The Insanity of the Snowflake Court

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, which was a day that will live in infamy. Since then, he and his Republican sycophants have unleashed a series of unfortunate events which have undermined the democratic process, disrespected American values and civil liberties, and ignored the will of the American people. Not surprisingly, Trump has proven to be an incurious and incompetent executive as well as a friend to plutocrats and white supremacists. He has broken democratic norms and brought out the American ugliness that was meant to be buried all those years ago. He has alienated our allies and praised despots known to inflict atrocities on any of their citizens who dare challenge their authority. He has divided the country with his incendiary rhetoric, especially whenever someone publicly says something he doesn’t like. He has tried to delegitimize the media who’ve reported negative stories about him as “fake news.” He has surrounded himself with sycophants and crooks in his administration as well as berated and fired those not willing to put personal loyalty above all else. He has tried to undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. And he doesn’t care of the consequences of his actions unless they affect him personally, despite the vast damage he’s inflicted with his cruelty. Nor does he take responsibility for his callous actions. It is impossible to list the scandals, controversies, and incendiary rhetoric coming from this man or his administration.

Since 12:01 on January 20, 2018, the federal government shut down. Republicans and Democrats are still stuck in a struggle to reach an immigration deal. On January 18, House Republicans passed a bill to fund the government for 4 weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 6 years, after Congress had failed to reauthorize the program for the last 4 months. But on a procedural vote late on January 19, which needed 60 votes to advance the House spending bill, 45 Senate Democrats and 5 Senate Republicans rejected it. Democrats are frustrated with Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept a bipartisan to address the nearly 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo after he pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And they felt of having no choice or leverage but to reject the House spending bill to force DACA negotiations. Several Republicans working on the DACA fix joined in and are angry over the inability to cut a long-term funding deal for the military. Meanwhile, Republicans have pitted DACA recipients against CHIP despite that their majority failed to extend the program. Yet, Democrats still believe they have a compelling case for DACA after Trump’s latest tirade calling some countries “shitholes” in an immigration meeting with lawmakers. But so far, there has been no easy resolution. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has offered Democrats a shorter short-term spending deal keeping the government open until February 8 and promised to open immigration negotiations then. Now the mad scramble to fund and reopen the government begins.

Now a federal government means that a lot of so-called “non-essential” government activities suddenly cease. Federal employees are divided into “essential” and “nonessential” groups. Nonessential employees receive furloughs like an unpaid leave of absence until the shutdown’s resolved. Essential employees also stop getting paid but still have to work. But when a shutdown’s over federal workers usually get the salaries they went without. Likewise, a shutdown usually suspends various government functions. Military, air traffic control, federal prisons, Social Security and other benefit programs aren’t typically affected. However, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer jobs and cut economic growth by .2-.6% in the last quarter during the last government shutdown in 2013 whose effects were substantial. Tax refunds totaling $4 billion were delayed. Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program went underfunded. Federal research activities at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly shut down entirely. Environmental Protection Agency inspections halted in 1,200 locations. The Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of drugs and medical devices. National parks shut down, resulting in $500 million lost in consumer spending from tourists. And reviews of veterans’ disability applications slowed to a halt, with nearly 20,000 applications per week not being processed. So it’s a very serious matter.

It’s not unusual for Congress to go on the brink of a shutdown since it happened several times in Trump’s first year of office alone. But failure to actually make the deadline is rare. But since the federal government has shut down, Congress has to pass a spending bill. They have 3 options. First, they can pass the appropriations bills in an omnibus which crams 11 of these together into one spending package. Second, they can pass a “continuing resolution” funding government at its current levels to buy more negotiating time for the actual appropriations bills. Or third, they could pass a “CRomnibus,” which combines the two as well as extends the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations like the Department of Homeland Security and passing a spending bill on the rest. Though McConnell has proposed another CR, Democrats voted one down amid stalled immigration negotiations, which have recently intensified after months of inaction. So it’s unlikely they’d vote without some agreement on DACA’s future. Still, Donald Trump and the Republican leadership keep engaging hardline immigration hawks showing no interest in compromise. And his Orange Hind-Ass has reportedly told Senators Tom Cotton and Mark Meadows that he won’t support a proposal without these hardliners’ blessings. For Democrats, this is a serious red flag since their votes are needed to pass anything on immigration, which Republicans want kept out of the spending talks.

Naturally, both parties have spent the last few days trying to set up the other side to take the blame for the shutdown due to budget impasse. Republicans have made plans to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take uncomfortable votes. Democrats claim that since Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, not keeping the government open is their fault. At the same time, Republicans accuse Democrats of withholding needed Senate votes to press a resolution to the immigration debate impasse, even at CHIP’s expense. Of course, that’s ridiculous since Congress could’ve easily resolved the whole CHIP thing months ago. However, the truth is that Republicans didn’t even have the votes to keep the government open on their own. Yet, Democrats weren’t going to let the government remain open without a DACA deal even if Republicans had the votes. Nonetheless, after Lord Cheetohead blew up the DACA talks in the “shithole” meeting, they felt they had no choice and saw the spending bill as the best leverage. For both parties know that tying a DACA deal to a spending bill was the only way to assure its success. Because immigration hawks want to blow up such a deal from a bipartisan group of senators. So the hardliners and Republicans have dug in while Democrats have decided that now is the time to force the DACA issue. So the government won’t open until one side feels the squeeze and blinks. And it could’ve been avoided had Hamsterhair accepted the bipartisan DACA deal in the first place.

We need to remember that Donald Trump set the current crisis in motion last September when he revoked Barack Obama’s executive order protecting DREAMers from deportation. But he offered no guidance about what he wanted to happen next other than Congress to do something. His lack of clarity has emboldened the GOP immigration hardliners while raising immigration reformers’ hopes for a deal. Unfortunately, Trump’s intervening behavior ruined everything and left everyone feeling he might screw over at any moment. Nobody is exactly sure who’s shutting down the government or what the White House is trying to achieve by rejecting a bipartisan proposal that would’ve averted one. The country has mostly coped with Trump’s inability to do his job through outsourcing governance to congressional GOP leadership. But congressional Republicans are less unified while Trump is more invested in immigration than on most issues. So his actual personal leadership as president is critical for moving the system forward. However, the mere fact that these circumstances require Trump to act like a real president doesn’t change the fact he’s a lazy, ill-informed conspiracy theorist prone to tweeting cryptic statements about delicate issues from Fox & Friends segments.

As a candidate Donald Trump loudly, frequently, and obnoxiously promised to “build a wall” on the US-Mexican border and “make Mexico pay” for it. Of course, these ideas never made any sense since Mexico would never pay for such a thing. But once Trump won the election, turning them to actual policy imperative became important to the overall Republican Party. And the White House got behind the conceit that Congress could reserve funds for it that Trump would assert was some kind of advance on the nonexistent future Mexican repayment. But this left the problem of actually getting the money since congressional appropriations require 60 Senate votes. Not surprisingly, many Republicans were lukewarm on the wall all along. Thus, Trump was considering forcing a government shutdown to try to get his way. In May 2017, he tweeted, “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We…. either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!” Obviously, this was a bad idea and other Republicans seemed to have talked Trump out of it. But the problem of getting Democratic votes for the wall remained. One natural way would give Democrats a big legislative win of their own. Yet, since a lot of congressional Republicans weren’t very excited about the wall, they’d revolt over giving away policy concessions of any real value. Then came an idea of canceling DACA allowing Trump to generate new leverage and give concessions on the DREAMers in exchange for wall money and leaving Republicans no worse off than they were before.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has deeply hawkish views on immigration thanks to his personal and ideological racism as well as deeply ill-informed on all subjects aside from the art of the con. Besides, the basic problem with a DREAMers-for-wall swap is that the wall is a phenomenally stupid idea that wouldn’t accomplish anything to reduce immigration to the United States. Also, walls to keep people out or in have been tried countless times in history and have failed to do so. Not to mention, the billions of dollars spent to maintain and guard it which would make a wall a colossal waste of money. And if legislative DREAMer protections ended up creating a path to citizenship, it might actually result in increasing immigration since the new citizens could sponsor visas for relatives. Thus, better-informed immigration hawks like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Sen. Tom Cotton began working with Chief of Staff John Kelly to avoid the kind of deal Trump had repeatedly suggested and even at times explicitly agreed to in general terms. While hawks successfully scuttled a deal by souring Trump on a bipartisan compromise by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, they haven’t introduced any plausible ideas of their own.

However, instead of negotiating positions, immigration hawks have produced a comprehensive wish list for entirely transforming the American immigration system to a tiki torch wielding white supremacist’s delight. They want billions of dollars in new border security along with the full RAISE Act vision of cutting legal immigration in half while ending family and diversity visas in favor of an exclusive focus on job offers and educational attainment. This is what Donald Trump means with his various asides about the perils of “lotteries” and “chain migration.” Consequently, there’s just no way Democrats will agree to these changes as the price for helping the DREAMers. There’s just a total disproportion between these demands’ scale and the DACA issue’s significance. To get sweeping changes in the immigration system enacted, conservatives would need to come to the table with some kind of help for the entire long-settled undocumented immigrant population. Like the kind of comprehensive immigration reform they’ve eschewed for years.

So if Democrats blink and cave into Donald Trump on the shutdown question, Donald Trump will get none of the policy changes he wants. He’ll have no change to diversity visas, no change to family visas, and no wall money. In exchange, he could start deporting DREAMers but the capacity of American courts to do so is already maxed out. Still, losing legal status will harm DREAMers in concrete ways. It’ll force some out of active-military service and others out of legitimate work and education activities. But those who’ve grown up and spent their whole lives in the US aren’t going to “self-deport,” and crowding the deportation pipeline with sympathetic DREAMers won’t help immigration hawks’ case. It’s possible that Trump doesn’t care and thinks hurting DREAMers is its own reward. If that’s so, he at least should admit that and let the country move on. Even if it makes him seem like a horrible person which won’t hurt him much. I mean low approval ratings and mass protests should illustrate that most of American people think he’s a piece of shit anyway.

The current situation’s perversity is that Donald Trump has always publicly maintained that he wants to do something to help the DREAMers when his actions show us that’s not the case. He has repeatedly used the word “love” in this context despite that he was perfectly willing to put 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo just to get money for his stupid, useless wall. Though his supposed willingness to help the DREAMers has raised expectations among Democrats and immigration activists that a deal can be struck. If Trump doesn’t actually want a deal, he may narrowly prevail on the government shutdown. Democrats from red states with low Latino and Asian populations won’t hold out forever in a futile effort to help DACA recipients. Had Trump had signaled opposition months ago, there probably wouldn’t be a standoff today. But if he wants a deal, he needs to seriously engage with the process and lay out some concrete ideas on the table. Instead, by veering from handshake deals with “Chuck and Nancy” to profane ranting about “shithole countries,” he has confused everyone on Capitol Hill and brought the political system to breaking point. And he thinks he’s a master in the art of the deal.

Nevertheless, we must note that Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration from “shithole” countries reflects a larger, more pervasive, and more dangerous viewpoint on the intersection of immigration and race. By referring nations like Haiti and African countries as “shitholes,” he’s not just expressing what some conservatives view as “politically incorrect” sentiments. Rather he and importantly members of his staff are embracing what used to be a fringe theory held by the farthest of the far right. It’s a theory claiming that white people are being systematically “erased” by their inferiors, and thus require an influx of white babies and new white immigrants (at the exclusion of their nonwhite counterparts) to survive. This viewpoint has resulted in the federal government shutdown. We must understand that the current debate at Capitol Hill has little to do with border security concerns. It’s about halting immigration, especially from nonwhite countries. In the final days and hours before the government shutdown, Donald Trump sabotaged a bipartisan compromise that was Congress’s best shot at passing a package that would’ve kept the government open and do something about the DACA program Trump ended last year, but wanted “fixed.” This would’ve given him much of what he wanted out of immigration reform like the border wall and an end to “diversity” visas. Instead, Trump turned toward restrictionists like Sen. Tom Cotton and White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller who has long influenced his attitudes on immigration policy. Miller’s silent hand on Trump’s DACA views was noteworthy enough that Sen. Lindsey Graham told MSNBC that his approach had, “no viability.” Breitbart fired back at Graham, running a piece which called him, “pro-amnesty” while referring to Cotton as, “the heir to Jeff Sessions’ pro-American immigration reform agenda.” Cotton has said that the “American people” like Trump’s and more importantly, his own “economic nationalist approach” favoring cuts on legal immigration, harsh penalties on DACA recipients and legal immigrants, and criminalizing undocumented immigrants’ status whose presence violates civil law. The language used by sites like Breitbart make it clear that this is all about mythmaking and fearmongering. As John Binder writes describing Cotton’s extremist policy: “By 2023, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the legal and illegal immigrant population of the U.S. will make up nearly 15 percent of the entire U.S. population.” The Center for Immigration Studies is an unreliable source for immigration data since its fonder John Tanton of embracing eugenics and reportedly told a friend, “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Now Tanton’s allies are attempting to put these ideas into immigration policy. And they wonder why Democrats aren’t interested despite the obvious white supremacist implications. Judging by Trump’s actions on revoking temporary protected status on DREAMers, Haitians, and El Salvadorans, I’m guessing he’s with the hardliners. Thus, as far as I see it, I don’t see any resolution in sight to this shutdown.

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