July 9, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Elite Indifference to America

Jeffrey Epstein could not exist in a country truly dedicated to equality before the law. 

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Editor’s note

Today’s edition goes out to everyone.

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Many thanks. —JS

I know I keep saying this, but it bears repeating. Borders do not define a nation. They are mostly arbitrary legal fictions that nations establish for purely political reasons. 

Nations, in other words, define borders, not the other way around. Indeed, without a nation, there could be no border, because without a national consciousness to organize people’s thoughts and feelings—the means by which people choose to define their nation’s character—the concept of a border would be impossible to think about.

Borders are the skin of a nation. The nation is the rest of the body politic—the bones, blood, etc. If the body gets sick, we look to the skin for indicators, but we don’t stop with treating symptoms. You seek to treat, or cure, the body politic of the disease. 

Sabotaging the national consciousness.

As things go right now, the Trump administration is treating symptoms, not the core sickness. The president and the Republican Party believe they are making America great again. The outcome is the opposite. Not only are they ignoring the core sickness; in treating symptoms only, they are making the illness worse. Much worse. 

Last week, I told you about the administration’s plan to review an established rule shielding immigrant families of military personnel from deportation. This morning, the AP reported that the Pentagon is quietly discharging immigrant reservists and recruits who were promised a path to citizenship in exchange for service to the nation.

The Associated Press: “The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures.”

Let’s spell out some implications.

On the one hand, the United States government is betraying people who entered into an agreement in good faith. The deal was supposed to be duty, honor and sacrifice in exchange for citizenship. In reneging on that deal, however, the government is cheapening not only those noble traits, but also the republican virtue of citizenship. 

Moreover, the government’s betrayal is based solely on the idea that one’s identity—poor non-white immigrant—is incompatible with a national consciousness that reveres the tenet of equality. To put it another way, as I did last week: “honor, duty and sacrifice mean diddly if the government does not like who or what your family is.”

On the other hand, the government is betraying our history.

Immigrants have been fighting and dying in our military since before the founding of the American republic. As an attorney told the AP: “Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775. We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”

Which brings us to an important practical implication.

Discharging immigrant recruits or deporting families of native-born recruits is about the best way one could imagine of deterring men and women from signing up for all-volunteer military service, thus weakening the armed forces from the inside out, and thus weakening the nation’s ability to defend itself. In other words, these “nationalist” efforts to strengthen our nation are a gaping maw of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

If the Trump administration is treating symptoms, what’s the disease? Public corruption is the answer, and by that I mean the creeping systemic rot of civic institutions that comes with historic levels of political and economic inequality. 

There is a class (and a generation) of Americans that no longer sees itself as being rooted in this country, and is therefore uncommitted to the demands of democracy. As Christopher Lasch might have put it, the top 20 percent not only possess a staggering proportion of wealth, they have “removed themselves from the common life.” In 1994’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, the conservative historian wrote:

“It is not just that they see no point in paying for public services they no longer use. Many of them have ceased to think of themselves as Americans in any important sense, implicated in America’s destiny for better or worse. Their ties are to the international culture or work and leisure … make many of them deeply indifferent to prospect of American national decline.” 

It’s not conceivable to me that someone like Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy pedophile appearing to have been a pimp for the rich and powerful, could exist in a country truly dedicated to equality before the law. You can be above the law if you’re rich and powerful enough in a country supposedly dedicated to justice for all. The United States comforts the comfortable, and afflicts the afflicted, and thus sabotages the core tenet of our national consciousness. Immigrants on the border are not the enemy.

The enemy is us. 

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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