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The Signal this week: After ignoring the severity of the coronavirus threat to global health and the global economy for more than a month, and then underplaying the likelihood of community transmission in the United States, the Trump administration is now rushing to use the outbreak to further its political goals on immigration. Witness the discussions now underway to close the southern border, just when the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit seems poised to block the ghastly Migrant Protection Protocols, which force tens of thousands of asylum seekers to remain in camps on the Mexican side of the border.
Fulfilling this Stephen Miller wish list has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with locking out poor and brown people. Like the Justice Department’s new Denaturalization Section, unveiled by the administration this week, which makes it easier to take US citizenship and passports away from naturalized citizens who have been convicted of crimes—this is part of a project to fundamentally redefine who should and shouldn’t be American. These actions are straight out of the fascist playbook, yet they were drowned out by other events. Surely it’s no coincidence that such an office was established in the shadows, at a time of pandemic panic, when it was guaranteed to receive little notice.
If the administration—which dismantled the country’s pandemic response systems in the first years of Trump’s presidency—were even remotely competent, it would be ramping up airport health checks and ensuring that passengers spend less time in long and densely packed airport lines. After all, “social spacing” is one of the few tools we have in the fight to slow the virus’s spread. Instead, the administration is pinching pennies. As the summer travel season nears, the Transportation Security Administration announced both a hiring freeze and a strict limit on overtime for existing staff.
Instead of getting the attention they deserve, these developments are being drowned out by the Noise: by Trump’s bleating about Democrats’ wanting open borders, and about the coronavirus being their “new hoax”; by Trump’s trolling the Democratic presidential hopefuls, holding rallies in primary states.
Meanwhile, Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is leading a loyalty putsch, providing the administration with lists of officials it should purge for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about the person and policies of Trump.
In 2018, Chief Justice John Roberts rebuked Trump for talking dismissively about “Obama judges.” Roberts averred, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” That was disingenuous then, and it’s even more disingenuous now. Clearly, judicial appointments are political; and with a Supreme Court justice’s wife now demanding that civil servants essentially pass a presidential loyalty test, the idea that her husband—a reliable vote on behalf of every Trump policy that has come before the court these past three years—is a neutral arbiter is laughable.
Imagine the conservative howls of outrage if a close relative of Justice Sonia Sotomayor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to head a group demanding loyalty tests on behalf of Bernie Sanders. It’s unthinkable that Rush Limbaugh and his crowd wouldn’t be calling for heads to roll. Yet, in this degraded political environment, with Trump’s cult of personality, it’s considered OK for Ginni Thomas to act in this manner.
That’s the Signal. Stay strong and stay healthy—and don’t get distracted by the chatter.