Say It Ain’t So

Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump. That was the whole point of the election. A nation cannot stay angry forever, and retribution isn’t policy. Being told who to hate this week, someone or something so frightening we all might die, someone or something new once again, was exhausting – and Trump is gone. The whole thing is over:

The rights of transgender Americans have been a growing topic of debate on sports fields, in state capitols and in Congress. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, says more than 30 state legislatures have proposed more than 115 bills that would limit transgender rights, from participation on sports teams to access to medical care.

But two-thirds of Americans are against laws that would limit transgender rights, a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found. That opposition includes majorities of every political ideology from liberal to conservative and every age group.

These proposed bills have emerged as a new culture war, with Republican state legislators introducing and voting for them amid Democratic opposition, while a majority of Americans who identify as Republicans are against such laws, according to the poll.

Why are we supposed to hate these people? No one is saying. Just hate them? The nation is saying no, those days are over. But it was a strange four years. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer remembers who we were told to hate:

One of the Trump administration’s early priorities was engineering a whiter America through immigration restrictions. We know this because it told us so.

“U.S. demographics have been changing rapidly – and undesirably in the eyes of top Trump aides, including his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller,” the Los Angeles Times reported in February 2017. The travel ban targeting Muslim nations was the first step in an agenda “to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.”

That wasn’t a benign comment:

The key phrase there is will not assimilate. Nothing is inherently wrong with nations adopting immigration policies best adapted to their economic needs. But Miller, Bannon, and Trump used immigrants who will not assimilate as code for immigrants who are not white and Christian. Miller privately praised racist immigration restrictions targeting Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews, Africans, and Asians that the United States adopted in the early 20th century. Bannon famously lamented the presence of South Asian tech workers in Silicon Valley. And Trump himself complained about African, Latin American, and Caribbean immigrants as being from “shithole countries,” an assessment rooted in the racial backgrounds of these immigrants, rather than their individual capabilities.

Some dismissed that as just Trump being Trump. That was just a random comment. He likes to shock people. That makes him powerful, perhaps. But then things got serious. Those people will kill us all, so it might be best to kill them first:

The Los Angeles Times also cited an anonymous senior administration official, who told the paper that “we don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature.”

Later that year, a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a crowd that had shouted “Jews will not replace us!” the night before, used a car to mow down anti-racist protesters. Trump memorably equated the two groups, insisting that there were “fine people on both sides.”

And that’s why Biden ran:

Two weeks later, the future president, Joe Biden, wrote in The Atlantic that the murder of Heather Heyer, the growing confidence of white-nationalist groups, and Trump’s defense of them had deeply affected him.

“We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support,” Biden wrote. “If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.”

That worked, but now something is going wrong:

Biden returned to a battle for the soul of this nation as a campaign theme in 2020 – successfully, as it turned out. Which raises the mystery of why President Biden is quietly maintaining one of the Trump era’s most discriminatory policies and a key element of Trump advisers’ broader agenda of making America white again: the throttling of refugee admissions.

In 2020, only about 12,000 refugees were admitted to the United States – a steep decline from 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, when about 85,000 were admitted. This year, despite having vowed to reverse Trump’s discriminatory immigration policies, the Biden administration is on track to admit even fewer refugees, having allowed in only about 2,000 so far, according to a report from the International Rescue Committee. The Trump-era restrictions, the report notes, “have amounted to a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees. These policies, in the sordid tradition of the Muslim and Africa Ban, have undeniably discriminatory impacts along lines of nationality and religion.”

Hey, maybe he is Donald Trump:

America’s military misadventures over the past few decades have shown the folly of attempting to remake the world through force. But one morally righteous and uncomplicated action that the United States can take to help those suffering under repressive governments, violent extremists, or climate catastrophes is allowing them to live here and contribute to American society, as generations of refugees have done before them. In some cases, these refugees are fleeing circumstances created or exacerbated by American foreign policy, and admitting them is the least the United States can do.

And now Biden isn’t doing that:

Restoring “the soul of the nation” cannot mean simply unseating Trump. It also has to mean reversing the policies his administration put in place in an attempt to codify into law his racial and sectarian conception of American citizenship. If Biden cannot do that, then he has restored little more than Democratic control of the presidency. And should he fail to rescind these policies simply because he fears criticism of those who enabled Trump’s cruelty to begin with, it will be nothing short of cowardice.

“My faith teaches me that we should be a nation that once again welcomes the stranger and shows a preferential option for the poor, remembering how so many of us and our ancestors came here in a similar way,” Biden wrote in 2019. “It’s not enough to just wish the world were better. It’s our duty to make it so.”

But that’s not easy. Still, Biden finally got it. The Washington Post soon reported this:

President Biden on Friday all but abandoned a pledge to enable tens of thousands of refugees fleeing danger abroad to come to the United States this year, then abruptly backtracked after drawing a furious response from human rights advocates and fellow Democrats.

In a directive issued early Friday, the administration announced that it would leave the cap on refugees at 15,000, the record-low ceiling set by President Donald Trump. But after hours of blistering criticism from allies, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reversed the announcement, issuing an unusual statement saying that the order had been “the subject of some confusion.”

Psaki said that Biden would actually set the final cap – which sets the refugee allotment through the end of September – by May 15, and that while the White House expects it will be higher than Trump’s ceiling, it is “unlikely” to rise to the 62,500 that Biden had put forward with some fanfare in February.

In short, he realized he had to keep at least half his promise, but it’s not his fault:

Psaki said Biden could not keep that promise because the Trump administration had “decimated” the refugee program. But advocates dismissed that explanation as unpersuasive, saying the Biden team was more likely seeking to abandon the pledge amid concerns about the political criticism surrounding the current surge of migrants at the southern border.

That makes more sense. That surge of migrants is killing him, so here’s what he’ll do:

Late Friday, White House officials held a call with refugee advocates, during which deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said the cap would likely be lifted well before May 15, according to two people on the call. Finer also said that the administration would try to resettle refugees as soon as possible, rather than spreading out the admissions until Sept. 30, the people said. White House officials plan to hold another meeting with advocates next week, people with knowledge of the plans said.

The White House chose the May 15 date because Biden did not want to delay the flights of already-vetted refugees into the United States any longer, doing so by lifting Trump’s restriction on refugees from specific countries. But at the same time, Biden “wants to ensure we have a clear understanding and assessment of the capacity to process refugees seeking to enter the United States,” one White House official said.

He’ll do the right thing, but carefully, and he does need to be careful:

The tortuous maneuvering reflected growing concern about immigration inside the White House, according to people with knowledge of the decision-making process, who cited worries about expanding the refugee program at a moment when critics are pummeling Biden with claims that he is too soft in his policies and rhetoric. The president is struggling to contain the soaring number of migrants arriving at the southern border, which has caused significant anxiety inside the West Wing, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

But he’s already done the damage:

Biden’s long-delayed decision-making has resulted in hundreds of canceled flights for refugees, including a pregnant woman who missed the window to travel, and it has cast many people into limbo who had organized their lives around coming to the United States after the president signaled a new direction, according to advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

Biden’s directive Friday was greeted with anger from Democrats and leaders of the resettlement agencies that work with the government, some of whom equated his approach to Trump’s. The decision prompted the most forceful denunciations from his own party that Biden has experienced as president.

“This Biden Administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable. These refugees can wait years for their chance and go through extensive vetting. Thirty-five thousand are ready. Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time there is no reason to limit the number to 15,000,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat and a close Biden ally, said in a statement. “Say it ain’t so, President Joe.”

But it was so, and the Torquemada of Santa Monica was gloating:

While he met a torrent of outrage from Democrats, some conservatives suggested that the impulse to hold off on a dramatic increase in refugees showed sensitivity to the politics of immigration.

“This reflects Team Biden’s awareness that the border flood will cause record midterm losses *if* GOP keeps issue front & center,” tweeted Stephen Miller, a chief architect of Trump’s hardline immigration platform.

Miller was telling Biden that America hates “those” people and will toss him out on his ear if he lets them in. But his own people might toss him out if he keeps them out. They didn’t elect Trump, after all:

Biden did make some changes to Trump’s order. His revised regional allocations include 7,000 spots for refugees from Africa and 3,000 from Latin America. While those moves garnered some praise, that was drowned out by the chorus of Democrats from across the political spectrum who lambasted the president’s decision and raised concerns about whether Biden would fulfill his prior commitment to lift the cap on refugees to 125,000 beginning in October.

Underlying the stormy reaction was the feeling among Democrats that harshness toward migrants and refugees was central to what they disliked about Trump. Biden was expected to usher in a return to a more welcoming United States, one that provides a haven for suffering and persecuted people from around the world.

Don’t expect that. A new Republican Party is being born:

Far-right Republicans in Congress are forming an “America First Caucus” that would promote nativist policies, according to materials outlining the group’s goals first obtained by Punchbowl News.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) are reportedly behind it, with Reps. Barry Moore (R-Ala.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) signed on as early members. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who faces federal and House Ethics Committee investigations over allegations of sexual misconduct and illicit drug use, tweeted that he was joining Greene in the caucus.

Trump lives on! Miller will arrange everything! The America First Caucus is the Republican Party now:

A seven-page document that lays out policy positions for the caucus includes nativist language and perpetuates the falsehood that there was widespread fraud and corruption in the 2020 election. According to the document, the group says it seeks to advance former president Donald Trump’s legacy, which means stepping “on some toes” and sacrificing “sacred cows for the good of the American nation.”

In a section on immigration, the document describes the United States as a place with “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and argues that “societal trust and political unity are threatened when foreign citizens are imported en-masse into a country, particularly without institutional support for assimilation and an expansive welfare state to bail them out should they fail to contribute positively to the country.”

That Anglo-Saxon (Aryan) stuff set off alarms:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday seemed to oppose the formation of the caucus, though he did not call it or its members out by name.

“America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion,” McCarthy tweeted. “The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans – not nativist dog whistles.”

Is he still a Republican? And there was this:

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-highest-ranking Republican leader in the House, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of Trump’s most vocal critics within the GOP, also denounced what the caucus stood for.

“Republicans believe in equal opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. We teach our children the values of tolerance, decency and moral courage,” Cheney tweeted. “Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teaches we all have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate.”

Kinzinger called for anyone who joined the caucus to be stripped of their committee assignments in Congress.

Yeah, well, the Master Race may have something to say about that. They rule now:

The ideas outlined in the “America First Caucus” document indicate just how far to the extreme right some Republican lawmakers stand – and feel comfortable openly expressing such opinions. The document calls to suspend all immigration, saying such pauses are “absolutely essential in assimilating the new arrivals and weeding out those who could not or refused to abandon their old loyalties and plunge head-first into mainstream American society.”

On infrastructure, the caucus calls for the construction of roads, bridges and buildings that reflect “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.”

The caucus also criticizes U.S. foreign aid, blasts coronavirus restrictions as an overreaction, and suggests the country’s education system “is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.”

That last bit is about a defense of slavery way back when. It wasn’t that bad. And the reaction was immediate:

Reports of the caucus and its stated goals drew condemnation from numerous Democrats, who blasted Greene and Gosar for promoting dangerous and “blatantly racist” ideas rooted in White supremacy.

“As an immigrant, I served on active duty in the US military to defend your right to say stupid stuff. What makes America great is that we don’t judge you based on bloodline, we look at your character,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted.

Lieu said they could take their nativist rhetoric and “shove it.”

Fine. Now everyone is clear about who stands for what. The America First Caucus removed all residual Republican ambiguity. And as for that bit about the progeny of European architecture, classically beautiful, befitting a world power, there’s a backstory there. Consider February 26, 2021:

President Trump’s order to “make federal buildings beautiful again” – a move that many believed echoed mandates by fascist leaders of the 20th century – is no more, thanks to President Biden.

This week, Biden overturned Trump’s “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” executive order, which the former president signed into law last December during a spate of last-minute, lame duck moves. Biden’s new mandate calls for the director of the office of management and budget to “rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies” enabled by Trump…

It also orders the dissolution of “personnel positions, committees, task forces, or other entities established” created to carry out the now-nullified executive order, which likely means that the Trump’s Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture will also be disbanded.

And that was that:

Trump’s order, a draft of which leaked last February, mandated that all new buildings costing over $50 million must adhere to the style of Greco-Roman-inspired classical architecture and be “visibly identifiable as civic buildings.”

America’s landmark buildings should “inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public,” the order stated. It went on to call modern buildings – such as San Francisco’s Thom Mayne-designed Federal Building and Orlando’s George C. Young US Courthouse – as “uninspiring” and “just plain ugly.”

Newfangled architecture of the latter type, the order stated, “sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve.”

Yes, this was bullshit:

“By overturning this order, the Biden Administration has restored communities with the freedom of design choice that is essential to designing federal buildings that best serve the public,” said Peter Exley, president of American Institute of Architects, in a statement. “This is fundamental to an architect’s process and to achieving the highest quality buildings possible.”

Exley’s organization has been vocal in its opposition to Trump’s order since it was introduced. Last year, after the draft leaked, the institute sent more than 11,400 letters to the White House decrying the mandate, while its leaders sent two separate missives to Trump directly. Other organizations, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, condemned the order too, and critics online were quick to point out similar mandates by fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler, who favored classical aesthetics.

There’s some truth to that – Albert Speer’s massive Greco-Roman-inspired classical architecture was impressive, and soul-crushing, which might have been the point. The America First Caucus might have had that in mind. Trump might have had that in mind.

But there was that voice from the past:

Former President George W. Bush lamented the polarization of immigration reform in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday, writing that “the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party.”

“Over the years, our instincts have always tended toward fairness and generosity. The reward has been generations of grateful, hard-working, self-reliant, patriotic Americans who came here by choice,” Bush wrote. “If we trust those instincts in the current debate, then bipartisan reform is possible. And we will again see immigration for what it is: not a problem and source of discord, but a great and defining asset of the United States.”

The op-ed was published ahead of Bush’s interview with CBS’ Norah O’Donnell that’s set to air in clips beginning Sunday, in which he said he’s “ready to re-enter the debate on immigration.”

But no one wants to hear from him now:

Bush attempted to pass immigration reform through when he was in office, but failed to get the legislation through Congress. In the interview with CBS, Bush said not getting immigration reform passed was one of the “biggest disappointments” as president.

“I campaigned on immigration reform. I made it abundantly clear to voters this is something I intended to do,” Bush said.

Since Bush left office, Congress has been unable to pass significant immigration reform, with Trump and former President Barack Obama both relying heavily on executive action.

“All that means is that Congress isn’t doing its job,” Bush said in the CBS interview.

No, the job changed. This is the White Man’s country or it isn’t. It’s come down to that. Say it ain’t so? It’s so.


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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