Unicorns

This week there were a couple of studies in the news which shine a little light into the darkness that is settling over America. One should be read by all Democrats. The other will almost certainly be ignored by reality- and reading-averse Republicans. But both call into question the existence of near-mythological creatures believed to be true.

The first study, released last week by the Pew Research Center, calls into question the importance of the mythological swing voter. It turns out that the 40% of voters who identify as “independents” are not really all that independent. 13%, in fact, are pretty much reliable Republicans, while 17% are fairly reliable Democrats. This leaves 7% — mostly young and male — who are politically unmoored. This is no great revelation in a polarized political landscape in which the “middle” has largely eroded.

What’s important, however, is that, of these 7% only a third actually vote, which reduces the actual number of “independents” to about 2.3% of the American electorate. Democrats might actually appeal to some of these disaffected young voters if they chose a progressive candidate under 70, yet many in the 2020 race think they can appeal to the unicorn by bashing the social safety net, going weak on abortion, or alienating minority voters by slamming “identity politics.” Rather than trying to lower themselves to GOP standards, Democrats ought to be doubling-down on what makes them stand out from Republicans. And redoubling their opposition to Trump’s Imperial Presidency.

On this last point, Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University who has correctly predicted the last nine presidential elections, warns that — unless Democrats “grow a spine” and risk alienating white swing voting unicorns by launching impeachment proceedings — we will see Donald Trump re-elected in 2020.

* * *

The second study, which was actually published a couple of years ago, reinforces a large body of research on immigration and criminality, showing (once again) that immigrants are actually less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The so-called “violent illegal” or Trump’s “Mexican rapist” are both unicorns, figments of the white supremacist imagination.

With the dry title, “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades,” a study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice concludes:

Research has shown little support for the enduring proposition that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime. Although classical criminological and neoclassical economic theories would predict immigration to increase crime, most empirical research shows quite the opposite. We investigate the immigration-crime relationship among metropolitan areas over a 40 year period from 1970 to 2010. Our goal is to describe the ongoing and changing association between immigration and a broad range of violent and property crimes. Our results indicate that immigration is consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime throughout the time period. […]

Despite continuing nativist arguments alleging a causal relationship between immigration and crime, individual-level research based on arrest and offense data of the foreign-born shows that they are overall less likely to offend than native-born Americans. Some argue, however, that regardless of immigrants’ relatively low involvement in crime at the individual level, immigration might nevertheless be tied to increases in crime through structural and macro-level mechanisms. […]

Our results indicate that, for property crimes, immigration has a consistently negative effect. For violent crimes, immigration has no effect on assault and a negative effect on robbery and murder. This is strong and stable evidence that, at the macro-level, immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it. The interpretation of our results gives us pause when considering the current cultural ethos in the United States. The variety of legislation at the state level aimed at immigrants, legal or not, is underscored by popular sentiments about how current immigration is detrimental to the U.S. economically and socially. But at least when it comes to crime — and in fact, on many other counts addressed in the literature — there is no evidence at a metropolitan level of these severe impacts. Our results are clear and overarching that immigration does not lead to increases in crime in American metropolitan areas.

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.

When they came for me

Now that the Massachusetts Legislature has sold out immigrants, it seemed like a good time to affirm our responsibilities for one another and to our own liberties. Several friends have mentioned this poem in recent weeks (I wonder why?). There have been many versions of this but the martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de identifies this as the first:

Als sie mich holten

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
When the Nazis came for the Communists,
I was silent,
I was not a Communist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
When they locked up the Socialists,
I was silent,
I was not a Socialist.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
When they came for the unionists,
I was silent,
I was not a trade unionist.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.
When they came for me
there was no one left
who could protest.

— Martin Niemoller