August 8, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Joaquin Castro’s Righteous Norm-Busting
A norm preventing you from fighting fascist terrorism is no norm at all.
Joaquin Castro is a US congressman from San Antonio, Texas. He’s the twin brother of Julián Castro, who’s running for the presidency. On Tuesday, Joaquin Castro did something his fellow Democrats tend to be uncomfortable with, but I think is right and necessary in order to beat back a resurging tide of homegrown fascism.
What did Joaquin Castro do? He broke a norm.
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Normally, members of Congress would not seek to publicly shame local private citizens for donating the maximum allowable amount of money to the reelection campaigns of presidents from the opposing party. There are good and healthy reasons for this norm, including basic respect for institutional integrity, etiquette and decorum as well as the self-regulating fear of chilling donor enthusiasm for your own party.
But on Tuesday, Joaquin Castro decided that this norm was no longer sustainable. Action in the face of homegrown fascism outweighed deference to it. Indeed, busting the norm was a constructive way of responding to an accelerating menace.
The need for action stemmed directly from the slaughter of innocents in El Paso, a massacre that punctuated the president’s three-year effort to ostracize or outlaw immigrants and people of color for the crime of existing. If donors are free to fund a president able to inspire murder, the public has the right to know who they are.
Of course, the public already knew who these private citizens were. Federal law requires disclosure of anyone giving the maximum allowable amount of money to a political campaign. Transparency is the point, because transparency is central to democracy. Joaquin Castro sparked outrage not because he made this information public. It already was. He sparked outrage, because he did it as a member of Congress. Norm-busting has consequences. The question: are the consequences worth it?
The Republicans say no. It’s dangerous.
Indeed, if the pitch of their squalling is any indication, Castro’s actions were the moral equivalent of the El Paso killer’s. Just as Patrick Crusius made lists of people he wanted to murder, Castro made a hit list too. Sure, Castro wouldn’t pull the trigger, they can say, but someone will, someone like Connor Betts. Before he killed en masse in Dayton, Ohio, Betts said online a few positive things about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The Republicans now say he’s a left-wing version of a right-wing Crusius. If Donald Trump can be blamed for El Paso, Castro should be blamed, too.
What should be at the center is the real people affected by white supremacy, especially the dead.
First, these are not moral equivalents. Second, there is no left-wing spasm of violence in this country, not yet anyway. Yes, antifa. Sure, sure. Get back to me when an antifascist writes a manifesto against whatever-I-don’t-know before killing wholesale. So far that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, the FBI, though not the White House, worries about fascist terrorism as much as it does about transnational 9/11-type terrorism.
Third, the Republicans and especially the president have not just busted norms on their own for their own reasons. They have vaporized them. The citizenry can’t even agree on observable reality anymore after years of right-wing propaganda and conspiracy-mongering. For the Republicans to hold norms as sacred after doing more than most to betray them is I don’t know. What’s worse than cancerous bad faith?
Fourth, the Republicans are trying to put their make-believe outrage over Castro’s norm-busting, and their make-believe fear of make-believe left-wing violence, at the center of public debate so that everyone is paying attention to their emotions and not the emotions of people being intimidated, terrorized and murdered simply for being who they are. By that, I don’t mean just by the lone wolves who are hearing Trump’s demagoguery about invading hordes. I’m talking about evils done in our name.
Two examples: The FBI issued a bulletin in 2006 alleging that white supremacist groups were “infiltrating law enforcement” to target people of color and recruit new members. It warned of “ghost skins” who are not overtly racist but blend into society to “covertly advance white supremacists causes.” In June, ICE deported a Iraqi diabetic raised in Detroit to Iraq where he couldn’t find insulin and died. Immigrants say they feel hunted. The hunters are not only modern-day brownshirts. They are the “good” guys. Yet the GOP pretends its outrage is important, because Trump is a “victim.”
Others say Castro’s norm-busting is a gift to Mitch McConnell. The Senate Majority Leader has long sought stuffing as much money as possible into the political system as well as legalizing complete anonymity for the rich. The Post’s peerless Paul Waldman said McConnell will use the Republicans’ fake outrage over Castro’s norm-busting, and their fake fear of fake left-wing violence, to “justify moves toward his ultimate goal of a system where the wealthy can give as much to candidates as they want.”
All that may be true, but all that still puts the Republicans and their cancerous bad faith as the center of public debate over a resurging tide of homegrown fascism.
What should be at the center is the real people most affected by white supremacy, especially the dead ones. If we don’t honor the dead with at least that much, we have broken faith, dishonoring them, ourselves and our devotion to the American creed. Norm-busting has consequences. The question: are those consequences worth it?
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.