Friday, November 20, 2015

The Moral Failure of Basic Political Rectitude

When the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this week, demanding that incoming Syrian war refugees be admitted to America only upon the personal signature of the heads of three—three—security agencies, American politics crossed a line for me. A country that has historically prided itself on its “melting pot” ideology and Ellis Island heritage, has declared itself closed for the global relief business. Unless that business involves dropping bombs.

But the entire country isn’t refusing refugees. The House, which enjoys (if that’s the word) a near-supermajority of Republican control, doesn’t want refugees; President Obama, a Democrat, does. Of the thirty state governors who have refused or restricted refugee access, only one, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, is a Democrat. On a county-by-county basis, popular willingness to accept refugees tracks positively with party affiliation.

One party in American politics, and only one, wants to isolate America from the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Holocaust. History will not look kindly upon us for this.

Not that Democrats have proven themselves real forward thinkers here, either. President Obama wants to accept ten thousand refugees from a crisis that has displaced four million people. That’s a drop in the bucket. By contrast, Germany, a country GK Chesterton once called “the advance guard of the Servile State,” has already accepted over 200,000 refugees. While Republicans dither, and Democrats make nodding efforts, Syrians are dying to escape fates worse than death.

A former Republican myself, I quit the party, among other reasons, because I couldn’t reconcile its stated “pro-life” platform with its actual policies. Though aggressively opposed to abortion, the party has staunchly avoided even the most trivial public contributions to prenatal medical care, and has actively tried to kill AFDC, WIC, and Food Stamps for struggling parents. Current Republican presidential candidates want to kill public education. Within the last decade, we fought an unnecessary war estimated to have killed over 600,000 non-combatant civilians.

What the hell kind of “life” are they advocating?

I ask that, already knowing the answer. By torpedoing worker protections, demonizing women’s health access, opposing an increasingly popular healthcare law, and demanding military action against civilian centers without opening doors to the displaced, they don’t advocate life at all. Their anti-abortion stance is essentially a strategic bribe to purchase loyalty from religious conservatives, who would otherwise oppose their agnostic libertarian agenda.

The Republican Party has gotten good at talking the religious game. They’ve shepherded former pastors, like John Danforth and Mike Huckabee, into elected office. They’ve embraced the “War on Christmas” metaphor. They hold hands with tubthumpers who use their authority to selectively deny civil and legal rights. Their rhetoric is perforated with religious terminology. But it’s completely lacking in ethical foundation.

Many Christians today feel uncomfortable with the idea of a benevolent God who will nevertheless judge us for our actions. But it’s right there in the Bible. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus explicitly separates sinners from the redeemed based on their treatment of “the least of these”: the poor, hungry, naked, widowed, and sick. We’ll be judged by what we do for humanity’s most maltreated, not for avoiding saying “fuck” on television. When religious poseurs use state power to exclude dying refugees, they fail the most basic religious test.

Admittedly, Democrats perform hardly better. Bill Clinton pledged “the end of welfare as we know it” not, as Hillary now claims, as a sop to Republicans during his presidency, but as a campaign pledge during his underdog primary run. Consequently, journalist Matt Taibbi writes, America’s most desperate citizens face more rigorous scrutiny than the banks who detonated America’s economy in 2007 and 2008. President Obama, with his airstrikes on an MSF hospital, recently became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Country singer Hank Williams, Jr., is frequently noted for his unreconstructed reactionary values. This has included naked race-baiting, advocating secession, and comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. But back in the 1980s, he recorded a song entitled “USA Today,” the refrain of which should remind conservatives, like himself, why we cannot shutter our borders during this massive humanitarian crisis:
It's true we've got our problems, Lord knows we make mistakes
And every time we solve one, ten others take its place
But you won't see those refugees headin' the other way
Welcome to the U.S.A. today
Here’s hoping America’s leaders remember this sentiment when it comes time to open or close our borders to Earth’s neediest peoples.

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