Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Two Prongs of a Pitchfork

Such gentle abhorrence! It almost doesn’t seem like racism.

“But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from — fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”

Why bother keeping these words of John Kelly alive? There’s so much bigger news out there than the White House chief of staff’s outpouring of ignorance and pseudo-empathy last week, during an interview on NPR.

“They’re not bad people,” he said. “They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”

This is so Trump Lite! We’re so sorry, oh uneducated Central Americans, but we have to keep you out of America and we have to, in addition, confiscate any children you bring with you to the border in order to discourage others of your kind from trying to sneak in. The law is the law.

Was Kelly serious in his expression of “concern” or simply cynical? These possibilities feel like two prongs of a pitchfork, the most painful of which is the former. If he seriously believes in the regrettable inadequacy of asylum seekers — as opposed to merely citing it to justify a cruelly racist law — what we have here isn’t simply racism but ignorance, at the highest level of American government, quietly shaping national policy with something like evangelical fervor.

Cynical racism means throwing a bone to the political base, what Matthew Yglesias, writing at Vox, called “the very promise of Trumpism — to narrow the definitions of who belongs, subjecting outsiders to a realm of cruelty and thus bolstering the favored status of the insiders.”

Ignorant racism means believing in it yourself: seeing yourself not as “the boss” but as a moral warrior, truly protecting America from sadly uneducated (uh, non-white) Latin Americans looking for a break and a better deal. Sorry, this country is closed, at least to you.

What I fear is that, while cynicism may have a humane or reasonable limit, ignorance does not. If racist ignorance has survived the civil rights movement — not simply at the level of scattered individuals, but at the level of national decision-making — perhaps it is impenetrable. We will always have enemies to fear and fight not merely because a nice, evil enemy (oh Saddam, where are you now?) makes it easier to rally a country into a sense of unity, but because true believers rule. And true believers are not open to greater awareness.

Thus, as New York Magazine explains: “The Trump administration recently established a policy of separating families who cross the U.S. border illegally, including those who enter our country so as to assert their legal right to seek asylum. Which is to say: If a mother in Honduras gets on the wrong side of local gangs — and flees to the United States with her children to seek asylum from their retribution — U.S. authorities will treat her children as ‘unaccompanied minors’ and detain them in separate facilities while she presses her case.

“Or, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions put it, ‘If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.’”

What I see, both in Sessions’ smug certainty and in Kelly’s regretful shrug, is a belief that some people matter and others don’t. And a country is great because of its sameness.

This is not the country I believe in, but it is the country, I must concede, that was founded on a stolen continent and built by the labor of the enslaved and exploited. Writing about American gun culture, for instance, Christopher Keelty points out that “the racism that informs gun culture is deeply embedded in American history, and in the history of firearms themselves. . . . In the colonies that would become the United States, European settlers were required by law to own firearms for the specific purpose of fighting off the Indians who had been deposed from their land. Samuel Colt invented his revolver, the weapon that ‘won the west,’ specifically to quell slave rebellions.”

And Michael Daly, noting Kelly’s Irish ancestry, recalls the Pemberton Mill disaster, in Lawrence, Mass. where: “In the late afternoon of Jan. 10, 1860, cast-iron columns in the building that were later found to have been defective buckled under the added weight. The structure suddenly collapsed, killing as many as 167 workers.”

Most of the killed and injured were Scottish and Irish immigrants. The owner of the mill, David Nevins, who had crammed additional machinery into the building after he purchased it three years earlier, creating the unsafe working conditions, was notoriously contemptuous of the Irish, Daly pointed out. He wouldn’t let an Irishman into his house to repair a leak in his roof, but he could use — and use up — these uneducated immigrant souls to make money.

This is the history I hear in Kelly’s words: “They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”

It doesn’t matter what happens to them. Or to their children.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail