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DACA, Good Americans, and Obama’s Grim Legacy

Photo by Pete Prodoehl | CC BY 2.0

Barack Obama, the President who deported more immigrants than all Presidents of the 20th century combined, briefly left his yachting hiatus to give us thoughtful but meaningless words on immigration back in September. Since then the fight to protect Dreamers (the children who grew up in America with undocumented parents) has been fought bravely by many. And for now, it appears the Dreamers have won.

Donald Trump is often called a fascist. This seems to be a generous statement for someone who acts almost entirely on impulse. Being the coward that he is, Trump will side with the powers that be just about every time. The actions that he has taken against the poor in this country have been ruthless. But Trump lacks a polished fascism. He is a bully and a hustler. He believes in nothing but himself.

This brand of individualism is in its own way uniquely American and in that sense fascist to the American ideal. Yet only in the sense that Donald Trump is an individual who has not done a ton of thinking of his own. He operates on loyalty, not ideology. His predecessor, his popular predecessor, his liberal predecessor, could form a full sentence and form a working ideology.

Before we go any further let’s quote an excerpt from Barack Obama’s September Facebook post on immigration that I agree with: “Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.” The current President has no decency. He is cruel and he expects you to be too. Even children are enemies, for he imagines that they are as demented as he was at their age.

Barack Obama, who is in the business of who deserves decency defines this very narrowly. Obama claims: “These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” He has the audacity to assume that people left their own homes based on the supremacy of America. An America where you have the right to dream, to work and to say whatever you want. There is no chance that they left their homes for economic or political reasons. Political situations made more precarious by the imperialism, neocolonialism, and hostile immigration policies of the United States. There is no chance that back home they have family and friends they love or in the case of the Dreamers, family and friends they never got to meet. There is no chance that they are any different from Obama and his America—the freest, fairest and most generous place on earth.

Obama continues: “And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents.” There is not only an implication behind this statement, but a test. Are you talented? Are you patriotic? Can you contribute to the greatest democratic experiment known to man? What exactly will you be doing to help? You aren’t one of those welfare people are you? You pull your weight? If not, that’s fine, we can send you back to your country, because we have plenty more where you came from. Your parents though? Well, they broke the law. It’s not your fault. But we have to be tough. So sorry. Kiss them goodbye. And you do like this country right? You aren’t a terrorist? You aren’t a criminal? You will make sure to thank me for saving you right? Because you know your country didn’t take care of you.

Obama defines an American life that matters as something like this: “They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance.” Obama sees no sense in deporting “Americans”. That’s crazy! After all they might actually be immersed in the American middle class fixture. They may even take up arms for the American middle class. They might be expanding the American ideology and its institutions. It is illogical to define America by who is literally an American. But if they are poor? Poor and uneducated? Well how could they help your good kids if they were poor? They are probably dangerous, and we are such a great country we can afford to choose better.

And here’s the kicker from Obama: “What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals…” Tell me again, what is fascism?  What is this new America? A multicultural melting pot on the surface but at the end of the day you will be judged by whether you hate the foreigner, with Russia being the latest enemy. You will be judged by whether you believe America to be for one reason or another, by destiny or by happenstance, to be the greatest place on earth.

We are told Dreamers have the right to Dream. But do they have the right to live? What if they turn out to support independence for Central America? What if they don’t work as hard as you would like? What if they have behaviors the authorities deem suspicious? What if they are just different from what an American should be? And who judges these things?

What Obama assumes is that the Dreamers are under his thumb (do they have a choice?) and that they want to be. That all of us not only have American “values” but that we will show allegiance to the corporate military state that represents these values or risk deportation. For all he deems good will be saved. For all he deems bad, well, don’t worry he probably already deported you. Such measures will only grow with mass surveillance, the threat of terrorism, the growth of the police state and the illegitimacy of the “democratic” United States becoming clearer and clearer. For those of us who are citizens of America, it will be jail, evictions and job loss. Look at the way whistleblowers were treated under the Obama administration for any clue about where this country is headed.

As for the massive refugee crisis—those 65 million people without a home drowning in the sea? Not even on the table for conversation. Terror and crime are already a threat to our good people over here. Liberals say that they would love to help, but these people are already a lost cause I guess. Might as well focus on those who have “American values.” Muhammed is not going to help out very much on the softball team with that tuberculosis he is trying to kick anyways.

There seems to be a meritocracy in all liberal circles, something the right has rebelled against in sinister forms. These immigrants are supposedly patriotic, hard working, fully American. As if this should be the reason we don’t break up their families! It’s no surprise when you look at Obama dropping a bomb every 3 hours that he cares little about families who aren’t American. Or who don’t have American values. But who cares? They are people. Yet Obama seemed to be proud of some killings, and self righteous about others. The main reason that anyone gets any trouble whether that be Assange, Kin Jong Un or Putin is that they stand up to American values and its economic and political implications.

Donald Trump on the other hand is retrograde. He calls it how it looks, not how it is. He doesn’t just ask do you have American “values?” He asks if you are an American.

This ironically doesn’t really apply to Native Americans, because this is not about the literal earth that America stands on. In fact the American narrative has always been about using that earth and the people on it to build and expand an ideal of Manifest Destiny for a chosen people. Trump is this America with no brakes. He has rebelled against globalism in rhetoric while profiting off of it in business. In other words, he is the worst of both worlds: he is openly racist yet uses the global hierarchy to increase inequality.

All this has meant in reality is that the amount of people of who we can openly be cruel to in this society has gotten greater. Up to this point Trump’s blatant race baiting has done little to expose the fascist American ideology. If anything, we have doubled down on it—casting Trump as an outsider rather than a culmination. Obama and Trump both, in a material sense, hate immigrants. The difference is that Obama believed America was already great, and Trump is trying to make America great again. If Obama’s America was great, I certainly don’t want an America that is even “greater.”

People don’t just have the right to dream, they have the right to exist. It is unclear what it means to be an American but it is certainly clear who isn’t one. Anyone who challenges capitalism, imperialism and the logic of punishing the poor is not a good American. And now under Trump, the good Americans and bad Americans will be punished. The question then for panicked liberals: Is Trump a good American or a bad American? For he sells all things American, he just takes the meaning a little too literally.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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