Dr. King’s Warning — Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
For the first time since Congress passed legislation to make the third Monday of January a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall—including the memorial dedicated to King’s honor—is closed due to President Trump’s insistence that Congress submit to his demand for a national monument to racism and fear. We must be clear that this is the impasse we face. Democrats cannot be blamed for failing to compromise.
On the opening day of the 116th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House took up bipartisan legislation to reopen the Congress that their colleagues in the Senate had already compromised to approve. Only one thing kept 800,000 federal employees from receiving their paychecks this past week: the refusal of Trump and his congressional enablers to consider that legislation.
Fifty-one years ago, Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign threatened to bring the federal government to standstill in order to demand that it serve everyone in America’s multi-ethnic democracy. In 2019, President Trump has shuttered the government to demand that we build a bulwark against the browning of America.
This is, as he promised it would be, Trump’s shutdown. But the president is not acting alone. Congressional Republicans who have been unwilling to stand up to the him for two years created the conditions for this present crisis. And all along the way, Trump’s white evangelical boosters have offered their blessing. Defending Trump on Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress argued recently that Trump’s wall cannot be immoral because Heaven itself has walls. He did not mention the Bible’s testimony that Heaven’s gates are always open.
Though most religious leaders are not Trumpvangelicals like Jeffress, we must recognize the complicity of so-called moderates in a moment of crisis if we are to honor the memory of Dr. King. While most people today recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as both a great American and a great preacher, we would do well to remember that he was not affirmed by a majority of Christian leaders in his own day, black or white.
When we celebrate King, it is easy to conjure the image of a Klan preacher spewing hatred against the civil-rights movement, just as Trumpvangelicals offer a religious blessing to Trump’s white nationalism today. But segregationist preachers were not the only religious resistance to King’s efforts for systemic justice in America. Dr. King’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, pushed him out along with other Baptist preachers who insisted on the tactic of nonviolent direct action. Then as now, the opposition to reconstruction of American democracy claimed the moral narrative in our common life.
Dr. King objected—and his polemical response is what we remember half a century later. But the fact that the ecumenical leadership of the faith community in Alabama at the time felt self-assured in making this statement is a testimony to how prevalent their political “realism” was across theological traditions.
We must not deceive ourselves. Even as we gather in churches, synagogues, community centers, and university halls across America to honor the legacy of Dr. King this weekend, the so-called moderates’ call for compromise is drowning out King’s insistence that we cannot submit to the terms of white supremacy. Trump’s immoral demand for an unnecessary wall is an effort to concretize every lie that has been told about immigrants by this administration. Such a wall would be as poisonous to our common life as the “whites only” signs in 1960s Birmingham were to the citizens Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support in their campaign to tear down Jim Crow.
King understood that whenever we compromise with a lie about who people are, we empower the political forces that have exploited our nation’s divisions to cling to power. The same politicians who want a wall today are also blocking voting rights and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans; they are the same people who have deregulated corporate polluters and denied climate science—the same ones who insist on increasing investment in the war economy while slashing our nation’s safety net and denying workers the right to earn a living wage.
We must be clear: Trump’s demand for a wall is not about border security. It is about a lie as sinister as the claim at the heart of Jim Crow—that America’s future depends on the values of white rule, not the promise of the multi-ethnic democracy we have struggled toward in this land for 400 years. We must not make the same mistake that the clergy of Birmingham made in 1963. If we would honor King, then let us follow him in refusing to compromise with a lie.
Nothingburger — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.
On Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Donald Trump tried to make a deal. The President, trapped between his far-right bona fides and the general electorate, offered to support a limited measure called the Bridge Act, which would extend temporary legal protections for Dreamers in exchange for full funding of his $5.7-billion border wall. The offer was reportedly crafted by Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and without the input of congressional Democrats. Yet, almost on cue, Trump’s supporters claimed that the President had effectively flipped the script on his partisan detractors. “Compromise in divided government means that everyone can’t get everything they want every time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The President’s proposal reflects that. It strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”
The problem was that the offer addressed none of the Democrats’ concerns, either on the issue of the Dreamers, whose legal status Trump has put in limbo, or the shutdown, which Trump precipitated by demanding funding for the wall. In 2017, when Trump cancelled DACA, he gave Congress six months to devise a solution to protect the legal status of some seven hundred thousand Dreamers. Of all the proposals under consideration, the most conservative was a provisional arrangement known as the Bridge Act. It offered to freeze DACA protections in place for three years to buy Congress time as it sought to devise a proper solution. One of the bill’s sponsors, a Colorado Republican named Mike Coffman, who lost his reëlection bid last November, told me at the time that the bill was a last resort. Moderate Republicans preferred a more comprehensive solution that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers; the Bridge Act was something to have in place in case a deal couldn’t be reached in time. For all of its insufficiencies, the previous version of the Bridge Act would have covered many more people (some 1.3 million Dreamers) than the iteration outlined by the President on Saturday (roughly seven hundred thousand existing DACA recipients). Predictably, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, wasted no time in calling Trump’s latest proposal a “non-starter.” The question now is how long will the President, through clenched teeth, pretend he made the gesture in good faith?
It’s no accident that the White House has selected this measure to try to goad the Democrats, who, for the last several months, have been clear on one thing: no congressional deal on Dreamers would be acceptable unless it included a pathway to citizenship. The Bridge Act doesn’t just come up well short of that; in effect, it simply prolongs the status quo. Federal judges have already blocked the Trump Administration’s effort to cancel DACA, meaning the program is, for the time being, held in place. It’s a precarious situation—only existing recipients can renew their status, and new applications aren’t being accepted—but the Bridge Act is hardly a significant improvement. “The White House hasn’t released a bill yet, but the three years under the Bridge Act is not a three-year extension of DACA,” Kamal Essaheb, the policy director of the National Immigration Law Center, told me on Saturday. “Under the original Bridge Act, the protections end at a certain date in the future. So, if the Bridge Act is enacted today, all work permits would expire in January, 2022, for example. That’s not much of a give, because someone renewing their DACA status today would likely get a work permit into mid- to late 2021.” There’s a chance that the Supreme Court will hear the Trump Administration’s case for ending DACA, but as of now the Justices have not shown any sign that they will; it seems increasingly unlikely, therefore, that the Trump Administration’s appeal will be heard during the Court’s current term. An additional inducement offered by the President, on Saturday, has a similarly stale logic. He proposed a three-year extension of temporary protected status (T.P.S.), which allows victims of war and natural disasters to live and work in the United States, for the three hundred thousand people who lost it over the last two years because of Trump. In October, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to end their T.P.S.
The President proposed a raft of other measures, few of them new or meaningfully different than the terms already being haggled over. He wanted to add more border agents; invest in immigration judges; increase drug-detection technology at the border. The Democrats, who on Friday proposed to add a billion dollars to border-security funding, shouldn’t be particularly opposed to any of these details on their own. Their objection, however, is both more general and more explicit: they want to reopen the government first, and then deal with Homeland Security policies.
Ultimately, the most revealing aspect of Saturday’s proposal is the bland predictability of it. Last year, around this time, the President backed himself into the same corner: he agreed, in an Oval Office meeting with Chuck Schumer, to trade close to five times the wall funding he wants now for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Immediately afterward, he changed his mind, triggering a government shutdown. Earlier that month, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came to him with a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, which included changes to legal immigration and redoubled funding for border security—in short, all the measures the President had publicly demanded. He responded by blowing up the deal on the spot. Once more, Trump is hoping that the Democrats will flinch, and that no one will remember how we got here in the first place.
Doonesbury — More twitterpation.