What to call the people who don't get passes

Fascists. They are fascists. Civility will not return us to a time that never existed.

Every time we walk back through I remember. I’ve been here many times before but the time I remember the most was right after Trump was elected. We forget it now with everything that’s bludgeoned our sensibilities each day for the last two years, but Trump kicked off his presidency by trying to ban members of an entire religion from even entering the United States. For almost a week we were in a state of sustained chaos as people from seven Muslim-majority countries were detained and interrogated at airports from New York to LA. In Dallas, we met the family of an elderly Iraqi woman who had been locked in some room at the airport overnight.

I stood right where I took that picture below and talked to the woman’s son — who had worked with the U.S. government in Iraq after we invaded that country, a government that later saw fit to help him flee his homeland — as he waited for those doors to open and see his mother again. Other families were there, too, along with hundreds of protesters. It was the beginning of the Trump presidency but it feels like another era. Even though Trump was talking about immigration it’s worth remembering that his first big official act was the Travel Ban. Or were we calling it the Muslim Ban? I can’t remember, but the second one is far more accurate, so let’s go with that.

Since then Trump has pretty much forgotten about the threat he says Muslims pose to our safety and freedom and has replaced them with Mexican and Central American migrants who he says are so dangerous we must build a wall to keep them out.

So, every time we return from a trip overseas we walk through those same doors in the international terminal of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and I remember what I saw there that day, more than two years ago — government-sanctioned discrimination against entire groups of peoples because of their race and religion.

Every time we walk back through I remember and am surprised that I ever could have ever forgotten. This is how I return to my country every time I have left it, and this is the disturbing  memory that hits me in this very normal place.

***

Since Trump was elected there has been a reticence to call him a fascist. Phrases like “autocratic tendencies” or “sympathetic to dictators” are often allowed by the punditry class that presides over the Rules of Objective Journalism in this country. But alleging outright fascism by an American president has been too uncivil for the vast majority of reporters, pundits, writers and publications. These people are laboring under the false hope that, by remaining civil, reason and understanding will prevail, and we’ll return to a simpler time when liberals and conservatives and everyone in between will respectfully agree to disagree, comfortable in our shared understanding that We’re All Americans or some other flawed canon that makes us sleep a little better.

Of course, this is not true. The first reason this is not true is because there never was such a time. Recently, 9/11 has been brought out of the back of the political broom closet by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a shining example of this alleged ability to Come Together. Its memory is “sacred,” Nancy Pelosi has said. 9/11 is such a powerful stimulant that people lose all ability to understand the proper context of words, resorting to the flag-humping rhetoric that is exactly the type of stuff that riles people up to the point where they might go from saying they’re going to kill Rep. Ilhan Omar to actually doing it.

All one has to do to understand the rage-inducing properties of 9/11 is to remember what happened to Arab-Americans, Sikhs and Muslims following the attacks. Like much of history, 9/11 was not as pristine as we’d like to remember it.

There were hundreds of assaults, threats, acts of vandalism against people who were either Muslim or had the appearance of someone from the Middle East in the first month after 9/11, according to the Arab American Institute.

The violence culminated in the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man in Arizona who paid for the attacks with his life because his killer mistook him for a Muslim — which is to say Sodhi died because Americans were so enraged about 9/11 they believed they were justified in going after people who had nothing to do with 9/11 because they slightly resembled the attackers. Sodhi was planting flowers outside of his gas station in Mesa when Frank Silva Roque rolled up with a .380 pistol and put five bullets into Sodhi. Roque then tried to shoot a Lebanese-American clerk at another gas station but missed before driving to a home in which he used to live that was then occupied by an Afghan family, firing several rounds into the house but not striking anyone.

The whitewashing of 9/11 as moment of complete national unity is just one example of why the right’s bad-faith calls for civility — their insistence that words like fascist are too hyperbolic — cannot return us to a time that never existed.

The second reason it is not true that the left toning down its rhetoric about this administration will somehow heal our deep divides is that the right has never played by their own supposed rules.

For the entire Obama administration, the right-wing media complex, Trump himself and the Tea Party accused the president of everything from being a secret Muslim terrorist to the antichrist while the mainstream media punditry weakly lamented the Breakdown of Civility. In those years, the Republican Party and right-wing Americans repeatedly punched liberals in the mouth with their fascist and racist rhetoric, and liberals responded by saying I respect your position of wanting to punch me in the mouth, but I will not punch you back because two wrongs don’t make a right.

It is time to ask ourselves where that has gotten us.

***

This is all Luke O’Neil was trying to do when he wrote for the Boston Globe last week that he regretted not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon when he had the chance as a waiter a decade ago. Kristol, you might remember, was one of the leading drum-beaters advocating to invade Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 but that we targeted anyway. They became our victim just like Sodhi became Roque’s — because we felt justified in retaliating against anyone who vaguely fit the description of the men who flew their planes into our buildings.

O’Neil led his column with this regret, then segued into a discussion of how people like Kirstjen Nielsen shouldn’t feel comfortable being seen in public due to her support of this fascist administration's war on immigrants.

Make sure she has to eat “GrubHub over her kitchen sink” for the rest of her life, Luke implored. When Nielsen was “shame-marched” out of a restaurant in Washington D.C. — around the same time Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mitch McConnell and Stephen Miller experienced the same consequences for their actions — “was the last time I remember being proud to be an American,” Luke wrote.

The piece went predictably viral, eventually making it on to Tucker Carlson’s show. This launched things into the stratosphere. Soon, Luke’s mentions were inundated with vile threats and unending vitriol. Someone dug around the Internet and posted photos of his in-laws and his wife’s uncle, which is a terrifying combination of creepy and potentially very dangerous. He shut down his social media for a few days until things blew over, and the right-wing mob moved on to the next outrage, which turned out to be the ridiculous fracas over Omar’s comments about 9/11.

“I don’t mind people telling me I suck — we’re all used to that,” Luke told me. “But i just takes one person to get riled up by the ‘loony libs’ to actually do something about it.”

Luke is just the latest in a group of liberal, working class writers who have been targeted by the most powerful media apparatus in the country — Fox News and its sprawling empire of millionaire grifters and hate-mongers who falsely believe they are oppressed for being Christians, being white, or not “politically correct.” About a month ago it was Talia Lavin, who was targeted by Laura Ingraham and called a “journo-terrorist” to Ingraham’s millions of viewers because Lavin took an adjunct professorship at New York University teaching students how to cover the far-right.

Ingraham and her media allies have had it out for Lavin ever since she briefly mistook an ICE agent’s tattoo for a symbol of a white nationalist group while working as a fact-checker for the New Yorker — a mistake Lavin noted immediately and apologized for.

Ingraham, who is worth an estimated $45 million, punched down at Lavin, who like most freelancers lives paycheck to paycheck.

“I am 29. I have no job. I am teaching a single course, for $7k as an adjunct,” Lavin noted.

Just as the Republican Party convinces working class Americans to vote against their own interests for oligarchs who give themselves tax breaks and pass laws to help their own companies, their allies in the media convince viewers that people like Talia and Luke are the enemy — not the elected officials trying to take away their health care with no replacement.

Carlson, another millionaire who claims he and his fellow white nationalists are being oppressed while their friends in the Republican Party run the country, made sure his millions of viewers knew Luke’s name when he spasmed over the Globe piece on his show last week.

“I’m 40 years old and I’ve got $40,000 in student debt and I rent a house and drive a shitty used car. I’m not David Brooks and Jake Tapper or some shit,” Luke said. “But none of that matters to people because everything’s culture war now. I don’t see any way out of it.”

***

As coverage of Nielsen’s resignation evolved from somewhat-unexpected breaking news to leaks and palace intrigue, it was easy to see the public image rehabilitation at work.

Nielsen was actually fighting the good fight, NBC News reported, preventing Trump from enacting even more draconian policies than he already has, including apparently still wanting to separate migrant families despite his executive order prohibiting the practice. She was forced out amid a new push by the architect of Trump’s immigration policy, Stephen Miller, who has been on the warpath within DHS, pressuring officials to do something — anything — to stem the flow of migrants that has been increasing exponentially in the last two months.

“They failed in the courts and with Congress and now they’re eating their own,” Politico quoted an anonymous source close Nielsen as saying.

Poor Kirstjen Nielsen. She was just doing her job, doing what she was told, and then not doing it when she knew it was blatantly illegal — like turning away migrants seeking asylum, their right under U.S. and international law. The unnamed sources went to work on Nielsen’s behalf, laying the groundwork for the time-honored practice of rewarding people in Washington D.C. who have done terrible things by ensuring they can go directly into lobbying, the private sector or academia and make very good money while maintaining prestige despite their horrendous acts in government.

Except this time it was slightly different. Some professors have signed a petition saying they’ll refuse to work with Nielsen if she’s offered any sort of position at their universities, which is where Trump lackeys Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski landed — Harvard, incredibly — following their disgraceful tenures. And writers like Luke spoke up to say that people like Nielsen should never feel completely comfortable in public again, that it’s our right and duty to remind her that separating 2,000 migrant parents from their children was an inexcusable act and she should be reminded of her wrongdoing for the rest of her life.

But that was too uncivil for right-wing pundits, whose supporters went to the very civil work of threatening Luke in detailed and disturbing fashion, including saying that he and Omar should be beheaded.

***

The right always wins in this country because it is the basic instinct of all humans to work for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else. Because most people are selfish and consider themselves more important than everyone else, many Americans are thus to the right of the political spectrum.

To live with other people’s well-being in mind as much as your own is to fight against the selfish DNA we have carried inside of us for millions of years. Conservatives will always win in one form or another because it is much easier, safer and more efficient to go through life being a piece of shit to your fellow man than to do things that might help someone other than yourself.

Any debate about whether it is appropriate to call Trump a fascist is simply an extension of the silly argument that those on both sides of an issue deserve equal coverage.

When one side is banning people from an entire religion from entering the country and separating parents from their children, they do not get a pass as if their policies are reasonable. Both acts are objectively wrong, and it is a matter of simple morality to say so in the moment. The tendency is to cop out and Let History Be the Judge. The position of many journalists is that it’s not their responsibility to make these judgments in real time, but it is only those judgments that will separate those on the right side of history from the wrong one.

For this reason and many more, it is reasonable and appropriate to call this president and his supporters fascists. If that gets some of us less work because we’re not being Objective, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

What I cannot stomach is walking through the international terminal in Dallas and not remembering that this presidency began with the identifiably fascist act of banning people because of their race and religion. To not call it so would be to relinquish my responsibility to the truth and cede an air of legitimacy to this administration’s clearly fascist policies.

Those policies are rooted in the ideal that only the right-wing is allowed to decide who becomes and is considered an American. The maddening irony is that their policies are fundamentally un-American.

I know this because every time I meet a migrant I am struck with the overwhelming impression that they possess more American qualities than all the right-wing millionaires on TV and in the government who would do away with a democratic form of government in a heartbeat in favor of an autocrat who would achieve their goals.

In fact it is clear that is exactly what’s happening right now.

***

I was coming back from Juárez in January when I had another one of these experiences of a migrant’s American-ness. On the plane was a young man and his child or younger brother. He carried a ziploc bag containing a few boarding passes and a note:

Hello, I don’t speak English and this is my first time travelling in the United States. Please help me get to my destination. Thank you.

By the time the plane landed we were looking over his documents. A fellow traveller explained to him in Spanish what gate he’d have to find. We pointed at the screen.

“Omaha,” the young man said, repeating what he’d been told.

Another man approached, speaking Spanish.

“Omaha?” he asked, and beckoned for the young man and the child to follow. The three were off.

This is the way it’s always worked here, we were told growing up: Someone knows the way or knows someone who knows the way. Someone has a house to rent or a job to work. Someone has a brother or a friend who can help you get settled in.

Every single one of us who isn’t Native American has a story like this in our family history. People named Serrano should have just as much of a chance at telling those stories as people named Smith.

In every story, someone, somewhere helped to make it happen, whether it was finding a gate at an airport in Dallas, or crossing a river in southern Mexico.

America is supposed to be the only place in the world where the someones and somewheres are.

***

P.S. All the photos in this post are mine from a recent trip to Mexico City. By the way, thank you to any readers who chipped in on Rubén’s asylum defense fund. We nearly reached our goal, and for now I’m going to transfer the $755 we raised straight to Rubén. If the lawyer takes his case we’ll try to raise some more. Thanks as always for reading, and share this post with anyone who you think might be interested in subscribing to Where Do We Go From Here.