the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.” He prayed that lawmakers “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Such heresies continued. He prayed for “peace and reconciliation where those virtues are so sorely needed.” He prayed for them to rise above “self-interest” and “immediate political wins.” He prayed for them to promote “justice, equity and truth.” He admonished them to “show respect for those with whom they disagree.”

On Friday morning, in the well for one of his last remaining prayers, Conroy prayed “for all people who have special needs” and “those who are sick” and for those “who serve in this House to be their best selves.”

And then there’s this:

Later Friday, Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), a Democratic leader, rose to request an investigation into Ryan’s dismissal of Conroy. Republicans moved to quash the proposal – and, to nobody’s surprise, they prevailed.

This may not be a minor matter after all, nor is the matter of the government detaining more than a few American citizens and holding them for months and sometimes years, until they can prove that they really are citizens, and then not believing the definitive positive proof of citizenship that they offer, if they can. But when the blare and glare of the outrage-of-the day normal news cycle subsides on one odd Friday evening, then the more important underlying issues come to light. Trump is who he is, but who are we? We may not have a prayer.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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