Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nationalism and the 14th Amendment

The diverse nation envisioned by Thomas Nast in the late 1860s after the passage of the 14th Amendment. Today's Republicans aren't in favor of it.

I wrote last week about how Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan before him, has managed to harness the power of political nationalism, a force that Americans refuse to name, but which has had major effects on the political order throughout this country's history.  Predictably, now that Trump has shot to the front of the ranks by espousing nativism and ginning the dark forces of white racial resentment, the lesser lights competing against him have followed suit.

Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both corporate conservatives who appeal to the Koch brothers rather than the talk radio crowd, have questioned birthright citizenship.  In case you didn't know, that principle is enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, a document that conservatives love to use as a defense of their policies, whether it agrees with them or not.  That amendment is perhaps the most radical in the Constitution.  Unlike the original Bill of Rights, it was not derived from pre-existing traditions in English common law.  As radical as abolition of slavery was, by the time the 13th Amendment was passed, it was already a fact on the ground.  The 15th is very radical in granting universal male suffrage, regardless of color or race, but it is merely following in the spirit of the 14th.

The 14th Amendment essentially says that all people born in America are citizens (regardless of race or color,) and that their citizenship is universal and may not be violated.  By "universal" I mean that they maintain the same rights no matter what state that they live in.  Those who crow about "states rights" essentially want to have the power to violate the rights of people they don't like in the areas that they control.  Conservatives in many states have been fighting hard in recent years to do this, from strict voter ID laws to "show me your papers laws" to refusing to comply with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage.  As we all should know, the 14th Amendment was not used to maintain universal citizenship after Reconstruction, when the imposition of Jim and Jane Crow was given the blessing of the Supreme Court.  It has only really held force, like the 15th Amendment, in the last fifty years or so, and has been the key factor in the victory of so many civil rights cases.

As it was originally constructed, the 14th Amendment's universal citizenship was a radical break from pre-Civil War America, and motivated by a kind of nationalism.  It was a progressive nationalism, one that gave all Americans, regardless to what state they lived in, equal citizenship.  The nationalism of the Republican party today could not be more different from the one that animated the likes of Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, and Charles Sumner.  It is at base a racialized nationalism whereby whites are to maintain a privileged position with the help of the state.  (It is ironic that the party of Union has become the party of Confederate values.)  By ending birthright citizenship, the Republicans would effectively be creating different legal categories of people, some enfranchised, others not.  This certainly fits with their support of harsh voter ID laws and tendency to support state-level laws that keep former felons from ever voting again.

The fact that business-oriented conservatives like Christie and Walker are going down this road is a sign that Republican party is increasingly a vehicle for Herrenvolk nationalism, and is no longer bothering to hide it.  This strategy will either result in a victory too terrible to contemplate, or political suicide in a changing nation.


Terry said...

It's a slow-motion horror story we're trapped in, with no way to know the outcome. I fear for my country.

KenRight said...

Not so simple. Earlier today I read about six economic planks presented by Trump, three of which would benefit the white working class tremendously, the other three would hurt it tremendously.
Arguably stricter immigration laws, the harshest, would benefit both the white and black working class just now.
Trump's foreign policy is also belligerent except in the case of Russia, in other words erratic.
He might save the white working class from engaging in unwinnable McCain-Lindsay Graham Cold Wars but what would be gained there would
seemingly be risked in Middle East quagmires against ISIS and an array of enemies of Israel.
So for the white working class Trump is a wash, but I can see where any destabilization of the status quo might lead to something
frightening for those who cling to a collapsing multicultural liberal democracy.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Telling white workers that they'll get ahead by oppressing non-white workers is the biggest political con in American history. It is a ruse by elites to direct anger against the vulnerable rather than elites, and it has had disastrous consequences, both for people of color and working class whites. Not sure what you mean by "collapsing multicultural liberal democracy." I see that as something a majority of Americans accept, but that a very vocal and well-funded minority, with a whole political party at their back, are fighting a rearguard action against. It's when the forces of modernity are winning that reactionaries are at their most dangerous.