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.

Can We Just Impeach the Motherf**ker Already?

During an ABC News interview on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, Donald Trump told George Stephanopoulos that he’d likely accept “information” offered by a foreign government for use in his reelection campaign. He said, “I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” He then continued that if he thought there’s “something wrong” with the offer, he’d “maybe” tell the FBI. But Trump nevertheless asserted that accepting “oppo research” from a foreign government was perfectly fine, telling Stephanopoulos, “They have information, I think I’d take it.”

These recent remarks have obviously caused intense controversy and reopened wounds from the Mueller investigation and the 2016 campaign. In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had just finished a 2-year investigation into this very thing. We have to recall that in mid-2016, Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton allegedly from the Russian government. Mueller investigated Trump Jr.’s conduct for a potential campaign finance violation but decided not to charge him. Since word about it got out in 2017, Trump has continued defending his son’s actions, but his assertion poses legal and ethical issues. It’s also interpreted as yet another sign that Trump doesn’t seem particularly alarmed with broader Russian effort to help him win in 2016, including by hacking and leaking Democrats’ emails. Trump’s latest comments appeared to go too far for some of his allies. Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade noted on June 13, “You don’t want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they will want something back. If anybody knows that, it’s the president. There is no free lunch. If someone wants information, then they’re going to want influence. I think the president’s got to clarify that.” South Carolina US Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign — either directly or indirectly — to inform the FBI and reject the offer.” While Texas US Senator Jon Cornyn stated that Trump’s remarks were “dangerous territory.” Of course, in a move of classic whataboutism, those 2 backtracked with arguing how Hillary’s campaign funding the Steele Dossier was equally problematic (it’s not) so they can continually kiss Trump’s.

Back in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. received an email from an acquaintance named Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who worked with the Agarlov family, an Azeri-Russian father-son pair of wealthy real estate developers who worked with the Trumps before. Goldstone claimed that Aras Agarlov had met with the “Crown prosecutor of Russia,” who had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He then added: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.” Trump Jr. enthusiastically responded, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” They soon agreed to set up a meeting in Trump Tower to discuss the information. However, the meeting appears to be a dud since the Mueller report doesn’t document any information being passed or any deal being struck. Nor did Mueller find any indication that the offered information had any connection to the Russian hackings. But Donald Trump Jr.’s eagerness to accept dirt allegedly coming from a foreign government was viewed as scandalous. Some experts even argued it’s criminal since it’s a campaign finance law violation to accept or even solicit “thing of value” from a foreign source.

So when George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about Donald Trump Jr.: “Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?” Obviously, the answer is yes. However, Trump said no, arguing that such a thing would be naïve, claiming, “Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.” What the fuck? Instead, he said that if something shady was going on, the correct response should be, “throw somebody out of your office,” since calling the FBI would be too much. When Stephanopoulos said that the FBI director (a guy Trump appointed, by the way) said that candidates should call them in such a situation, Trump answered: “The FBI director is wrong.” Then Stephanopoulos asked the question that would cause Trump so much trouble: “Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Trump gives the odd answer: “I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” Note that Trump used a benign country like Norway instead of responding to the specific question about Russia and China.

Pressed by Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump distinguished between foreign, “interference” and simple “information” and “oppo research,” which he claimed was perfectly fine to accept from a foreign source. Here’s his answer:

“It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. (mockingly) ‘Oh, let’s call the FBI.’

“The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

Note that Donald Trump left open the possibility that if he “thought there was something wrong,” he’d go to the FBI. And he doesn’t say it’s okay to accept hacked or stolen material from a foreign power. Still, the idea that a foreign government would offer damaging information on your opponent in an election year should be cause for suspicion, since it’s a glaring red flag it wants to interfere in your political process and want something from you in terms of policy. This is especially the case if the government in question is a known adversary like Russia. And that is why you go to the FBI.

Nonetheless, Trump probably thinks accepting dirt about a political opponent from a foreign power is totally fine even if the info material is hacked or stolen. After all, he publicly asked Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Not to mention, he privately asked Michael Flynn to try and get a hold on those emails. Still, the whole idea seems to be: Donald Trump Jr. did nothing wrong. And if a foreign government has information that would help Trump’s reelection campaign, Trump would be happy to hear it.

Obviously, people are appalled by Donald Trump’s remarks. Some argue it’s simply unethical to accept “opposition research” from a foreign government, particularly an adversary like Russia. Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub tweeted why it’s illegal for US political candidates to accept contributions from foreign governments, along with “I would not have thought I needed to say this.” She then went on to clarify: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. Election intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the founding of our nation.” Others pointed to the practical problem claiming that said foreign government might expect a reward. But there’s also an underlying legal issue on which Trump seems to be giving really bad advice. In other words, Trump doesn’t think it’s a problem for a campaign to accept “opposition research” because it’s just information. However, federal election law states that campaigns can’t accept foreign money contributions or any “thing of value” from foreign sources. Given that knowledge is power and information is very valuable resource in political campaigns, is opposition research like the “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” promised to Donald Trump Jr. a thing of value? Well, Trump Jr. seemed to think so that he was willing to go through all the trouble to set up a meeting at Trump Tower for it.

The Mueller report explored this very subject, and concluded: probably. The report reads, “There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a ‘thing of value.’” After all, knowledge is power. While political campaigns do tons of opposition research on a candidate in hopes for finding dirt on their opponents. As Robert Mueller writes:

“These authorities would support the view that candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.

“…Political campaigns frequently conduct and pay for opposition research. A foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value.”

But Robert Mueller doesn’t unreservedly endorse this view. Since he also expressed concerns about how this interpretation would fare in court:

“At the same time, no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance laws. Such an interpretation could… raise First Amendment questions. These questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts. It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.”

Nonetheless, leaving the issue aside, Robert Mueller didn’t end up bringing charges against the meeting’s participants for 2 separate reasons. First, is establishing willfulness. Did Donald Trump Jr. and the other meeting participants know they were breaking the law? As Mueller wrote, “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.” Secondly, Mueller said that Rob Goldstone’s promised information is difficult to value at above $2,000, the threshold for a criminal violation, writing “Although damaging opposition research is surely valuable to a campaign, it appears that the information ultimately delivered in the meeting was not valuable.” Besides, when Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting, he might’ve understood the information “as being of uncertain worth or reliability.” So Mueller most certainly didn’t say that accepting opposition research from a foreign government is very legal and very cool (quite the contrary). However, he chose not to bring charges in this particular instance. For reasons relating to specific evidence and the situation. In all, Mueller didn’t establish coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But his report makes it clear that the Trump campaign, “expected it would benefit from information stolen and released through Russian efforts” during the 2016 campaign.

Now the United States has laws to govern how political campaigns can and can’t operate. Many of these laws are meant to limit or in some cases, just illuminate the amount if outside money trying to influence political candidates. When it comes to foreign influence, the law is clear. As Weintraub wrote: it’s “illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” In most cases, the meaning’s quite obvious: foreign nationals can’t donate money to a presidential campaign. In addition, it’s also illegal for candidates to solicit or receive money contributions from foreign nationals. But while a “thing of value” is easy to define when it comes to money, services, or in-kind contributions, it’s a lot more complicated in the realm of information like opposition research or campaign dirt. Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang told Vox, “Campaign-relevant information from a foreign national definitely can be an illegal in-kind contribution, but it gets trickier when the information does not have obvious cash value and isn’t necessarily something that a campaign regularly needs to buy. The policy concern is that any valuable advice or tip from a foreign national could, at least in theory, become an illegal in-kind contribution.”

As part of his investigation into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Special Counsel Robert Mueller grappled with this question, where Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign members met with a Russian national who had promised them “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s effort to support Donald Trump. Mueller concluded in his report that, “candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.” But he added that the issue hasn’t been court-tested and could also have freedom of speech implications. Nonetheless, Mueller ultimately decided not to prosecute Trump Jr. over enigmas in regards to information value and criminal intent, making it hard to prove campaign finance violations beyond reasonable doubt. But experts are split mostly because as Loyola University law professor Jessica Levinson told Vox, “There’s a reason campaigns pay for opposition research: We literally value it. It can be much more useful and valuable than walking in with a check.”

Nevertheless, given the blowback, Donald Trump has tried to sort of walk back in a Fox & Friends interview on June 14. He told them, “You’d have to look at [the information being offered], because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad. But, of course, you give it to the FBI or report to the attorney general or somebody like that.” While it wasn’t an unequivocal condemnation, it’s renewed questions on what’s legal and what’s not in regards to foreign nationals in US campaigns. And to ensure that it’s illegal, House Democrats have promised to roll out a bill requiring campaigns to report any foreign government offering dirt on their opponents to the FBI. He also said that he doesn’t, “think anybody would present me with anything because they know how much I love the country.” But his comments during his interview with George Stephanopoulos suggest otherwise. Also, his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner also won’t say in an Axios interview the previous week whether he’d call the FBI if offered dirt again. So that refusal to be unequivocal about foreign interference undermines a thing of value for all Americans: the belief in the integrity of the vote.

Nearly 2 months after the Mueller report’s release, Congress remains at an impasse about what to do next. The special counsel didn’t end up charging any crimes related to collusion with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. He also chose not to say whether Donald Trump criminally obstructed justice. One House Democrat faction supports a beginning an impeachment inquiry against Trump, based on the conduct described in the report. Yet, the most of the caucus, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, doesn’t want to go down that road. Namely because Republicans control the US Senate and they’re all currently kissing Trump’s ass. So they’ll not only acquit him, but also frame the impeachment proceedings as a Democratic political stunt and a waste of everyone’s time.

Looming over all this is the question of what, exactly, this might mean in the 2020 election. Foreign powers could certainly interpret Donald Trump’s comments as a green light to send him whatever information he might find helpful. That said, Trump and foreign governments are all surely aware of what that might lead to: another lengthy investigation like Robert Mueller’s, which even though it didn’t end disastrously for Trump (unfortunately), surely wasn’t a pleasant experience. As Ellen Weintraub noted, America’s founders knew that when foreign governments seek to interfere in elections, it’s always to advance their interests, not ours. And that’s a bigger problem with Donald Trump’s apparent dismissal of the seriousness regarding foreigners reaching out to offer dirt to rival candidates. University of Miami law professor Frances Hill told Vox that while criminal law discussions are important, Trump’s “acting in a way that undermines national security.” As of 2019, just about the only thing Democrats and Republicans agree on the Mueller report is that Russia interfered in the 2016 Election. The intelligence community has said that Russia will certainly try again in 2020. While other countries like China and Iran will have learned 2016’s lessons and be eager to follow suit.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that even if Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t collude, he sees no problem with accepting dirt on opponents from foreign government, which should be reason enough to see Trump as a national security liability. Furthermore, the Trump campaign was willing to benefit from Russia’s election interference in 2016. Besides, not only does Trump not care that Russia’s actions in the 2016 election not only threatened American interests, sovereignty, and national security, but he’ll openly on Vladimir Putin to do it again. Still, let’s accept Trump’s “America First” nationalism for what it is: an exclusive nationalism centering on hating foreigners and difference. Or more accurately, xenophobia by another name. Any principled nationalist would see foreign efforts to interfere with a US election as an unacceptable infringement on American sovereignty and independence. Obviously, Trump isn’t principled nor does he value American independence. And if a president doesn’t have principles nor values independence should be impeached, especially if they pose a significant danger to the United States. Trump has. Furthermore, he’s personally profited off the presidency in flagrant violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution, especially since foreign dignitaries have stayed on his resorts and in his hotels on the taxpayer’s dime. So the question is not whether he should be impeached, but why he hasn’t been impeached now.

Our Unfair Tax System

The great Benjamin Franklin once said that there are few things inevitable in life than death and taxes. Nonetheless, like many things in American life, the tax system is also rigged. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the richest Americans pay less of their income in taxes than the rest of us. Not to mention, rich people are also known to take advantage of various loopholes in the tax code they take advantage of since we’ve all heard about the Panama Papers. But often we don’t realize how screwed up the American tax system could be, especially in recent years.

Over the past 8 years, budget cuts have crippled the IRS. As a result, enforcement staff has dropped by a third and audits have declined across the board. Now since everyone dislikes paying taxes, you may not see much of a problem with it. But when government agencies suffer from lack of funding long enough, you realize how much the American public needs them to adequately do their jobs. The IRS is no different. Without enough staff, it has slashed even basic functions. It has drastically pulled back from pursuing people who don’t bother filing their tax returns. Since 2011, new “non-filer” investigations dropped from 2.4 million to 362,000 in 2017. Since tracking down these people and businesses down, determining what they owe, and reviewing what they submit in response can be time consuming. According to the IRS inspector general, this results in at least $3 million in lost revenue each year. Collections from people who do file but don’t pay have also plummeted. Since tax obligations expire after 10 years should the IRS not pursue them. Before the budget cuts began, such expirations were relatively infrequent. In 2010, only $482 million in expirations lapsed. In 2017, the number was $8.3 billion, which is 17 times as much. While the IRS’s ability to investigate criminals has been stymied as well. All in all, these IRS budget cuts have cost an estimate of $18 billion a year, but the true cost can run tens of billions more. So much that many current and former IRS employees fear that the United States could be on the verge of an era of brazen tax cheating from which it can’t recover. By any objective this is catastrophic of law enforcement that deprives an already cash-strapped government of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year.

What’s worse is that the IRS faces a structural political problem. After all, it’s never been a popular agency since nobody likes paying taxes to support vital government services that benefit the American people. On one side are the anti-tax Republicans who are perfectly happy with passing tax-cuts for the rich and has been very anti-IRS since the 1990s. In fact, decades of Republican attacks and budget cuts have left the IRS a shell of its former self. On the other side are Democrats afraid of publicly supporting the taxman since nobody likes paying taxes. Not to mention, not all rich tax evaders are Republican donors either.

For rich people and corporations, it means less thorough audits on their assets should the IRS stop by and more leeway to send their money in an overseas tax shelter. After all, they’re the biggest beneficiaries of the IRS’s decay since it takes specialized well-trained personnel to audit a business or billionaire or to uncover a tax scheme. Those IRS employees are leaving in droves and are taking their expertise with them, often to the private sector. Auditing taxpayers with accounts in tax havens is difficult. Revenue agents have to investigate the cheating’s scope to and figure out whether it’s intentional. Tracking down necessary documents from foreign countries can add frustrating delays. Thus, the average time for an offshore audit is usually 3 years. For the country’s largest corporations, the danger of being hit with a billion-dollar tax bill has greatly diminished. Since the rich evade taxes the most simply because they have the resources to do so, the IRS has become less of a force to be feared. For studies have shown that audits have made people less likely to dodge taxes in the future. Take away the enforcement, evaders are emboldened and grow in number.

For the poor who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, it may mean less audits. Yet, the audits are much more punishing. For someone living month-to-month, such exams can be devastating. That when ETIC recipients are audited, they’re less likely to claim the credit in the future. And because of a 2015 EITC law, EITC recipients are more likely to have their refund held. In 2017, ETIC recipients were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers making between $200,000 and $500,000 a year. Only those making more than $1 million were examined at significantly higher rates. In 2018, the IRS audited 381,000 ETIC recipients, which was among 36% of all audits the agency conducted that year, up from 33% in 2011 when the budget cuts began.

Now the Earned Income Tax Credit has had bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans alike since the 1970s. Conceived as a “work bonus” and welfare alternative, the program has grown over the subsequent decades. These days, the average credit is about $2,500 but the amount can exceed $6,000 for larger families. While the US Census Bureau has estimated that the EITC and the child tax credit together boost millions of children out of poverty every year more than any other government program. But unlike food stamps and Social Security, the EITC has no application process. Instead, taxpayers simply claim the credit on their tax returns. According to IRS estimates, millions of people get it wrong in both directions. Since about a fifth of US taxpayers don’t seek EITC while almost a quarter of the $74 billion paid out was “improperly” issued. And it’s that $17 billion estimate of “improper payments” is why the IRS focus on the EITC so much. However, some experts, including the IRS’s Tax Advocate Service, think this estimate is way too high. While one reason is it’s based on the outcome of audits. Since low-income taxpayers are much less likely to have competent representation to dispute the IRS’s conclusions.

Regardless of the precise error rate, the IRS acknowledges the problem’s primary cause isn’t fraud but the law itself. Since the law is too complex that it’s too easy for someone to think themselves eligible for EITC when they’re not. For instance, the same child might be a “dependent” but not a qualifying child under the EITC. While the IRS’s instructions to claiming credit run to 41 pages. As Washington and Lee law professor Michelle Lyon Drumbl told ProPublica, “My third-year law students, they sit down and study this material, and sometimes they still don’t get it.” And if third-year law students can’t determine who qualifies for EITC, then we shouldn’t hold low-income taxpayers’ improper claims against them.

In addition, since the 1990s, congressional Republicans have focused on these major problems and harshly criticized the IRS for failing to stop them. Despite that their rich donors’ overseas tax shelters pose a much larger problem than improper IRS refund payments to poor people. In 2015 congressional Republicans passed and President Barack Obama signed a bill requiring the IRS to hold EITC refunds until February 15 each year. The law’s purpose was to give the IRS more time to match tax returns with the corresponding W-2s to avoid misstatements of income. But it also meant that people to be audited are more likely to see their refund held instead of receiving the credit then undergoing the audit. For low-income taxpayers, that’s a crucial difference.

Furthermore, the IRS has a difficult task in auditing taxpayers claiming EITC because low-income families are often complicated. They’re more likely to be more multi-generational than more affluent filers as well as more likely to add or subtract household members from year to year. According to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 48% of low-income households with children were married couples, while it was 75% for other households.

IRS computers choose who to audit. Should those taxpayers respond, someone must review the documents. According to attorneys from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program, fewer employees to do that result in delays mounting in an already arduous process. Thus, it regularly takes more than a year to release a taxpayer’s refund, even if they have representation. As Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Mandi Matlock told Pro Publica, “If the service doesn’t have the personnel to evaluate evidence submitted in a timely manner, then they should not be initiating the exams in the first place.” The IRS makes the situation needlessly worse by conducting virtually all EITC audits by correspondence, which are automated as with most Americans’ interaction with the IRS. And the computer-generated letters are far from simple that a survey by the Taxpayer Advocate Service found that more than a quarter of audited EITC recipients didn’t understand why the IRS put them under a microscope.

Generally, in regards to taxes, we generally accept the notion that the more money you make, the more likely you’ll get audited. EITC recipients who normally make less than $20,000 a year have long been the major exception and are already under more scrutiny compared to other taxpayers. Why? Many people claim the credit in error. And due to consistent pressure by congressional Republicans, the IRS has kept the audit rates higher. Because God forbid that poor people shouldn’t be carefully scrutinized any time they receive help staying alive. This is how you get the EITC audits along with drug tests and work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid just to make the poor ashamed of their poverty that’s out of their control. At the same time, there hasn’t been similar pressure to address more costly problem areas like tax evasion by business owners and rich people. Despite that they’re more likely to evade taxes and the IRS receives more revenue from auditing them. Besides, even if they owe money, rich people are way less likely to experience any financial hardship. Yet, as far as the GOP is concerned, rich people and corporations should do whatever they want like dodge taxes, engage in insider trading, and take advantage of ordinary workers.

Budget cuts and staff losses make this distortion starker. Despite that the richest taxpayers get audited at higher rates than the poorest, the gap’s been closing. Former deputy IRS Commissioner John Darlrymple told ProPublica “What happens is you have people at the very top being prioritized and people at the very bottom being prioritized, and everyone else is sort of squeezed out.” In other words, as the IRS has shrunk in size and capability, audits of the poor have accounted for more of what it does. Oregon US Senator Ron Wyden told ProPublica, “Those struggling to make ends meet are being unfairly audited while the fortunate few dodge taxes without consequence. The IRS needs more manpower to go after tax cheats of all sizes, and working Americans need a simpler way of obtaining a tax credit they’ve earned.” Thus, the more the IRS focuses on auditing poor tax cheats who are trying to get by, the rich ones are increasingly more able to dodge their taxes without consequence. It’s kind of like how a business executive who steals millions of dollars in insider trading get a short jail sentence at a minimum security facility while the desperately poor kid gets at least 5 years in prison for armed robbery at a convenience store. Sure, neither are right to do what they did, but the rich guy’s crimes inflict far more damage to society than the convenience store robber ever could. While the convenience store robber receives a disproportionately harsh sentence.

Taxpayers of all kinds cheat since cheating is part of human nature. While no social class has a monopoly on moral values. Yet, despite the scrutiny, IRS studies found that EITC recipients aren’t the worst offenders. For instance, in regards for certain kinds of business income, people pay only 37% of what they owe because they simply don’t report the income. As a result, hundreds of billions in government revenue is lost, which is way more than even the highest improper EITC payment estimates. But people owning business are audited by the IRS at the same rate as EITC recipients. National taxpayer advocate Nina Olson told ProPublica that the IRS disproportionate focus on stopping “improper payments” to EITC recipients is misguided. She asked, “What’s the difference between an erroneous EITC dollar being sent out and a dollar attributed to unreported self-employment income not collected?” Since she noted that unreported business income is “where the real money is.”

When EITC cheating does occur, tax preparers are usually the culprits. According to the National Consumer Law Center’s Chi Chi Wu, “They know the system, they game the system and ultimately the taxpayer ends up on the hook if there’s an audit.” While undercover NCLC and Government Accountability Office investigations found multiple preparers advising taxpayers to file bogus EITC claims. Using a tax preparer to figure out your taxes isn’t unusual in the US since 60% of American taxpayers use one. But commercial tax preparers have a dubious reputation as a predatory industry targeting the poor. And when EITC recipients are audited in the future, they’re less likely to claim credit in the future. But most states don’t require tax preparers to be licensed and the IRS has limited ability to oversee them. In fact, after launching a program certifying preparers and subjecting them to regular compliance checks, a federal appeals court ruled in 2014 that the IRS doesn’t have that power. Congress could pass a bill to confer that authority to the agency and should. But despite some bipartisan support for the idea, it hasn’t.

In any case, as soon as Donald Trump and his cronies lose the vestiges of political power, we must reform the tax system. While most Americans see tax evasion as illegal and morally wrong, the wealthy and powerful abide by a different set of rules than the rest of us. Not only does the tax system enable the wealthy to take advantage of tax loopholes, it also lets them to blur the line between legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion with little consequence. We must reform the tax system to close the loopholes rich people use to dodge taxes and substantially increase funding to the IRS to ensure that the laws we do enact are strongly enforced.