Notes on the Revolution / Column #67
February 7, 2020
Trump and the State of the Union
By Charles McKelvey
Trump’s State of the Union address was an excellent speech, calling the people to unity and to patriotic defense of the nation, well-crafted to the ideas and sentiments of the conservatives and moderates of the U.S. political culture, even though it offends progressive with respect to some bitterly debated issues. Neither the mainstream press, which for the most part represents the moderate wing of the political establishment; nor the Democratic Party, which represents the moderate and progressive wing of the political establishment, have a politically intelligent response.
Trump began by casting his program as consistent with the agenda that both political parties and the great majority of Americans endorse, and calling for the setting aside of partisan politics in the attainment of common goals. He quickly turned to commemoration of two great events in U.S. history. First, the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, that, in his view, minimizing the importance of the previously unfolding Soviet counterattack from the East, was a key moment in the Allied liberation of Europe during World War II. Secondly, the placing of the American flag on the moon fifty years ago. He introduced persons who were participants in these historic events. Immediately following these emotional moments, he declared that “in the 20th century, America saved freedom,” a myopic and ethnocentric reading of the nation’s story, but a myopia that is shared by a strong majority of his compatriots. He called on the people to renew its spirit of the twentieth century, to overcome political divisions in order to make the middle class even bigger and the nation even more prosperous, on a foundation of cooperation, compromise, and commitment to the common good. “We most choose,” he declared, “between greatness or gridlock. . . . Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”
He proceeded to cast himself as waging political battle against the political establishment. He stated, “Over the last two years, my administration has moved with urgency and historic speed to confront problems neglected by leaders of both parties over many decades.” He outlined areas in which gains have been made: the creation of jobs; tax cuts for working families, small ranchers, and family farms; and deregulation, which in conjunction with tax cuts, has stimulated companies to return to the United States. He declared that “an economic miracle is taking place in the United States.”
Trump symbolically addressed the issue of racial disparity in criminal sentencing, presenting an African-American woman who had served twenty-two years in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, whose sentence he commuted. He described his administration’s new program, which “gives non-violent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens,” thus coming across as a progressive criminal justice reformer. Although this likely will be dismissed as politically-motivate rhetoric by opponents, it could have resonance with the political center, as reassurance that he is neither racist nor insensitive.
Trump extensively addressed the question of undocumented immigrants in the United States, which, as all the world knows, is a signature issue of his presidency. He maintained that “tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate,” because it has cruel consequences. It generates ruthless coyotes, criminal cartels, drug dealers, human traffickers, and sex traffickers, who prey upon undocumented migrants. He maintained that tens of thousands of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants are victims of the violence generated by criminal elements that enter the country illegally, most of whom have come through the southern border. Trump declared “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls, and gates, and guards.” At the same time, Trump stated, the working-class pays the price for illegal immigration through reduced jobs, lower wages, and overburdened schools and hospitals.
Activists and progressives have denounced Trump for his exaggeration of the dangerous consequences and his extremist, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric with respect to undocumented immigrants; and they have criticized the violations of the rights of undocumented immigrants in the enforcement of immigration laws. In these criticisms they are right. The scapegoating of a marginal sector poisons the political process. Moreover, all persons have rights, regardless of their migratory status, and maximum effort should be made to ensure that immigration laws are enforced in a form that respects human rights.
But protection of the rights of undocumented immigrants is only one element of the issue. Trump is not wrong when he says that the nation needs “an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern, and secure.” Nations have the responsibility to regulate migratory flows into their territory, and all nations in the world have laws for the control of migration. Humanity has a common interest in legal, safe, and orderly international migration.
The current massive, unregulated migration to the United States and Europe is a serious global problem. The migrants are pushed by poverty, limited economic opportunity, criminal violence, and wars in their countries of origin. This situation that has historic roots in colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, which created conditions of underdevelopment and poverty in vast regions of the world. Since 1980, the situation has worsened through the imposition of neoliberal economic policies on governments in the neocolonized, underdeveloped zones by the global powers. Since 2001, wars of aggression in the Middle East, launched by the global powers, have exacerbated the situation further. In recent years, certain nations have been targeted for economic and financial sanctions, castigated for their sovereign determination to not comply with the demands of the global powers. This tendency has been intensified by the Trump administration. These historic and contemporary acts of aggression by the global powers against the nations and peoples of the world; undertaken in order to attain access to the natural resources, cheap labor, and markets of the world; has created the conditions that now give rise to a massive and uncontrollable migration to the developed nations.
The problem of international migration must be addressed at its source, through a foreign policy of cooperation with the governments of the world, in seeking to create commercial structures that are beneficial to all; a foreign policy that would support nations in overcoming the historic legacy of underdevelopment. When the global powers support the right of all nations to economic development, a right affirmed by declarations of the General Assembly of the United Nations, they will be supporting the deepest right of the migrants, namely, the right to make a secure living in their native land. In such a global context, a safe and orderly international migratory system can be created.
Calls for open borders, the creation of sanctuary cities, and support for migratory caravans constitute a limited response to Trump’s approach to the problem of international migration. They overlook a fundamental contradiction in Trump’s approach: he wants to control and regulate the migratory flow, without any effort to address the problem at its source, indeed with foreign policies that aggravate the problem of international migration, policies that intensify the violence, poverty, and crime that are the sources of the international migration. It is understandable that people, out of compassion, would call for open borders. But this is an idealistic proposal; it is not a reasonable solution to the problem of unregulated international migration.
The response of Trump’s critiques is equally superficial with respect to the Trump’s discourse on the economy, a theme that we will discuss in our next episode of Notes on the Revolution.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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