Posted on February 08, 2019 in Countdown

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“U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

Was anyone else unsure whether to laugh or cry when this chant rang in the chamber during this week’s SOTU? At a time when so many Constitutional principles are under attack, Countdown is back to fill you in on the debates surrounding key issues like free speech, voting rights, freedom of religion and the “nation of immigrants” history we cherish, how they have fallen prey to partisan plotting, and how we move forward together.


The real immigration emergency

The state of our immigration system is that of a full-blown emergency, but we cannot forget that it is one that the Trump administration itself has caused. They have failed to provide accurate data on how many children remain separated from their families. After federal immigration officials separated them near the southern border pursuant to its family separation policy, the administration now says it sees any attempt to re-unite them as a “burden.” Further, even more families continue to be separated under Trump’s Muslim and Refugee Ban; it has been reported than less than 2% of applicants have been approved under the visa waiver system for applicants from banned countries. Refugee admissions to the U.S. are currently capped at 30,000, their lowest since 1980, and will fall again this year. We think this is the real crisis that you didn’t hear about at the SOTU.


The Israel Game

With the partisan divide over Israel growing among Americans, the Republican Party appears ready to pounce on what they see as an opportunity to gain political advantage, seeking to paint their Democratic counterparts as anti-Israel with all sorts of little ploys. To see what it looks like when a Democrat panics in the face of one of those ploys and starts overcompensating, watch DNC Chairman Tom Perez receive a question about anti-Semitism and respond by addressing... Israel and the two-state solution (cringe alert). While we genuinely appreciate Chairman Perez talking about the dignity of the Palestinian people, that was not the question and in the trap he went. But others are less panicky about the Israel game, including every major Democratic presidential hopeful, all of whom have put the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution above pandering on Israel, by voting against S.1. They were joined by Republican Rand Paul in opposing the bill, because it undermines free speech by authorizing punitive measures against Americans who participate in boycotts of Israel or its settlements. On a more depressing note, the bill did pass anyway, with a vote of 77-23. The ACLU said it best: “It's a sad day when the Senate chooses politics over the Constitution and tramples on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.” Even though it passed the Senate, word is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not playing on this one (the “one” being S.1-The Pander to Israel Straight Out of the Gate Bill While Violating the First Amendment Act). It’s not really called that but you get it and we hope the House members do too.


Speaking of walls

Have you heard about the “smart wall” some members of Congress have proposed as an alternative to the president’s “medieval” version? We have, and we’re concerned. This week we joined more than 25 organizations in a letter calling on Congress to reject provisions that would fund “invasive surveillance technology at the border.” Remember, the wall is medieval not in that it represents an antiquated solution to a contemporary problem. The wall is medieval because the wall, in all of its ambient bombast and brutalism, is draconian. We look to the Statute of Liberty as an architectural vindication of immigrants’ rights and American ideals. The wall is a negation of both. But perhaps equally draconian is an alternative that conceals repression under the veneer of technological progress. So, let’s “be smart” and exercise restraint in this moment of manufactured crisis when considering provisions related to border security. A smart wall may well be something we cannot see, but its effects we would certainly feel.


Free and fair for whom?

There are still barriers to democracy which haven’t been getting the scrutiny and attention they deserve: those erected through increasingly partisan strategizing that deny U.S. citizens their rights to free and fair elections. Even though H.R. 1 is focused on reforming current voting laws, the media was, somehow, still surprised when the Democrats chose 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to deliver their response to the SOTU. Widespread reports describe attempts by then Secretary of State Brian Kemp (who was her Republican opponent) to suppress the vote, and legal challenges to the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia are ongoing. It was thus unsurprising, at least to us, that in her address, Ms. Abrams addressed the current state of voting rights in unequivocal terms: “The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders — not where politicians pick their voters.” We couldn’t agree more. 


Hope from the Pope

This week Pope Francis delivered mass in the United Arab Emirates, the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula. This was a really big deal, a truly momentous occasion for those working for peace and dialogue amongst people of all faiths. Religious leaders from around the world convened to discuss interfaith cooperation, and they did it in an Arab country. But because nothing bad happened, and Trump didn’t tweet about it, the media barely touched it. We were disappointed by the lack of coverage of this important historic first, a glimmer of hope in a bleak news cycle.