The Citizenship’s Dilemma in the USA

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The idea of immigrants coming to the USA in search of a better life is an intrinsic part of the American Myth. This story reinforces some particular attributes that foreigners, like myself, and American citizens see in this country that allow us to establish a way of defining the spirit of the United States. The story tell us about a land of prosperity and opportunities, which attracts people all over the world to give a leap of faith and travel all the way here. It tells us about a nation that is welcoming to foreigners, painting an image of tolerance and inclusiveness, which is necessary to accept the different groups of people that come to live here and for this groups to be able to flourish. Ultimately, the idea of foreigners coming here creates the image of uniqueness. Meaning that America is not like most places. In other words, it is exceptional.

The tensions in this story are easy to see when one look into the history of the country and see the long history of discrimination and repression in the USA. Focusing in citizenship, a strong indicator of inclusiveness, one can see that immigrants from Western Europe were more welcome to this country than immigrants from, for example, China or Mexico. Another thing that is clear is that, even between people that were born here, the process of inclusion in citizenship has been a process of struggle for not land-owning white men, black people, Native Americans and women of all color.

Judith Shklar explores this struggle as part of voting when she says that: “after long and painful struggles the inherent political logic of American representative democracy, based on political equality, did prevail.” While political equality might had little meaning in the earlier history of a country that gave citizenship to such a limited and homogenous group of people, the fundamental values of equality and liberty were tools used by abolitionist fighters to question in a critical way the definition of American citizen. Frederick Douglass insightfully explored the huge gap of meaning of the American values in a country were slavery was legal. In his speech What to the Slave Is The Fourth of July?, he questioned this values, from an African-American perspective, saying: “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” His criticism was constructed not in the idea of changing American values, but in attacking its inconsistencies.

Shklar talked about the exclusivity of citizenship as part of what makes it special and the inherent contradiction it creates. Citizenship is a mean to create equal political individuals, but it also establish a system that excludes people, thus creating inequality. With the extension of citizenship, and its benefits, to marginal groups, the element of exclusion has diminished, but limiting citizenship to a certain group of people is still a defining element of the concept itself. In the actuality, most American citizens would agree that anybody that was born in American territory has the right to citizenship, but what about immigrants?

In American Citizenship, Shklar mentions that one of the two elements that make citizenship is the ability to earn money. In this country undocumented immigrants can earn money, but their lack of a legal status means that they can be send back to their country, and voting is not their right. Giving amnesty to undocumented workers is a possibility, but this might bother the people that try to move to this country legally, which connects to the idea of citizenship as something exclusive. What is the point of following rules to become a citizen if other people can get it when they broke the law? Does this diminish the meaning of American citizenship?

I don’t pretend to come to any conclusion about the immigration debate. However, I would like to point back at the troubles and tensions of immigration. Laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or the Immigration Act of 1924 showed a clear systematic tendency to discriminate immigrants from certain parts of the world. There are special countries, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala and Salvador, where the USA involvement in the last couple of decades has left serious socio-economic problems, which should be consider when people of those countries try to move to this country. Finally, any argument about immigration should be make trying to uphold the noblest side of the American values and should not dehumanize and generalize immigrants. The reasons of people to move are varied and should be seen, according to the history of American immigration that many hold as true, with at least a minimum of empathy and understanding.

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Why President Trump Is Not Winning At Crafting His Legacy

Like many politicians, Donald Trump offered many pledges that he aimed to fulfill in his presidential term in exchange for votes. Many of these campaign promises made to his supporters have been successful or somewhat successful, such as nominating a judge similar to Antonin Scalia, keeping Guantanamo Bay open, canceling the Paris climate agreement, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and reversing many of Obama’s executive orders. If you have some knowledge of the political process, these campaign promises are so simple that even a child could accomplish them (so long as they know where to sign). The vast majority of these promises simply require trumps signature and would be accomplished in similar fashion by someone else with an (R) next to their name.

Trump has made short work of deconstructing former president Obama’s legacy in many ways, as highlighted by some of the campaign promises listed above, but it is often said that it is much easier to destroy than create, and I tend to agree. Critics of Trump’s presidency have often stated, and rightly so, that his administration has not crafted and implemented a signature accomplishment. Without one or more of these signature achievements, Trump’s legacy will not be seen as “making America great again” by his supporters, but instead as a stain in history mired in, I dare say, a swamp of investigations and administrative incompetence. At this rate this is exactly what will occur, as explained below.

One reason that trump will struggle to accomplish much of anything is that any major accomplishment will likely have to be a legislative achievement. This requires cooperation from congress, and we all know how that’s been going. In a leaked conversation between GOP leaders in 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) joked that Putin pays Trump. Trump all but called out Senators Jeff Flake (who has been a vocal Trump critic) and John McCain during his campaign rally in Phoenix earlier this year and has threatened to shut down the government unless there is funding for a border wall (republicans do not want a shut down). Additionally, there have been reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and trump have not spoken in weeks. Meanwhile, Trump has had twitter arguments with Senator Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and most recently Senator Bob Corker (don’t expect this to remain the most recent for long). This non-exhaustive list does not even include democrats! With only a slim Republican majority in the US Senate, trump has to learn to work with others or nothing will get done. Sad!

Additionally, the white house itself is a mess. Believe me. Anthony Scaramucci, who was hired as the White House Communications Director in part to crack down on leaks in the White House, proceeded to accidentally leak information to a New Yorker reporter, and was consequently fired, all in the span of two weeks. Many do not see Trump as being serious or even caring when he hires and fires staff. Many in the White House have also been forced to resign or voluntarily quit. This non-exhaustive list of prominent figures includes Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon. The administration seems to be on pace for a record of staff shakeups, which does not help raise morale or stay consistent on the administrations messaging. Additionally, there are many factions in the white house vying for attention, including but not limited to: Trumps family members, the anti-establishment, the establishment, and the generals (Trump loves his generals).

Most recently, it has been reported by several sources present in a meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a moron. In an October 15th interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Tillerson said “I’m not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff” when asked if the reports were true. That’s an odd statement! Why didn’t he answer by simply saying “No, I did not call the president a moron”? Either the secretary of state has fails in clearly communicating his message, or he does not want to admit that he did call the President a moron. Either option does not bode well for this administration. Perhaps there is some other reasoning behind this response. If you have any insight to add, feel free to comment below!

The incompetence of the White House and failure to craft efficient policy positions lies squarely on our President’s shoulders. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and Trump confirms this saying every day, big league! The post election pivot that many expected Trump to make (towards moderate rhetoric, proposals, and administration) has not and is unlikely to ever surface. The Trump White House will be hard pressed to pass a significant legislative achievement to craft his legacy into a positive light when GOP allies are threatened and the White House staff and administration is incapacitated. There seems to be no end in sight in Trump’s destructive behavior. One does not have to look further than the President’s tweets to see that there is no concise focus. If you don’t agree with Trump’s goals such as building a great wall, repealing the affordable care act, and so on, then rejoice, as it does not seem that these goals will be met any time soon.

 

Sources Cited: You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. Believe me folks.

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Europe in the Shadow of the US: What Does Paine’s and Our Common Sense Say about American Nature?

“We have boasted the protection of Great-Britain, without considering, that her motive was interest not attachment; that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account. But from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account, and who will always be our enemies on the same account.”

This part of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense shows us that today we are facing right the opposite situation. Europe is (such as other US “allies”) awaiting protection covering in reality American interests. The problem is, however, that US interest in European affairs and problems is continuously fading, which is also reflected in US approach towards NATO for the lost raison d’état. We are trying to convince ourselves that there is some common ground, shared values and interests between Europe and the US but is it really true? Is interconnected history something that brings the US and European countries closer to each other or has this alliance always been a fiction which both sides of the Atlantic needed?

Some argue that in the last half-century the only elements connecting the USA and Europe were the Soviet threat, economic ties between the US and Europe and generation of political elites, which has built cooperation of the two. These three elements are, however, slowly disappearing. Soviet threat has disappeared, opinion gap concerning international trade is bigger and bigger and generation gap together with growth of American West and South is eliminating the third of elements mentioned.

While evaluating if has common history ever built shared values or brought some gratitude to transatlantic relations, we can go back to Paine saying: “I have heard it asserted by some, that America hath flourished under her former connexion with Great-Britain, that the same connexion is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. … I answer roundly, that America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power had any thing to do with her. The commerce, by which she hath enriched herself, are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.” We can only wonder if there are really no common roots that America would perceive.

Looking at the willingness to protect Europe we can at the same time cite Paine saying long time ago what is that significant for the US today more than before:

“I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew, a single advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected with Great-Britain [the same it would be presumably for any other European country]. … The injuries and disadvantages we sustain by that connexion, are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance. Because, any submission to, or dependence on Great-Britain, tends directly to involve this continent in European wars and quarrels.”

Going deeper this quote reveals, in my opinion, a lot about American nature. First it mentions “duty to mankind” which may already at that time refer to posterior US conviction of being “the world’s indispensable nation” as Bill Clinton called it. Furthermore saying “instruct us” which sounds like if Americans were not making their own choice, doing something only because they feel they have to. This especially reminds me of Robert Kagan’s book “Dangerous Nation” and what Robert Kagan said about deemed US isolationism (here linked to the apparent unwillingness further care about Europe, so up to date). He said: “Most Americans do like to have an image of ourselves as pretty much minding our own business until somebody does something which requires us to go out and act in the world.” But that is really almost a self-constructed myth. The United States has never been a status-quo power, it has always been a revolutionary one and 400 years of territorial and commercial expansion speak clearly for this argument. (For more read interview with Robert Kagan here http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6337955 or the book Dangerous Nation: America’s Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century)

We can say then that with one significant military intervention in approximately every 19 months the United States cannot pretend they are minding their own business. The only understandable argument is that Europe has no longer significant importance for the US and neither has NATO. Another possibility is that the USA is, with its unilateralist vision, constantly lying to itself or not perceiving own behavior correctly as Kagan also claimed in his books. Last Paine’s quote may in allegory summarize both this thesis and previous inferences about the US international behavior: “Men (the US) who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

 

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Are housewives’ citizens?

Being a housewife in our society is sometimes considered as luxury, as it usually means that the man in the house earns enough money to support the family. Housewives are envied, but are also often criticized. Before, the role of women was mainly to care for children, home, to cook…. Nevertheless, as society evolved, women began to work to support the family or their own needs. Many men see housewives as privileged people who can do whatever they want of their days. A survey has been conducted and shows that housewives are not inactive at all. Indeed, a housewife does on average 94 hours of work per week, which would correspond to a monthly salary of $6900. An active woman (work and house) makes 98 hours for a salary of $4100. Thus, this study shows that staying at home is not restful and not rewarded at its seems to be. Beyond the fictitious salary of a housewife, there is also the question of citizenship. This makes me bounce back on the book of Shklar “American citizenship” which explains that to be citizen, one must vote and be able to earn. She gives the example of slaves in her book and explains that because they do not have the opportunity to vote or earn, they are not citizens. Thus, slaves are not considered as belonging to society: they are excluded. What about the case of housewives? Can they vote? The answer is yes! Do they have the opportunity to earn? The answer to this question is more complex. According to Shklar, the answer would be no because they do not work outside the home, they do not receive wages and do not contribute to the society. Nevertheless, must these two conditions be met in order to be considered as a citizen?
I do not agree with Shklar. First of all, according to the 14th Amendment of the American Constitution, it is mentioned that “any person born or naturalized in the United States, subject to their jurisdiction, is a citizen of the United States and of the State in which he resides “. This amendment does not, in any way, refer to the two categories described by Shklar. Nevertheless, voting is considered as a right, but also a citizen’s duty. Everyone is free to vote or not, but the fact of having the right to vote is a characteristic of the citizen. As far as the right to work and earn is concerned, I do not think it has any place in the definition of citizenship. Indeed, it is not because one is unemployed, because the company for which one worked for example closed, that the person cannot be considered as a citizen anymore. Rather, it is about personal satisfaction, but also for being seen as a “normal person” by society. Indeed, who has ever heard that an unemployed person is lazy? Many of you I think. Nevertheless, are we aware of the reasons why the person is unemployed? Perhaps it is not his choice. Should his citizenship be withdrawn? I do not think so. For me, citizenship represents the fact of belonging to society, regardless of our standard of living, religion, social class, but also the fact of having rights and duties with the possibility of participating in the political life of our country. Shklar speaks about the concept of inclusion in his book but does the imposition of these conditions to be a citizen does not refer rather to an exclusion?

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“What Happened” to Us?

This post is by lachew.

 

On September 12, 2017, I scrolled through my Facebook feed to see a friend’s status declaring that he was “feeling excited” to read a book that he had preordered: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir, What Happened. As I scrolled a bit further on my news feed, I saw that another friend had shared a post quoting Bernie Sanders, as he refuted that he was one of the causes for Clinton’s loss in the contentious 2016 election. Of course, I also came across a news article describing Trump’s latest Twitter activity, a retweet of an image mocking Clinton’s book.

 

The clashing perspectives of these three players in the latest presidential election bring to mind James Madison’s writings in Federalist 10. It can be hotly debated which of these three figures led factions that injected “instability, injustice, and confusion” into American politics. Yet, both Sanders’s and Trump’s comments spurred other prominent (both Democratic and Republican) leaders to scorn, mock, and deride Clinton’s take on her campaign.

 

But why is that? According to Politico, Democrats “dread Hillary’s book tour”. A WaPo article laments the fact that Clinton isn’t “going gently”. Party figures claim that the timing of the book’s release is the “worst possible time” for the Democratic Party, telling the former Secretary of State to “zip it” and “move on”. Even conservative news sources have jumped on the bandwagon, with The Daily Caller quoting an unnamed fundraiser’s blunt complaint for Clinton to “shut the f— up and go away”.

 

It seems pretty obvious that these reactions to the memoir “are united to and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest”—that impetus would be the campaign, its loss, the book, and Clinton herself. And these attempts to quietly hush Clinton have effects that are just as important too; they limit the political community’s ability to understand our history from more than just the “winner’s” side, and rob us of the chance to learn from her campaign’s mistakes. Or, in other words: are these attacks “adverse to… the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”? If they are, then we’ve found a contemporary case of James Madison’s faction.

 

It’s true that this faction’s boundaries aren’t split along conventional party lines, economic class, or any other trait that one of the other major presidential nominees would have suggested. But Hillary Clinton uniquely made history as the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. After this “nasty woman” ended her last campaign seeking public office, she again joins (or, more accurately, re-joins) the ranks of women whom men try to silence.

 

The double standard is obvious, particularly in the Washington Post piece; apparently, “publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it”. If that’s true, then I’d love to hear suggestions for a more “appropriate” course of action—perhaps the author might also claim that efforts to end police brutality may not benefit people of color, speaking out about racism won’t affect immigrants and their families, and laws preventing bigotry and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community could very well be ineffective. But if we don’t speak out when we see a problem, there’ll be only one thing left to say when our community falls apart: what happened?

 

Politico article: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/07/hillary-clinton-book-tour-democrats-242419

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hillary-clinton-smash-your-rearview-mirror/2017/06/02/7d5afe28-47d0-11e7-a196-a1bb629f64cb_story.html?utm_term=.3f59e0cd5184

The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2017/09/07/former-clinton-fundraiser-says-hillary-should-shut-the-f-up-and-go-away/

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America’s Founding Fathers and Modern Globalism

In the past couple of weeks, most of the classroom conversation and assigned readings have been about the debate surrounding anti-federalism and federalism in the early days of America.  In one of our classes the question was asked about whether the policies of President Donald Trump could be more strongly linked to the ideology of the early federalists or anti-federalists. This got me thinking about whether or not a president would be more likely to embrace globalist policies depending on which of these two ideologies that he subscribed to. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the word globalism refers to national geopolitical policy in which the entire world is regarded as the appropriate sphere for a state’s influence, and a national geopolitical policy in which the entire world is regarded as the appropriate sphere for a state’s influence.
A globalist is then of course, someone who advocates for globalism.
While I think it is safe to assume that the federalists and anti-federalists whom we have been discussing could not have imagined the international community as complex as it is today, there is evidence that both sides understood the importance of international ties with with other nations as it pertains to commerce and trade. The distrust they seem to have had for foreign governments, however, is also the clearly the same as what we witness today. As participants in a young democracy, they clearly understood the need to put their fledgling of a country before that of other nations. Anti-federalist Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “Commerce with all nations, alliances with none, should be our motto”, while the federalist George Washington wrote, “A people who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and will pursue their advantages, may achieve almost anything,” and “Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world. Today, unfortunately, there is prevalence of the sentiment that one—or one’s country should self sacrifice for the good of the international community. This new concept of globalism is the opposite of the idea propagated by both federalists and anti-federalists of the importance of the strong sovereign state.
After listening to President Trump’s latest speech to the United Nations, it is apparent that he shares both anti-federalists and federalists concerns as they relate to the role that the United States plays in the world. Making many references to the sovereignty of the United States, it is obvious to the political observer that he has a lack of trust in international institutions such as the United Nations and NATO. This was to be expected based on campaign rhetoric and promises during the 2016 presidential elections. Some, however, may have expected a more critical view of the international involvement of the United States, while the newly elected head of state demonstrated he sees the value in diplomacy, international collaboration, and the combined efforts to prevent another world war. President Trump—while affirming the right of all nations to pursue what is in their best interests, especially in regards to the United States—acknowledges the importance of the international community. It is, however, apparent that he sees his loyalty and his responsibilities are to the American people first, before implicating his country in affairs abroad.

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Politics Beyond the Halls of Power

In reading excerpts from James Morone’s “The Democratic Wish” this week in APT, we examined an American government where a constant theme throughout the ages has been political stalemate. Morone depicts a people who are simultaneously afraid of government and frustrated by how ineffective it is. Every now and then we cycle through the stages of the Democratic Wish only to return to our starting point of status quo. If little change does occur, it only serves to make our government even more convoluted than it previously was. 

Yet, my biggest takeaway from Morone’s piece was more than just the inability to create change in America through our traditional political mechanisms and institutions, such as the ballot or our Congress. I found Morone’s diagnosis of political stalemate a bit too pessimistic, and perhaps indicative of America’s narrow conception of how Americans can have a political impact. Do we really need conventional political institutions to change American politics? Can we make a difference without Congress or either of the two major parties? I believe we can, and American politics is rich in history when it comes to politics beyond the Capitol. 

As American political elections become increasingly expensive, and outcomes more reliant on who raised more money, it seems our politicians are spending more time at fundraisers and less time engaging with their constituents. Just last year, Congressman Steve Israel of New York turned heads as he announced his retirement from Congress, citing the grueling demands of constant fundraising for re-election campaigns as a major reason for his decision.

Here’s Congressman Israel speaking to John Oliver on Last Week Tonight on Congressional Fundraising

Today many Americans are dissatisfied with Congress, whose approval ratings languish today in the teens. A constant complaint of the public is dissatisfaction with how divided we are as Americans, and yet even policy proposals that register high favorable polling numbers such as universal background checks for gun purchases fail to pass in either chamber of Congress. Our government designed to protect us from a tyrannical government instead leaves us with what one could call a “tyranny of the minority”.

FT_gunproposals_15.01.05

As much as it may feel like we have a do-nothing Congress, it ought not to condemn us to politics as usual. Yes, Politicians clearly have an important role to play in our politics as they craft our laws, but the 20th Century left us with plenty of political leaders who never served a day in public office. Would Lyndon Johnson have ever signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts had Martin Luther King and groups like SNCC not marched the streets? Was it politicians who helped secure the weekend and safe working conditions, or was the heavy lifting done by the labor movement comprised of trade unions, radicals and anarchists? Would the ails of the ghettos in America’s inner cities gone noticed by politicians had the N.W.A. not sold millions of copies of Straight Outta Compton? While Martin Luther King never served a day in office, and rappers like Eazy-E never chaired any Senate committees, they played an indelible role in shaping the political agendas, priorities and victories of 20th Century American politics. 

Perhaps iconic political leaders of the 20th Century like Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez emerged because these leaders were unrestrained by the chains inherent within our traditional corridors of power, nor explicitly tied to either major political party. Colin Kaepernick said he didn’t vote in last November’s election, but can anyone say he isn’t exercising his political voice? Just tuning into football on Sundays, we see the power sports and athletes can have in shaping the political discussions that happen on CNN, Fox News, and even the President’s Twitter account. Democracies are not guaranteed, and if we don’t use it, we might just lose it. But our conception of democracy and politics in America must be more than just casting ballots. 

 

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