Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sesquicentennial Thoughts: Now Let Us Praise Donald Trump on "Anchor Babies" (and the Fourteenth Amendment)

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. — Amendment XIII (6 December 1865), Section 1
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. — Amendment XIV (9 July 1868), Section 1

         So, what did you do on New Year's Day 2013 for the huge national celebration of the 150th anniversary ("Sesquicentennial") of President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation? Oh, right; there wasn't any big national celebration in 2013. But that's okay; the Proclamation was important, but it was a unilateral action by the President as commander-in-chief of the military forces of the US in a time of war, so maybe 2013 would've been too soon to celebrate, given what was coming up in a couple years.

         So: What will you do for the remaining huge national celebrations in 2015 of the Sesquicentennial of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, the Constitutional provision finally and totally outlawing slavery in the United States? Oh, right; maybe some "Juneteenth" celebrations this year were bigger than usual, but as of the end of August 2015 there are no plans for some huge end-of-the-year national celebration of the Thirteenth Amendment.
         Well then, how about plans for the national commemoration next year of 20 August 1866, when US President Andrew Johnson formally proclaimed that the Civil War was "at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America"? It would need to be a somber affair: more Americans died in the US Civil War than in all our other wars combined at least until the 1970s, a number John M. McCardell Jr. brought home by noting that, proportionally, if the USA had as many people killed in our war in Indochina as died in our Civil War, there would be four million (that's 4,000,000) names on the Vietnam Memorial wall. Still, we should certainly commemorate the final conclusion of the war and celebrate, somberly, the end of the carnage.
         If there are any such plans, I haven't heard of those either, nor plans for celebrating in 2018 the "new birth of freedom" promised to Americans in the Fourteenth Amendment.
         So now let us praise Donald Trump and his attack on "anchor babies" and pushing the minor technical problem of occasional "maternity tourism"/"birth tourism" to a proposal to repeal the Jus soli principle of the Fourteenth Amendment: the birthright to US citizenship to anyone born on our "soil." The idea isn't new, but Mr. Trump has brought his genius at provocation to it, and "birthright citizenship" is now a matter of public controversy, and with it the Fourteenth Amendment and its guarantee of citizenship.
         And that is a good and necessary thing, as my introductory questions indicate.

         The joke goes that much is the problem in human personal relations is that men can't remember, and women won't forget (from George Carlin, I think; anyway in the title of a book by Marianna Legato and Laura Tucker). On larger scales, a big part of the world's problems in places like Ireland and the Middle East and the Balkans is too many people remembering all too well ancient grudges; balancing that in an ironically Karmic sort of way, a fair number of ghastly problems come from Americans' often falling into the manly problem of general, and/or convenient, amnesia.
         One exception with Americans is our Civil War, where we have the worst of two worlds: those who remember — usually White Southerners — remember all too well; the rest — not always White folk — often don't even know that we're still dealing with some three centuries of North American slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, de facto segregation, and the whole convoluted and blood-soaked history of race-relations in the US and beyond.
         So I'm serious is praising Donald Trump here: he'll get us discussing the Fourteenth Amendment, and, with luck, we'll bracket discussing the great Fourteenth Amendment with (let's say) robust discussion of the Thirteenth and Fifteenth: The game-changing "Civil War Amendments." If Trump can pretty damn glibly throw out the suggestion of rolling back the Fourteenth Amendment, he can get us to consider how much "roll-back" is going on more currently with Black citizenship and voting rights. The Fifteenth Amendment commands that, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (section 1), and, as with all the Civil War Amendments, "The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
         Okay, let's start talking about American Blacks as full citizens, with the basic right to vote and an even more basic right to life and liberty that can be withdrawn only by "due process of law," where "due process" means something more equitable and formal than a cowboy cop with a gun. And while we're on the subject —
                  As itself amended by expanding the right to vote to women and Americans over eighteen, Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that if American citizens are denied the right to vote by a state, then the state's Congressional representation "shall be reduced in […] proportion." So let's talk about cutting back representation in the House of Representatives of states blocking voting rights. And while we're on that subject we can get the Tea Party sorts in on the conversation — vociferously — by talking about representation in Congress on the basis of total population, if that population includes illegal immigrants. Hey, you don't want illegals here? Be sure not to count them toward representation in Congress and in the Electoral College. That could lose Florida and Texas a seat in Congress apiece, but it also might deduct one from the New York delegation and six from my own state of California.
                  Also, let's get some of us White and White-ish non-former slaves "the equal protection of the law" when it comes to voting by punishing states that reduce the worth of anyone's vote through gerrymandering or voter suppression.
                  I can guarantee that the set "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" has always been the primary reason to deny people equality in voting, but not the only one. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment gave the right to vote to all Americans 18 years of age and over. When the Amendment was up for ratification by the Illinois General Assembly, lobbyists (?) and others were at the crucial committee hearings trying to get the Assembly to legislate to forbid students from voting where we lived — I.e., voting effectively — and one city official from Rantoul, Illinois, home of Chanute Air Force Base, tried to get the General Assembly to forbid members of the US armed forces from voting locally in Illinois. (A nice touch on that last one was that the official from Rantoul had a little American flag in his lapel: Love them service personnel, but don't let 'em vote in your elections!)

         Arguing over such matters in a Presidential campaign will get us really quickly to serious questions on the Constitution and public policy — and then recycle back to whom to elect President, keeping in mind that Presidents nominate members of the US Supreme Court — and who you want to vote for "down ticket" to place in the Congress, to vote on, or, as is far more common, fail to vote on to laws enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment and those others guaranteeing rights.
         It might put the thin edge of the camel's nose heading down the slippery slope to the destruction of the Republic, but a serious Trump run for the Presidency, one with "coat-tails," could sweep into the US Congress and Senate and state legislatures activist reactionaries who will continue the mission of Roll-Back and move to amend the Constitution by getting rid of those pesky Civil War Amendments.
         And that prospect should get the attention of the frequently amnesiac, often downright narcoleptic, American electorate.

So thank you, Mr. Trump, and this much praise: along with forces far mightier than yourself, you are obliging the American people to talk about things we should've been discussing for years, and maybe, just maybe getting us to act.

Happy Sesquicentennials! (Anyone planning parties?)

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