White Lies

“We are a nation of laws.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, and it may even ring true if you were born white — in which case you may also get a presidential pardon or concierge service in the courts. But this is a lie we tell ourselves. And by “we” I mean many white people.

But if you were born poor, brown, black, or without American citizenship, the “nation of laws” claim often rings as hollow as a November pumpkin.

Just ask Cyntoia Brown, who was enslaved into sex work and had to shoot her rapist to escape. Brown was sentenced to 51 years in prison for the killing and, despite wide support for clemency, was not on Tennessee governor Bill Haslam’s list of 11 people granted clemency on Thursday.

On the flip slide, Jeffrey Epstein — a friend of Donald Trump’s — received a relatively light sentence of 13 months in jail for raping dozens of under-aged girls. One of his victims was even recruited at Trump’s Mar Lago resort. Epstein’s prosecutor, Alexander Acosta — also a friend of Trump’s — worked out the gentlemanly plea deal entre blancs and went on to become Trump’s Secretary of Labor.

If you think Epstein, Trump, and Brett Kavanaugh are exceptions to how society winks at white sexual predators, consider this case from last week. In Louisiana a white Baylor University frat boy convicted of rape got a $400 fine and probation — and that was it. Jacob Walter Anderson walked away after paying a fine, his life and freedom intact. No jump suit, no 51 year sentence.

“These people need to get in line for citizenship.”

When it comes to refugee status, asylum, work visas, and citizenship, we white people cloak ourselves in the same sorts of lies.

From the beginnings of the nation until 1924, only white people were allowed to legally immigrate. The Chinese Exclusion Act was based on claims that Chinese were immoral, criminal, brought smallpox, opium, and could not be culturally absorbed — virtually every lie that today’s FOX News commentators repeat about Central American refugees.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1922 that a Japanese businessman named Takao Ozawa was not a Caucasian and therefore did not qualify for citizenship. A case three months later involving an Indian, Bhagat Singh Thind, ruled that Indians were not Caucasians and Thind actually had his citizenship stripped. If you’ve been paying attention to Trump’s immigration policies, the renewed threats of denaturalization and the movement to abolish the 14th Amendment are revived assaults on people of color in a long, continuous, racist history.

So let’s be clear. For almost all of our history there was no immigration line for anyone except white people. And a story from this week’s news illustrates a related fact — that, besides demonizing people of color, the “system” has continuously provided legal advantages for white immigrants — even to this day.

Outgoing “moderate” House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has persistently blocked help for DACA recipients and reforms which would benefit Latinos and other brown people, submitted bill H.R. 7164, written to let Irish nationals use some of the 10,500 annual Australian visas — thus ensuring that white people are directed to the head of the immigration line.

The Danger Within

We’ve entered a dangerous era in the United States. Many of our nominal constitutional protections have been officially suspended for a generation, the USA now runs a vast network of concentration camps for asylum seekers, whose simple arrival at “our” borders has been criminalized. The president uses racist invective without shame and calls himself a nationalist. The liberal-ish press sees itself primarily as a purveyor of entertainment and strives for “balance” while their right-wing colleagues practice sycophancy and promote the most extreme propaganda.

Why is Western “democracy” so vulnerable to fascism and nationalism? Why does fascism come back with a vengeance every three or four generations? It is a mistake to ascribe this to unique economic and historical conditions that produce monsters like Trump, Duterte, MBS, Orban, and Bolsonaro. And although expressions of xenophobia and white supremacy include Capitalism and colonialism, Marx can’t adequately explain it.

There is something dark and perverse in human nature. The fascists we ought to fear the most are not always the demagogues who show up on election years — sometimes they live right next door.

In 1929 Freud saw something frightening approaching as he wrote Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, which has been translated as Civilization and its Discontents. It’s one of Freud’s best and most pessimistic essays. Whatever you may think of psychoanalysis, mommy issues or cigars, Freud offers insight into the clash — not of civilizations — but between “civilization” and the individual. His work, alongside that of anarchists like Emma Goldman, tries to explain why “democracies” never manage to rise above human frailty. More often, in fact, they enshrine our worst human impulses in law and hand over power to hyper-aggressive miscreants and monsters.

This week’s ongoing deterioration of Western democracy includes Australia’s new surveillance legislation which neuters encryption standards so that security services can read citizens’ encrypted communications. This joins New Zealand’s digital strip-search legislation, which fines people $5,000 if they won’t allow their phones and laptops to be searched without a warrant.

China is rolling out its “social credit” system, which makes the Stasi’s files look benign in comparison. And the Philippine president has called for the murder of Catholic clergy critical of him. Domestically, a FWD.us and Cornell University study released this week revealed the extent of America’s police state — one half of all Americans have a family member currently or once incarcerated. And as I write this the American president still continues to defend a Saudi prince who US spy agencies say was complicit in a horrific assassination.

For all the fascist preoccupation with refugees, we have little to fear from people crossing our borders. As always, the real danger lies within.