The Marcellus Shale and the Fracking Myth 

Disclaimer: This essay contains spoilers from The Trouble at Deacon Hill

My recently published novel The Trouble at Deacon Hill revolves around a reporter and blogger investigating a natural gas company following a well explosion on a farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania. At first, you’d think it’s a freak accident that eventually got out of hand. However, as Pittsburgh Clarion Call reporter Marie Franco and blogger Claudia Cruces dig deeper into the disaster and Padraic Resources, they gradually discover how much messed up the state natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is.  

Now not all of what I say in Deacon Hill is true. For instance, gas companies don’t hire security contractors to kill off people to silence them, preferring legal bullying tactics instead. Nor would a gas company be based in Greensburg skyscraper as no such building exists. As most are based out of state, particularly in places like Texas. But a lot of what I wrote about the gas industry in the novel does and has happened. The Mallowvitch case was based on the stories of Stephanie Hallowich and her neighbor Ron Gullah. The Harnett case was based on few cases relating to farms that I combined. Gallagher’s Crossing’s debacle took inspiration from Range Resources’ clash with the town of Mount Pleasant (within Washington County, PA for those close to me to avoid confusion with the one in Westmoreland County). While I based the Highland Town pipeline blast on one that happened in 2016 in Salem Township while I was writing the book. The PSYOPs stuff is also based on Range Resources doing just that.  

What inspired me to write Deacon Hill was my experience with the gas industry in my neighborhood. Although nothing catastrophic happened aside from a creek bridge collapse on my road that nearly shut it down for over a year, no one got rich on it. In fact, the money was only a trickle from what the natural gas industry said it would be. The gas boom didn’t create many jobs. As of June 2021, most of the gas wells in my neck of the woods have ceased operation. And yet, during that time, I could remember Range Resources really selling the scheme that fracking’s safe, will bring money landowners, and much needed jobs to our state and region. Despite that I knew the image they convey in these TV ad spots was pure bullshit. Sure, the natural gas industry might’ve brought some benefit to Pennsylvania. But not a high cost to our infrastructure and environment that natural gas drilling may not be worth it. In addition to partly basing my novel on my gas land experiences while both in high school and college, I also conducted extensive research on fracking, leasing, royalties, working conditions, accidents, and politics. It’s very clear that PA’s natural gas industry wasn’t nearly as rosy as what Range Resources conveyed in its commercials. 

Since 2014, hydraulically fractured horizontal wells have accounted for the majority of new oil and natural gas wells developed in the United States, surpassing all drilling techniques. By 2016, nearly 70% of the country’s 977,000 producing oil and gas wells were horizontally drilled and fracked. The fracking boom that started during my high school and college days, is largely credited with making the US a top natural gas and crude oil producer in the world. And as fracking becomes more efficient (with fewer rigs generating greater output) and enable access to more of the country’s fossil fuel reserves, the trend’s expected to continue. With approximately 3/5 of the state atop the Marcellus Shale play, Pennsylvania is only second to Texas in producing natural gas, generating nearly 1/5 of US supply in 2017. In 2018, the Delaware River Basin (watershed spanning parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware) was marked off-limits to fracking. Although threats to drinking water and the environment still remain since some proposed regulations would still allow disposal of fracking wastewater in the watershed. Meanwhile, statewide concern about fracking hazards has mounted in recent years. According to a 2018 poll, 55% of Pennsylvanians believe fracking’s potential environmental risks outweigh its potential economic benefits. And in some cases, like in Deacon Hill, Pennsylvania has already seen fracking’s risks play out with drinking water contamination and air pollution. 

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During the 2020 presidential election, due to Pennsylvania’s status as a critical swing state, a series of pro-Trump ads tried to scare people into thinking Joe Biden would ban fracking. Although it’s not true, a fracking ban wouldn’t be catastrophic for Pennsylvania. And no, the state wouldn’t lose over 600,000 over it. However, what got me about these ads wasn’t just the message, but how fracking advocates keep selling a fantasy. Despite any benefit fracking has for the state, the natural gas industry is nowhere near the godsend fracking advocates claim. In some cases, whether through fracking, inadequate infrastructure, disasters, politics, and so much more, the natural gas industry has become the bane of a community’s existence. 

In these pro-Trump fracking ads from 2020, working the gas fields is just another day at the office. Gas workers get up, get ready, kiss and wife and kids goodbye, work an 8-hour shift, and return to their quaint single-family homes by dinner time. Sure, it’s a nice portrait but that’s not a typical day for most gas workers. Far from it. For one, as 2019, that natural gas industry has created 24,000 to 40,000 jobs. Secondly, as in most extractive economy despite what nostalgia might tell us about the bygone industrial days in the Rust Belt, natural gas isn’t a stable industry. Rather, it creates boom and bust cycles while producers often can’t survive without state money. Third, most gas workers in PA come from out of state and most don’t plan to stay. They don’t buy houses. They don’t bring their families. Thus, a gas worker residing in a single-family home is way less likely than say, a nearby hotel or an on-site trailer with a few other guys. Maybe even a shipping container. Nor do they always work at the same site beyond a few weeks or months. Once their work is done, they leave for the next project. Thus, rendering the prospect of any permanent residence moot.  

Most importantly, while fracking jobs may pay up to $50,000 a year, gas workers’ lives absolutely suck. Weeks and months away from their families aside, life in the gas fields isn’t worth the paycheck. While gas workers are supposed to work 8-hours days on paper, they’re usually the exception than the norm in practice. Most work beyond that, sometimes non-stop for over 24 hours, which doesn’t do favors in regards to sleep. Not to mention, many gas companies don’t pay overtime for those extra hours, an issue many legal websites explain in great detail. Considering that such work involves operating and fixing heavy machinery, contending with slippery surfaces, working on multiple platforms, and a high-pressure work environment, it’s a set up for disaster. In addition, many gas workers are young and inexperienced with such site equipment because their employers don’t take the time to properly train them. It’s no wonder gas pads are often ripe for routine workplace accidents consisting of slips and falls, machinery malfunctions and human error, explosions and fires, falling objects causing death or injury, and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Such incidents can cause serious injuries like broken bones, skull fractures, brain injuries, amputations, burns, and even death. Gas companies have a reputation in covering many of these accidents up. In addition, it’s not uncommon for a single drill pad to have workers from multiple companies, adding to difficulties in coordination. Oh, and given that they often can’t unionize, gas workers can’t address their grievances to the boss without the risk of getting fired. 

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Of course, there’s fracking, which receives the most attention in regards to natural gas drilling as it’s been the most contentious. Short for hydraulic fracturing, fracking comprises of blasting chemicals and massive amounts of water into a drilling borehole at high enough pressures crack into the seemingly impenetrable rock formations. Such blasting is supposed to open the fissures and allow the trapped gas to flow up to the surface. The most contentious part of this process is in the fluid, namely, what’s in it. According to the NRDC, this consists of 97% water, along with chemical additives and proppants (small, solid particles used to keep fractures open in the rock after the injection pressure subsides). Most states with oil and gas production have rules requiring chemical disclosure in regards to fracking. However, those rules often contain exclusions for “confidential business information (CBI), which gas companies can use to shield chemical identities considered trade secrets. When the EPA examined more than 39,000 chemical disclosure forms submitted to FracFocus from January 2011 to February 2013, more than 70% of them listed at one CBI chemical. While 11% of all fracking chemicals were labeled as such. 

So what chemicals are used in fracking? Well, they use different chemicals for different purposes according to rock type and other fracking site specifics. Acids dissolve minerals to help fossil fuels flow more easily. Biocides kill bacteria. Gelling agents help proppants into fractures. Corrosion inhibitors prevent the well’s steel parts from fracking fluid damage. The EPA has identified 1,084 chemicals used in fracking formulas between 2005 and 2013. Many of them are considered hazardous to human health. While the potential human health impacts on most of them are simply unknown as of June 2021. As California scientists could only find complete information about environmental and health risks available for one-third of fracking chemicals used in their state drilling operations. As for proppants, sand is the fracking industry’s favorite, particularly “frac sand” containing high purity quartz with its round shape, uniform size, and crush resistance. A single frack operation can truck thousands of tons of this stuff with 70% of this stuff coming from the Great Lakes region, particularly in Wisconsin and Minnesota which doubled their sand mines between 2005 and 2013. 

As fracking charged ahead between the mid to late 2000s to the early Tens, research into how safe it is for human health and the environment hasn’t kept pace. Many questions remain about the process’ dangers. While mounting evidence raises serious red flags about fracking’s impact on drinking water, air pollution, and our climate. In any drilling operation, anywhere from 1.5 to 16 million gallons of water can be used to frack a single well, depending on the type of well and rock formation. Water used in fracking is typical fresh water taken from ground and surface water resources. Although there are increasing efforts to use nonpotable water, some of these sources also supply drinking water. Even at this rate, US frack water consumption is still considered “negligible” compared to other industrial water uses (like cooling coal-fired power plants). And yet, fracking operations can strain resources in areas where freshwater supplies for drinking, irrigation, and aquatic ecosystems are scarce (often becoming scarcer thanks to climate change). Without extensive treatment, water used in fracking is too contaminated to return to its source. So, it’s typically removed from the freshwater cycle and disposed deep underground. 

Because I live in Pennsylvania where it rains all the time during the summer, I didn’t get into the water supply depletion in Deacon Hill. But it’s a key point to consider if you live out in the West where fracking might lead to water shortages and rationing within many communities. And I’m sure the infrastructure to treat the frack water is often nonexistent or inadequate. Nonetheless, water amounts used in frack jobs has grown over time, exacerbating fracking’s effect on water supplies. A Duke University analysis found that while US producers scaled back on installing new wells between 2011 and 2016, frack water usage has surged. For instance, within the already drought-ridden Permian Basin region in West Texas, frack water usage during those years increased by as much as 770%. While the amount of wastewater generated during a well’s first production year increased by as much as 1,440% during the study period. The authors even predicted that some regions could expect local fracking operations’ water footprint to increase by up to 50-fold by 2030. And if you live in the West Texas Permian Basin region, the average fracking job in 2016 used 10.5 million gallons of water. That’s enough to fill about 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  

Not only do fracking operations strain water resources, but also risk polluting them as well. Although a 2016 EPA analysis found that while large data gaps and uncertainties make it difficult to fully assess fracking’s impact on drinking water, fracking operations can and do affect water quality. Activities posing the biggest threats include spills, fracking fluid leaks, injecting fluids into inadequately built wells, and poor wastewater management practices. 

Spills and leaks can occur throughout the fracking process, whether during transport of concentrated chemical additives, mixing and pumping fracking fluids along with storage, and transportation and disposal of used fracking fluid and wastewater. Both human error and equipment failure can cause these. According to the EPA, some spills are known to reach surface water resources. An analysis from the agency on 11 state spill reports revealed 151 fracking fluid spills between 2006 and 2012, with nearly 10% of them (ranging from 28 to 7,350 gallons) winding up in creeks, streams, or other bodies of water. For many reasons, it’s difficult to measure the full impact, particularly since the spilled fracking fluid’s chemical makeup may be unknown or poorly described. While the spill’s fracking fluid and impacts aren’t typically studied. We should also keep in mind that natural gas and oil companies are known to cover up many of their accidents so the EPA’s going on the spills the states know about, which may only be a fraction of how many of these happen. 

In any natural gas fracking operation, gas wells must be properly constructed to withstand intense temperature and pressure fluctuations. Otherwise, a well may be damaged, which can possibly result in a gas or fracking fluid leak. For instance, the EPA faulted burst casings (steel pipes used to construct wells) in a 2010 fracking fluid leakage into wells used to monitor water quality in Killdeer, North Dakota. A study of 133 suspected drinking water contamination cases in Pennsylvania and Texas pointed to faulty well construction as the likely reason behind some methane pollution cases. Also, when Atlas and Chevron drilled in my neighborhood, I can remember the drill sites being active for 24/7 during the whole operation. In addition, we should keep in mind that the workers might be poorly trained, probably haven’t slept for hours, and may have to deal with people from different companies. I’m sure faulty well construction happens far more often than most people think.  

Fractured rock formations are another issue as operators can’t control where they occur. When a fracture extends further than intended, it can link up with a naturally occurring fault, other natural and manmade fractures, or other wells. Then it might carry fluids to other geological formations, including potentially, drinking water supplies. A larger concern, according to the EPA, is the lack of data on how close induced fractures are to underground aquifers. Thus, in its 2016 assessment, the EPA couldn’t 100% determine whether fractures could reach underground drinking water resources. Although most fracked rock formations are often thousands of feet away from aquifers, in some cases, fracking can occur within a drinking water resources’ vicinity. While drinking water’s generally shallower than gas underground, there are no geological barriers separating the two. Some private drinking water wells have experienced contamination from methane and other chemicals escaping from surface pits used to store wastewater or from improperly constructed wells. Although it’s difficult to determine the contamination source. 

Each year, fracking operations within the oil and gas industry generates billions of gallons of wastewater, a potentially hazardous mixture of flowback (used fracking fluid), produced water (naturally occurring water released with oil and gas), and any number of naturally occurring contaminants ranging from heavy metals, salts, toxic hydrocarbons like benzene to radioactive metals like uranium. In addition to gas wells, I also live near a toxic waste dump (although that’s further out near Yukon). During the gas boom, the dump stopped taking fracking waste on account of it being too radioactive. Still, this wastewater can enter and contaminate the environment in a variety of ways. This can happen when transported such as in 2015 North Dakota pipeline break that spilled about 3 million gallons of contaminants into a nearby creek. In addition, in Deacon Hill, I point to how wastewater’s stored in aboveground pits that can spill, leak, and emit air pollution. While wastewater treatment facilities don’t have the means to properly handle pollutants found in fracking waste, which can release contaminants into surface water. This was the case in Monongahela. Even recycling wastewater poses a threat, generating concentrated waste products including a by-product called TENFORM (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material), which must be properly managed. There also must be proper treatment for recycled wastewater for its intended end use. When gas companies don’t fully disclose all chemical contents, this is a challenging process. 

But water contamination isn’t the only thing to worry about in regards to fracking. Air pollution is also a serious problem threatening nearby communities’ health. Significant sources of air pollution are flaring (a controlled burn used for testing, safety, and waste-management purposes), venting (the direct release of gas into the atmosphere), leaking, combustion, and release of contaminants throughout natural gas production, processing, transmission, and distribution. Natural gas mostly consists of a potent greenhouse gas called methane that traps 80 times as much heat as climate change poster boy, carbon dioxide. When gas is flared, vented, or accidentally leaked, it accelerates costly health impacts of climate change. Oil and gas operations like fracking also release numerous toxic air pollutants like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene; fine particulate matter (PM2.5); hydrogen sulfide; silica dust; and nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. When combined, these all produce smog. In rural northeastern Utah, researchers estimated that the amount of smog-forming compounds coming from oil and gas production each year was equivalent to 100 million car emissions. Exposure to these air pollutants can result in a broad range of health effects ranging from mild to severe respiratory and neurological problems, cardiovascular damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, and premature mortality. Meanwhile, oil and gas workers face even greater risks from on-site exposure to toxic chemicals and other airborne materials including silica in frack sand, which can lead to lung disease and cancer when inhaled. 

As with other oil and gas operations, fracking involves intense industrial development. With well pads, access roads, pipelines, and utility corridors, you also get intense, round-the-clock noise, nighttime floodlights, and truck traffic. In addition to potentially polluting local water and air resources, this vast web of infrastructure can fragment forests and rural landscapes while degrading important wildlife habitats. Fish die when fracking fluid contaminates streams and rivers. Chemicals in wastewater ponds poison birds. While the intense industrial development accompanying fracking pushes imperiled animals out of wild areas they need to survive. In more arid regions like the west, fracking could mean less water for fish and wildlife as well. Not to mention, fracking can also lead to further disintegration of our already degrading infrastructure. Too many tanker trucks can lead to a small bridge collapse. While most water treatment facilities aren’t adequately equipped to treat fracking wastewater.  

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And yet, working conditions and fracking are only part of the shady shit going on within the natural gas industry within the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Another facet that has more relevance in my neighborhood is the royalties. When they started drilling, people thought that leasing with Atlas (later Chevron) on the impression the royalty payments would enrich landowners and lift rural economies in the state. But none of that happened while many landowners saw significantly smaller royalty checks than they thought were promised. Sometimes nothing at all. Since 1982, federal law has established that landowners who lease their mineral rights to oil and gas companies are entitled to no less than 12.5% of the royalties from sales. However, a 2013 Pro Publica investigation found that oil and gas companies kept billions of dollars out of the hands of private and government landowners through cost and data manipulation. Their analysis of lease agreements, government documents, and thousands of pages of court records show that underpayment was widespread.  

Much of the controversy surrounding royalty money boils down to post-production costs. These are expenses of moving and treating gas through pipeline networks. To cover the costs, drillers may take deductions from royalty checks. Some landowners agree to this. Others negotiate a lease forbidding it. Many sign leases that don’t address it at all. While some leases have vague leases leaving room for gas companies to take deductions, even if the owner objects. And it’s clear many landowners signed leases without fully understanding their implications like you sign the terms of conditions on anything. 

However, some companies deduct expenses for transporting and processing gas. Even when leases have clauses specifically forbidding such deductions. In other cases, they withhold money without explanation for other, unauthorized expenses, and without telling landowners the money’s being withheld. When significant amounts of fuel aren’t sold at all, companies could use it themselves to power the gas processing equipment, sometimes at facilities far away from the land it was drilled from. To keep royalties low, companies may set up subsidiaries or limited partnerships selling oil and gas at reduced prices. Only to recoup the full value when their subsidiary resells it. While the royalty payments are based on the initial transaction. And according to Oklahoma court documents, it’s perfectly legal despite the companies clearly ripping off the landowner. In other cases, companies barter for services off the books, hiding the full resource value to the landowners.  

Making matters more complicated, the gas rights frequently get split into shares, sometimes among as many as a half-dozen companies and get frequently traded. Once they produce the gas, a host of opaque transactions influence how they’ll account for sales and allocate proceeds to everyone entitled to a slice. Chain of custody and share division can be so complex that even America’s finest forensic accountants struggle to make sense of these energy companies’ books. 

The federal government has a whole arsenal to combat royalty underpayment with Department of Interior rules on allowable deductions and employs an auditing agency that that’s uncovered more than a dozen instances of gas companies willfully deceiving them on royalty payments since 2011, recouping more than $4 billion in unpaid fees. Unfortunately, private landowners have many protective mechanisms, who often enter into agreements without regulatory oversight. This leaves them with only two options. Either pay to audit or challenge energy companies out of their own pockets. Although Pennsylvania has passed laws requiring the amount of deductions be listed on royalty payments, as of 2013, it has no laws dictating at what point a sale price must be set and what constitutes as legitimate expenses. In dozens of class action lawsuits ProPublica’s reviewed, landowners claimed they can’t make sense from the expenses deducted from their payments or that companies hide charges. While publicly traded oil and gas companies also have disclosed settlements and judgements in royalty disputes that collectively add up to billions of dollars. Since individual lease language can vary widely while some can date back nearly 100 years, many deduction disagreements boil down to differing interpretations related to the contract’s language. 

Should a landowner in Pennsylvania decide to sue the gas company over royalties, proceed with caution and aim low. As of 2013, courts have set few precedents for how leases should be read and substantial obstacles stand in litigating landowners’ way. Attorneys say that many of their clients’ leases don’t let landowners audit gas companies to verify their accounting. Those allowed must shell out thousands of dollars to do so. When audits reveal discrepancies, many Pennsylvania leases require landowners to submit to arbitration, another exhaustive process also costing up to thousands of dollars. If you’re familiar with workplace abuse and sexual harassment, you probably know that arbitration clauses can also make it more difficult for the lesser party (like the landowners) to band together into a class action lawsuit in order to gain the leverage to take on the more powerful behemoth (like the gas industry). Tunkhannock attorney Aaron Hovan told ProPublica, “They basically are daring you to sue them. And you need to have a really good case to go through all of that, and then you could definitely lose.” Worse, landowners must clear all these obstacles within Pennsylvania’s 4-year statute of limitations. So, if a landowner realizes the company’s ripping them off too late or inherit a lease from an ailing relative who didn’t do their homework, well, they’re shit out of luck. In addition, even if the court finds the gas company liable for underpaying royalties in the state, it has little to fear. Since they’d only owe what they should’ve paid in the first place. Unlike states like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania doesn’t allow for any additional interest on unpaid royalties and sets a very high bar for winning punitive penalties.  

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But what about the economic benefits? Hasn’t natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale been a game changer in Pennsylvania? From my experience, I’d say barely because I didn’t see anyone get rich. Nor I know many people who worked in the gas fields. Besides, an NPR article from this year states that over the last decade, natural gas extraction has had little economic impact in the 8 most active drilling counties in Pennsylvania. In fact, economic growth sharply lagged state and local rates (at 1.7% vs. 10%) despite a sharp GDP rise that exceeded both (55%). Despite gas industry promises of local economies flourishing thanks to fracking, communities largely failed to reap the benefits. Why? Partly because gas companies sourced their labor, materials, and equipment elsewhere. According to a report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, “This extreme disconnect between economic output and local prosperity raises the question of whether the Appalachian natural gas industry is capable of generating or even contributing to broadly shared wellbeing.  And, if it is not, should it continue to be the focus of local and regional economic development efforts?” 

Former DEP secretary John Quigley said the Ohio River Valley Institute report is one of the first to show that the natural gas industry’s investments, like aggregate economic growth, doesn’t always mean more jobs for communities or increased personal income, especially if out-of-staters take many local jobs. He told NPR, “The impact of this industry on local economies has been vastly overstated. It’s been oversold and used as an excuse not to adequately regulate or enforce environmental and public health regulations.” And given how not much economically changed for the better in my own community during the gas rush, I’d have to agree. Despite witnessing wells drilled in my own neighborhood, I hardly know anyone who’s worked on a drilling pad. Nor did many landowners receive much money either. Add the fact I’m quite that the state doesn’t have an extraction tax and it’s very clear where the gas money’s going. And given where much of these companies are based in, I’m sure it’s Texas. 

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Nonetheless, the natural gas industry remains a very powerful force in politics within Pennsylvania. Between 2007 and 2018, the natural gas industry have spent $3 million in political contributions to candidates for statewide office and $69.6 million in lobbying costs. Energy companies have given generously to politicians from both parties which has profoundly influenced state policy and not for the better. It’s not uncommon in the state for regulators and politicians to work for natural gas companies after their jobs are done and vice versa. Marcellus Shale drillers enjoy steadfast support from the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, making passage of any legislative measures to rein in them obviously futile. As Republican state legislators have made growth and nurture of the gas industry a priority. They even blocked Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal for a severance tax on gas production and to this day Pennsylvania is the only state in the Marcellus Shale region without such a tax. Although the state does collect a separate impact fee tied to each new well’s development, but that doesn’t exactly cut it.   

 According to state attorney general Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report (no, not that one), state regulators and elected officials have consistently placed the natural gas industry over Pennsylvanians’ well-being throughout most of the first-generation development within the Marcellus Shale region. Shapiro told Penn Live, “It’s David and Goliath. It’s a rural family living next to a huge industry backed by billions of dollars and out-of-state investors, by bought science, by lobbyists and former officials who have amassed so much power that they act as though they are unaccountable.” His report chastised the state DEP over the shale boom’s history for failing to conduct water quality tests in response to citizen complaints, often failing to enforce a “presumption” that oil and gas activity within a certain distance of a home where contamination was proven, and showing long-term bias against issuing violations.  

One case I used in Deacon Hill to illustrate the natural gas industry’s influence in politics and public life is the case of Range Resources and the citizens of Mount Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania (no, not the one where we had Quiz Bowl matches at, of which I need to remind myself). Now out of all the oil and gas companies involved in the Marcellus Shale drilling rush, Range Resources was one of the earliest and best-known contenders and still remains the largest driller in the state. Yet, while EQT can safely put their name on a Pittsburgh Pridefest float and no one would bat an eye (save environmentalists, of course); Range couldn’t get away with that. Probably because it has one of the worst reputations, especially if you’re familiar with its activities in Washington County, particularly in regards to fracking contamination. I mean these people had a judge place lifetime gag orders over discussing fracking on seven- and ten-year-old kids in the Hallowich case. Anyway, Range Resources had drilled some of its first wells in Mount Pleasant Township under permit use zoning, giving them free rein to drill wherever they wanted. Fast forward to 2011, Mount Pleasant wants to adopt conditional use zoning, in which a planning commission and the board of supervisors must approve drilling of all new wells. All because residents complained of wells being near their houses, schools, or medical establishments, places where you don’t want people drilling for gas. Besides, most of neighboring municipalities already used conditional use ordinances to regulate drilling.  

Obviously, Range Resources didn’t like this and threatened to discontinue local operations or sue the Mount Pleasant Township if they didn’t get their way. As decision day approached for the board of supervisors to approve the new ordinance, Range unleashed an all-out PSYOPs-style propaganda campaign through two letters sent to over 300 Mount Pleasant Township leaseholders in a divide-and-conquer strategy to intimidate local officials. As resident Dencil Bachus told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We are outraged. This is an effort by Range Resources to divide a community on the eve of a decision on an ordinance that affects them directly. It’s an attempt by the company to get what they want rather than operate within the [township government] process. It’s a divide-and-conquer public relations strategy.” Another Mount Pleasant resident told DeSmog Blog, “What’s going on here, it’s kinda like Love Canal. The intimidation from these corporations is astounding to me. I don’t know how they’re allowed to get away with it. I’d like to see them get nailed.” Mount Pleasant Township was far from the only municipality to find itself on the receiving end of Range’s wrath once it decided to assert itself in where the company can or cannot drill within its jurisdiction. And they’ve sued other townships who’ve followed Mount Pleasant’s lead. 

Then there’s the Act 13 debacle. Passed by the General Assembly during Governor Tom Corbett’s term in the early Tens, this was a love letter to the gas industry overhauling oil and gas regulation in their favor. And often at the public’s expense. Act 13 established the following: 

  • Gave the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission power to review local ordinances. This allows energy companies to legally challenge local ordinances that they don’t like through the PAPUC. This process allows state rules supersede local ordinances in regards to zoning. Not to mention, allow municipalities to permit oil and gas development across all zoning areas.  
  • Allowed private corporations engaged in natural gas storage and transportation use of eminent domain on a person’s remaining property without proper compensation (what the fuck?). That is, if the company has a right to the majority of the land. 
  • Instilled a “physician’s gag rule” that prohibited medical professionals from revealing information on fracking chemicals they receive from drilling companies. Thus, this allows doctors to research but if fracking had anything to do with what’s wrong with their patient, they couldn’t tell them.  

From 2012 to 2016, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would overturn much of the law for various reasons. In 2013, the Court invalidated most of the zoning rules on grounds of violating the state constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment assuring clean air and water for residents.  In 2016, the Court struck down the other two provisions because they’re utterly ridiculous to put in the books anyway. I think a doctor has a right to tell their patient what the hell’s making them sick, fracking or not. 

Even more disturbing is how natural gas companies have cracked down on anti-fracking activists. In Pennsylvania, there’s an organization called the Marcellus Shale Operators’ Crime Committee that allows the gas industry to swap information with local, state, and federal law enforcement about activists, protests, and potential threats. We shouldn’t be surprised since energy companies have a history of suppressing dissent whether over public health concerns, environmental impact, or workers’ rights (looking at you, West Virginia coal companies). Although reports of pipe bombs, charred debris, and gunshots fired at gas sites exist, very few anti-fracking activists have resorted to crime. While most are just law-abiding citizens. And yet, many have been subject to being branded as “ecoterrorists” as well as subject to law enforcement surveillance probes (with assistance by private security firms). One Lycoming County woman had a state trooper stop by her house over her anti-fracking activities. Luckily, she got off with a warning. That same trooper then crossed state lines into New York to accuse another activist of trespassing a gas compressor station site. Nonetheless, law enforcement’s connection to the natural gas industry raises troubling questions on police conduct and civil liberties. Should police use information obtained by private security firms, it can pose a threat to basic constitutional rights and make one ask why law enforcement’s devoting limited resources to tracking environmentalists. Seriously, don’t police have better things to do like track down actual criminals?  

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Thus, my dear reader, the benefits and promised prosperity natural gas companies touted in order to drill into the Marcellus Shale turned out to be the stuff that dreams are made of. In other words, even if it did create jobs or benefit the reasons, those rewards weren’t as great as originally advertised. At least when you consider the high risks involved along with the gas companies’ lack of transparency and public dishonesty. The drilling process isn’t safe for workers as well as the surrounding community and environment. The royalty leases and contracts may not always give the landowner a fair deal. While their influence and campaign contributions make them a powerful force in government and law enforcement regardless of how much they contribute to the local economies, which is nonetheless extremely troubling. And whenever challenged, they will strike through almost any means at their disposal. Take it from me, you can’t trust these gas companies to regulate themselves.  

The Price We Pay for What We Don’t Know 

Disclaimer: this essay contains spoilers from The Lost Women of Ballantine Castle

My newly self-published novel on Amazon titled The Lost Women of Ballantine Castle chiefly centers on the disappearances of undocumented maids dating from the 1980s to the pre-Covid Trump era, the time the story takes place. Almost all of these maids are Hispanic, range from their late teens to their late twenties, worked for a Mrs. Bartlett at either her Ballantine Castle estate or The Commodore Hotel, and all disappeared while leaving the former. Anyway, despite its subject matter mainly focusing on undocumented immigrants and their vulnerable position in American society, I devoted a significant chunk of the story on racial violence against minorities and how little attention it receives in our society both in our history classes and in the media, especially if the victims were poor, had little to no legal standing in society, or in the maids’ case, both.  

However, there’s a critical flashback scene in the novel where a college archives intern at Ballantine Castle named Julia Scarnatti explores some records in a file cabinet where the estate’s curator told her not to open. Naturally, she does. Among her finds consists of a series of photographs dating from the 1920s, many depicting Mrs. Bartlett’s ancestor great-grandmother and her friends torturing and killing her black servants for basically no good reason. Naturally, Julia is horrified such people could commit such brutal acts. Later on, Agent Rashida Owens sees a black minister named Dr. Scott and addresses the matter to him (which her partner Beattie MacKillop found in Julia’s diary during an investigation into her disappearance and murder). Dr. Scott discusses how the Ballantines would engage in an all-too-common practice during the time called lynching and his description is nothing short of horrifying. One chilling passage is as follows: 

“Now I don’t like thinking white people as monsters. But it blows my mind how normal white men and women can live with, participate in, and defend such atrocities to their fellow human beings. Even reinterpret them so they wouldn’t see themselves or be perceived as less than civilized. These people who tortured, dismembered, and murdered our ancestors like this perfectly understood what they were doing and thought themselves as perfectly normal human beings. Few had any ethical qualms about their heinous actions. To them, lynching was the highest idealism in their service to their white race, a triumph of a horrid belief system defining us as less than human. These perpetrators of these crimes were just ordinary folks who’d go to church with their families and believed keeping black people in their place was nothing less than a way of combating a plague that if not checked, would hurt the community’s health and security.” 

So what do lynching black people back in the 1920s have to do with missing undocumented maids in the Trump Era? Well, while some forms of racial violence may fall out of favor due to momentous historical events like the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s to the 1960s, other forms of racial brutality don’t go away so easily. The brutality could also take another form like mass incarceration in connection with the War on Drugs, stand your ground and open carry laws, stop and frisk, the “welfare queen” stereotype, and lingering systematic racial disparities that never get resolved. Not to mention, racial violence extending to people with less legal protection than most Americans, namely the undocumented who are relentlessly demonized by right-wing news outlets as pathological criminals. And yet, they also perform variety of essential low wage work at a pittance in our country while living a very precarious existence prone deportation, family separation, and crime. As many Americans firmly but wrongly believe that undocumented immigrants aren’t supposed to be here and don’t have any rights (which isn’t exactly true).  

Sycamore Springs, Pennsylvania is a fictional city for no such place exists between Erie and State College. While the disappearance of undocumented maids at a Gilded Age era estate from the 1980s to the pre-Covid Trump Era is based on the 400-year-old Bathory child murders in Renaissance-era Hungary and the LaLaurie slave killings in antebellum New Orleans. Black lynchings, however, were an endemic feature during the Jim Crow Era when whites would flat out murder black people just for any excuse just to keep the local blacks in line. Sure, these killings were anti-black terrorism and hate crimes but the white establishment never prosecuted them mainly because local authorities often took part in them. Although whites could also be lynched as well as most famously demonstrated in the notorious Leo Frank case. According to the Tuskegee Institute, about 4,743 Americans were lynched between 1882 to 1968, including 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites. Nonetheless, lynching was white society’s effort to maintain white supremacy in economic and political dominance after the American Civil War during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Furthermore, lynching blacks was a way to emphasize the Jim Crow social order where whites acted together to reinforce their collective identity along with blacks’ unequal status through acts of violence. And despite being associated with the South, they also occurred in the North as Ballantine Castle entails. According to the great Ida B. Wells while sexual infractions against white women were widely cited, such victims with sexual assault allegations occurred only 1/3 of the time. Instead, the most prevalent accusation related to murder followed by a list of infractions like verbal and physical aggression, spirited business competition (like successfully competing in business against whites), and independence of mind among victims. If you think the infraction list consists of bullshit terms, you’re absolutely right. And tragically as of June 6, 2021, no federal anti-lynching legislation has passed both houses of Congress despite racial violence remaining a serious problem. 

Despite the prominent role lynching played in maintaining white supremacy in the United States during Jim Crow, most white students will never hear about it in their American history class. Until recently, racial violence incidents like the 1921 Tulsa Massacre weren’t even known in the American public consciousness. Only because of shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country. Obviously, American schools don’t teach students about racial violence during segregation because no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy, white people especially. Nor does it paint the US in a positive light. Nonetheless, given how white supremacy is still a major problem in the US within every part of our society, it’s a subject everyone must learn if only to dismantle the systemic racist infrastructure that perpetuates such violence against people of color. Particularly when it comes to police brutality and stand your ground laws. Lynchings may not be as accepted or prolific as they were under Jim Crow, but the legacy is still with us. And it’s important all students know that legacy. 

As I write in the summer of 2021, all over the United States, Republicans are up in arms over the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory and have sought to have such measures banned within their local schoolboards to their state legislatures. The Heritage Foundation has recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ+ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline like Broward County, Florida’s Promise Program that some parents blame for the Parkland shooting (instead of lax gun policies that allowed the shooter to easily get them in the first place). The organization claimed: “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.”  

With beginnings within the New Left school of American history during the 1970s and 1980s, Critical Race Theory’s crux is that racism is a social construct. Yet, unlike many white people would like to think, racism isn’t just a product of individual bias and prejudice, but also something embedded in systemic policies. Slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow are among the biggies that we learn in American history class. A good example Education Week discusses a 1930s practice of government officials drawing lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often due to the inhabitants’ race. As a result, banks refused to offer mortgages to black people living in these areas. Today, despite facially-race blind policies, these same patterns of discrimination live on. For instance, single family zoning prevents building affordable housing in advantaged, majority white neighborhoods, and thus, undermines racial desegregation efforts.  

Ballantine Castle illustrates this through Sycamore Springs confining their black and Hispanic populations to the Sticks for much of its history, its history of black lynchings, racist law enforcement practices, and federal immigration policies, especially during the pre-Covid Trump era. CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents like works by sociologists and literary theorists studying the links between political power, social organization, and language. While its ideas have since informed other fields like humanities, social sciences, and teacher education. You could also see the same in Ballantine Castle in which Sycamore Springs’ harsh treatment of Latinos by the local police department leads to more undocumented maids disappearing at the titular estate. Mainly because the living undocumented maids are in no position to testify out of deportation fears. Donald Trump’s decision to cancel DACA resulted in FBI agents Beattie MacKillop and Rashida Owens having such a difficult time tracking down Estella Rodriguez in regards to her white roommate’s disappearance and murder. After all, as a Dreamer attending college within a city that’s got a Joe Arpaio-like police chief and a general hostility toward undocumented people among the general white population, Estella has no idea what Trump’s DACA cancellation might mean to her if she talks to law enforcement. So, when the cops and federal agents scramble for her testimony, Estella either shuts herself in her dorm room or runs off. In addition, the Sycamore Springs police department’s inexcusable actions during the white supremacist Charlottesville-style “America First” rally at Liberty Park results in a white counter-protesting student’s death and a heroic priest named Father Anthony Carlisle nearly losing his shit.  

Critical Race Theory states that racism is part of everyday life so white and non-white people who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices fueling racism. There are plenty of examples in Ballantine Castle, particularly when Rashida Owens breaks up an altercation pertaining to police mistreating a black man outside a Starbucks in Sycamore Springs to her partner, Beattie MacKillop’s dismay. When Rashida climbs back in her car, Beattie glares at her FBI partner and says, “Why must you stop and waste our time?” As far as she’s concerned, they’ve just arrived to the city to investigate a white college girl’s disappearance, an assignment Rashida has clearly expressed doesn’t want to work on. Stopping police from using excessive force on a black man will only delay their investigation. Now Beattie doesn’t intend to be racist here. But she certainly comes across as this and her chiding Rashida over the incident fuels racism as well. Which is exactly the point. 

However, a lot of critics claim that CRT advocates discriminating against white people in order to achieve equity (except it doesn’t), mainly aiming such accusations at theorists calling for policies explicitly taking race into account. Yet, the disagreement fundamentally springs from different conceptions of racism. While popular notions of racism take individuals’ own beliefs into account, CRT emphasizes outcomes and calls for people to examine and rectify them. And no, neutral “color-blind” policies won’t eliminate the America’s racial caste system. Many white people obviously have a problem with this, especially since they mostly don’t want to seem racist. But they don’t want to think about racism whenever Colin Kaepernick takes a knee to protest against police brutality, which they consider as an attack on the flag and the military (except that it’s not). Because white people in general want to live their lives pretending that racism died out in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement (except it didn’t). Since racism is so ordinary that white people benefit from it and their refusal to dismantle the racist status quo and resistance to racist policies makes them complicit in racism. The idea that someone can be racist by doing absolutely nothing is very triggering to say the least. After all, no one wants to be the bad guy. 

Due to CRT’s popular representation in schools being far less nuanced, a recent poll by Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized”; that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness”; and that “the United States was founded on racism.” As a result, much of the current debate chiefly springs not from academic texts, but from critics’ fears that students (particularly white ones) will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas. Doesn’t help that whenever white people hear even a whisper of “white people” and “racism” they can absolutely lose their shit, completely blocking them from hearing anything else. If in their mind, America is the greatest country in the world, any criticism of their beloved country is a personal attack, especially from anyone who’s not white. Sure, they’re fine with “a more perfect union” or “making America great again.” But they can’t handle an entire field of black scholarship based on the idea that their sweet land of the free is inherently racist. And all I have to say to them is tough shit.  

As of mid-May 2021, legislation to outlaw CRT in schools has passed in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Tennessee as well as proposed in various other statehouses. The bills are so vaguely written that it’s unclear what they’ll affirmatively cover, whether they’re constitutional or violate free speech (I’d say yes on the latter two). Could a teacher who wants to talk about state-sponsored racism a la Jim Crow (which prevented blacks from voting or holding office while separating them from white people in public spaces) violate such laws? Although it’s extremely difficult to police what’s taught in hundreds of classrooms, social studies teachers fear such laws could have a chilling effect on educators self-censoring their own lessons out of concern for parent or administration complaints. One Tennessee English teacher notes: “History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.” The laws might also be used to attack other pieces of the curriculum like ethnic studies or “action civics,” which asks students to research local civic problems and propose solutions.  

In American history, cultural debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism one end and the exclusion and violence toward Native Americans and African American enslavement on the other. As in our country’s ideals and practices. A current example that’s fueled much of the recent round of CRT criticism is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which seeks to put slavery’s history and its effects as well as blacks’ contributions to democratic reforms front and center in American history. Nonetheless, we must understand that learning history isn’t always supposed to feel good. There are parts in our history that are downright painful, disturbing, and jarring to know about like slavery, native displacement and genocide, Jim Crow, racial violence, immigration restrictions, Japanese internment, and more. But they’re absolutely necessary to know about so we can grow and rectify such injustices as a society. For the old adage says, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If we want to avoid the past’s mistakes and create a better society, then we must teach kids about race and racism. This goes especially for the students whose parents protest against the teaching of the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory and buy into whatever conspiracy theories or culture war garbage the right-wing media screeds into their heads. Knowing about the past is hard. Not knowing is even harder. The price we pay for what we don’t know could be steep, as we learned from all the police shootings and white supremacist demonstrations. And for too far too long, the price for our collective historical ignorance has been way too high. White people may have the luxury to forget about all the awful legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. But if they consist of the majority of who we elect into office at every level, it’s time they start as early as possible. 

Terror in Kenosha

On Sunday, August 23, 2020, police were called to the scene at 5:11 pm in the Wilson Heights neighborhood of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The caller’s name remains unknown. During this time, a 29-year-old black man named Jacob Blake was trying to break up a “verbal altercation” between 2 women. He was unarmed and wearing a white tank top and black shorts. In the video, Blake walks in front of a gray van coming from the passenger’s side and heading toward the driver’s side. There are four officers visible and two closely follow behind him, their guns aiming Blake’s back. Many people are heard yelling. As Blake opens the driver’s side door, one officer snatches his tank top by the end, stretching out as he tries getting in. At least seven shots are fired in Blake’s back, that will eventually paralyze him from the waist down for life. The van’s horn blares. The officer keeps holding Blake’s shirt. A woman screams and is pushed away.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the officers tried to arrest Blake and attempted deploying a taser to stop him. But the taser “was not successful at stopping Blake” before he walked around the vehicle and opened the driver’s side door. The report says the officer named Shesky fired those seven shots and no one else. But since the Kenosha Police Department doesn’t wear body cameras, we can’t be 100% sure. Yet, according to the police, Blake has received immediate aid and has been airlifted to a Milwaukee hospital. According to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, Blake claimed to have a knife in his possession when the shooting occurred, which officials recovered from the floorboards of Blake’s van. But his three young sons were also inside and also witnessed the shooting. As civil rights attorney George Crump said in a statement, “We all watched the horrific video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back several times by Kenosha police. Even worse, his three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets. Their irresponsible, reckless, and inhumane actions nearly cost the life of a man who was simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

As with the shooting of George Floyd back in May, crowds soon arrived to protest. Videos on social media showed demonstrations that included garbage trucks being set on fire, building windows near the courthouse smashed, and crowds clashing with police dressed in riot gear. Other accounts show an entire building and parking lot being burned during the night. Such activities led to county officials instituting a curfew until Monday at 7 am and the governor to deploy 125 National Guard troops to Kenosha. The scene intensified that Monday evening as organized marches outside the Kenosha County Courthouse gave way to rioting after the 8 pm curfew. According to Reuters, fires decimated much of the city’s black business district while protestors used bats to break traffic signs and signals. When the crowd reached 1,000 at a nearby park, police shot small beanbags and used “ear deafening audio” to disperse anyone refusing to move. Unrest spread to other cities including Madison, Portland, Minneapolis, New York City, and Seattle.

Unrest intensified after curfew again on Tuesday night. Protestors clashed with police officers outside the courthouse, which a metal barricade had blocked off. Tensions also rose at a nearby gas station where a group of armed men claiming to protect the property clashed with protestors. Online video footage shows people chasing after an armed 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in an attempt to seize him and snatch his AR-15 style rifle he shouldn’t have been allowed to obtain. During the chase, Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground where he shoots a few of the people following him. Afterwards, he gets up, walks toward law enforcement officials, who don’t detain him, despite bystanders screaming he had just shot people. Two of the three were fatally hit while the third was admitted to the hospital with “serious, but non-life threatening injuries,” according to the Kenosha Police Department.

Rittenhouse is a self-proclaimed militia member with ties to law enforcement as a member of various law enforcement youth training programs. In January, he was front row at a Trump rally. His no longer publicly accessible Facebook profile show he’s a committed Blue Lives Matter supporter. A 2018 post on Rittenhouse’s page shows him asking to donate to the police advocacy nonprofit organization Humanizing the Badge on his birthday, writing “I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me.” Nonetheless, his affinity for the police didn’t stop him from committing any ill-advised right-wing vigilantism.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis tried shifting the blame of the shootings onto the protestors and the victims, stating that if they stayed inside, the shootings wouldn’t have taken place. “Everybody involved was out after the curfew. I’m not going to make a great deal of it, but the point is that the curfew is in place to protect. Had persons not been out in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened,” he said. Sure, trying to wrestle a gun out of someone’s hands was stupid. But blaming protestors for what happened is deeply irresponsible akin to blaming a rape victim for drinking too much or wearing provocative clothes instead of the rapist. Kenosha Sheriff David Beth responded to the concern that police didn’t arrest Rittenhouse when he walked past them. “I’ve been in a shooting before. In situations that are high-stress, you have such incredible tunnel vision. You have no idea what’s outside right here if you’re looking right here,” Beth said holding his hands up to gesture. Indeed, but this was the same department that didn’t hesitate to shoot Jacob Blake at the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing. Also, it was clear Rittenhouse shot those three people.

But Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian claimed he doesn’t want militia members to show up, saying, “I don’t need more guns on the street, in the community when we are trying to make sure we keep people safe. Law enforcement is trained. They’re the ones who are responsible. They’re the ones we have faith will do their job and make sure it gets done. That is why the curfews are there.” Compared to other Kenosha officials, he sounds rather reasonable. Unless you forget the fact that these protests are happening because at least one police officer acted the most unreasonably as shown by the bullet holes in Jacob Blake’s back. And despite a bystander yelling, “Hey, he just shot them,” law enforcement officials drove right past Rittenhouse instead of madly chasing him and arresting him.

Meanwhile, Rittenhouse left Wisconsin after the shooting and was arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, which is 30 minutes away from Kenosha. To venture from your hometown to guard a gas station is highly suspicious and it’s likely he was there to shoot people. Even worse, video footage 15 minutes prior to the shootings show Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police car and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s fellow militia mates, saying “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” before driving off. Since underage firearm ownership is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, that cop didn’t even ask for ID. Unlike what you’d expect that same police officer to do when seeing a group of teenagers trying to buy booze at a liquor store.

Meanwhile, Rittenhouse left Wisconsin after the shooting and was arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, which is 30 minutes away from Kenosha. To venture from your hometown to guard a gas station is highly suspicious and it’s likely he was there to shoot people. Even worse, video footage 15 minutes prior to the shootings show Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police car and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s fellow militia mates, saying “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” before driving off. Since underage firearm ownership is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, that cop didn’t even ask for ID. Unlike what you’d expect that same police officer to do when seeing a group of teenagers trying to buy booze at a liquor store.

Now these police shootings of unarmed people color like Jacob Blake are way too common occurrence in the US that I can already blurt out a whole list of victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Antwon Rose, Stephon Clark, and more. And it’s a shame that a lot of the police involved in these shootings are still patrolling their local streets to this day. It should be clear that while police departments may contain a few bad apples, these bad apples are spoiling the criminal justice system because their departments and/or unions are protecting them from receiving any form of accountability. But while the police shooting of Jacob Blake angers me as it reflects the systematic racism at work in our criminal justice system, it’s not what truly pisses me off in this case. No, it’s the Kenosha police’s leniency toward Rittenhouse whom they let go home and sleep before arresting him the next morning. Letting a guy go home after someone screaming he shot people seems highly irresponsible to law enforcement regardless of circumstance.

Look, I am not a person who has a high view of gun ownership. In fact, I loathe guns and support reasonable gun control measures like permits, registration, and banning assault weapons. But even if I don’t approve of owning a gun for protection against an armed home invasion, I think it’s well within your rights to do so. Even if I’d more likely see your gun as a security blanket. On the other hand, I don’t have those same reservations for armed militias which I liken to irresponsible vigilantism. As John Oliver said, “Let’s be clear, a 17-year-old vigilante with a rifle cannot maintain order because a 17-year-old with a rifle trying to maintain order is himself the definition of disorder.” It’s bad enough when police misbehave when they shoot unarmed black and brown people on the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing. Or crackdown on anti-police protestors, even if they act out of hand. But letting armed civilians patrol locales with guns that I wouldn’t consider street legal just seems beyond the pale, especially if that’s a 17-year-old boy who shot 3 people. Given that we don’t live in the Old West, condemning vigilante-style violence should be easy for anyone.

Nonetheless, given that most of the US police forces are heavily white, male, and politically conservative, we shouldn’t be surprised that police leaders often see armed civilians as allies, maybe even informal deputies. As University of Arizona sociologist Jennifer Carlson writes, “Police chiefs articulated a position of gun populism based on a presumption of racial respectability. Good guys with guns’ were marked off as responsible in ways that reflected white, middle-class respectability.” This helps understand why armed anti-lockdown protestors can menace the Michigan State Capitol without incident while anti-police violence demonstrators have been met with crackdowns. Indeed, police see guns as a scourge when they’re in the wrong hands, which usually tend to be black and brown ones. And unfortunately, this gun populism isn’t a new phenomenon at all given the long history of deeply racialized gun politics in America. Officers have significant discretion in how they choose to react to different situations, which is often used in a racist and violent fashion. And the way police seemingly encouraged Rittenhouse’s vigilantism is a microcosm of some of the fundamental problems in American policing and gun politics.

Unfortunately, instead of unequivocally condemning Rittenhouse’s heinous actions and other incidents of right-wing violence, Donald Trump has defended him stating, “That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape that I saw, and he was trying to get away [from protesters], I guess, it looks like, and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.” Except that Rittenhouse shot his first victim in the back. Yet, Trump casts the boy’s actions as justifiable self-defense, which it certainly wasn’t.

On Saturday, August 29, 2020, a pro-Trump convoy opened fire on counter-protestors in Portland, Oregon with paintball guns and pepper spray that got one pro-Trump demonstrator killed. Donald Trump tweeted a video of their behavior that all-but-openly cheered them on. Two days later, he claimed, “Paint is a defensive mechanism; paint is not bullets. These people, they protested peacefully.” While video from that scene shows Trump supporters literally shooting at people with paintball guns, macing people, and driving through crowds in a way that could’ve created the next Heather Heyer. When Laura Ingraham asked Trump whether he wants his supporters to confront protestors, he replied, “I want to leave it to law enforcement, but my supporters are wonderful, hardworking, tremendous people, and they turn on their televisions and they look at a Portland or a Kenosha … they can’t believe it.” Apparently, in Trumpworld, Trump supporters can do no wrong. And when they do, there’s always an adequate justification.

Yet, whenever the protests over police shootings initially break out, Donald Trump and his allies are quick to exploit any looting, violence, or property destruction going on there. For instance, despite Portland police stating they have no suspect, this hasn’t stopped Trump from accusing left-wing protestors who “killed a lot of people,” and announcing that Homeland Security and Justice Department are forming a joint operations center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest.” Besides, early arrest data shows that the looters and vandals in these demonstrations aren’t activists but people with criminal records exploiting the situation. Even left-wing groups engaging in violence aren’t Democratic Party supporters but anarchists and far-leftist with disdain for the liberal establishment. In fact, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden forcefully condemned the violence erupting amid largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, saying, “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. It’s lawlessness — plain and simple.”

By contrast, many far-right militia groups taking to the streets either support Donald Trump openly or share at least some of his ideas. They don’t exactly act on Trump’s orders since he’s not that overt. Nor do they directly report to Trump. Instead, there are loose coalitions of right-leaning armed groups who take Trump’s decision to dilly dally with right-wing militia violence as permission to keep it up or even escalate. This is called “generalized incitement” and it has significant potential to make things worse. As violent extremism expert J. M. Berger told Vox, “It’s not necessarily a situation where he has a very cohesive cadre of followers who will be violent in a strategic way, but his words land in a variety of communities that are primed for violence. Some who act may not necessarily be supporters of Trump per se, but may be more inclined to act in an atmosphere of chaos. Some of them will be supporters, though, and that could be very problematic depending on the numbers.”

As president, Donald Trump has the world’s biggest megaphone. And unlike the incel and white supremacist online communities on message boards and chat rooms that can lionize mass killers, his not-so-subtle support for political violence goes out to hundreds of millions. Even if a much smaller percentage of Trump’s audience has any inclination for violence, the huge numbers at work make the risks unacceptably high. In fact, since Trump took office, a lot of far-right political violence has already happened. Remember what happened in Charlottesville and how Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides?” Even after Heather Heyer got hit by that car. And as we speak, it’s said that 2/3 of terrorists in the US are connected to right-wing and white supremacist extremism. The fact Trump incites violence as president is one of the many reasons why he’s so dangerous. It is one thing to tout oneself as a law and order candidate. But if that person is an incumbent president who not so subtly encourages diehard supporters to commit violent acts against anyone disagreeing with him, then the words “law and order” are rendered meaningless.

This Is Not a Hoax

Back in April, my sister fell deathly ill to the Coronavirus for a few weeks. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t breathe. She was constantly tired. She had never been so sick in her life. Had she not sought medical attention on my dad’s recommendation, she might’ve ended up on a ventilator. But when she did, she had a doctor check on her through tele-medicine every day. Now where did she get the Coronavirus? We’re not sure. After all, her boyfriend also got it, but he only had a cough and nothing else. My sister had asthma as a child and it’s part of why she experienced symptoms (despite being 26 at the time). But she also said a lot of people in Charlotte didn’t wear masks. And this was during the lockdown. Nonetheless, she made a full recovery. Now my sister might’ve had a milder case of Covid-19 compared to many cases (and I’m using “mild” loosely), but what she experienced was pretty damn serious and her symptoms might’ve gotten worse had she not sought medical care when she did. 

I held off talking about my sister for months because I didn’t want to disrespect her privacy. Yet, given that schools are opening at this moment when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the worst I can experience from disclosing her time with Covid-19 is enduring her angry outbursts. But if hearing about my sister can convince anyone reading to wear a mask in and reconsider sending their kid to back school, I’ll gladly endure her constantly yelling at me. However, given that too many Americans don’t see why Coronavirus is such a big deal and why they should take it seriously, I feel compelled to use what I can.  And perhaps sharing what my sister went through can convince some people in my audience that I’m not just trying to score political points. I personally know someone who contracted Covid-19 and while following CDC guidelines is a bitch, but it could save other people’s lives. 

Now while Covid-19 may kill you, the root problem isn’t the disease itself. After all, diseases come and go. It’s that we have Cheetofascist in the White House who’s responded to the pandemic in perhaps the worst way possible. If you support Donald Trump as president, then for the good of our country, please stop. Bad Coronavirus policy is one thing. But Trump’s PR strategy is just plain unforgivable.  Whether it’s claiming it’s a hoax, that it’s disappearing, that it’s not as serious as Dr. Fauci claims, and that hydroxychloroquine is a very useful Coronavirus remedy is proving deeply damaging in this country. Because his Republican cult followers will blindly go along with whatever he says. As of August 2020, Covid-19 has killed over 180,000 Americans and the infection rate is higher than it was back when my sister contracted the virus. Our medical establishments don’t have the resources or the government support to combat high case numbers (thanks a lot for-profit system that shouldn’t exist).  

And yet, despite that the coronavirus outbreak is far from over, facilities and businesses have already reopened. While we debate whether to start school or sports back up, we must understand that fighting this thing depends on all of us. And if our leaders and our neighbors don’t take this pandemic seriously and put on a mask, we have no shot in hell in combating this virus in order so it’s under control. Complying with CDC guidelines during Covid-19 shouldn’t be controversial. Though we may expect some nutjobs not to comply, Donald Trump’s willingness to embrace wackjob conspiracy theories and his influence on a significant chunk of the American public has led to so much unnecessary harm, especially in red states with Republican governors and legislatures. And in an election year, the Trump administration is currently attacking the US Postal Service in order to prevent millions of Americans from voting by mail. Despite that people have mailed in their votes for decades. Anti-mask protestors call mask mandates a form of tyranny. Except mandates on stuff to keep other people safe aren’t tyranny, especially if they’re less fortunate than ourselves and/or can’t stay home. Take our essential workers who put their lives on the line every day to meet our basic needs and treat patients who contract the virus. If they get sick, many of them can’t get the treatment they need without running a massive bill. Hell, unless they’re doctors, nurses, or work for the government, most of them work paycheck to paycheck with no health benefits or paid sick leave. But if a pregnant woman can wear a mask giving birth, so can you. Unless you have any serious respiratory problems or are under two years old. 

If we want a possible end to the Coronavirus crisis, we must elect former Vice President Joe Biden in the next presidential election. Should Donald Trump be reelected, expect the Coronavirus pandemic to continue given his rhetoric, actions, and policies that botched the US response. Trump has no interest or capability in leading our country during a crisis like this and things will get worse. Though recovery may be long and hard under Biden, it will be virtually non-existent under Trump. Since it’s very clear that he’d rather have people die under his woeful mismanagement if it means retaining his own power. Even his own supporters who run a high risk dying from Covid 19 and depend on the postal service for their Social Security checks and prescription drugs. You can see this during the Republican National Convention when Trump incoherently spoke in front of a crowd not wearing masks and not sitting six feet apart from each other. At this point, we must accept that the Republican Party has ceased from being a functional political party and has transformed into a fascist cult of personality. And as long as Trump is in office, the Covid 19 pandemic will keep festering in the United States. There will be more infections and more people will die. We can’t afford four more years with this piece of shit in the White House.  

A Nation in Crisis

One thing you can be certain about while living through the Trump years is that whenever you think this illegitimate and criminal presidential administration has hit rock bottom, rock bottom somehow has a deep basement that must now be some sleazy underground city at some point. Apparently, as the Trump crew descend further from the moral limbo stick since the 2016 presidential election, it has been one crisis after another each one being worse than before. As of June 2020, we’re in the midst of a major pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans and without any form of capable, compassionate, or any unifying leadership.

On Thursday, May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Powderhorn community. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. Officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung, and Thomas K. Lane participated in Floyd’s arrest. Keung held Floyd’s back. Lane held his legs. Thao looked on and prevented an onlooker’s intervention as he stood nearby. Local police arrested Floyd, accusing him of using a fake $20 bill at a market. According to them, Floyd resisted arrest. While some media organizations stated that a nearby business security camera doesn’t show this. While the criminal complaint filed after the incident later said that body camera footage showed Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe while standing outside the police car, resisted getting in, and intentionally fell down. Several bystanders recorded the event with their smartphones with one showing Floyd repeating, “Please,” “I can’ breathe,” “Mama,” and “Don’t kill me.” Though Minnesota law allows knee-to-neck restraints under certain circumstances, law enforcement experts have criticized Chauvin’s use of the technique as excessive. The next day, all 4 officers were fired.

Two autopsies of Floyd were conducted, both ruling his death a homicide. The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report states that George Floyd had died from a cardiac arrest while under law enforcement restraint. While noting significant conditions such as, “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use.” Dismayed, Floyd’s family commissioned a private independent autopsy which found that the, “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of Floyd’s death, with neck compression restricting blood and oxygen to the brain, while back compression restricted breathing. Naturally, at the Minneapolis Police Department’s request, The FBI currently conducts a federal civil rights investigation as we speak. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is looking into possible Minnesota statute violations. On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death (which I suppose was part of a compromise). Though Hennepin County district attorney, Michael O. Freeman promised to bring charges against the other 3 officers. As of June 2, 2020, there have been no indictments or charges filed against the accomplices.

Naturally after George Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests within the Twin Cities erupted. Though initially peaceful on May 26, violence interfered as a police precinct and 2 stores were set on fire while many stores suffered looting and damage. Some demonstrators clashed with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Additional protests sprung up in over 200 throughout all 50 states as well as internationally. Such has revealed the pent-up anger over institutional racism nationwide. Given how black people have been subjected to violence by the state and white people for most of American history, this isn’t anything new. While mass demonstrations against state violence have also been a fixture in US politics all the way from the Civil Rights Movement. Scenes from Minneapolis, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and many other cities are just the latest chapter.

And to no one’s surprise, we already have political leaders and others subsuming the protestors’ perfectly legitimate grievances and questioning whether they’re appropriately registering their anger. Such is also a pattern in these moments. Demonstrations become so visible and visceral in the news coverage that they become the story. So the structural problems being protested start fading into the background. Indeed, politicians violence at the protests and for good reason. Since any bodily harm and property damage is of course, worrisome. But their concerns demonstrate the fundamental asymmetry that the protestors are pushing back against. The state has a monopoly on legitimate violence, which is often directed on black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Casile, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the list goes on. When they die, the police officers responsible too frequently face no repercussions because the powers that be protect them. Should the men who killed George Floyd go to prison for their crimes, they’ll be exceptions to the unjust and longstanding rule.

Yet, should anger and frustration from centuries of racial oppression compels a peaceful protest to become “violent” (even if most of the reported attacks have been directed against property), that other kind of violence becomes the dominant story. So far as politicians are concerned, it’s a disruption to the natural order that must be corrected. The systematic racism that’s led to so many black lives being cut short becomes secondary. But it really shouldn’t because wanton police violence is a real problem America must grapple with. Otherwise, this will happen again.

Though we should keep in mind that many of these folks decrying the protestors for expressing their anger over police shooting unarmed black people without consequence are the same people who freaked out over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. The then backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers destroyed no property, harmed no one, and expressed his anger over these police killings peacefully and appropriately. And yet, white people still got angry at him for stupid shit like disrespecting the flag or the troops that he’s no longer playing in the NFL. On the other hand, I have seen several demonstrations involving white men carrying guns I think should be banned that have received considerably tame coverage by mainstream media outlets and heroic praises from Fox News. One of these was an act of terror regarding these guys putting an Oregon wildlife refuge under siege for roughly three weeks. Some of these protests feature people with affiliations in Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups. And unless something really awful happens like the violence in Charlottesville, most of them aren’t arrested, tear gassed, beat up, or subjected to rubber bullets. Nor do their guns get confiscated. Most of them usually go home to their families and their lives without consequence unless an online outing results in them being fired. But even then there are exceptions like if you work for Fox News, Brietbart, OAN, Sinclair, or the Trump administration. And if they do face criminal charges, they’ll get sympathy from the jury and likely acquittal.

Unless you live under a rock or watch a steady diet of Fox News (which you shouldn’t), it’s painfully obvious that the American criminal justice system is prejudice against black Americans who are much more likely to be subjected to state-sanctioned violence in the US compared to their white counterparts. According to recent study by Rutgers, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis, black men face 1 in 1,000 odds of being killed by police in their lifetimes. But that’s only the most extreme form of discrimination. In both ways big and small, the criminal justice system is biased against black Americans. As a 2018 Washington Post article lists:

  • Black people are about twice as likely as white people to be pulled over by law enforcement for a traffic stop
  • Black and Latino drivers are much more likely to be searched once they are pulled over by the police
  • The murders of white people are more likely to be solved than the murders of black people
  • White people make up less than half of America’s murder victims, yet 80% of the convicted murderers sentenced to death had killed a white person
  • Black Americans are much more likely to be arrested and charged for drug-related crimes, despite no significant disparity in how much those populations actually use narcotics
  • Potential jurors who are black are much more likely to be dismissed by prosecutors than potential white jurors
  • White defendants are substantially more likely than black defendants to have their most serious charge dismissed as part of a plea bargain
  • Even when black men and white men are convicted of the same crime, the black men can expect a prison sentence that is 20% longer

This can go on, but you see the point. Racial discrimination is pervasive in every facet of American society, especially in criminal justice that manifests in every step from arrest to incarceration. And sadly, George Floyd’s brutal killing is only the extreme example of how the state exerts its power over black Americans, which is why those protesting his death want to remedy.

And of course, racism doesn’t just manifest its inherent ugliness in American institutions. Some of its white people as you can see with the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Trayvon Martin in Florida. Black people deal with the kind of suspicion leading to these guys’ deaths all the time. According to a recent Pew poll, 65% of black people said that someone acted suspicious toward them because of their race, compared to just 25% of white Americans. Such figures suggest a deep level of persistent prejudice. And quantifying racist attitudes because many people don’t want to admit holding them.

A 2017 Pew Research survey provides a useful proxy: as 54% of white Americans claim that black people who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition, while only 35% correctly blame racial discrimination. Among black Americans, the numbers are flipped with 59% citing racial discrimination while 31% said people were responsible for their own problems. If you to understand the different worldviews of the protestors and the people who criticize the demonstrations for getting out of hand, that data is a good place to start. Hell, if you’re white, go to your family gathering and observe all the racist dog whistles within your relatives’ conversations. Many of my aunts and uncles voted for Trump, which I see as not just insulting but utterly disgusting, morally repugnant, and disgraceful, regardless of their rationale. Also, if you live in a white neighborhood, take note of all the Trump signs going up as the November nears, which I see as going against America, my Catholic faith, and basic human decency. Now I know you don’t have to be conservative or even a Trump supporter to be racist. After all, look at Hollywood every awards season when there’s an “Oscars so White” controversy with white mediocrity getting the statuettes and masterworks by people of color getting ignored.

As par with the criminal justice system being racist, studies found that black Americans were less likely to have their complaints against law enforcement officers compared to those of white people. This was especially when those complaints pertained to excessive force. Not to mention, there’s a long track record showing how rarely police officers are arrested, much less convicted, when they kill someone in the line of duty. From 2006-2011, only 41 police officers were arrested for murder or negligent homicide in the line of duty. Meanwhile, over the same period, police officers committed more than 2,700 “justifiable” homicides. Thus, either US law enforcement are almost always justified in the most extreme use of force or there are systematic obstacles to holding police officers accountable when they kill one of their constituents.

So given how rarely complaints about police violence are taken up and prosecuted by the same criminal justice system enabling these law enforcement officers, protests akin to what you see in Minneapolis and across the US are one of the few tools available to people wishing to register their opposition to these institutional prejudices. It’s a tradition going back years and reaching its zenith during the civil rights era. The forceful police violence displays shown through cell phone videos on and social media have energized a new era of civil action, beginning with the Ferguson protests and continuing to this day. We should note that many, if not most of these protests remain nonviolent. They operate on a philosophy pioneered by Mohandas K. Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. In the US: peacefully and publicly register one’s discontent with injustices and allow the state’s response, usually militant and sometimes violent, to speak for itself. However, it can be difficult to maintain nonviolence in large groups. And we shouldn’t be surprised that huge demonstrations have resulted in some bad actors getting the spotlight. But before politicians seize on those incidents as representatives of this entire anti-police violence movement, we must know the full story remains unknown.

Minnesota officials stressed that they believe many of the violent protestors caught on news cameras leading to such negative comments, aren’t actually local residents. That alone should be a warning against letting the protests overshadow the problem they’re protesting. Nonetheless, these protests will eventually end. But the problem of America’s racist past and present will remain.

However, if we must wait out the storm during 2020, we must be wary of Donald Trump. Sure, he may be an ignorant orange cartoon supervillain who’s being trounced in the polls by Joe Biden. Yes, he’s a narcissistic psychopath willing to burn our American democracy to the ground to save his own skins. And yes, he’s turned our great country into an utter disaster area. But we must not underestimate him nor take his pitfalls for granted. Trump is no political genius. Yet, he’s a master at exploiting political divisions with his race-baiting demagoguery and self-glorified theatrics. However, what makes him successful is what makes him dangerous. He knows only one thing and very well. Division is all he sees. Discord is all he knows. And all he can do is escalate. As the King Midas of strife, he turns the country he’s supposed to lead into the thing he believes we are, what he is himself.

When we mistakenly elected Donald Trump, we elected a political arsonist. Yet, as bad as things have been, his presidency’s sole consolation as the dearth of what little dry timber, out of date newspapers, oil, and gasoline we had. The economy hummed along though income inequality exacerbated. We faced few foreign crises that resulted into anything substantial. Domestic divisions mostly remained on social media. Of course, this doesn’t dismiss real disasters or excuse the Trump administration’s exceptionally cruel policies. Kids were thrown into cages. Toxins were dumped in our streams. While mismanaging Hurricane Maria proved lethal for many Puerto Ricans and created such a mess that paper towels couldn’t remedy. But it could’ve been worse. However, the pandemic that Trump fed with his administration’s erratic mismanagement has left over 100,000 Americans dead, which is more than twice as many lives we lost in Vietnam. And the count keeps rising. The economy is in freefall since stay at home orders and social distancing measures has resulted in closed businesses and 40 million Americans out of work. Our societal fabric has been cut while our culture is at war over lockdowns and facemasks as the federal government has epically failed to chart a path toward a safe future. We’re essentially a nation interrupted, aching for the normalcy we lost, unsure of the future we face. Though a lot of that normalcy might’ve led to the crisis in the first place.

Now that protests and riots have erupted over the newest round of lynchings, there’s blood on the streets, cars mowing through crowds, buildings on fire, bodies being buried, police casually firing on the very people they’re sworn to protect. While all of us are trapped at home see things we can’t unsee are forced to reckon what the country has always sought to delay. As James Baldwin noted, “There are too many things we do not wish to know ourselves.” But thanks to smartphone cameras and viral videos, we see who we truly are and we see who are leaders truly are. Yet, Congress can’t resolve small disputes, let alone fundamental fractures. While Donald Trump is eager for the storm to come since he doesn’t know how to fight the virus. He does know, however, how to fight his own countrymen.

Fortunately, few Americans like want violence in our lives. And we may still be a better country than Donald Trump thinks we are. Cable channels and social media feeds may bombard us with sensationalized violence and destruction, the nonviolent remain true to the story and are the vast majority who risk their bodies for justice, sweep up broken glass, absorb blows from batons and inhaling tear gas simply as an act of solidarity. They make America great. Yet, as our lives turn into nightmares, we are scared, hurt, mistrustful, and divided. And it’s an election year. The kindling is everywhere. The United States of America is a country on the verge of war with itself and so badly needs the leadership it doesn’t have, a empathetic president who truly wants peace.

Staring Down the Coronavirus Pandemic

Since the Coronavirus outbreak has compelled us to retreat from our social lives and stay at home, I’ve mostly been confined to my house save for the occasional walk. Indeed, I’ve adjusted quite well to quarantine. But there are still things I miss. For instance, I miss going to church. I miss going to a library, Barnes & Noble, the movies, my grandma’s, and so many other places. However, I can be grateful that I could social distance and not worry about going out too much. Since aside from a morning walk, I usually stay indoors anyways. And I’m not the one in my house going out for groceries or visiting my grandma either.

Yet, what has occupied my mind since I started social distancing hasn’t been how I’ve been faring since I know if I come down with it, most of it pertains to how much our national embarrassment has epically fucked up. When it comes to Donald Trump’s presidency, rock bottom always appears to have a basement. But he is a man who’d rather blame God for his own misdeeds than take any responsibility for them. Yet, since that will get him in trouble with the Christian Right, he’ll blame literally anyone else that goes against him. Anyway, Trump has handled the Covid-19 situation about as abysmally as you’d expect. For God’s sake, the guy has had since January to do something about it. Actually he had plenty of time before that. Not to mention, he continues to incur massive damage in coronavirus response efforts because he’s more concerned with his own image and getting reelected.

The US problems in handling the coronavirus pandemic began in April 2018, when the Trump administration started disbanding the pandemic response team while repeatedly calling for CDC budget cuts. By the time the coronavirus came to the United States, officials had to rebuild a coordinated response team they had dismantled a couple years before. You don’t have to be psychic to realize that such actions are terrible ideas. After all, the Obama administration set up the pandemic response team in order to prepare for one, which experts said would be inevitable. Nonetheless, doing away with some regulation, agency, or any other government function, it doesn’t lead to anything good. Unless it deals with something that’s incredibly obsolete.

As early as November 2019, national security experts warned Donald Trump about Covid-19’s expected spread throughout the United States. In January, trade adviser Peter Navarro warned the White House that the novel coronavirus could kill half a million Americans, shortly after the cases began spreading through China. As time passed, Trump minimized the problem in his messaging, did little to address testing shortages, and delayed declaring a national emergency to unlock aid funding. Furthermore, Trump and the federal government repeatedly ignored opportunities to mitigate the virus’ spread through extensive testing. Hell, he’s even called the coronavirus a hoax on many occasions. And while his tune has changed in recent weeks (though I’m not so sure about that), experts say the early sluggish response will likely have lasting effects on the virus’ spread in communities and how deadly it’s become.

In January 2020, the Trump administration restricted travel to China, the day after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. Though Donald Trump often cites this as an early, decisive move on stopping virus, it was already spreading within US borders. And at best, the government only bought time it didn’t use particularly well. Given that we have a complete sociopath in the White House whose chief worry is mainly his own self-image. And beyond that decision, Trump has mostly downplayed the coronavirus’ severity from the beginning and largely failed to take early widespread actions that could’ve slowed the disease’s spread in the country. Instead, Covid-19 is now projected to kill tens of thousands of Americans. Yet, as US officials warned of major disruptions ahead by late February, Trump insisted that the virus was contained in the US and that, “it’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Except that it totally did the opposite.

Even in March as people began dying in Washington state and elsewhere, Trump administration officials assured the public that the US was “way ahead of the curve” on preparing for the virus, saying that “the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus,” and the Trump campaign refused to cancel campaign rallies. Finally, in mid-March, Donald Trump agreed to recommend social distancing around the country and declared a national emergency, which unlocked $42.6 billion in funding to help states get more resources as medical supplies in some states were already running thin (like he had any choice). Nonetheless, supplies are still difficult to come by, which experts have said is partly due to Trump’s dismantling of the pandemic preparedness team before the crisis. Nevertheless, Trump stated that “I don’t take responsibility at all,” in the nation’s slow response. So he’ll blame someone else whether it’s the Chinese, WHO, Democratic governors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or anyone else that could serve as a convenient scapegoat.

Still, while social distancing has been official Trump administration policy, that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from inciting chaos in the country. Tweeting sentiments like “Liberate Michigan,” and other states with governors he doesn’t like, he has encouraged anti-social distancing and anti-stay-at-home orders rallies in the United States calling the state-based measures too draconian. Fox News has also promoted these protests on air. Funded and organized by conservative groups like Freedom Works, these ill-advised events have somehow attracted thousands of people. Some of these have posted links and images on Facebook downplaying Covid-19’s seriousness. While other leaders have advocated against following CDC guidelines, like a ban on big gatherings and recommending face masks. While these protests draw some Tea Party parallels, some take the feel of 2016 Trump campaign rallies with participants wearing MAGA hats and waving flags emblazoned with Trump’s stupid face. Some may wear masks. While many do not nor do they stand 6 feet apart from each other. They’re also quite selfish since they complain about needing to buy fertilizer for their gardens, new furniture, or a haircut. Some want to go golfing, a massage, or their nails done. You’ think these protestors want businesses to open back up so they can go back to work. But it’s not the case. Rather they’re protesting to demand other workers to return to their jobs to endanger themselves in order to serve them and their nonessential desires. For these same people will never protest for better wages, or more worker protections. They’re just fighting to force poor people to go back to doing their hair and selling them makeup, furniture, and other fancy things. Let us note that these people are selfish and irresponsible assholes who don’t care if people die just as long as they get their stuff.

In any case, these anti-lockdown protests tap into Donald Trump’s main message on the coronavirus pandemic: Blame the governors for this crisis, not him. As Trump ratchets up his reelection efforts, his argument is an effort to put the brunt of responsibility for the coronavirus catastrophe on his political opponents’ shoulders while maintaining he has “total authority” over the pandemic and the states facing it. It’s an argument that resonates in rural, redder parts of the country, which the pandemic hasn’t hit as hard as blue, urban areas yet. It’s a message of division designed to pit Republican-voting areas against their Democratic-voting neighbors, even rural Republicans against urban Republicans. All this to activate the white rural Trump voters of 2016 and whom he’ll need again in 2020. For some on the right, the plan seems simple: vilify Democratic governors and agitate the end of shutdown orders. Then “reopen the economy” and spur a massive turnaround in the nation’s economic projects just in time for Donald Trump to cruise to reelection in November. Should the pandemic recede, he can claim entire responsibility. But if people keep dying, he can just blame Democratic governors.

Fortunately, that strategy is more likely to blow in Donald Trump’s big orange face. The public (including a vast majority of Republicans), largely supports social distancing measures. While new polling suggests half of Republicans are concerned that stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures will be lifted too quickly. In fact, research shows that Americans began social distancing before their government urged them to do so. And they likely wouldn’t stop if they were lifted. Thus, the anti-shutdown protests don’t mirror public opinion. Not to mention, in order for Trump to benefit from their potential impact, the coronavirus needs to spare rural American (which it isn’t). Besides, in many rural areas, even a relatively small number of coronavirus cases can stretch rural hospitals and health networks to the limit. Not to mention, coronavirus rates in Idaho and South Dakota are also increasing.

Nonetheless, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how messed up the United States really is. Though a virus doesn’t discriminate in who it infects or kills, black people, Latinos, low wage workers, the elderly poor (well, poor people in general), those our healthcare system has historically neglected, and those pummeled with our racism. Though we are all in this together, not everyone is exposed at an equal risk. If you live in a dense urban center, depend on public transportation, work in a low wage and unpredictable job without enough protections or adequate health insurance, you are undeniably most “in it.” Not because you didn’t shelter fast enough or washed your hands enough times. But because we live in a country with a story riddled with redlining, undervalued care, and the insidious legacy of slavery.

Yet, even worse, this pandemic has been absolutely crushing to low income workers who are either risking their lives to keep society going and feed their families or are unemployed. A recent survey from Pew reported that just over half of low-income adults in the US had someone in their household who had either lost their job or hours. Making matters worse, just 23% of low-income people had enough money saved to cover 3 months’ expenses in case of financial emergency. And as of April 2020, 22 million people have filed initial claims for unemployment insurance over the past several weeks. However, this Pew study suggests those already in difficult financial circumstances ahead of the pandemic are bearing the brunt of economic damage. And not surprisingly, many Americans weren’t in as strong financial position as they may have appeared. Thus, we shouldn’t be shocked that 53% of low-income workers reported that they’d have trouble paying some of their monthly bills. In addition to Covid-19 fatalities being disproportionately prevalent among people of color and those in poverty, all this puts additional pressure on family members who still have jobs to keep working and possibly fall ill themselves. Grocery stores have reported that employees have started to die from Covid-19. And so have public transit workers responsible for getting people to work.

So when the pandemic ends, should we go back to normal? Oh, hell, no. Because as the coronavirus has ravaged our country and overwhelmed our healthcare system, we are confronted with some stark realities of inequality and economic duress. We may call our “essential workers” heroes, but after it’s over, will we remember them and treat them as such? With that, I’m not so sure. After all, we’ve referred to first responders as such on 9/11 and it took 18 years to pass a law guaranteed to fund their medical care for their injuries. We’re often told to support our troops as they go off to war and remember their sacrifice whenever they die or march in a parade. Yet, the VA is an utter bureaucratic clusterfuck that might be run by 3 of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago friends behind the scenes, while veteran homelessness is a thing. And if they’re found undocumented, well, their service record won’t save them from possible deportation. Now we’re putting healthcare workers, maintenance workers, drivers, grocery, gas station, and pharmacy employees, garbage collectors, and other “essential” people on the heroic pedestal. Many of them work for low wages with no health benefits and no form of paid leave of any kind. They’re also spending considerable time away from their families and possibly exposing themselves to the virus that might eventually kill them. If we want to anything to honor these heroes’ sacrifice, perhaps we should remember what they did for us and maybe make sure they’re treated as valued members in our communities. Some ideas include at least establishing healthcare as a right and providing a single-payer public option for those earning below $1 million per year, raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, mandating paid sick leave, safer conditions, and collective bargaining rights so they can organize regardless of their employer’s union stance. When it comes to crises like this, normal won’t save us. Rather let the coronavirus provide us the opportunity to build a better world and get Donald Trump out of the White House in November. Seriously, he’s a psychopath who’d willingly have people get sick and die for the economy and increase his reelection chances.

Letter to Democratic Lawmakers and Candidates

Dear Democratic National Committee, Current US Senators and Representatives along with congressional Candidates, and Presidential Primary Contenders:

I am a 29-year-old woman living in a rural enclave in the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Though I occasionally work a temp job now and then, I’ve spent most of my time since my college graduation unemployed yet out of the jobs I have, I’ve never managed to make enough money to support myself. I have a blog, write articles for a magazine for adults on the autism spectrum, and whatever novel or screenplay I’m currently writing. Despite that I’ve made some money off it, it’s not enough to leave my parents’ house and set off on my own in an area with mass transit. Yet, thanks to my Medicaid coverage, my parents’ generosity, and the good health God has given me, I can pursue my writing, save my money, and not have to constantly worry when and where my next paycheck will be.

But I know that life can’t last forever. My parents will die someday. I could get deathly ill or hit by a bus. And eventually I’ll have to move out and get a job that sustains my means. Yet, regardless what happens, I want to keep my reliable Medicaid coverage regardless of how much money I make. But under our shitty for-profit system, I worry about having to switch to private employer coverage which isn’t as good and possibly coming down with a serious or grievous injury and having my life financially ruined by medical debt. I don’t want any of that to happen to me. And I don’t think it should in America. For I only wish to lead my life on my own terms. And I want my healthcare to be the same way. So I am doing everything in my power to make sure Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the Republicans are voted out of power in 2020. And the fact Trump’s predicted to win reelection just terrifies me to my core that I write to you in desperation so this nightmare scenario won’t happen.

My fellow millennials and I are becoming increasingly unable to support ourselves because while our wages remain stagnant while everything gets significantly more expensive. This especially goes with healthcare. Many of us also find ourselves stuck in low income jobs that leave little room for advancement, unpredictable hours, and little agency over our lives. Some will remain in these shit jobs for the rest of their lives. And as an autistic woman who lives in rural Pennsylvania and doesn’t drive, I face multiple barriers finding any opportunities that suit my preference and provide any decent standard of living as well as ample time for me to write, which I’d rather do full-time anyway. Furthermore, when Obamacare repeal was on the table in 2017, I was constantly afraid of losing my Medicaid coverage and that fear hasn’t really gone away. Since Republicans keep challenging the Affordable Care Act with a new lawsuit aimed at stripping the whole law because the 2018 tax law cut out the individual mandate.

For my generation, the 2020 election isn’t just a fight for this nation’s soul but also a fight for our lives and our future. While you may have concerns of Medicare for All or any other healthcare plan, it can blow up the national deficit and still be a drop in the bucket compared to what Americans had to pay under the current system. For trillions of dollars under a Medicare for All plan is nothing compared to a healthcare system that’s cost us our homes, our jobs, our life savings, our hopes, our dreams, our ability to move up in society, our ability to do some basic tasks around the house, our freedom, our time, our careers, our children, our families, our marriages, our retirements, any possibility of financial stability, control of our own destinies, and for thousands of us, our lives. We can’t afford to pay that steep a price. Concerns for Medicare for All’s costs and how it’s paid for are perfectly legitimate, but it shouldn’t be the overwhelming reason why you don’t support it. For what matters more than Medicare for All’s costs are what our current for-profit healthcare system’s costing ordinary Americans as for-profit health insurance is increasingly becoming a scam product. Since even raising taxes to pay for such a system is nothing compared to how the parasitical for-profit healthcare industry’s drive for larger returns for their shareholders.

Therefore, I implore you that regardless who wins their primaries in the 2020 Election that come 2021, each Democratic candidate and current federal elected office holder will pledge that they’ll call for, sponsor, and support legislation guaranteeing all persons living in the United States access to healthcare as a fundamental legal and civil right. Thus, providing the legal framework that anyone in America is deserving of healthcare regardless of who they are, whether and what they do for a living, how much money they make, what health insurance they have, or whether their workplace provides any form of health benefits.

But given that Democrats have differing opinions on what “healthcare is a right” may mean, let me elaborate. While I strongly support Medicare for All, I understand that not all Democratic politicians may agree with me. But I know full well that though we may not share the same vision on healthcare policy, that despite our competing plans and ideas, we all believe that healthcare is a right and by that, we must at least mean the following under the current system:

All future healthcare policy decisions must put the American people’s interests first.

All private health insurance plans must cover at least 95% of all costs related to premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and out of pocket expenses. They all must offer the same coverage as state Medicaid programs, Obamacare exchanges, and Medicare or better. And they all must include dental and vision.

All employee health insurance plans must cost no more than 10% of a worker’s income in both premiums and deductible. And their costs can’t be raised by increasing the employees’ overall compensation.

Employers cannot change their employees’ health insurance coverage without their workers’ consent. That includes those with or without union representation. While most Americans have insurance through their employer, their bosses can change or drop their coverage without their input. This is not choice.

A single payer public option must be established and available to all. This can be Medicare for all, Medicaid, Medicare for all who want it, or something else. But it must offer the same coverage as state Medicaid programs, Obamacare exchanges, Medicare or better as well as include dental and vision. And must cover the costs of all uncompensated care at medical facilities. It must not have work requirements or require enrollees to take a drug test. Best paid for by a tax on capital gains, stock buybacks, and private equity investments. Since they’ve cost jobs and caused people to lose their healthcare, it’s only fair.

Medicare must be entirely single payer and cover at least 99% of all healthcare costs. And it must include dental and vision benefits.

Should the single payer public option be Medicaid, then the Medicaid expansion must be enacted in all states and US territories. (I know there was a Supreme Court ruling against this but I put people first. Not states.)

No health insurer can drop a patient’s coverage for any reason without their consent save for habitually not making payments without a legitimate excuse or criminal or fraudulent behavior.

Medicaid asset seizure must be banned.

All public and private health insurance plans must cover patients outside their region and state of residence. I once tried to get medication in Richmond, Virginia back in 2017 and neither pharmacy I went to accepted my coverage.

Surprise medical bills must be banned.

Open enrollment period for Obamacare exchange plans at Healthcare.gov must be extended to all year round. Furthermore, they must cost patients no more than 5% of their income in premiums and deductibles. Same goes for any private healthcare plan that’s on the individual market.

All hospital bills must amount to no more than $9,999 in overall out-of-pocket expenses to patients. That co-pays must not exceed $99. And that drugs and medical devices must cost patients no more than $999 out of pocket.

All privately insured patients must have access to medical debt protections, such as forgiveness. In other words, patients with outstanding medical debt must be protected from facing home foreclosure, eviction, arrest, lower credit scores, and loss of life savings. They may file for bankruptcy however.

Practices such as employee waiting periods, COBRA, Association Plans, high deductible plans, lifetime limits, preexisting condition exclusions, Medicare Advantage plans, and private supplemental health co-insurance must be banned.

Private insurance provider networks must be abolished. Thus, all private insurers must provide coverage to whoever the patient chooses.

Healthcare providers must accept all insurance plans. In other words, providers must not be able to discriminate which patient plans they accept and which they don’t.

Private equity firms must be banned from purchasing any form of property with a medical facility whether it be a hospital, medical center, medical practice, physical therapist, rehab center, or a pharmacy. So we won’t have an incident like what happened to Hahnemann.

Ban on stock buybacks for health insurers or any other public corporate entity affiliated in the medical industry.

No employer can terminate a worker for experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury of which they’re not directly responsible for.

Permit patients to sue their health insurer over unsustainable medical debt they cannot afford to pay as a civil rights violation.

Permit patients to sue their healthcare facilities and pharmaceutical and device companies for overcharging products and services as a civil rights violation.

A cap on health insurance executive compensation at $300,000, shareholder dividends at $500,000, and profits at $1 million per year.

All medical facilities must have price transparency so patients will know what they’re paying for when they seek healthcare services.

Healthcare executives must be criminally liable to a criminal felony for price gouging their products and services that should constitute at least a month in prison for abuse of power. Raising healthcare prices is an abuse of power that ruins people’s lives and should be dealt with accordingly.

What I list shouldn’t constitute as a plan per se but as a set of minimum criteria I’m willing to accept should a Medicare for All candidate not win the Democratic presidential nomination 2020. If it resembles such plan, then that’s because drafting a universal healthcare plan that’s not Medicare for All includes a ton of regulations. Nor does it follow any other economic philosophy other than that the healthcare industry must put the patient’s interests first in regard of paying for healthcare and that healthcare shouldn’t cost as much of a car to the average American family. The criteria list isn’t perfect nor will satisfy everyone. In fact, I don’t think it goes far enough. And many might not think these are achievable. But I list these points nonetheless because I think these are things all Democrats should agree upon regardless if they believe in Medicare for all, Medicare for all who want it, Obamacare Plus, or something else entirely. Even so, making healthcare a right should protect Americans’ access to medical care from Republican efforts to take down whatever system’s in place (though I’m not sure It’ll be able to hold off a court challenge).

While I may not have any healthcare industry experience beyond that as a patient and reading countless news horror stories, I am a 29-year-old female college graduate on the autism spectrum who knows that elections have consequences. And that should Donald Trump win reelection in 2020 as predicted, things will not get better. Rather, they will get much worse. Sure, Trump and the Republicans will promise to protect Americans’ healthcare from the scourge of liberal Socialism, but they have no intention to. And you can bet that should Trump and the Republicans sweep 2020, Obamacare repeal will be on the table again, healthcare prices will rise, less Americans will be able to get the medical care they need, and thousands more will die without it. If that happens, I will declare my healthcare a right and insist that society treat it that way, regardless of the policy on the matter. And I don’t care if I have to tear it all down. Because I’m tired of seeing my healthcare as something that can be taken away from me and as an American, I won’t tolerate that. After all, illness and injury don’t discriminate. Why should our healthcare system?

Yet, I also know that healthcare is an issue the Democrats can win on since it affects Americans’ lives and the fact Republicans have lost all credibility on the issue. Democratic politicians like US Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania of whose special election to Congress I gladly participated in, Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and others wouldn’t have won their elections if they didn’t run on healthcare. The healthcare issue has also made Democrats more competitive in red districts, sometimes winning races no one thought possible. Though Democrats may not always have the same vision on healthcare, we can all agree that our current healthcare system isn’t providing affordable medical care for all Americans and that every American should be able to access healthcare without suffering some kind of financial catastrophe. And most of America agrees with that. To make healthcare a right will not only guarantee Americans some legal protection in regards to their medical treatment, it also sends a message that on healthcare policy, the federal government will put the American people’s interests over that of companies, hospitals, insurers, or any other entity. We can debate Medicare-for-All all we want during the primary season. But once the general election season kicks in, Republicans won’t care whether you support Medicare-for-All, Obamcare Plus, or any other plan meant to grant or improve healthcare coverage to millions of Americans.

Republicans may call what I believe and preach Socialism but I don’t give a damn. I have learned the lessons of Obamacare that while bipartisanism may be nice, we shouldn’t try to come to a compromise with them. This is especially the case if Republicans don’t intend to vote on the finished product and instead challenge it with lawsuits and repeal efforts, one of which would’ve become the law of the land if it wasn’t for the late US Senator John McCain. Besides, despite that Republican healthcare ideas only enjoy popularity in exclusive country clubs, corporate board rooms, and right-libertarian convention halls, they’re willing to instill them on Americans anyway. To ask a Republican to support measures ensuring healthcare access to all Americans will only end in a futile effort. Their idea that any form of universal healthcare is illegitimate and Un-American is extremely repugnant and revolting to me and I absolutely won’t stand for it. Hell, I could write to my congressman Guy Reschenthaler about making healthcare a legal and civil right but he’ll just leave my letter to him sitting unread in his inbox as he flees from concerned constituents requesting he just do his job and hold a townhall meeting once in a while. I’d be better off writing to Santa Claus. So I’d rather not waste my time and effort.

I don’t know what most Americans believe nor do I care. But I see my healthcare as a fundamental right which I intend to freely exercise as such and demand everyone else respect it whether society decides that or not. It’s up to you to decide as our representatives in government whether I end up in prison for insisting that society treat my healthcare on my terms should my Medicaid coverage be dropped for a more expensive but inferior plan. While many Americans may believe the same as I do on healthcare, what sets me apart is my headstrong nonconformity with aspects of our society that vehemently riles my bleeding Catholic heart. I am tired of being unable to change what we seemed to decide our healthcare system is as a society. Call me an entitled millennial brat all you want, but I will not spend this coming election season watching you grandstand your promises because I saw my dreams dashed before. And I will not let that happen again because I will have to live with next year’s election results, which for me can be a matter of life or death for all I know.

I can live with not getting my way in politics since as a progressive Catholic living in a red district, I’ve had to get used it. But I can’t live with not getting my way if it means having to put up 4 more years with people I don’t respect making decisions that could severely and adversely affect my life that I can’t do anything about. I no longer have patience for a parasitical for-profit corporate healthcare system run by profit-seeking shareholders and businessmen who’d screw cancer patients out of their life savings so they can buy their next superyacht. I can no longer put up with a fundamentally Un-American and oppressive healthcare system that wantonly discriminates against the poor. And I can no longer stand strangers who’d see me as a leeching freeloading Medicaid recipient mooching off the system despite that on some days, I work longer and harder than most folks.

Furthermore, if we want our country to remain a champion of liberty, equality, prosperity, and opportunity, Americans’ healthcare must be a right. If we want to honor the words and vision of the Founding Fathers to make sure all Americans have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, healthcare must be a right. If we want America to continue being a champion of human rights and live up to its democratic values and ideals, healthcare must be a right. If we want to make life affordable for most Americans and relieve our problems in society, healthcare must be a right. If we want to tackle the problems of the twenty-first century, healthcare must be a right. And if we want to keep the American dream alive, healthcare must be a right.

Insane in the Ukraine

In mid-September 2019, according to The New York Times, an unidentified internal Trump administration whistleblower filed a complaint about “multiple acts” by a shitty excuse for a president Donald Trump. The whistleblower in question is part of the US intelligence community and filed this complaint back in August, which was passed to their inspector general. That inspector general determined it credible and a matter of “urgent concern” – legal standard normally requiring notifying congressional oversight committees. He then concluded the complaint, “relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.” However, Trump’s acting national intelligence director stepped in to block key congressional committee chairs from receiving the whistleblower complaint’s details, which remain murky. An act some legal analysts claim is breaking the law.

Now despite the murky details, the whistleblower’s complaint reportedly involves a broader set of events than a single phone call. But not surprisingly, the Trump administration is trying to prevent further info from coming to light. For some time, it’s been rumored Donald Trump tried pressuring Ukraine’s government into launching an investigation of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, possibly by withholding military aid to the country unless they complied. On August 28, 2019, Politico reported that the Trump administration was, “slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine.” According to the site, Trump had personally asked his national security team to review the program, supposedly to ensure the money was being spent on American interests, writing, “The funds for Ukraine can’t be spent while they’re under review and the money expires at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.” Now it’s not confirmed if the whistleblower complaint has anything to with this Ukranian debacle, but both cases seem closely related.

Naturally given Donald Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladmir Putin and Russia’s war with Ukraine, critics instantly accused him of supporting Putin’s policies again. On September 5, 2019, Washington Post editorial claimed they’ve been told that Trump was trying to force the Ukranian government to investigate Joe Biden. They write:
“Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

During a September 2 press conference in Warsaw, Associated Press’ Jill Colvin asked Vice President Mike Pence, “Can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?” Pence conspicuously didn’t make that kind of assurance. Instead, he replied, “as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.” However, the notion that the Trump administration has any great concern about corruption issues is basically akin to Pig Pen having any concern about personal hygiene. Because we all know that Trump and his cronies engage in corruption on a regular basis that the swamp he’s promised to drain has now become a reeking cesspit of hazardous waste. Hell, the only time the Trump administration shows any concern about corruption is when it pertains to someone they don’t like because it makes them look bad. So naturally, they’re looking for dirt.

On Friday, September 20, 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that, during a July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Donald Trump pressured him “about eight times” to work with his sell out lawyer Rudy Giuliani on an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter. That Thursday, Giuliani tweeted that if Trump told Ukraine to “investigate corruption that affects US” he’d just be “doing his job,” and complaining that “the Biden Family… bilked millions from Ukraine.” He even later confirmed that he himself has been trying to get Ukraine to investigate Biden. Strange Trump didn’t call the Ukrainian government to investigate his own campaign manager Paul Manafort back in 2016, because he actually bilked millions from the Ukraine and is serving prison time for it. However, if Trump did this as president, it would be a shockingly corrupt use of his foreign policy powers. Since he’s basically demanding a foreign country intervene in the 2020 election by digging up dirt on a potential opponent, or have its security put at risk.

The idea that Donald Trump’s team would try getting the Ukranian government to investigate Joe Biden’s family isn’t just theoretical. Even Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has openly admitted he’s been doing just that. As he told the New York Times in May, “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.” Ukraine-related corruption has already played an outsized role in Trump scandals. Paul Manafort’s prosecution for financial and lobbying crimes related to his work for a former Ukranian regime was a major part of the Mueller probe. And during the summer of 2016 back when Manafort was Trump’s campaign chair, he was plagued by reports that the Ukranian government was looking into his payments. So Donald Trump’s team apparently has the idea to try and cook up a similar scandal involving Joe Biden.

The details relate to Joe Biden’s ne’er-do-well son Hunter who joined a Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma’s board in 2014. Now the company’s owner was under investigation for corruption and money laundering. Two years later, Ukraine’s prosecutor general Viktor Shokin was fired, after pressure from Vice President Biden and other Western officials along with many Ukrainian officials and citizens. Biden just happened to have the loudest voice. Shokin has reportedly claimed he was pushed out because he was investigating Burisma’s payments to Hunter Biden. However, the New York Times writes, “there is no credible evidence that Biden sought Shokin’s removal in order to protect Hunter.” Instead, the rationale was said he wasn’t doing enough to investigate the corruption. Now, in an effort to cause political problems in Biden’s 2020 campaign, Giuliani has been pushing the new Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Biden matter, as well as whether there was any foul play in the earlier Ukrainian Manafort investigation. Giuliani confirmed he was doing all this to the Times back in May. The effort continued through August. But Giuliani was cagey in Trump’s personal role in the scheme. He told the Times in May that Trump supports his endeavors and “he basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer.” In August, he told the Times he was just acting as a private citizen. Despite that State Department officials were involved in Giuliani’s communications with Ukrainian officials for some reason.

Now that Donald Trump has all but openly admitted that he pushed Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Congress must impeach him. Impeaching Trump over Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation would’ve been an attempt to address past offenses. Impeaching Trump over these calls would be an attempt to halt what surely resembles an ongoing attempt to hijack American foreign policy in service of his reelection. Democrats are obligated to stop this before it gets any further. Sure, impeachment is virtually guaranteed to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate so there’s no real chance of actually removing Trump from office. Public opinion about the Russian scandal became more set along partisan lines as time went on, making it unlikely that drawing attention to it would galvanize the public against Trump in 2020. Since that would risk distracting Democrats on which Trump is genuinely unpopular like on healthcare and climate change and jeopardize the House Democratic majority with marginal gain.

But the new Ukraine scandal challenges this logic. There is now an obvious and immediate pragmatic upside to impeachment: stopping an ongoing abuse of presidential power that could undermine the 2020 election’s integrity. Thanks to an intelligence community whistleblower, investigative journalists, and Donald Trump’s own public statements, Trump seems to have repeatedly attempted to convince the Ukranian government to open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s Ukraine business dealings and Joe Biden’s alleged involvement in protecting his son from prosecutorial attention. But there’s no evidence of illegal conduct by either Biden in the Ukraine dealings. Hunter’s partnership with a corrupt Ukranian oligarch was arguably unethical. But there’s no reason to believe his dad was involved in it. Still, even if either Biden was implicated in anything illegal, Trump’s actions would still be as impeachable. Because he’s trying to get a foreign power to investigate a potential political opponent on the pretense of turning Biden’s fake Ukraine scandal into “her emails” 2.0. Thus, he actively working to weaponize the presidency to boost his political fortunes.

Hell, it may be even worse. Donald Trump himself has linked the Biden issue to US to Ukraine aide. On Sunday, he told reporters, he “had every right” to push Ukraine about Joe Biden because “we don’t want a country that we’re giving massive aid to be corrupting our system.” If Trump threatened to condition aid to Ukraine on its Biden investigation, then he’s been nakedly twisting US foreign policy to suit his own ends. This is a grotesque and seemingly ongoing abuse of power with potential implications for an election’s integrity next year. Whereas the Russia investigation an attempt to find out exactly what happened in a prior election, the Ukraine scandal reflects Trump’s contemporary and future-looking behavior. Given that the goal is no longer retrospective accountability, this dramatically changes the logic of impeachment. Since it’s now about stopping his current behavior. The hope would be that impeachment would bring so much attention and scrutiny to Trump’s Ukraine push that he can’t get away with undermining another election.

Any impeachment proceeding would be the story in American politics, sucking up media attention and congressional investigative resources. A House majority vote to impeach would lead to a trial in the Senate, attracting more scrutiny even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take the proceedings seriously. The aim would be to prevent Trump from making some kind of shady, behind-the-scenes agreement with some Ukrainian authorities and make him think twice about any other similar scheme for using his powers for electoral gain. Such level of attention seems like the best available tool for preventing Donald Trump from continuing his efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Moreover, such high levels of press coverage and partisan furor would also make it harder to imagine the Ukrainian government would make any corrupt deal with Trump. Democratic posturing would serve as a counterweight to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, signaling the country’s leadership that any cooperation with Trump’s inappropriate demands could seriously fray relations with the US in the next administration. Under this logic, it doesn’t matter if impeachment will invariably fail in the Senate. Just shining a light on Trump’s misbehavior will limit his freedom to act. Because if you have a president actively trying to abuse his power in order to invite foreign meddling in the next presidential election, you need to do what you can to stop him. Impeachment is the biggest and most powerful tool in the Democrats’ inventory. Because impeaching Trump is about signaling that his conduct is unacceptable as well trying to impose accountability on him and setting a standard for future ones.

Should impeachment be used not only to signal disapproval but actually work to head off an ongoing threat to American democracy, then the normative power of the proceedings might be reestablished. They won’t just be futile raging at American politics’ debased nature under Donald Trump, but an effective means of actually changing these politics for the better. For Trump’s impeachment to actually serve as a means of accountability to show future officeholders that misbehavior carries costs, there needs to be actual bite to them. Otherwise, they really risk sending the opposite intended signal that nothing really matters and that the president can do whatever he wants as long as at least 34 senators support him. But if impeachment can plausibly constrains Donald Trump, preventing him from engaging in abuse of power for political gain, then the Trump administration’s lesson would be that actions carry consequences, that Congress’ ultimate constitutional power can still be used to rein in a president even in a political environment seemingly defined by extreme partisanship. Furthermore, impeachment sends the strongest and most high-profile signal possible that Trump’s actions are unacceptable, both now and to future presidents.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s behavior in this Ukraine situation should worry anyone who cares about the health of American democracy. If this isn’t impeachable behavior, then I don’t know what is. Could impeachment potentially rein in Trump? I’m not sure since Trump never learns from his misconduct. But it will limit him on what he can get away with. Will a formal impeachment inquiry hurt the House Democrats’ chances to retain the House? Who knows. But seeing how the Ukraine scandal drove a painful reality home of an emboldened Trump appearing to meddle in an upcoming US election again, right before our eyes, Congress must impeach.

This Is Not Okay

I know well that America is a democracy and I should respect people’s political opinions and their choice of candidate. After all, they are in their right on what to believe and who to vote for. If they disagree with me, it’s not big deal. However, while I am perfectly fine with people being conservative and Republican, I am absolutely not okay with them supporting a demagogue like Donald Trump. Now given that I have friends, family, neighbors, and other people in my life who support this fucking piece of shit, I try to think of them as decent people. Besides, while I may disagree with them, my hostility to Trump has nothing to do with how I view them or their beliefs. When I attack Trump, I don’t intend to attack them personally save their own blind allegiance to this Cheeto-faced fascist and willingness to let him get away with shit that would put an average American in jail. Let alone a president.

Rather, I don’t respect Trump as president because I don’t respect him as a man. Based on my research on him, I think he’s a sociopath with dangerous authoritarian impulses while he’s said and done many indefensible things. He’s an incompetent president who expects lavish praise without working for it and responds viciously to criticism. He doesn’t care about anything but his own interests and has no concern for how many bridges he burns to fulfill them. He takes no responsibility for his actions and will go out of his way to avoid the consequences. He’s a pathological liar who shows no affinity for the truth, democracy, American values, or the rule of law. And I know full well his racist Twitter tirades and rallies are part of his con to enact pro-corporate policies to satisfy his rich corporate donors and screw us all. Furthermore, he’s basically the epitome of America’s worst and bring out the worst in his acolytes. To have him in the White House is not okay.

But given that Donald Trump’s approval rating is sky high among Republicans who stand by him despite all the horrible stuff he’s done, I’m not so sure anymore. And given that Republicans have violated democratic norms to remain in power, I’m not sure if they believe in the rule of law and democracy. Or at least the rule of law and democracy when it’s not advantageous for them. Nonetheless, since Trump has assumed de facto leadership of the Republican Party, he’s somehow made the party into his own image and has led his supporters down to the point of no return. The fact Republicans are willing to excuse Trump’s loathsome conduct and actions greatly disgusts me. Because like I said before, supporting Trump in any capacity means accepting the unacceptable, defending the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, tolerating the intolerable, denying the undeniable, and justifying the unjustifiable.

No more did my mantra ring true than on Sunday, July 14, 2019 when Donald Trump issued a series of racist tweets claiming that 4 Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He then tweeted, “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” This is wrong in so many ways. For one, 3 of the 4 of these congresswomen were born in the US. One of them being New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s spent most of her life not far from where Trump lives. While Somali refugee and Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar came to this country at 6 and has been a US citizen for most of her adult life. Second, they’re Congresswomen so telling people how our government should be run is like a cop telling people how police should behave. Because that’ basically part of their job. Third, there’s nothing wrong with discussing what’s wrong with our country and what we can do better. Still, we can dissect from these tweets that Trump really doesn’t like having people of color in elected offices who don’t kneel down and kiss his ass.

Donald Trump’s attacks on these congresswomen extended into Monday, July 15, claiming that they owe the country an apology for their “horrible & disgusting actions.” Since what did these women do to him that was so bad besides having darker skin and hurting his ego? During a press conference later that day, Trump claimed he wasn’t concerned about backlash against his racist remarks or his use of a long-known racist trope saying, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say, ‘Leave forever.’ It says, ‘Leave if you want.’” Just because many people may agree with what you say, doesn’t mean you need not be concerned. This is especially the case when some of those people wear white hooded robes and red swastika armbands, like many Trump supporters do.

Though Donald Trump’s ire targets have mostly gone unnamed, but the remarks clearly address Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar. All are freshman progressive women of color who’ve attracted considerable attention for their outspoken critiques of DC politics in general and Trump, in particular. Called “the squad” by reporters, some of the women have been locked in a fight with Democratic leadership on a recent border bill and the Democratic Party’s direction. But Trump’s comments have shifted attention away from that fight and to his longstanding racism and frequent attacks on high-profile people of color, which has not only drawn criticism from Democratic Party officials and foreign political leaders. While Trump’s remarks fit a broader pattern of attacks against his critics of color, with him regularly questioning their patriotism in an effort to undercut their arguments. Ultimately in his worldview and approach to the presidency, Trump sees his ability to inflame cultural and racial tensions as a political strength.

The media’s mixed reactions to these inflammatory remarks raised questions, with some outlets hesitating (namely Fox News) to call Donald Trump’s comments or actions as racist. Despite that their blatantly obvious. But even if some in the media don’t want to clearly acknowledge it (cough, cough, Fox News, talking to you), Trump has long positioned American identity as something only whites naturally inherit and conditionally granted to other races. While he often wields patriotism and citizenship as a cudgel he uses against people of color. His comments on the Democratic congresswomen show he’ll keep relying on this argument.

As I said, Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar is a Somali refugee, a naturalized US citizen, and one of the few Muslim women in Congress. Elected in 2018 by an overwhelming majority, Omar’s story embodies elements of the American Dream. Naturally, Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized her. Particularly, he’s framed her critiques (especially of Israel), as nothing more than open hate for the country and its main ally, the United States. As Trump said in the spring, “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel,” adding that he believed Omar has been, “extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.” Soon after, Omar reported receiving death threats. That week, Trump signaled out Omar again, claiming she “hates Jews” and has praised al-Qaeda. Except she doesn’t hate Jews and never praised al-Qaeda at all. She may have said something that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, but she apologized for it. Nonetheless, the criticism closely mirrors Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent critique that Omar is “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.” The other women included in Trump’s tirade have also faced heavy criticism during their time in Congress. In addition to Ilhan Omar, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib “have been three of the most scrutinized, most frequently attacked new members of Congress,” according to Vox.

Two days later at an evening rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Donald Trump’s fans expressed their full-throated agreement with their cult leader. Trump himself spent on an extended Ilhan Omar rant:

“Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in our people’s affairs. … Omar laughed that Americans speak of al-Qaeda in a menacing tone and remarked that ‘you don’t say America with this intensity. You say al-Qaeda makes you proud. Al-Qaeda makes you proud! You don’t speak that way about America.’ And at a press conference just this week, when asked whether she supported al-Qaeda — that’s our enemy, that’s our enemy, they are a very serious problem that we take care of, but they always seem to come along somewhere — she refused to answer. … [S]he looks down on contempt on the hard-working Americans, saying ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country. And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic attacks.”

Except that none of that is true. Ilhan Omar didn’t do any of that. Furthermore, if there is anyone who looks down hard-working Americans with contempt, it’s Donald Trump given what I know about his shady business practices. Still, it’s the “anti-Semitic attacks” that promoted chants of “send her back.” Trump basked in them. Soon after, he told the audience, “if they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” This moment arguably represents a new low in Trump’s long history of racial demagoguery. That Trump’s fans are fully on board with his racist remarks is no surprise. Polling conducted following Trump’s racist attacks among Republicans rose after he made them. But the moment indicates how ugly the 2020 campaign might get, especially amid reports that Trump thinks making racist attacks on Democratic women of color as a way of driving up turnout among white grievance voters, and thus a key part of his reelection strategy. Furthermore, Trump believes painting the Squad as representative (which isn’t the case), will effectively prove the Democrats are unhinged Socialists bent on destroying America.

Yet, that chant demanding that a naturalized citizen and congresswoman be “sent back” to her native Somalia booming through thousands in the audience, disturbingly illustrates the particular fusion of racism and authoritarianism that defines Trumpism as a political movement. “Send her back” isn’t the first such chant to break out at a Donald Trump event. We remember “lock her up” when Trump supporters demanded jailing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Well, “lock her up” and “send her back” together demonstrate beyond doubt that the Trumpian view sees the law is a vehicle for punishing political enemies and minority groups. In the Trumpian imagination, political opponents aren’t mere rivals but existential threats aligned with anti-American elements (like immigrants and minority groups) in a bid to undermine everything they love and cherish about America. As such, Hillary Clinton and Ilhan Omar shouldn’t merely be electorally defeated, they must be crushed. If that means abusing the state’s power and twisting the law, so be it. Cross-bred with bigotry, the authoritarian impulse has helped birthed some of the Trump era’s worst excesses from the Muslim ban to family separations to the failed attempt to circumvent the courts and place a citizenship question on the census. The Republican Party has permitted and made such behavior possible. While its leaders either willingly tolerate Donald Trump’s white revanchism in exchange for tax cuts and Brett Kavanaugh, or worse, actively agree with it. Nonetheless, Trump’s attack on Omar appears to be a preview of his broader 2020 strategy and there’s every reason to expect things to get worse.

According to The Atlantic, Donald Trump’s “go back to your country” argument continues a line of racist attacks that people of color have faced for generations. As Adam Serwer writes, “When Trump told these women to ‘go back,’ he was not making a factual claim about where they were born. He was stating his ideological belief that American citizenship is fundamentally racial, that only white people can truly be citizens, and that people of color, immigrants in particular, are only conditionally American.” The comments also continue a pattern since the Department of Justice indicted him and his father for racist housing discrimination in the 1970s, Trump’s racism has been well documented for decades. One notable example was when he called for the executions of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenage boys who were wrongly convicted (and later exonerated) for raping a white female jogger. Trump has still not apologized for a decade after the men’s exoneration. The closest analogue to Trump’s most recent remarks can be seen in his support for birtherism, the completely baseless conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen. It was one of Trump’s most potent efforts to tie race to citizenship and national identity, with Trump arguing that the nation’s first black president wasn’t simply just outside of the American political mainstream, but stood outside American national identity entirely. Since then, Trump has honed his argument and deployed it against different groups. At his 2015 presidential campaign launch, he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” In 2016, he claimed US-born athlete and then-49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him” rather than protest police violence during NFL games. From a black college basketball dad to a grieving Muslim Gold Star family, Trump has painted his critics of color as un-American instigators.

Donald Trump has often and openly argued that that he views whiteness as a core feature of American identity. While his theory of nationalism’s automatically applied to white Americans, those with other identities like African Americans, Latinos, Muslim Americans, and recent immigrants have been quickly ostracized and treated as “other.” During his presidency, Trump has only further refined his white supremacist message. When a person of color criticizes him, Trump often presents them as ungrateful, disrespectful, and most importantly for his argument, unpatriotic. Whether it’s San Juan’s mayor, black women, or kneeling NFL players, and anyone in between, Trump has argued that their criticism is tantamount to openly hating America and its ideals. Despite that his critics of color don’t hate America while their criticism of Trump is deeply based on US ideals and how our country often fails to fulfill them. Rather, their criticism of Trump isn’t about hating America but wanting it to be a better place. They also just hate Trump and how he’s an anathema to these American ideals, especially when spouting his white supremacist rhetoric.

Alongside these arguments, Donald Trump has pursued policies that have punished many of these same groups. His 2018 tirade of “shithole countries” (a reference to places like Haiti and several countries in Africa), came as he fought to limit diversity visas and worked to end temporary protected status for several countries. While at the same time, Trump has conversely praised immigrants from predominantly white countries like Norway and previously called an all-white but mostly non-American NHL team “incredible patriots.” Trump’s attacks the perceived lack of patriotism of kneeling NFL players’ protest against police violence followed the Justice Department’s move away from enforcing police reform agreements with agencies that have a history of police misconduct. More recently, Trump’s attacks on 4 congresswomen came as these brave lawmakers criticized the US border migrant detention camps’ brutal conditions and as Trump ended his fight to get a citizenship question onto the 2020 US Census.

In doing so, Donald Trump has amplified a practice of using racist attacks on people of color that’s long occurred in American politics. But unlike in prior years when politicians would subtly deploy these attacks via dog whistles, Trump has largely abandoned coded language in favor of overt taunting, even as he argues using policy targeting specific minority groups as not racist or discriminatory. Despite being obviously otherwise. As the New York Times writes, “Much of Trump’s agenda rests on this idea that the boundaries of rights and citizenship are conterminous with race. Those within Trump’s boundaries enjoy the fruits of American freedom, while those outside them face the full force of American repression.”

In many ways, Donald Trump has taken advantage of America’s inability to discuss race. Even now after years of arguments that we really should, some national media outlets (like Fox News) and politicians keep hesitating to identify Trump’s remarks and actions as racist. When NYT’s Jemelle Bouie openly criticized Trump’s tweets as racist, earlier Times articles suggests his recent tweets played into a “racial fire” or used other euphemisms. Other outlets like CBS and NPR called Trump’s remarks “incendiary” or “racially charged.” When outlets called Trump’s comments racist, many hedged by relying on Democrats’ quotes criticizing him. Figures like Fox News’ Brit Hume called Trump’s remarks “nativist” and “xenophobic,” but failed to meet racism’s definition.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians looked away from the issue entirely. Much of this is due to a deeper problem on how America discusses racism. Too many Americans (particularly whites) rely on a racism definition focuses on individual acts intentionally committed by “bad” people. And it relies on a kind of racism that white people can clearly identify when they see or hear. Since I’m a Catholic leftist and a history major, I have no problem identifying Trump’s remarks as racism on this definition alone. Since Trump is a despicable person who’s used racist remarks to stir his political base or deflect attention from other scandals. And he’s done very racist things in the past that I can see as intentional. Yet, such narrow obscures the ways racism can occur even without slurs or obvious racist remarks as seen in Gentlemen’s Agreement. But I also think that many white people don’t see Trump’s comments as racist is that they don’t see him as that kind of person or agree with his comments. And I think politicians and the media pander to that audience.

Yet, it also helps explain how so many reporters and politicians can witness Donald Trump’s racism on full display and still not identify it as such. Analyzing Trump’s racist tweet coverage, the Columbian Journalism Review noted how many older outlets still struggle to see the term “racism” as a factual descriptor, adding there’s still “a residual, old-school squeamishness in newsrooms around charged words that—before Trump broke all the rules, at least—smacked of opinion or activism.” And it’s hard to separate this deep-seated belief from the media’s constant struggle to attract and maintain reporters of color. But this understanding of racism shows why some outlets and writers find it difficult to respond to Trump’s openly racist comments. In recent times, racism has come to be treated as an epithet among white people, with many arguing to be called racist is as bad as experiencing racism itself. Except that it’s not. That can really harm our ability to grasp the impact of Trump’s comments. But it also reflects a strong cognitive dissonance, a divide between what America currently looks like for marginalized communities and what America has long professed to be for all its citizens. As Adam Sewer explained, the recent discussion of racism “is not, fundamentally, a battle over facts, but a clash of values.” The question is how this clash will be understood moving forward.

Democracy depends and survives on the law’s fair and neutral application. You can’t arrest people without good reason to believe they broke the law. And you especially can’t arrest them simply because they’re a political rival. In theory, both major American parties are committed to this idea as it’s one of those “norms” you always hear about. But since Donald Trump’s rise, it’s become increasingly clear that Republicans and their voters are more willing to call for bending the system’s power to partisan, racialized ends. “Lock her up” isn’t merely an expression of a false belief that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was criminal (it wasn’t, save maybe the overblown media coverage on it). “Send her back” isn’t the result of a bullshit theory that Ilhan Omar isn’t legally an American citizen (she is). Instead, these chants are meant to signal that Clinton and Omar are threats to the body politic who need to be purged if it’s to be preserved.

Donald Trump, along with numerous Republicans and Fox News hosts, have made this an explicit rhetoric feature. At a Florida June rally, Trump cast the Democratic Party as a threat to his supporters’ very lives. He thundered, “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” When you believe in this bullshit, there’s no longer any need to adhere to the liberal theory of law as a neutral protector of freedoms. In it’s place, you get the “send her back” legal theory: the notion that the purpose of holding legal power is defeating your enemies, an anti-democratic theory that Trump has encouraged in his rallies for years. Trump originated these chants when he openly mused about prosecuting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign and has recently spent some time telling Ilhan Omar to go back to “her” country. The broader Republican apparatus including elected officials and their conservative media allies, didn’t condemn the chants or the so-called “presidential” statements encouraging them. Quite the opposite, in fact. For instance, future Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn led the crowd in a “lock her up” litany at the 2016 Republican National Convention. And this is not okay.

One thing we learned from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is that Donald Trump’s desire to prosecute Hillary Clinton isn’t an idle threat. Mueller’s report documents 3 separate occasions when Trump attempted to strong-arm then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions into launching a criminal investigation into the former Secretary of State. In March 2019, he openly hoped that current Attorney General William Barr would “do what’s fair” when it comes to going after the woman he routinely called Crooked Hillary. A deeply authoritarian attitude has taken root it one of our major parties. It manifests not just in words but also in actions. And that is not okay.

The Trump movement’s authoritarianism style can’t be fully understood without taking its racism into account. Donald Trump has labeled Mexicans “rapists,” invented stories about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11 (they weren’t), and said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville. His administration has attempted to ban large numbers of Muslims from entering the country, held Latino migrant children in squalid detention centers, and gutted the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Study after study has found that Trump’s most loyal voters are defined by unusually high levels of racial resentment and animus. According to Axios, Trump himself seems to think that his 2020 reelection depends on rallying racist voters to his cause with outbursts like the one targeting Ilhan Omar. Racism powers authoritarianism. It helps identify who the enemies are, determines which people need to be crushed by Donald Trump and his Republican allies. The authoritarian idea of using the law to punish political enemies and the racist idea that a rising nonwhite population threatens something essential about America (like whiteness) have together been at Trumpism’s core almost since the get-go. And this is not okay.

Since Ilhan Omar is a black immigrant, Muslim woman, and Democratic Congresswoman is such a movement’s perfect target. Of course, she’s a naturalized citizen so Donald Trump can’t just order ICE to “send her back.” But the call for her deportation has a symbolic purpose as a rallying cry for those who feel Trump ought to be targeting people like her for legal sanction. In other words, it’s an extreme expression of fear of losing white America’s dominant status and a willingness to consider even authoritarian means to slow or reverse this decline. The campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States, made manifest almost immediately after Donald Trump took office via the “travel ban” executive order. This initial policy was so broadly worded that the seemed to bar green card holders from the travel ban countries from reentering if they happen to be out of it. This is a moral absurdity: How could it be possibly fair to bar people who’ve already had permission to reside long-term in the US? But it makes sense if you view the law’s purpose through a “send her back” lens. According to that, the purpose of the legal tools isn’t to be fair but to hurt the right people like Muslims. And this is not okay.

Donald Trump had to quickly back down from the ban’s application to green card holders, and many of the other of the first travel ban’s most sweeping parts were struck down in court. But the pattern that the law be pushed and twisted as far as possible to exclude nonwhite individuals from the physical nation or its political life was set. That pattern has grown to include the Trump administration separating children from their parents at the border and making it difficult to seek asylum despite America’s commitments to openness under international and domestic laws. It explains why Trump attempted to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a question to suppress the number of immigrants counted in it. When the courts told him he couldn’t, he briefly tried to do it anyway. It remains to be seen what further actions Trump will take along these lines up until the 2020 election and the long-term consequences of such actions for American democracy. But the fact is that Trump appears to see the “send her back” chanters as his base, and the GOP is perfectly willing to let him court them because they care more about beating Democrats. There’s no reason to believe that any of this will end well. And this is not okay.

However, we must accept the fact that Donald Trump will eventually screw the “send her back” crowd, too if he hasn’t already. Sure loud racist chants may be music to Trump’s ears but money from corporate donors speak louder. Trump may cast himself as a champion of the typical white American Christian who’s beset by various alien forces by politically correct allies. But if you follow Trump’s business career, you’ll realize he’s actually a scam artist who profits from his fans’ misplaced trust even as president. From Paul Ryan’s speakership to Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as White House Chief of Staff and Federalist Society judiciary domination, a major agenda of the Trump administration and the Republican Party is to completely neuter or dismantle government institutions that are supposed to check the wealthy and powerful’s ability to run roughshod over the rest of us. Under Trump, polluters can pollute more, scammers can scam more, bankers can go back to running the risks that blew up the global economy, and no legislation that would impair the rich and powerful’s privileges can pass. Beyond acts of formal deregulation, Trump’s scaled back on enforcing existing laws so much that law firms seem to be panicking about the possibility that some clients won’t bother to hire them anymore.

No less than Donald Trump’s racism, this plutocratic agenda is an absolute disaster for America’s immigrants and communities of color who are generally lower-income and more vulnerable to corporate abuses and pollution than more privileged people. But critically, it’s also an absolute disaster for the vast majority of white people, too. There are few people who benefit from a combination of more pollution and less economic competition. And there’s no way for the tax cutting to balance that out unless you’re part of that tiny minority of the public whose income is mostly derived from stock ownership. Trump’s politics of racial division aren’t particularly popular. But it’s still true that framing Trump as a symbol of white privilege is almost certainly more favorable to him than framing him as a guy whose governance has concrete and material implications for Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. Racism’s function in American politics has always been in part to serve as a kind of scam. The Jim Crow South had the lowest standards of living for white people of any American region alongside even lower standards for African Americans. Trump is nothing more than a connoisseur of cons and scams. And that is not okay.

The Border Concentration Camps

At any given time, for the past several weeks, the US Border Patrol has held more than 2,000 children in custody without their parents. Legally, border agents aren’t supposed to hold them for more than 3 days before being sent to the Department of Health and Human Services as they’re responsible for finding their closest US relative to house them while their immigration are adjudicated. However, in practice, Border Patrol’s holding the kids for days, sometimes weeks, in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes. And the children go for days without showering, overcrowded and undercared for.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that asylum seekers detained in ICE-overseen private detention centers could buy toothpaste in the commissary for $11.02 per 4 oz tube of Sensodyne. Bob Barker doesn’t sell Sensodyne but does sell Colgate Cavity Protection by the case at $2.32 per 4 oz tube, and an off-brand sensitive toothpaste for even less. On the $1/day that detainees at Adelanto Detention Facility can earn for working menial jobs, the decision comes down to maintaining hygiene verses managing hunger. As Ramen is only 58 cents, over half a day’s labor at Adelanto. Meanwhile, employees of at least one company doing business with Border Patrol are speaking out against their CEO. In late June, 550 Wayfair employees staged walkouts outside company headquarters in San Francisco and Boston after reports of a $200,000 order including kids’ beds for a contractor known to work for detention centers emerged.

Low wages for undesirable work drive the US prison economy. Inmates serving long sentences at federal, state, and for-profit prisons hope to save enough money to call loved ones, send and receive email, hire lawyers and contribute to their defense, and send money home, let alone take basic care of themselves. As Racked reported in 2016: “But prison laborers are not commensurately paid. They’re not protected by OSHA. They’re forbidden from organizing into unions. They’re not eligible for workers’ comp. Inmates can be ordered to work for nothing. None of this is illegal.” Rules on what personal care items detention centers must give detainees are few and far between. In June, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian argued in court that the law’s “safe and sanitary” stipulation doesn’t mandate that the government provide detained children soap and toothbrushes, a position baffling judged as well as anyone who believes in what constitutes as basic hygiene. According to the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO), touted as “your primary resource dedicated to serving those that operate jails, detention and correctional facilities,” soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and “cleaning agent,” comb, sanitary napkins or tampons, and lotion (if medically needed) “should be provided at no cost to inmates.” But the NIJO states these are only guidelines since laws and statutes are left to the states and jails’ jurisdiction.

Because detention centers don’t provide immigrants with their basic needs, many with the chance to work have no choice but to. As Reuters puts it, “Detainees are challenging what they say is an oppressive business model in which the companies deprive them of essentials to force them to work for sub-minimum wages, money that is soon recaptured in the firms’ own commissaries.” And yet, many detention centers are meant to be temporary facilities despite violating that promise by holding kids for months rather than days. As such, many don’t create opportunities to make income, however minimal. Though there’s at least one unofficial route for detainees. Although attorney Warren Binford told the New Yorker of a teen at Clint tasked by Border Patrol with maintaining order among the other kids as “an unofficial guard” in exchange for more food.

In late June, conditions at a detention facility in Clint, Texas became public. When investigators checked on US obligations under the Flores Agreement governing the care of immigrant children in US custody, they were so horrified that they turned whistleblower and told the Associated Press what they saw. Their stories disturbed the American public into national outrage that the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol resigned, despite officials’ denial. But like in most situations, the problem goes beyond one official or facility. The story gained even wider traction after New York US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reference to the detention facilities as “concentration camps” and the ensuing debate over whether that term was appropriate (it is).

On Monday, June 24, 2019, officials confirmed that all 350 of the Clint facility’s children would be moved to other facilities by the next day. But about 250 have been placed with HHS and the rest were being sent to other Border Patrol facilities. At least that was supposed to be the case. However, on Tuesday morning, a Customs and Border Protection official told a New York Times reporter on a press call that about 100 children are currently being housed in Clint. Of course, that just illustrates the Trump administration’s hectic improvised response to the current border influx. But it’s a much, much bigger problem than what’s going on at a single facility. Since the problems investigators identified at Clint linger elsewhere as well.

One legal investigator from the Clint team visited the El Paso facility where many of the Clint children were sent to. Called “Border Patrol Station 1,” that investigator told Vox that conditions there were just as bad as in Clint and with the same problems like insufficient food, no toothbrushes, and aggressive guards. Thus, the problem isn’t the Clint facility, but the hastily-cobbled-together facility system Customs and Border Protection has thrown together during the last several months, as an unprecedented number of families and children coming into the US without papers has overwhelmed a system designed to deport single adults. Thus, it’s apparent that even an administration acting with the children’s best interests in mind at every turn would be scrambling right now. But policymakers are split on how much the current crisis is simply a resource problem Congress could help by sending more and how much is deliberate mistreatment or neglect from an administration or neglect from an administration that doesn’t deserve any money or trust. But come on, it’s most likely the latter given how Donald Trump and his swamp cronies peddle xenophobia and racism to his supporters.

According statistics sent to congressional staff in late June, between May 14 and June 13, 2019, US Border facilities housed 14,000 people a day, sometimes as many as 18,000. With most recent tally as of June 13, 16,000. Most of these were single adults, or parents with kids. But consistently, over that month, around 2,000 were “unaccompanied alien children,” or children held without adult relatives in separate facilities. In an early June press call, a CBP official said, referring to the total number of people in custody, “when we have 4,000 in custody, we consider that high. 6,000 is a crisis.”

Traditionally, an “unaccompanied alien child” refers to a kid who comes to the US without a parent or guardian. Increasingly as lawyers have reported and as investigators who’ve have interviewed detained children in late June, kids have been coming to the US with a non-parent relative and being separated. And because the law defines “unaccompanied” without a parent or legal guardian here, border agents can’t keep a child with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling over 18. Though advocates have also raised concerns that border agents are separating relatives even when there’s evidence of legal guardianship. Under US law terms (especially after the 1997 Flores Settlement), immigration agents are obligated to get immigrant children out of immigration detention as quickly as possible, and in the least restrictive conditions possible while there. Save for emergencies, children aren’t supposed to be in Border Patrol custody for more than 3 days before being sent to HHS, which is responsible for finding and vetting a sponsor to house a child (usually a relative in the US). However, this isn’t happening. Attorneys, doctors, and even human rights observers have consistently reported are being detained by Border Patrol for days or longer before HHS picks them up. In the meantime, they’re being kept in facilities to hold adults for that time period, or in improvised “soft-sided” facilities that resemble (and are commonly referred to as) tents. Put the kids in blue Civil War uniforms and it’s a kiddie version of Andersonville (though that may be exaggerated).

Since late 2018, US immigration agents have been overwhelmed by the number of families coming across the border. Since the US immigration system was built to quickly arrest and deport single Mexican adults crossing the southern border to work, doesn’t have the capacity to deal with tens of thousands of families (mostly from Central America) who are often seeking asylum in the US. The length of time migrants are spending in Border Patrol custody (and the conditions there) have attracted some alarm before. In April, pictures of migrants held outside under an El Paso bridge, fenced in and sleeping on the ground, attracted outraged and led Border Patrol to stop holding migrants there. In May, the DHS Office of the Inspector General released an emergency report about dangerous adult overcrowding in 2 facilities: with 900 people being held in a place designed to hold 125.

The Clint reports broke when the Trump administration was already playing defense about its compliance with the Flores Settlement. While the administration’s working on a regulation that would supersede the agreement’s terms, which isn’t expected to be published in its final form until this fall and may well be held up in court. Anyway, in an earlier 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing about whether the administration needed to allow a court appointee monitor conditions for children in ICE and CBP custody, Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian told judges that kids don’t necessarily need towels or toothbrushes to be in “safe and sanitary” conditions in a clip that looked especially bad when the Clint stories came out showing children being denied just that.

As The Atlantic explains, Fabian’s cringeworthy “safe and sanitary” argument came from the Trump administration’s awkward stance taken on this litigation: in order to challenge the court appointment of a special monitor, arguing there’s a difference between a promise to keep kids in “safe and sanitary” conditions (which the government has agreed to for decades) and a guarantee of particular items like toothbrushes. The court was unimpressed and the stories about Clint and other facilities coming out in the ensuing days certainly bolstered the case that the Trump administration has either willingly violated agreement to keep kids safe and healthy (which is more likely), or has been unable to keep it. Perhaps a mix of both.

What problems investigators identified at Clint such as too many people, not enough food, no toothbrushes, weren’t inherent to that facility. They were indications of an overloaded or neglected system. And it’s already clear these problems go beyond Clint. ABC News obtained testimony from a doctor visiting another Texas facility in Ursula and witnessed, “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” She claimed the conditions were so bad they were, “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” The children are now being sent from Clint to a facility that’s just as bad. According to Human Rights Watch, Clara Long who was the only member of the Clint investigative team who visited another center in El Paso known as “Border Patrol Station 1,” was mostly being used as a transit center where migrants were supposed stay for a few hours before being transferred. But she spoke to one family who’d been held in a cell there for 6 days and who voiced the same concerns that the kids in the Clint facility did. Long said the mother was ashamed for not having clean teeth. Since like Clint, the El Paso facility wasn’t providing enough toothbrushes that, “when she was talking to you she would put her hand up in front of her mouth and wouldn’t take it down.” The teenage son said he was afraid of the guards. Because when he’d get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, a guard had shoved him back into his cell and slammed the door on him. For 2 nights, the family had to sleep on the cold floor without blankets.

Most of the kids who were at the Clint facility the investigators visited in late June were set to be sent to HHS custody by the next day. But questions remain about what’s happening to the other 1,750 or so children in Border Patrol custody. That is, if levels remained static since mid-June and why the government could only place 250 children over 5 days with the agency that’s supposed to take responsibility for all kids within 72 hours. It’s not clear where the bureaucratic breakdown really is and whether it’s due to resource constraints or choices about how resources are used. The Trump administration has definitely made the choice to keep single adults in detention, even if it can release them. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told Congress that, “if we lose (the ability to keep and deport) single adults, we lose the border.” This raises questions whether overcrowding in adult facilities could be avoided.

But it doesn’t address the unaccompanied children issue who simply can’t be released with an immigration court notice. While kids with parents in the US can be theoretically placed with them, the government is supposed to vet potential sponsors to make sure it’s not placing kids with traffickers. But that’s HHS’ job and the vetting doesn’t start until the kids are released from Border Patrol custody. Observers and policymakers agree that HHS simply doesn’t have the capacity to take migrant kids in. One Democratic Capitol Hill staffer compared it to a “jigsaw puzzle”: Not only are there only so many spaces available, but the facilities available might not match the child’s particular needs. For instance, you can’t put a baby in an HHS shelter for teens. But another Hill staffer that HHS claims it never refused a transfer for space reasons, muddying the waters.

Then there’s the question whether CBP is really doing all it can to care for kids in their custody. One Clint observer told the New Yorker stories of cruelty from some guards, indicating they were deliberately punishing children for the sin of coming to the US without papers. But she also claimed of many sympathetic guards and told the observers that the children shouldn’t be in their custody, implying they were doing the best they could and simply didn’t have the resources to do more. Advocates also said they’ve tried donating supplies to Border Patrol facilities but had their contributions rejected. As have other Texas citizens who’ve done the same. It’s not clear if Border Patrol decided this or if a 19th century state legal complication bans outside donations. Former CBP policy adviser Theresa Brown told the Texas Tribune, “It’s partially a constitutional thing about Congress controlling the purse and only being able to spend money that Congress gives, but it’s also about ethics.” Ethics? For God’s sake, refusing donations because of an outdated law doesn’t even hold water for me.

On Monday, July 2, 2019, a congressional Democrat delegation visited 2 overcrowded detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas. They were met by children and adults denied access to safe drinking water, kept in cold windowless warehouses, and were separated from their families. These were immigrants were hungry, scared, and hungry. One woman handed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a clear plastic pamphlet of Meridian shampoo that the congresswoman tweeted, “[S]he told me that this is all they give women to wash their entire body. Nothing else. Some women’s hair was falling out. Others had gone 15 days without taking a shower.” Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues’ accounts accompany new detailed reports on the inhumane conditions pervading inside Border Patrol facilities, and about many Border Patrol agents’ online behavior, given that they police the grounds. While the law requires that detention centers housing children to be safe and sanitary. However, lawyer and child advocate Warren Binford told the New Yorker “And there is nothing sanitary about the conditions they are in. And they are not safe, because they are getting sick.” With reporting from the New York Times on “the stench” permeating the Clint detention center, an odor belying stained clothes, diaperless toddlers, and babies caked in dirt, questions emerge on the lack of necessary health and hygiene toiletries. The Meridian shampoo packet sheds light on what little the detainees have access to and more critically, what they don’t.

According to its website, “Meridian Clear Shampoo Packet, .35 Oz” hails from Bob Barker “America’s Leading Detention Supplier.” Using the Federal Procurement Data System’s records, Vice reported that US Customs and Border Protection contacted Bob Barker in at least 10 instances between 2013 and 2017. Line items for “Personal Toiletry Articles” are listed at $3,177.93 in 2013 and $0 in 2017. Among Meridian’s ingredients: Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, 2 preservatives that nonprofit Environmental Working Group report are associated with allergic and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Lab studies on former indicate that the chemical may also be neurotoxic or, carry potential damage developing nervous systems. Bob Barker sells Meridian Clear Shampoo at $94.07 at 1000 packets, among the supplier’s cheaper offerings. Bob Barker also sells a lot of other products on its Personal Care & Hygiene, including body washes from Olay, Suave, and Dove along with bar soap from Dial, Zest, and Bob Barker-branded antibacterial. Oh, and they sell toothbrushes and toothpaste, 2 of the items that the New York Times reported aren’t distributed to the kids held at Clint.

Whether or not Border Patrol’s hands are tied in supplying detainees with basic care amenities, a secret Facebook group’s existence rife with hate speech indicates that some agents don’t have migrants’ health and survival in mind. On July 1, 2019, ProPublica released a report on a secret Border Patrol Facebook group around 9500 members strong, almost half of the country’s 20,000 Border Patrol agents. And as Ocasio-Cortez points out, where current and former agents make light of migrants’ deaths as well joked about inciting violence against Democratic congresspeople during their July 1 facilities tour, and questioned the authenticity of an Associated Press photo depicting a father and his 23-month old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande after Border Patrol denied them immediate US entry in their asylum case. Post comments range from racist (“throw a […] burrito at these bitches”), to sexually violent (“Fuck the hoes,” not to mention a lewd photoshop of Ocasio-Cortez), and apathetic (“If he dies, he dies”). In response, US Border Patrol chief Carla Provost tweeted, “These posts are completely inappropriate & contrary to the honor & integrity I see—& expect—from our agents. Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

However, it’s not just hygiene and nutritional needs that aren’t being met. The abhorrent living conditions seen in these reports show that some detained migrants find it nearly impossible to sleep. Overhead fluorescent lights remain on 24/7, intense cold temperatures blast the warehouse, kids and adults lie on concrete floors, sometimes under aluminum blankets, sometimes not. Without access to clean drinking water, Border Patrol agents have directed Clint women detainees to drink from the toilet. The lack of clean water to drink, wash hands, and bathe along with much needed medicine, combined with overcrowded quarters and poor nutrition have resulted in flu and lice outbreaks. Physician Dolly Lucio Sevier’s medical review of a McAllen facility in Texas, as ABC News reported, declared the conditions “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” In May, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl died at the McAllen facility from flu. And as of June 2019, 2 dozen detainees have died in ICE custody since Donald Trump took office.

In anecdotal reports, Border Patrol agents appears to have made certain health-related products available as needed. But as Warren Binford reports in one New Yorker story, the lice shampoo and 2 lice combs allotted to a group of 25 kids at Clint came at a great cost. “And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb.” A 2007 Clinical Infectious Diseases article on jail and prison infections found that inmates pose a high risk of catching any number of diseases, including airborne viruses and treatment resistant staph infections. Jails and prisons weren’t designed “to minimize the transmission of disease or to efficiently deliver health care,” as California Correctional Health Care Services chief Joseph Bick wrote. “The probability of transmission of potentially pathogenic organisms is increased by crowding, delays in medical evaluation and treatment, rationed access to soap, water, and clean laundry” among other factors. Bick then adds, “the abrupt transfer of inmates from one location to another further complicates the diagnosis of infection, interruption of transmission, recognition of an outbreak, performance of a contact investigation, and eradication of disease.”

Congress is currently considering a package to give the Trump administration billions more dollars to deal with migrants coming into the US. To Democratic leadership, the solution to poor conditions in custody is to throw more money to improve them. They emphasize the funding’s bulk will go to HHS to increase capacity for migrant kids and that ICE and CBP funding will be strictly limited to humanitarian use. But some progressives, led in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decry that giving any money to immigration enforcement agencies right now endorses the current state of affairs. The not-one-more-dime camp, in part, is taking a bright-line stance against child detention. However, in part, they’re demonstrating a lack of trust in the Trump administration to adhere to any law or condition. And they assume that any money for migrant kid transit will, in some way or another, encourage ICE to detain more families and arrest more immigrants in the United States.

On the other hand, the “smart money” camp firmly believes that without the funds to improve detention conditions, things will only get worse. That’s especially relevant in the case of kids “unaccompanied” who have to remain in custody until a sponsor is found. The past couple weeks have demonstrated that children are extremely vulnerable and that much of the American public wants their situation change. It’s not clear how.