The Choice to Destroy Lives

The impeachment hearings were about to begin. Somehow, now, everything has to do with Ukraine, so far away, but Putin wants the place and President Trump despises the place. Those people framed the Russians, they framed Putin, who did nothing at all to help Trump win in 2016 – those people tried to make it look like Trump, with the help of Russia, just cheated. They hacked Hilary Clinton’s server, not the Russians, and they have that very server over there in Ukraine right now, with all of those missing emails. They’re still protecting Hillary! Well, they stop that, and claim Joe Biden is an evil man behind everything, or Trump will give Ukraine to Putin. And the impeachment hearings will prove… well, not that. This is about the president withholding military (and domestic) aid to those people until they agreed to claim, very publicly, that they had proof that Hillary and Joe had been doing very bad things. Congress appropriated the funds to help Ukraine defend itself from Putin. Trump stopped that. Those folks would help him destroy Hillary and Joe or the Russians would roll in right now. Trump might even send in a division or two of our guys to help out. There would be no funds unless they did what he said. Who the hell cares what Congress does or does not say or do or fund? Trump decides these things.

Or he doesn’t. An impeachment will settle that matter, but the hearings had not yet begun, and the immediate issue was here at home. Certain people should be hurt. That was the whole point of the Trump presidency. His base was angry at being disrespected by all the “cool” people. Someone would pay for that, Trump would hurt just the right people, and he’s hurt them bad. So forget the impeachment for a day. Trump was in court about to get approval to hurt a whole lot of people, to really hurt them, to destroy them. And he’d be the hero again.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak tells the tale:

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared ready on Tuesday to side with the Trump administration in its efforts to shut down a program protecting about 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

The court’s liberal justices probed the administration’s justifications for ending the program, expressing skepticism about its rationales for doing so. But other justices, including President Trump’s two appointees, indicated that they would not second-guess the administration’s reasoning and, in any event, considered its explanations sufficient.

Those two saw no reason to question the president, to look into what he was claiming:

“I assume that was a very considered decision,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said of a second set of justifications offered by the administration in a memorandum last year after its decision to end the program was challenged in court.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said he saw little point in requiring the administration to come forward with better or more elaborate reasons. “What good would another five years of litigation over the adequacy of that explanation serve?” he asked.

Their position was clear. One either trusts the president or one does not. And they trust this president, although no one seemed gleeful about inflicting maximum pain here:

The justices agreed that the young people who signed up for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, were sympathetic and that they and their families, schools and employers had relied on it in good faith. “I hear a lot of facts, sympathetic facts, that you’ve put out there, and they speak to all of us,” Justice Gorsuch said.

And while Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. indicated that the administration was on solid legal footing in saying the program was unlawful, he said the Supreme Court could rule in a humane way, minimizing the hardships people participating in the program would face if it were ended.

But he didn’t say how he’d do that. Trust him. And there was this:

Chief Justice Roberts added that both the Obama and Trump administrations have said they would not deport people eligible for the program, meaning that the main practical questions if the program is ended would be their ability to work legally, obtain driver’s licenses and the like.

“The whole thing was about work authorization and these other benefits,” the chief justice said. “Both administrations have said they’re not going to deport the people.”

See, that’s not so bad. They’d be forbidden to work or drive or enter into contracts and all the rest, but no one would deport them, at least not right away, but Trump doesn’t like these people:

The program, announced by President Barack Obama in 2012, allows young people brought to the United States as children to apply for a temporary status that shields them from deportation and allows them to work. The status lasts for two years and is renewable, but it does not provide a path to citizenship.

In the past, Mr. Trump has praised the program’s goals and suggested he wanted to preserve it. “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” he asked in a 2017 Twitter post.

But as the court took up its future on Tuesday, Mr. Trump struck a different tone. “Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,'” he wrote on Twitter. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals.”

Ah, well, no:

In fact, the program has strict requirements. To be eligible, applicants had to show that they had committed no serious crimes, had arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and were no older than 30, had lived in the United States for at least the previous five years, and were in school, had graduated from high school or received a GED certificate, or were an honorably discharged veteran.

And he did trick them once before:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the DACA recipients were justified in relying on Mr. Trump’s earlier statements. Mr. Trump, she said, had been “telling DACA-eligible people that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here.”

But that only meant they were fools:

Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, representing the administration, said the program was by its nature an interim step.

“DACA was always meant to be a temporary stopgap measure that could be rescinded at any time, which is why it was only granted in two-year increments,” he said. “So I don’t think anybody could have reasonably assumed that DACA was going to remain in effect in perpetuity.”

But they were not assuming that:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that many people and groups had indeed relied on the program to continue indefinitely, judging by the supporting briefs filed in the three cases before the court, including the Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, No. 18-587.

“There are 66 health care organizations,” he said. “There are three labor unions. There are 210 educational associations. There are six military organizations. There are three home builders, five states plus those involved, 108, I think, municipalities and cities, 129 religious organizations and 145 businesses.”

In short, they’re part of things now, and the rest was arguments over what Trump could or could not do:

After contentious debates among his aides, Mr. Trump announced in September 2017 that he would wind down the program. He gave only a single reason for doing so, saying that creating or maintaining the program was beyond the legal power of any president.

“I do not favor punishing children,” Mr. Trump said in his formal announcement of the termination. But, he added, “The program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.”

That decision was reflected in a bare-bones memo from Elaine C. Duke, then the acting secretary of homeland security. She offered no policy reasons for the move, just that DACA was unlawful.

Mr. Francisco disagreed. “We own this,” he said.

Mr. Francisco pointed to a second memo, issued last year by Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary at the time. It mostly relied on the earlier rationales in Ms. Duke’s memo, but added one more, about the importance of projecting a message “that leaves no doubt regarding the clear, consistent and transparent enforcement of the immigration laws against all classes and categories of aliens.”

That policy justification, Mr. Francisco said, was sufficient even if the administration was mistaken in its legal rationale.

Who needs a reason for anything now? So it came down to this:

The Trump administration’s argument that the program was unlawful was based on a 2015 ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans. But that decision concerned a different, much larger program. Lower courts have ruled that the two programs differed in important ways, undermining the administration’s legal analysis.

On Tuesday, Justice Sotomayor appeared to agree, saying that said she had not seen an adequate explanation for the termination. “This is not about the law,” she said. “This is about our choice to destroy lives.”

Of course it is. Trump was elected to destroy specific lives, which Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explains this way:

Hardline conservatives in the Trump administration decide they want to alter an executive policy from the Obama era. They gather together to discuss their plan and realize that it is politically unpalatable: The real reasons for their decision are deeply infected with xenophobia and racism. So, instead, they craft an alternative explanation, one ostensibly rooted in fidelity to the law. When the new policy gets challenged in court, the administration’s lawyers rely upon this substitute rationale. The Supreme Court must then decide whether to accept this pretext or force the government to try again, this time with candor.

This scenario is precisely what happened in the census citizenship case, which culminated in the court – or, more precisely, Chief Justice John Roberts – refusing to play along with the administration’s pretext. And it is also exactly what happened when Trump attempted to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that lets many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children live and work here legally.

Yet the DACA case is heading toward a very different outcome.

In short, the court will accept bullshit now:

Although he said he’d kill DACA in office, President Donald Trump was obviously ambivalent about the program at the start of his presidency. It has always been popular with the public, and Trump promised to treat Dreamers “with heart.” But as the months passed by, Trump’s subordinates took matters into their own hands.

As Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear report in their new book Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, three men – Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser Stephen Miller, and Department of Homeland Security official Gene Hamilton – hatched a plot. They asked a group of Republican state attorneys general to write to the Justice Department, threatening to sue unless Trump repealed DACA.

After the attorneys general sent their demand, the trio ambushed acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, ordering her to go along with the scheme. Sessions then sent Duke a one-page letter telling her to end DACA because it is “unconstitutional” and lacks “proper statutory authority.” Duke complied, issuing a memorandum winding down DACA that included a single sentence of legal analysis essentially copied from Sessions’ letter.

So it comes down to this:

Everyone agrees that Trump has the authority to abolish DACA. The only question is whether the administration did so legally. Presidents have broad leeway to scrap their predecessors’ programs. But they must “provide a reasoned explanation for the change,” and their actions cannot be “arbitrary and capricious.”

So that led to this:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco a question that cut to the heart of the dispute. No court had found DACA to be illegal when Trump tried to rescind it. Yet the administration’s entire rationale rested on its purported illegality. How, she wondered, is that a “reasoned explanation”?

That must have produced an awkward silence. But she’s Hispanic. She would ask such a thing, but then Stern notes something else was happening elsewhere:

Shortly before the justices heard arguments on Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a horrific exposé of Stephen Miller’s deep ties to the white nationalist movement. The article detailed Miller’s affinity for outwardly racist websites, literature, and conspiracy theories, as well as immigrant laws rooted in eugenics.

So of course Stern connects the dots:

This animus, not some deep concern for “the rule of law,” is what lies behind the Trump administration’s push to end DACA. It was racism, too, that motivated the administration’s quest to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census – racism papered over with lies so brazen that Roberts could not accept them. This time around, however, the chief justice seems unwilling to peer beyond the government’s pretext. And so his court could soon condemn 700,000 Dreamers to fear deportation from the only home they’ve ever known.

And of course this made Miller the topic of the day. Yes, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch released excerpts from a trove of emails Miller sent to Breitbart News prior to the 2016 election, and Ryan Bort offers the highlights:

Miller recommended white nationalist literature and websites. When Kate McHugh, the former Breitbart reporter who leaked the emails, asked Miller if Hurricane Patricia could drive refugees into the U.S. from Mexico, Miller said “100 percent” before lamenting that they could get temporary protected status. He stressed that this needed to be a “big” story before linking to VDARE, a white nationalist website that, as Hatewatch notes, “Traffics in the ‘white genocide’ or ‘great replacement’ myth.”

On multiple occasions, Miller recommends the French book The Camp of the Saints, an alarmingly racist novel about a group of Indians, led by a character named “Turd Eater,” that invades France. The book became a central text of the white nationalist community. Weeks after mentioning it on September 6th, 2015, Breitbart editor Julia Hahn published an article titled “‘Camp of the Saints’ Seen Mirrored in Pope’s Message.” As Hatewatch notes, Hahn now works in the White House.

And there was this:

Miller complained that some retailers removed Confederate flags after the massacre in Charleston: Miller fumed to McHugh about how retailers like Amazon ceased selling Confederate flag merchandise following the 2015 massacre that left nine African Americans dead in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. “‘22.6 percent of Southern men who were between the ages of 20 and 24 in 1860 lost their lives because of the war,'” Miller wrote, linking to a History.com article. He and McHugh later bandied about the hypocrisy of Amazon for pulling down Confederate merchandise while continuing to sell “Commie flags.”

Miller also railed at length against the vandalization of Confederate statues… Trump echoed Miller’s beliefs after the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reignited a national backlash against Confederate monuments. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” the president tweeted.

And there’s this curious tidbit:

Miller praised President Calvin Coolidge, whose policies were touted by Hitler: Miller repeatedly praised President Calvin Coolidge and complained that history has not given him his due. As Hatewatch notes, Coolidge is a white nationalist icon who condemned race mixing. His Immigration Act of 1924, which all but eliminated immigration from certain parts of the world, was described by Hitler in Mein Kampf as a model for Nazi Germany.

And this:

In September of 2015, Miller complained that Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham were being soft on refugees in an email with the subject line, “Tucker asks McCain, Graham how refugees are good for Americans.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson should have known that was a stupid question, and McCain and Graham were stupid for being tricked into answering that question. Refugees always ruin everything. So that leaves this:

As the email excerpts make clear, Breitbart’s coverage was largely and often directly informed by Miller’s views. After Trump took office, these views similarly informed U.S. immigration policy. “What Stephen Miller sent to me in those emails has become policy at the Trump administration,” McHugh told Hatewatch.

The Supreme Court, now, will decide if that policy becomes the law of the land.

And at the reliably conservative Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe blames all of this on Stephen Miller:

Less than a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans came within inches of achieving their immigration dreams with a deal that would build a border wall and more detention facilities while curbing legal immigration and enacting E-Verify.

The only concession they had to make was to permanently and constitutionally protect 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, Americanized immigrants brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own.

The political cost for the GOP was almost nonexistent. Two-thirds of Republicans already supported a path to citizenship for DACA recipients at the time. But the single most prominent obstacle to this deal proved to be Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller.

Miller’s intransigence cost Trump what leverage he had from DACA, and Trump got no deal.

Less than a year later, Trump tried the same gambit but with less leverage and even more desperation as Republicans were about to lose control of the House. Once again, Miller’s insistence on slashing protections for DACA recipients killed negotiations, forcing Trump to re-open the government after its longest shutdown in history with his tail between his legs and not one cent allocated for the wall, let alone any legislative achievements.

But it looks like Stephen Miller will win this one in the Supreme Court. Lives will be destroyed, but Kevin Drum wonders about this:

Every year America gets less white. The Republican Party is keenly aware of this, and keenly aware that their natural base of support is shrinking with every election cycle. But they have no solution to this problem. If they genuinely try to make their party friendlier to voters of color, they’ll lose support from their white base and start losing elections immediately. If they don’t make their party friendlier to voters of color, they’ll start losing elections in the near future thanks to sheer demographic pressure. They have a tiger by the ears, and they can neither hold on nor let go.

And he cites Yoni Appelbaum with this:

The history of the United States is rich with examples of once-dominant groups adjusting to the rise of formerly marginalized populations – sometimes gracefully, more often bitterly, and occasionally violently… But sometimes, that process of realignment breaks down. Instead of reaching out and inviting new allies into its coalition, the political right hardens, turning against the democratic processes it fears will subsume it.

And that is the situation now:

Trump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them.

That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has – whatever the cost.

Drum agrees:

I think this is pretty much true, and that it explains the seeming terror that has taken hold of so many conservatives. It explains why Mitch McConnell doesn’t care much about legislation of any kind but grimly continues to confirm federal judges: it’s his only bulwark against a future in which Republicans lose power completely for a decade or two. It explains why a formerly mainstream party not only voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, but voted overwhelmingly for him even though they had a perfectly normal field of competitors to choose from. It explains a multi-decade effort at voter suppression that has consumed the party even though it’s unlikely to put off the inevitable by more than a year or three.

In 2012 I thought that the Republican Party had gone as far as it could to get votes from the white working class. There was just no more blood to be squeezed from that particular turnip. But I was wrong—barely. In 2016 they did what no one could have predicted by nominating a guy who was an all but open racist. And it worked, buying them just a few more votes than it lost them. Once again, they gained a few years.

But it can’t last forever. The Republican Party has already gone much further down the road of lashing itself to the cause of white racial resentment than I would have guessed possible. How much longer can it last?

This week may decide that. Expect the DACA ruling in six or seven months. For now, it’s all Ukraine, all the time, and Stephen Miller doesn’t matter at the moment, nor do all the white supremacists now in positions of real power. The impeachment hearings begin in the morning. The man elected to destroy as many lives as possible may be gone soon.

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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