America on Thin ICE

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The culture and ideology fostered in this globalization process relate largely to “lifestyle” themes and goods and their acquisition; and they tend to weaken any sense of community helpful to civic life.”

— Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”

— Barack Obama

Last weekend hundreds of thousands marched to protest Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policies. I was grateful not to be marching in Washington D.C. where the creator of “Hamilton” serenaded the crowd. I mean, it does seem pretty American, but yeah. For all those at risk of being deported, the obnoxious nature of liberals hardly matters. People turned out to march. What else will save immigrants from this atrocious administration? As a privileged American citizen though, I must say liberals still aren’t my cup of tea. In Saint Paul, out came the strollers and the (almost) clever signs, including one with the Statue of Liberty saying WTF. An unnecessary sign, I thought. She’d be in full approval of Trump’s actions. The only immigrants she has ever liked were the Europeans who slaughtered the Native Americans en masse.

Separating families at the border. Can we get lower than that? The Trump Presidency continues to get more appalling. How is this possible? When there is no memory, the only moment is the previous one that must get upstaged. Mr. Trump has truly been ambitious in his egregious behavior. His Republican buddies and the rest of the scum in the Supreme Court have been no better. Democrats continue to be lame and completely uninspiring.

I remain on a day to day basis as disheartened by the real listlessness of the Democrats as I do the truly zealous pursuit of the cruelty of Trump and co. It is from the humdrum of the modern liberal society that the spectacular barbarity of Donald Trump arises. How helpless one feels under a Republican, how hopeless one feels under a Democrat. Their lack of enthusiasm for life is a real bummer. And for what reason? Corporate culture demands the submission of the soul and it eliminates all emotions of uplift.

Such a world drives people insane and eventually to suicide. Suicide is something that has been in the news lately. And I couldn’t help thinking of Anthony Bourdain, who I really do like. But with his passing, I am reminded of all the sad and empty Americans (myself not too long ago) who must fill themselves up with some distant, mysterious and lovely place outside our borders. Our lives are so empty, so artificial, so material, filled with such high expectations and such despair, that we must, we simply must look elsewhere for our meaning and our purpose. And this is a violence to people outside our borders. It is a violence when we send in troops with guns. It is a violence when we send in tourists with cameras. Both extract. Some take oil, some take life lessons. It should also be noted that if liberals want a sexy story about colonialism and exploitation, they need not buy a plane ticket. If you need a story about the tyranny of foreigners, ask a Native American.

The question is not whether the colonialism of tourism heals the soul (it obviously doesn’t) but why it is necessary for us to engage in at all? Why must we look outside of America for any meaning, purpose or truth? One can see on the flip side the ignorance and incuriosity of Trump (who Bourdain made fun of for going to the same restaurant every day). Yet, one might ask, isn’t this what we all should be doing? Returning to our own roots. Our local businesses. Our local communities. Our local politics. The failure of globalization is what the nativist Donald Trump exposed. Of course, when it comes to corrupt global capitalists, he is worse than any President yet. But his statements about the misery for the working class under globalization is accurate. The problem is that Mr. Trump could care less about working people. That being said, liberals would be wrong to embrace globalization just because Trump pretends to hate it.

This brings us to the extreme hypocrisy of America’s vicious immigration policy. As America spreads 800 military bases across the world, dropping bombs every 12 minutes, we do not even take in families who are starving, homeless and have no place to go. Worse yet, once they make it here and start to establish at least some sense of a safe and secure life they are ripped away again, often split up from their own families in the process. All this is done to deter people from making the trip across the border in the first place but when you are homeless, thirsty, hungry, and have no place to go, the risk will be taken regardless. How ignorant are America’s leaders if they don’t know that? Want less immigrants? Don’t undermine every movement that attempts to bring stability to the very regions these people are fleeing from. But who says American leaders don’t want immigrants? They are cheaper labor after all.

Ultimately what globalization entails is not just more diversity in boardrooms but a deeper entrenching of inequality. We are all connected now. We are all kept track of via mass surveillance and other forms of state power. The divisions of states are all artificial as the global elites pit countries against each other in a race to the bottom. Along with every “All Are Welcome” rainbow sign on a freshly watered lawn should be the goal of making the places people immigrate from secure and prosperous places to live in. As far as I am concerned, all are welcome. But the tragedy is not just the hate that Americans have for immigrants but the fact that the immigrants need to come at all. Contrary to Americans thinking, this is not necessarily the greatest place on earth but more importantly, it is not always people’s homes. The journeys are dangerous and the life of being an immigrant is a great challenge. Give it to the liberals to assume that accepting immigrants is all that must be done. The challenge is far greater. The challenge is making the whole world full of homes undisturbed by trade deals, wars, and big corporations.

All of this must involve a return to the land where we came from. The answers will not be found through longing voyeuristic glimpses into the eyes of a noble savage. They will be found here at home in our local businesses, our local schools and our friends and families. Now is the time where one is told they can go anywhere, be anyone and do anything. The life that an immigrant is forced into is appropriated every day by the worldly liberal. The greatest challenge for all of us will not be to be the white saviors that our liberal society tells us to be. The greatest and most pressing challenge will be to clean up the mess here at home. Not just because Donald Trump is one of the greatest beasts known to man but because our country perpetuates many of the problems that happen in other countries. Any politics that pretends that America is the savior country of immigrants rather than the power that pushes them out of their homes in the first place falls woefully short.

But we must also return home because America is killing itself. Individuals filled with despair, wedged between the severity of the American Dream and the dying social programs of the state. Infrastructure crumbles, regulations are cut. Prisons are filled, schools are abandoned. The arm of the military grow, stretching resources thin. We are killing ourselves from the inside. Immigrants have nothing to do with it.

One of the most vital battles of our time will be fighting the assumption that immigrants are to blame for our failing country. One must be honest though about what is easy and what is not. For it is quite easy to be opposed to ICE when the only effect they have on your life is the dreary headlines. It is quite easy to be opposed to police murder when day after day cell phone videos of dead black bodies interrupt your daily routine. It is much harder though to be against the very existence of these forces, not as racialized cruelty machines that many whites of all classes gain pleasure from but rather as real economic forces that maintain a distance in socio-economic status. Like it or not, ICE functions as an organization to protect the American middle class.

When police murder someone, it is seen by many as a mistake. When ICE separates families it is supposed to be a mistake (as even the disgusting monster Donald Trump had to stop the bleeding somewhere). Yet their role as enforcers of the economic status quo remain. ICE essentially cleans up whatever neoliberal policies started.

Living in the North, who could like ICE? We aren’t getting immigrants coming through the Southern border. All we know is the South’s racism and human rights violations. It is the slavery divide all over again. By opposing ICE without opposing the economic conditions that make ICE’s function possible—both as a racist ‘populist’ tool and a sophisticated economic one—liberals fall into a death trap of classist and hypocritical nonsense.

The equivalent of ICE in the North is the police state. Take any ‘dangerous’ community (in other words poor and dark) and strip away for funds for schooling, housing, food, hospitals, etc. and ramp up the police presence. Neighborhoods stay separate and unequal. Rainbow signs declaring openness shine across freshly cut lawns while police are armed in schools of children miles away. If anyone tries to ‘immigrate’ into a nicer neighborhood, police will be involved. The shared space between rich and poor is in progressive idealism only. When push comes to shove, nice neighborhoods will be protected by force.

The justified indignation over Trump’s separation of families at the border was perhaps a reflection of the deep conservatism and assumed white supremacy of even the supposedly liberal Americans. I say deep conservatism because the women being defended by liberals were not whores, but mothers. And the men being defended by liberals were not drug dealers and rapists, but fathers. It is obviously a deeply conservative position to only be upset about ‘good’ families and not about the mass deportations in the Obama years (as well as Clinton and Bush years). The less obvious point is the assumed white supremacy. The assumption for most immigrants who are deported is that they are not of these good families. It has to constantly pointed out that these are good American people. Really? Very enlightening. Why wouldn’t they be? On the other hand, I would hope that some of the immigrants that Trump missed out on were not ‘good Americans’. We need a whole lot more of those people in this country.

Almost every analysis of Trump comes with some form of unnecessary mawkish sentiments about what it means to be an American. Sorry folks, Donald Trump is an American. He is an ignorant asshole in need of constant validation who must say whatever comes to his reality TV infested mind and do whatever his cheeseburger infected excuse for a heart leads him to do. Being an American is nothing to be proud of. But more importantly, it is hardly an ideological decision for most people. Most people come here out of necessity. And the majority of the country who is living paycheck to paycheck woke up in this shithole. If America has values, who would want a part of them? To the extent that America has any resources for its people, those in need may need a part of those.

Liberals may want more Americans, but do they want more immigrants? Is it possible to be pro-immigrant when one lives in a gated community? Is it possible to be pro-immigrant when one is part of the gentrification of poor communities of color at home? Is it possible to be pro-immigrant when one supports the soft and hard interventions across our Southern border? Is it possible to be pro-immigrant when one only wants to protect families, children and all the ‘innocent’ immigrants? Is it possible to be pro-immigrant when one constantly apologizes for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

American wars in the Middle East, Africa and Central America have been breaking up families for a long time. This has created a massive refugee crisis that splits up families further. Thank America’s inaction on climate change for the refugee crisis as well. The American police force does the same thing to occupied neighborhoods here at home. No other country rips away parents from their children like the United States. This is one of the consequences of mass incarceration that is seldom talked about. What happens when you lock up a person? Does one just think they have no one to care for? Do children deserve to be away from their parents in the United States?

The modern day internment camp in the United States is the prison system. This is not to take away from what ICE is doing but when it comes to human rights violations on a massive scale, the American prison system is hard to beat. It is no use comparing these disgraceful systems, and in fact they are largely related and should be protested simultaneously. Just based on the horror stories of the man Trump pardoned—Joe Arpaio—one should acknowledge that ICE should be protested with just as much vigor as the military-industrial complex or America’s police state.

Yet one must ask as always why do people care about families being torn apart now when it has been happening across the world and at home for a very long time. Slavery may hold as a parallel here. It is remembered by those of us in the North that we were against slavery and the South was for it. We remember being “progressive” and “not racist” compared to the backward South. The truth is that slavery was a much larger part of the economy in the South. Plain and simple. In a way everyone is racist but also the story is larger than race. It is just about how the society needed to run economically to maintain the caste system in each region.

How many suburban streets carry the signs “All Are Welcome Here” or something like that. It’s a great sign. And if it means something, great. For some people it does. But how easy is it to be welcoming when you live in a rich neighborhood? How easy is it to be welcoming when your job is not in peril? How easy is it to be welcoming when the only people of color you know are ones just like you—secure financially, highly schooled and adjusted to American life.

The sexiest thing about the immigration issue is the ‘populism’ narrative. Which is of course true. Most every American is a racist. Poor, rich or anything in between. White supremacist groups are dangerous and on the rise under Trump. Vigilante justice a la George Zimmerman is a thing and is encouraged by Trump and his base. This is a scary time to be an immigrant in America.

Yet we must reach beyond the ‘populism’ narrative, for it is low-hanging fruit. There are sophisticated machines of capital at work that pit workers against each other. I am of the camp that there are only two types of people: those who are for an immigrant when they are in your backyard and those who aren’t for immigrants at all. So this is not to waste time trying to excuse Trump or his base but to say that the coastal elites who live in gentrified spaces can easily be pro-immigrant without actually being for any real immigrants at all. They just like the idea of diversity or something.

There is nothing wrong with these separations of families drawing comparisons to Hitler’s Germany if it rouses people to action (although despite the many Holocaust references, Israel’s occupation of Palestine remains an all too confusing subject for modern SJWs). But if we are to learn anything from that time it is that Hitler succeeded because the liberals failed to provide real life economic solutions to the people. And when push came to shove, no one was willing to take in the Jews. This ultimately led to the creation of Israel, as the West found it easier to dump all the Jewish people in Palestine rather than take them in ourselves. This goes to show how thin our liberal society really is.

Trump is clearly overplaying his hand. He is as stupid as he is evil as he is paranoid. His method is fear first, plan later. He would be wise to adopt an Obama level of deportations, Bush bomb drops and Clinton arrests. We are past the point of rationalized cruelty though. Whatever was necessary to keeping the economic caste system in place has been handed over to a serious nutcase without humanity. There are two ways to go from here: a descent into tyranny or an epiphany that all evil is unnecessary. We must not only oppose ICE’s cruel and unnecessary actions but also its economic function. For as long as the world relies on the silence of the specialized class (what Noam Chomsky calls the top 20%) there will only be protest when the rich’s rule becomes unsustainable.

Why have borders in the first place? In the age of globalization, countries play off each other in a race to the bottom of deregulation. What ICE controls is not just the mythical white nation people in America hold pure but a barrier to entry of poor people into the community of people whose content and complicity is valued enough to be protected. As long as this community remains content, there will be no middle class protest to the very conditions that cause people to immigrate. Right now, the feathers of the 20% are ruffled. No sane person could deal with Donald Trump as a President (although his ardor for brutality seems Presidential enough). Donald Trump’s executive order changing course was too little too late but it proved that when the 20% is engaged we can make a difference. The challenge will be, will we stop there? Are we opposed only to viciousness or will we use our disgust as momentum to become opposed to the very idea of poverty itself?

As America locks up citizens at an unparalleled rate, it is America itself who deserves to be behind bars. As America dishes out pharmaceutical drugs for all reasons (just give us the weed!) it is America itself who needs to be drugged. As America engages in civilizing wars across the world, it is America itself who needs to be civilized. As America kidnaps immigrants and tears parents from young children it is America itself who needs to be ousted from other countries.

The long death of America will not come from immigrants, it will come from the deregulation and privatization of all goods and services. Slowly but surely air will get dirtier, water more polluted, working conditions more brutal, transportation more dangerous. The body count will not be televised. Who will hear the screams of a long and willful death spearheaded by America’s elites? The spirited response to ICE proves some parts of America’s body is still kicking. But this is a death from within. A deconstruction of an Empire drunk with power. We should be taking as many immigrants and refugees as we can. For this country is dying quickly and we need all the help we can get.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at