Members Only | June 25, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

In Border Crisis, Dems Are Complicit

As in the past, they continue to accept the GOP's bad faith.

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Oh, the Democrats are scandalized! They are outraged by the treatment of immigrant kids in concentration camps on the southern border! How can this happen? they tell us. How can the United States, land of the free, home of the brave, treat the poor and the tired and the hungry as if they were political prisoners remanded to the Gulag? 

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not only because the president and his administration are fascist. To be sure, the Democrats did not launch a “zero tolerance” policy that belies federal law and the human right to asylum. No, the Democrats are not building walls. No, the Democrats did not unleash, as Donald Trump did, the closeted Aryans of US Customs and Border Patrol. But the Democrats have done plenty to contribute to this debacle. 

Imagine if instead of spending billions on “security,” Dems fought to deregulate the border.

The Democrats, led by former President Barack Obama, once believed the Republicans were dealing in good faith when they demanded security in exchange for supporting immigration reform. To that end, the Obama administration, with the blessing of congressional Democrats, spent billions and billions to secure the southern border. (This was in keeping with the previous administration’s post-9/11 military buildup.) The Obama administration, moreover, deported more people than all presidents combined (up to that point). Sure, the Democrats were splitting up immigrant families but the hope was from pain would come reform, specifically a pathway to citizenship. 

The Republican leadership, however, never intended to work with the administration on immigration reform. To be sure, some “moderates” like US Senators Lindsey Graham and the late John McCain tried and succeeded in crafting deals with Senate Democrats. But even they surely knew it didn’t matter what they did, and if so, they were right. Every time the Senate passed an immigration package, the House killed it.

Why? By 2013, the Republican base had decided anything short of a border lock-down was dangerously insecure. The party’s base had decided anything smacking of reform smacked of amnesty. These were and are impossible standards, and the Republicans knew it. But as long as the Democrats kept thinking they could satisfy those standards, as long as the Democrats kept throwing money at the border while waiting for the right-wing fever to break, the GOP was happy. It took pleasure in its advantage.

And it continues to, even though the current administration is transparently fascist, even though it is establishing concentration camps to shelter what can only be called political prisoners, people jailed not for doing something wrong—they have the legal right to seek asylum per law—but for being disliked by the current president. 

None of this would have been possible if the Democratic Party had not accepted for years for the sake of political expediency the Republican Party’s utter and toxic bad faith. None of this would have been possible without the billions and billions that went into “securing the border” over the last two decades. Concentration camps and the criminal treatment of innocent kids scandalized the Democrats this week but none of it would have been possible without complicity on the part of the Democrats. 

Borders do not define a nation. Borders, properly understood, reflect a nation, meaning that problems on the border tend to reflect problems elsewhere in the body politic so that the more attention paid to the nation’s borders, the less attention is paid to the nation’s real problems. Put another way, the Democrats, in playing along with the Republicans, are not only surrendering their political leverage; they are drawing attention away from issues where they have a much stronger hand. Imagine if instead of spending billions on “border security,” the Democrats fought instead to deregulate the southern border in the name of openness, free labor and free enterprise.

Here’s how Manlio Graziano put it in his short book, What Is a Border? He said: 

Each proposed false solution to a real problem only ends up creating new problems. The real problem that in these last few years has opened the floodgates to the excessive passion for borders is the shifting of power, that is, the shifting of the economic—and this ultimately—geopolitical axis of the world.

Thinking the problem can be resolved by strengthening borders is like thinking that one can lose weight by breaking the scale. Indeed, it’s much worse: breaking the scale at the most leads to a false good conscience and a few more pounds; coming up with false solutions to real political problems allows us to have a good conscience for only a bit longer because there will inevitably be new and more serious problems, setting off a dangerous downward spiral.

The Republicans, in making a fetish of the southern border, have been leading the way in America’s downward spiral, because the party has no good new ideas proportional to the political and economic challenges awaiting us in the 21st century. That wouldn’t be so bad if the Democrats weren’t so eager to prove they too stand for security, thus contributing to a false solution to a real problem that’s only making things worse.

—John Stoehr

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

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