Demagogues come and go, and are certainly nothing new in politics in general (Hitler) and American politics in the specific (nearly every Republican candidate.)
But Trump is special, a man of his times, as if evolution created him in match with his environment.
Trump is a top-level predator, not smart enough to understand but somehow evolved enough to know: the myth of the American Dream is falling apart, and the angry low and middle class people who are experiencing the collapse are unable to understand what is happening to them, essentially that they got played in one of the grandest long cons in the history of grifting. Trump senses this, and tells them it is not their fault. Blame the immigrants, blame the Muslims and, even though the Dream dumped even harder on them, why not, blame the Blacks. It’s not you, folks. The deck is stacked, says Trump.
Trump is of course right — the deck is stacked. But not in the way he says it is.
The American Dream
The myth of the American Dream has been the dominating factor in keeping most people mostly complacent in the United States for 150 years, and allowing most of us to blame a minority of us for shortcomings. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t happen, you probably didn’t work hard enough, try again next generation and it’ll most likely stick. And if that doesn’t work, it was the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the damn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders.
The thing that made the myth so powerful was that 10 percent of the truth that proves the 90 percent lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to keep the Dream alive in their minds. It helped that a kindly media would promote the hell out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires.
Things did slip up from time to time, culminating in the Great Depression in the United States. The old economy, the heavy metal machinery and industrial one, had maxed out and financial scamming by the one percent of the day hit the tipping point. But some social programs to tamp down any real sense of rebellion and a timely world war reset the Dream. And better yet, the outcome of that war, with the U.S. emerging as the only superpower and the only intact economy, virtually in control of all the world’s natural resources, the newly-created monetary and trade system and, for a few years, as the sole possessor of the Bomb, created a new cycle of growth never before seen in human history.
Growth Via Consumerism
The new growth, based on all of the factors above, was fueled by consumerism, not big iron; the Dream would be succored by the recycling of the lower and middle classes’ own wages, upward of course. Earn more, spend more, need more, buy more. That sucking sound heard between 1950 until around 1975 was money moving upward, leaving a little trail of bread crumbly growth in its wake, just enough, but not too much.
But a straight line is a straight line, and that movement of money had an end point, now fast approaching, where in 2015 one percent of Americans own some 43 percent of the wealth and through that, nearly all of the power. The cycle is accelerating, because, as proven by Thomas Piketty, wealth in capital form grows faster than wages. The race to one percent owning 99.9999999 percent is on.
Now under certain circumstances such a situation would have people at the barricades armed with pitchforks. But myths die hard, and especially when the basic American Dream myth is backed by the additional proviso that if you are falling behind it is a) because you are not working hard enough or b) somebody is messing with your piece of the pie.
No politician plans to tell lower and middle class people they aren’t working hard enough, though such prescriptions are nearly required to be spouted at folks already poor. Instead, it is that second part, blaming someone else, that has always been the tool smart pols use to cage votes.
What is New
No nothing new, right? Wrong.
What is new is not the message Trump is promoting, but the America in which he is promoting it. It has become impossible for the lower and middle classes to not see that they are slipping behind. The industrial jobs are gone. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class audiences, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. The snowball is accelerating, downhill.
And so there is Trump, a man of his times, telling people who still want to believe that it is OK to believe. Trump made it, so can they. America is f*cked up, just look around, but it is not your fault, voters. And it is certainly not Trump’s, squarely in the one percent, fault. Nope, it is someone else’s fault, and to people desperate to Believe, that is very, very powerful medicine.
Watch out for this guy, Trump. He has tapped into something deep and fearful and motivating.
Texas stormtroopers saved everyone by arresting a ninth grade brown science nerd for building a clock that they wanted sooooo badly to be a bomb, followed by Obama inviting the kid to the White House to promote science (the Pentagon needs many bomb makers ahead of future wars with Muslims), followed by Donald Trump remaining silent in the face of one of his supporters announcing that Obama is a foreigner and a Muslim and that secret jihadi training camps no one can see are scattered all over America.
(That was all sadly true; here’s the satire part.)
CNN and other entertainment outlets all headlined a story earlier today showing Trump has personally flown to Texas and re-arrested the science nerd bomb making Muslim kid, charging him with not being fabulous, and with conspiring to make others think for no reason that he was thinking of considering creating a weapon of mass destruction that never would exist. Such a crime exists in the imagination of Trump, who stated “That was good enough for Ronald Reagan, and good enough for the Greatest Generation, so it is good enough for someone else.”
“The key reason I knew I had to act,” said Trump from his hot tub attended to by scores of virgins, “was that visit to the White House. In these kinds of Islamic terror plots, you look to connect the dots. So look what we have — a Muslim builds the first half of a bomb, minus only massive amounts of explosives and a trigger. He escapes from law enforcement because of the liberal mass media. And then he just happens to show up the next day at the home of a prominent Muslim, and that home just happens to be right inside Washington DC, inside the White House itself!”
“It was all red flags, red alarms and red scares as far as the eye could see,” frothed Trump. “So I acted. Any other paranoid raving lunatic would have done the same.”
“And lastly, answer me this. Where was Hillary? Hmmm?”
When reached for comment in Paradise, the ghost of Osama bin Laden chuckled to himself, and mumbled “The Americans, they are eating themselves now, my work here is done.”
Thanks to brave presidential candidates Trump and Bush, et al, the term “anchor baby” is now the subject of interest and ignorance by a media preoccupied with whatever shiny object is held in front of it.
Trump wants to tear up part of the Constitution he unilaterally proclaims is unconstitutional; no one is sure what the other Republicans plan to “do” about this issue, but they sure don’t support it somehow.
So what are “anchor babies” and which parts of American law affect them?
An “anchor baby” (many find the term offensive, referring as it does to a child as an object) is a child born in the United States to a foreign citizen, legally or illegally present in the U.S., who, by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, automatically and forever acquires American citizenship. The child need only prove s/he was born in the U.S.
The term anchor comes into play because at the age of 21 the child can begin filing green card paperwork for his/her extended family. The single American citizen in a family becomes the “anchor” through which all can eventually become legal permanent residents of the U.S. and soon after, citizens.
Many conservatives feel conveying citizenship so freely cheapens the meaning of being an “American,” and especially object to the idea that a mother illegally in the United States can birth an American citizen. Others are troubled by a growing industry that sends foreign mothers to the U.S. specifically so that they can create such citizens, so-called “birth tourism.”
The concept that anyone born in the U.S. (one exception: those born not subject to U.S. law, which has been held to apply primarily to Native Americans and to children of certain accredited foreign diplomats exempt [immune] from U.S. laws, though there are loopholes even there) is automatically an American citizen is part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the so-called Citizenship Clause.
The 14th was adopted in 1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War as part of reconciling the status of millions of slaves forcibly brought to the United States. The Citizenship Clause specifically overruled the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford), which had held that Americans descended from African slaves could not be citizens of the United States. The Amendment cleared up any ambiguities, stating “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
The most significant test of the 14th Amendment came in 1898, via United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The Supreme Court upheld that a child born in the United States automatically became a U.S. citizen. At issue were laws passed after the Wong child’s birth that excluded Chinese citizens from entering the U.S. The decision in Wong has been understood to mean that the legal status of the mother, as well as any secondary immigration laws below the Constitution, have no bearing on the granting of citizenship.
It can get complicated, and there have been unsuccessful efforts to overturn or reinterpret Wong in light of contemporary concerns over immigration.
For those who like their law in Latin, the idea that anyone born in a certain country automatically acquires citizenship there is called jus soli (right of soil.) The opposite, that citizenship is derived only via one’s parents, is called jus sanguinis (right of blood.) No European nation offers unrestricted jus soli, and very few other countries outside the Western Hemisphere do either.
Foreigners, Visas and Babies
While some foreigners who give birth in the U.S. enter illegally by walking across a land border, a significant number of moms enter the U.S. on visas or the rough equivalent, the visa waiver program, which provides less fettered access to citizens from certain countries, mostly Europeans. Some give birth in the U.S.; is this legal?
It is. There is no law whatsoever that prohibits someone from coming to the United States specifically to give birth here and create an “anchor baby.”
Many uninformed commentators point to two visa laws that they feel may prohibit such an act, the “public charge” provision and the fraud provision.
Public charge is codified in Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. It says an individual who is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible to the United States/can’t receive a visa. Some conservatives believe that moms coming to the U.S. to give birth, a country with the highest health care costs on the planet, should not be allowed in. They say many can’t, or won’t, pay, and are likely to have their maternity costs covered by American taxpayers.
The problems in applying this law to so-called anchor baby moms are two-fold.
First, the law is forward-looking; there needs to be information suggesting a mother plans to deliver at public cost. Proving the future is tricky business, even in regards to visas. In addition, the law states receiving public benefits does not automatically make an individual a public charge. In fact, many benefits are excluded from consideration, including Medicaid and other health insurance and health services, and specifically prenatal care. In short, a mom cannot be denied a visa or entry into the U.S. based upon public benefits she is legally eligible for. Immigration status — legal or illegal — generally is not considered when benefits are sought.
The second visa law that comes up in conservative discourse is 212(a)(6)(C), fraud. The idea is that a women seeking a visa or to enter the U.S. may try and hide her pregnancy, or her intent to give birth in the U.S. She might say she intends only a short romp through Disneyland before returning home. So that’s lying, fraud, right?
Well, it may be a lie, but it is not fraud as visas go. The fraud law requires a lie to be “material,” meaning if the truth were to be told, the visa would be denied. So, if someone says she is going to Disney but actually intends to rob a bank, that is a planned illegal act and the lie would be material. But since it is legal to give birth in the U.S., fibbing about it is not material.
The current issue of Rolling Stone contains a long article on “birth tourism.” Such “tourism” is a huge business in Asia, particularly in China where rising incomes coincide with existing interest in emigration. Companies arrange for everything; a mom need only provide money. The companies legally assist the mother in obtaining a visa, arrange for her to stay in the U.S. in an apartment complex (dubbed “maternity hotels”), usually in California for convenience for flights from Asia, full of other Chinese moms, and then give birth in a local hospital staffed with Chinese-speaking doctors.
Such businesses have been around since at least the 1980s, and exist in most Asian countries. They are especially popular in China and Korea.
Some birth tourism companies also offer VIP packages that include sightseeing and limousine service, and special accommodations for dads who want to fly in for the actual birth. The businesses operate openly, and advertise freely in Chinese-language media both here and abroad. It is big business: In 2012, according to Chinese state media, there were some 10,000 tourist births from China; more recent estimates have put the number as high as 60,000 a year.
And since it is standard practice for the United States to grant a six month tourist stay for most visitors, the mother need not risk her or her baby’s health by traveling at the last minute. She can arrive around the end of the first trimester and stay on without incident. Once the baby is born, the birth tourism company helps mother obtain baby’s U.S. passport.
There is absolutely nothing illegal about birth tourism under U.S. law.
It is the active presence of such birth tourism out of China that lead candidate Bush to clarify that he was not speaking against Latinos, who are a huge voting block in America, but Asian anchor babies. “What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed in organized efforts — and frankly, it’s more related to Asian people — coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”
Leaving aside the generally jingoistic and often racist arguments conservatives put forward against anchor babies and birth tourism, there is nothing illegal going on.
Any desire to make such things illegal will require significant changes to the law, perhaps extending right up to re-amending the Constitution to reverse concepts that have been a part of America since the late 1800s. Despite all the rhetoric, in the end there is nothing really to see here.
There is still time. Would a leader please stand up, someone people of good conscience can vote for? I am tired of voting defensively — better vote for Candidate A, or you’ll be stuck with B.
I get Bernie Sanders, and personally support most/all of his positions. But electoral history is pretty clear what happens to outlier and third party candidates. And at this point supporting someone with good ideas, but who lacks his party’s support, lacks the funds sadly needed to run a national campaign and is unlikely to capture undecided and Middle America votes, well, that’s certainly a feel-good-about-myself symbolic gesture, but I don’t really feel good about things right now.
Oh, Hillary. Can anyone be more of a worse enemy to you than you? Did you think no one would ever find out about your email mess, or did you think no one would care? Are you that cynical about America? About hiring Huma to work at State when she was already working for at least one private company and your Foundation? About all the money, known and still unknown, pouring through the Clinton foundation? The foreign influence buying via those juicy speech payments for you and Bill? That you could just let actual questions about Benghazi, Libya and your leadership (oh, they are not all partisan, spare me, read this list) hang indefinitely?
Really America, do we want four, or eight, years of this? Because we will get it. Because the Clinton’s won’t stop doing actual bad things, and their opponents won’t stop looking for them, real or made up. Partisan attacks are nothing new in politics, dating back to the Greeks, but can anyone find examples as egregious as the Clinton history? She didn’t need a private server. She didn’t need the Foundation as it is run. She wanted them, and the fall out is nearly entirely self-inflicted. No one could criticize you for them, Hillary, if you hadn’t done them.
Which leaves us to the several hundred Republican candidates. The current front runner is Donald Trump. Trump? The self-caricature guy from the reality TV shows? The guy who talks about women like it’s 1957? The guy who tosses out “ideas” like a Maginot Line along the Mexican border, or self-declaring parts of the Bill of Rights (i.e., 14th Amendment) unconstitutional? This is the person we want heading off to foreign countries representing us?
The rest? A handful of odd ball fundamentalists who prey on people’s fears of race? Who think the most critical issues facing our nation have something to do with stopping same-sex marriage, stopping abortion and guns? Who as a group think health care is a luxury item?
So, someone, please, save us from ourselves. None of the current candidates have deep support. The Democratic party in particular aches for someone who can represent a positive vision, instead of simply threatening “vote for me or it’s Trump and the nutters.”
As the New Economy starts to look more and more like the Depression Economy of the 1930’s, the divide between rich and poor clearer as businesses fade and fail, Atlantic City provides a layers of urban archaeology pointing where we’ve been and maybe where we’re going.
We All Love Lucy
Driving in on the older roads, there’s Lucy the Elephant. Not a real elephant of course, Lucy is instead a freakish wood and tin six story hollow statue. First built in 1881 to add value to some Jersey swampland, Lucy has been reincarnated several times after fire, neglect and storm damage. Along the way, she was used a tavern, a hotel, and for most of her life, simply an “attraction.” As owning a car, and the family driving vacations that accompanied ownership, became egalitarian rights in the 1950’s and 60’s, all manner of tacky attractions popped up along America’s roads: cement dinosaurs, teepee-shaped motels, museums of freaks, and spectacles such as the world’s largest ball of twine.
Lucy—and Atlantic City—set the trend well into the early 1970’s. Between 1947 and 1973 actual incomes in the U.S. rose at the same level for everyone, more or less evenly spread across the societal spectrum. In 1932 Detroit produced 1.4 million cars, in 1950 it rose to eight million, then peaked at twelve million in 1973. America was a developing nation, in the best sense of that word. Yet as the U.S. economy changed, money began to flow out of the working class pockets that fed Lucy. From 1973 to 1993 the top one percent of Americans saw income grow eighty percent, and by 1989 the one percent owned forty percent of U.S. wealth. Atlantic City hurt. The famous Boardwalk (remember Monopoly? The street names are all from Atlantic City) became a crime scene, too dangerous for casual tourists, and drugs took over for tourism. It wasn’t different than the rest of America, just more intense.
Atlantic City Rolls the Dice on Legalized Gambling
Yet the first time I visited Atlantic City, some thirty years ago, things had again started to change. It was in the midst of a hyper national economy that gambling was legalized, and money poured into the area. The Boardwalk sprouted casinos and restaurants, and local business owners scrambled to find workers even as they considered early retirement based on the soaring value of the land they had held for generations. Everyone and everything felt alive, and billboards boasted of “rebirth.”
Thirty Years Later, Does the Bet Pay Off?
Thirty years later, a visit to Atlantic City once again reminds that life there isn’t any different than the rest of America, just more intense. On a twenty-story hotel tower, you can read the words “Hilton” in dirt shadow where the sign was removed as the place slammed shut. Trump Plaza, nothing if not a monument to excess and hubris from someone once admired as a business magician and pathetically now a presidential candidate, even before it closed was much of a caricature of elegance as the man himself. When I stayed there, the pillows smelled of sweat, the corner of doors were chipped, many areas needed paint and most of the bars and restaurants were as lonely as the former Greyhound bus terminal a few blocks away. People who appeared homeless harmlessly wandered in and out of the casino, itself tawdy and too dimly lit to inspire fun. It was like the air had been let out of the place.
Outside along the Boardwalk, the famous rolling chairs are pushed by recent immigrants and not-so-clean older denizens of the City. Lots of people still took rides, but it seemed that paying the workers to push you while you sat felt cheap and sad, just a step aside of pushing dollars into the g-strings of the strippers in clubs just off the Boardwalk. It felt too much like buying and discarding someone’s self respect to be considered fun. The swanky mall built on one of the old amusement piers had more shuttered than open stores. The family restaurant I worked in thirty years ago is now a tiny dollar store run by a man angry that I was just looking for old times’ sake. Plenty of “We Buy Gold” and pawn shops nearby, however. Though touted as a nouveau cuisine destination in ads, the only lines I saw were for people challenging the economics of the $7.98 all-you-can-eat buffet.
Where to Lucy?
There are always things that hint at optimism. Atlantic City survived Hurricane Sandy with little damage. The Hard Rock was doing good business with three dollar Miller Lite’s. Caesar’s had set up a glitzy room for Asian gamblers, complete with Chinese-speaking dealers and table games from Macau. Everyone turned from the old guys pushing the rolling chairs to see where the young guy running across the hot sand carrying two ice creams cones was headed.
The average American worker never earned as much again as in the peak year of 1973. Poverty rates also reached a historic low in 1973 and have risen steadily thereafter. One out of five American kids now lives in a household that cannot feed itself. Aside from it all, Lucy the Elephant still stands her post, unblinking and silent. She looks out over the Boardwalk, maybe America itself, and wonders where we are all headed.