Friday, November 20, 2015

Compassion - Republican Style

Are Syrian refugees really a threat to US security?
It's been a week since the terrorist attacks took place in Paris last Friday night.

Those horrific events may have taken place in a city more than 3,600 miles from the east coast of the United States, but the impact they've had on the political landscape here in this country has been significant.

Donald Trump calling for a "database" of Muslims who live in America.

Ben Carson comparing Syrian refugees to a "rabid dog" running around a neighborhood, and Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz should be thankful that reactionary xenophobes like themselves weren't scoring cheap points with anti-immigrant fear-mongering when the both of them immigrated to the U.S. as children.

There's something unsettling about the depth of the acrimonious anti-immigrant rhetoric that's come from leading Republican politicians this week.

Elected leaders, aspiring presidential nominees and conservative media pundits have all seized the opportunity to once again deal in the currency of fear and simultaneously scapegoat and politicize Syrian refugees in order to attack the President and Democrats in the name of national security.

Newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan abandoned his recent pledge to restore a measure of balance to the GOP majority in the House and led the overwhelming passage of a measure intended to toughen the already rigorous screening process for Syrian refugees to enter the country.

On the individual state level, Republican (and one Democratic) Governors from at least twenty six different states across the nation announced plans to stop admitting Syrian refugees to their respective states.

Which, despite a lot of bluster and posturing, they don't have the legal authority to do.

As Ian Millhiser explained in an article posted on on Monday:

"As the Supreme Court explained in Hines v. Davidowitz, “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” States do not get to overrule the federal government on matters such as this one."

Sorry Governors.
NJ Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto from Paramus
Earlier this week, New Jersey Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (pictured left), who fled Cuba and came to the U.S. when he was 10, tore into Governor Chris Christie for his "xenophobia" after Christie said on a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on Monday that he would bar Syrian refugees from entering New Jersey; even orphans under the age of five.

In response, an outraged Prieto said:
"No matter our political beliefs, no matter our principles, it's imperative we never forget the idea that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for ourselves. Gov. Christie has forgotten this most American of ideals."

But Republicans aren't the only ones in this nation with short memories.

The attacks in Paris combined with threats from ISIS have left the country almost evenly split on whether it's safe to admit refugees fleeing the war, torture, starvation, persecution and destruction that have devastated Syria since the start of the civil war.

On Thursday morning, The Brian Lehrer Show kicked off with a conversation with The Atlantic senior associate editor Russel Berman on the likelihood that terrorists could realistically infiltrate the ranks of the Syrian refugees who enter the United States.

About fifteen or twenty minutes into the segment, a woman who was clearly on the far right side of the conservative spectrum called in to express outrage at the idea of Syrian refugees entering the country.

She seethed with anger at President Obama and seemed to blame him for the situation in Syria and the Paris attacks before suggesting that he was "more interested in protecting Muslims than Americans."

Trump bashing Syrian refugees on O'Reilly back in September
To me she sounded like she'd been binge-watching Fox News non-stop since last Friday as she ticked off points that seemed to come straight from the desk of Roger Ailes.

She was ranting incoherently about there being no vetting process for Syrian refugees in place.

When in fact, the Defense Department, F.B.I and the national counter-terrorism center all conduct extensive background checks of Syrian refugees trying to enter the country that can take two years or more. 

She seemed unaware that over 700,000 refugees have entered the United States since September 11, 2001 - and not one has turned out to be a terrorist.

The fact that the bulk of the Syrian refugees seeking to enter the United States are not "young males" (as GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson incorrectly suggested on CNN back in September) but senior citizens, women and children seemed to elude this woman as well.

But I was glad Brian put her on the air so people could listen to the kind of fear-based hysteria that led the Republican-led Congress to pass legislation intended to make it even harder for them to reach America than it already is.

But like the dozens of meaningless votes to defund the Affordable Care Act, the legislation passed yesterday is purely symbolic; it has no chance of passing the Senate and would be immediately vetoed even it were to reach the President's desk.

To me it's sad that the only time this Republican Congress gets motivated to do their job and actually draft and pass legislation is if it's purely ideological in nature and will damage President Obama politically or thwart his political initiatives.

Can you imagine the kinds of good they could do for people if they used their Constitutional authority to tackle real issues and not just symbolic ones?

On Wednesday, the WBUR program Here and Now did an interesting interview with Kathryn Edin and Luke Schaefer; co-authors of the book $2 a Day: Living On Almost Nothing in America.

Give it a listen, it runs about 10 minutes and it's really eye-opening in an unsettling way as it chronicles the challenges facing the scores of Americans forced to live on $2.00 a day.

It wasn't an easy segment to listen to as I ate lunch.

But it occurred to me that Republicans are spending all this time and energy whipping up hysteria over war refugees fleeing war, violence and torture - why aren't they channeling that energy to deal with the plight of the 1.5 million Americans who are trapped in this cycle of extreme poverty?

In two days they can draft and pass legislation to keep people fleeing poverty and war out of the country, but they won't bother drafting legislation to help 1.5 million Americans who are trapped in poverty and hunger who are already here in the country.

Does it make sense? No.

But perhaps that's just the state, and the nature, of Republican compassion.

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