Will Trump sign an ethnic cleansing order?
explains what Trump is up to when he talks about birthright citizenship.
EARLIER THIS week, Donald Trump declared all-out war on the idea of birthright citizenship, telling reporters that he plans to issue an executive order reversing the right — written into the U.S. Constitution — of anyone born in the territory of the U.S. to citizenship.
“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States,” Trump told Axios.
First of all, this is simply not true.
Tons of other countries have what is called “unrestricted jus soli birthright citizenship,” including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and many others. Numerous other countries, such as Britain and Australia, grant birthright citizenship if you’ve lived in the country in question for at least 10 years.
Maybe what Trump meant to say is that many Western European countries have stricter immigration controls than the U.S. does — and that the U.S. should follow suit and emulate what they do.
As Trump said on a recent trip to Europe, “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad...I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”
We should be clear: these are standard talking points among white supremacist and fascist political groups in the U.S. and Europe. This way of thinking goes hand in hand with laments about the perceived decline of ideological fictions that don’t exist, and never have, such as “Western civilization” or “Western values.”
These empty phrases are just ways of talking about “white supremacy” without calling it that.
THOUGH SOMETIMES phrased in ways that suggest otherwise, in reality, the anti-immigrant crusade waged by Trump and the hard right has nothing to do with values or ideas or culture or any of that.
It’s about a deep-seated anxiety among white racists that too many non-white babies are being born in the U.S. They regard the existence of Black and Brown babies as an abomination, as a cause for alarm, as the harbinger of destruction.
They are literally terrified of babies. Babies. Precisely because they accept — and partially define their own sense of identity in terms of — racist pseudoscience about alleged white superiority and non-white inferiority.
They regard some people’s mere existence as a bad thing — simply because of their “race,” which is itself the effect, not the cause, of racist ideology.
This is a genocidal and deeply cruel worldview. It’s not a big jump from “I can’t tolerate the existence of this person where I live, so deport them” to “I can’t tolerate the existence of this person period, so exterminate them.” In many cases, anti-Semitism is the glue that holds this toxic, reactionary worldview together.
Indeed, this anxiety about the decline of white supremacy is precisely what’s going on when someone makes the argument, as the far right in the U.S. frequently does, that “we’re losing the America we love,” or “massive demographic changes” are “destroying America.”
These are statements that Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have made on air. Trump himself has made similar statements — and his most hard-core racist advisers, like Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and others, have said worse.
AN IMMEDIATE obstacle to Trump’s latest ethnic-cleansing project is, of course, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which unambiguously guarantees birthright citizenship.
One need not — and, I would argue, definitely should not — romanticize the U.S. Constitution in order to see that the 14th Amendment is something that the left should militantly defend.
The amendment itself is the result of a revolutionary upsurge in the U.S. — and it was passed to ensure that Black people would be guaranteed full citizenship rights in the face of staunch opposition from white racists who longed for the slave system of the past.
As Martha Jones wrote in the Atlantic:
The 1868 ratification of the 14th Amendment, especially its birthright-citizenship provision, was the culmination of a long struggle, rather than a newfangled postwar innovation. Black Americans had defined its necessity, set forth its terms, persisted even in the face of highly placed doubters, and then served up to the Reconstruction-era Congress an idea whose time had come.
The 13th Amendment made millions of enslaved people irretrievable and constitutionally free. But it was the 14th Amendment that made them citizens, and with its ratification, the terms of citizenship were transformed for all those born in the U.S., setting in place a regime that persists until the present day. It is the very regime to which many Americans owe their sense of sureness when it comes to national belonging.
Limiting or repealing the 14th Amendment would mean rejecting this progress and regressing backward to a time when it was even easier than it is today to legally and openly deny people their basic democratic rights.
CAN TRUMP, as he says, simply invalidate this watershed expansion of rights by signing a piece of paper?
The simple answer is no. Trump can’t simply void the 14th Amendment through an executive order. We’re not yet at the point where presidents can void lines of the Constitution by decree — though it’s possible, if the racist far right continues to gain confidence, that we might reach that state of affairs at some point.
Trump, of course, knows he can’t simply eliminate a constitutional amendment with the stroke of his pen — or, at any rate, people who know such things have told him already. We therefore have to conclude that this is a calculated act of political theater, which isn’t to downplay how terrible it is.
Simply put: Trump is trying to instill fear and paralysis among those who oppose him while stoking racist, nativist energies within his base. He’s betting that white supremacist politics and hard-line anti-immigrant racism will produce victory for him and his allies.
We must also acknowledge that Trump’s sudden attack on birthright citizenship comes shortly after a series of chilling acts of racist violence. It also comes in a context in which a caravan of asylum seekers are approaching the southern border — in the face of stubborn opposition from the U.S. government and Trump’s white nationalist supporters.
Indeed, the racist murderer who gunned down 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh explicitly said that his violent actions were motivated by seething hatred for the asylum seekers, combined with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that posit a “Jewish conspiracy” to allow immigrants to “invade” the U.S.
What do leading Democrat politicians say in response to this chilling rise of the racist far right? They soft-pedal, they appease Trump, they drone on about “bipartisanship,” and in many cases, they back immigration policies that often amount to a “softer” version of the above.
I’m certainly not going to be upset if tons of Republican politicians lose their grip on power in the midterm elections next week. That’s never a bad thing. But you’re kidding yourself if you think the Democrats are going to do anything to fight the monstrous rise of the hard-line racist, nativist right, here and abroad.
To do that, we need to continue to build the socialist left, the independent social movements and the trade union movement. We need to build the organizational capacity to turn out massive numbers of people for large-scale direct actions to force the authorities to back down from their worst proposals.
We need to lay the groundwork for more strikes and workplace stoppages that operate on the basis of the anti-oppression principle that “an injury to any worker is an injury to the whole working class.”
More importantly, we need to create the basis for shifting the entire political system to the left by creating centers of organizational power that are not subject to the limiting, suffocating control of the two corporate parties.
We can’t allow Trump to initiate a public attack against birthright citizenship without stubborn resistance from our side. But we can’t simply “resist” by voting for whomever the Democrats have decided to run in opposition to Trump’s Republican colleagues.
We need to prioritize extra-electoral movement building that emphasizes disruptive mass actions that force the authorities to change course.
We should see the courageous strikes by West Virginia teachers as the template for how to move forward: here is a group of tens of thousands of working-class people who defiantly refused to work unless their state’s conservative, Republican-controlled legislature granted them big concessions — which they did.
This is how we will defeat the right. On top of aggressively opposing open racists and fascists whenever they try to organize publicly, we must also mobilize masses of people around bread-and-butter working-class demands and focus popular discontent on the small class responsible for our predicament: the richest 1 Percent.