Politics overshadowed Easter observances in Kiev and Moscow, with the Orthodox religious leaders in each capital trading barbs over the crisis in Ukraine -- while the US reportedly prepared to send ground forces to neighbouring Poland. Patriarch Filaret…
The news that Biden's administration is to provide legal support for unaccompanied migrant children in several American cities will doubtless be welcomed. The federal initiative is said to provide attorneys to represent children facing deportation proceedings after having entered the country on their own at the southern border.
But when examining United States border policy holistically, the move doesn't go nearly far enough. It's a drop in the ocean when considering the escalating humanitarian crisis — and it is a crisis — that exists as a result of US border policies, foreign policy and influence.
First, the way to deal with a surge in unaccompanied minors is not to buttress legal provisions. The sensible and humane thing would be to allow passage for their parents and guardians to safely enter the country in order to have their asylum claims processed together as families. The sanctity of families should be protected at all costs.
While many Democrats might choose to blame the migration crisis on the Trump era, that's too easy. Biden's administration has the power to rescind Title 42 whenever it wishes. Yet Title 42 remains in place despite Biden promising to break from such policies, and in the face of demands from the UN and countless other humanitarian groups demanding its removal. Furthermore, with the availability of vaccines, covid is no longer an excuse to maintain racist border policies.
In recent days, four United Nations agencies have warned against the dangers of deporting Haitians arriving at the border back to Haiti. Instability in the island nation is serious. Experts highlight food shortages, gang violence and political turmoil in the wake of the assassination of a former president. Haiti still suffers from the after-effects of its most recent earthquake. The US special envoy there resigned, citing the treatment of Haitians at the southern border.
The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy.
If the conditions outlined by Daniel Foote and UN agencies don't justify the chance to safely claim asylum, then what does?
There's a reason, too, why many are characterizing the treatment of Haitian migrants as anti-Black. From Afghans to Canadian border crossers, other migrants are treated better. The Biden administration's border policies break the president's campaign promises. They arguably also break domestic and international law. They are self-evidently morally repugnant, enforced with barbarity. The real reason that such policies exist is, of course, to satisfy America's insatiable unwarranted paranoia over so-called border security.
The flames of that paranoia were stoked for sure by the former president. But rather than extinguish those flames, Biden's administration is doing the equivalent of throwing chip fat into the fire. While politicians repeat endless talking points about enforcing law and safety regarding the border, the reality is that America's border policies, like the UK, ought to represent a source of national shame. But they don't. They've become mainstream political currency.
By supporting such policies, flag wavers and so-called respectable people are consigning vulnerable people to a death sentence. Deporting people back to places like Haiti could mean exactly that. Such privilege and racism are the opposite of democracy.
What certainly is a cornerstone of democracy, however, is protest.
And that's what demonstrators did recently, outside the home of Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding Biden's administration make good on promises to undo damage already done. They want an end to Title 42, the rule allowing the deportation of people suspected of having covid.
It's clear by now that relentless pressure must be applied to force the right thing. As it stands, human rights and human dignity remain buzzwords repeated by President Biden and his predecessors. Decent democrats and Democrats need to rally and demand that Biden's administration reverse the inhumane border policies.
It's tiring having to constantly argue that Black people are humans deserving of fair treatment under the law. One day, Haitian kids will grow up, becoming our future. What do we tell them to explain their treatment and that of their parents? That it was the law, a government policy? That democracy was a nice idea, applicable to some?
Joe Biden's human infrastructure bill (aka Build Back Better) promises the largest expansion of the social safety net since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It is also one of the most pro-women and pro-child bills in US history. Among its progressive provisions are expanded child tax credits, paid leave and assistance with childcare expenses.
According to Axios, one reason the bill has stalled in Congress is due to US Senator Joe Manchin's demand that only one of these progressive provisions be included in the final version of the bill.
Manchin said he opposes these elements of the bill. He said: "I don't believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society."
So what does Manchin mean when he says Biden's human infrastructure bill would transform our "rewarding society" into an "entitlement society"? And would that be so bad?
"Entitlement" has potent negative connotations in US politics. Entitlements are, above all, undeserved. Listeners, upon hearing the word, are invited to imagine lazy slobs leaching off those who actually work. It conjures images of free-riders and "welfare queens," the latter being another example of how conservatives skillfully use language as a tool of oppression. Thus, calling a policy — any policy — an "entitlement" is a convenient way to disparage it, requiring none of the work usually associated with policy criticism.
Yet what the term denotes — that individuals in a society have rights to certain provisions — is extremely positive. It is fundamental to liberalism, and even found in the work of conservative intellectuals.
Friedrich Hayek, beloved icon of Paul Ryan, said: "There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has … the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. … [T]here can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody."
Hayek's argument is not unlike that made by President Roosevelt while advocating for the Social Security Act of 1935: "If, as our Constitution tells us, our Federal Government was established … to 'promote the general welfare,' it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends." Thus, the idea that citizens are entitled to certain societal security is not a foreign or toxic concept.
While the US lags behind in securing its citizens the means to thrive, the few major programs it does have are extremely popular.
Social Security ensures that citizens receive financial assistance so they do not have to work until they die. Medicare and Medicaid provide healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled. Public education provides every child at least 13 years of education.
What more does President Biden believe American children and their parents are entitled to receive? To answer this question, consider the status quo, Manchin's "compassionate" and "rewarding society."
- In 2019, one out of seven American children lived in poverty. In West Virginia alone, Joe Manchin's home state, 17 percent of parents reported their children don't eat enough because the family couldn't afford food.
- On average, across the country, childhood poverty costs $700 billion a year. That's 3.5 percent of GDP.
- Children who experience poverty early in life are less likely to finish high school and more likely to be unemployed later.
- Only 8 percent of children raised in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution rise to the top 20 percent as adults, a rate of upward mobility that lags behind other democracies
- US families, on average, spend 40 percent more of their income on childcare than what The Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable.
- The cost of childcare rose 37 percent between 2000 and 2012, while the average middle income for families fell by 8 percent. Post-2012, these costs have only continued to rise.
- Parents spend roughly $11,000 a year on care for a single child, more than the cost of public college in 33 states.
- The cost is indeed so immense that three out of five millennials report delaying having a child due to financial reasons.
- Prior to the pandemic, 42 percent of American children under the age of 5 lived in a "childcare desert," where no childcare was accessible. The pandemic only exacerbated this crisis.
The childcare crisis also has significant economic consequences, reducing productivity and market participation:
- Women frequently leave the workforce to care for children and are twice as likely as men to say this time off hurt their careers.
- Leaving the workforce for five years of childcare is estimated to cost American women 20 percent of their earning potential.
- On average, businesses lose an estimated $12.7 billion annually due to childcare problems, such as when a worker must take time off to care for a sick child.
- Lack of childcare in general is estimated to cost the US economy $57 billion every year.
- When parents leave the workforce to care for their children, childcare centers close and childcare workers — primarily working class women — lose their jobs.
This is Manchin's "compassionate" and "rewarding society."
Women choosing between raising children and pursuing careers. Couples, facing economic security, waiting to start a family, if they start one at all. Impoverished adults giving birth to impoverished children who later become impoverished adults, perpetuating a cycle of suffering. Our "compassion," apparently, extends just far enough to ensure that few in poverty actually starve to death. So "rewarding" is our society that children born to wealthy parents are rewarded with the security of wealth. Children born to poor parents are rewarded with the insecurity of poverty.
So how would Biden's human infrastructure bill change things?
Recall the bill's more progressive provisions: an expanded child tax credit, paid leave and childcare. These, you'll notice, are responsive to exactly the problems facing American families. These "entitlements" would, of course, improve the welfare of countless America citizens.
But, as the economic data indicates, they also serve to strengthen society overall by increasing the labor force, increasing economic output and market participation and, importantly, caring for children.
Additionally, if Americans who want children are unable to do so for financial reasons, we risk a lopsided population crisis such that, in a generation, there will be fewer workers to participate and pay taxes to support the programs we already have, such as Social Security.
The word "entitlement" has long carried negative connotations. But it shouldn't. We should be proud that, as a society, we have decided the elderly are entitled to financial assistance. We should be proud that we have decided that children are entitled to an education. And, now, Joe Biden and other Democrats should be proud that they are arguing that women are entitled to freedom and children are entitled to care.
Democrats should fight to preserve every pro-family aspect of the human infrastructure bill. And individuals like Joe Manchin should be challenged as to why they argue for the vicious status quo.
A status quo that hurts individuals and the economy. A status quo that rewards few but punishes many, especially women and children.
Virginia's governor's race is weird in that it falls between a presidential election and the following congressional election. Naturally, the press corps is looking to see whether it tells us anything about the midterms or Joe Biden's reelection prospects. I have no idea, but it might tell us something equally important: whether the backlash is working.
The backlash is about the coalition Joe Biden put together to defeat Donald Trump. The coalition was the merging and overlapping of two forces. On the one hand, anti-Trumpists (including respectable white people). On the other, anti-racists. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white cop was the culmination of these energies. It felt so complete, I dared say in 2020 that Floyd "ended the culture war."
That was … wrong. (What can I say!) The backlash began before Trump's ignominious defeat. (Remember Tom Cotton's "Obelisk of Wokeness"?) Instead of fading, as I had hoped, the backlash has gotten stronger. There is now a profitable cottage industry of "anti-woke" propagandists, nearly all on Substack, some of them leftists, willing to say virtually anything to attack reformers while defending the status quo. (In brief, they have created a discourse about Black activism in which the voices of Black activism are absent.) The political goal of the backlash, however unconscious it might be, is peeling respectable white people away from the president's victorious antifa majority.
Glenn Youngkin is the Republican candidate for Virginia governor. He's riding the backlash. On the campaign trail, he gets hardly a peep from audiences when proposing traditional Republican policies, like tax cuts. He gets roaring applause, however, when railing against "Critical Race Theory" in schools. He's meticulous about keeping his distance from Trump. The play seems clear. To eke out a win, he must peel off just enough respectable white people who, it is presumed, are more frightened of Black activism than fascism, now that Trump is gone.
It used to be that governor's races were strictly about local politics, not national politics. Youngkin's play suggests the latter. (The backlash, after all, is national.) So does Terry McAuliffe's. The Democratic candidate, and former Virginia governor, won't let anyone forget about the former president. He's been aided by Youngkin supporters who trotted out a flag carried during the January 6 sacking and looting of the US Capitol. The Times interviewed McAuliffe voters. (Early voting started recently.) They aren't talking about local issues, like roads and property taxes. They're talking about putting the kibosh on Trump.
McAuliffe is not equivocating. His campaign could have decided to appease the backlash, for instance, by scolding local authorities who removed a giant monument to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, the state's capital and the former seat of the Confederate States of America. Instead, his campaign seems to be harnessing the grassroots energy that led to that treasonous general's removal. Given Democrats have won all statewide races in Virginia since 2009, that's a sound play.
Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg wrote recently about the race being national instead of local. He said that if Youngkin wins, the Democrats will have to face the fact that, once again, "some of the party's core constituencies, including younger voters and Blacks, never engaged," But if Youngkin loses, Rothenberg said, the Republicans will have to admit that "Trump remains a liability for the GOP among many voters and that nationalizing the midterm elections around the former president is a viable strategy for Democrats in 2022." I agree.
But I would add a critical nuance. If Terry McAuliffe loses, his defeat would demonstrate how powerful the backlash has become. In that case, we might expect the Democrats to appease it, for instance, by giving greater credence to death-threat squads harassing boards of education nationwide. That would be a race to the bottom. By chasing the votes of respectable white people afraid of Black activism, the Democrats would deepen their fears as they affirm them.
If Terry McAuliffe wins, however, his victory would demonstrate how the Democrats can neutralize, or at least minimize, the impact of the backlash. Instead of appeasing the death-threat squads, the Democrats might lean into them, assailing them, as they should, as being part of the larger forces of authoritarianism trying to bring down the republic. By making everything about Donald Trump, the Democrats could show respectable white people that being anti-racist is being pro-American.
Please don't take any of this as sooth-saying. I was certainly wrong about the culture war's end! What I do know is we've been at similar moments before. The white backlash against the achievements of the civil rights movement put in power two generations of conservatives who did enormous damage to the country and the rest of the world. Anything can happen in moments like this. Let's stay woke, friends.
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