In these times of tremendous challenge, and therefore awesome opportunity (we hope!), a bit of humor might be in order.
A resident of New York City goes to visit his friend who lives on a farm in the country. Upon greeting his buddy he is taken for a tour of the farm and sees a three-legged pig limping along in the distance. Being totally unfamiliar with rural ways, the city dweller inquires about the pig.
“That’s one great pig”, is the reply. “That pig has saved my life on two separate occasions and he also saved my little boy from drowning.”
“Well then”, our city dweller inquires, what happened to his leg?”
“Well, with a pig that good, you don’t eat him all at once!”
The Constitution has been a remarkably durable and flexible governing document. Its preamble has been a relevant mission statement before “mission statements” became management tools. Its ability to be amended has given it the ability to adapt to the need for fundamental changes but the amendment process has been necessarily arduous in order to preclude spurious and frivolous changes.
Like the good pig served the farmer and his family, the Constitution has served the people of the United States well. Unlike the good pig, the Constitution has been safeguarded from most rash, self-serving and short-sighted behavior with a few exceptions (Prohibition comes to mind, and that misbegotten amendment was rightfully repealed).
But now we are faced with yet another foray into mindlessness by the right wing of the right wing as their yahoo cohorts call for a repeal of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, along with the 13th and 15th amendments did much to begin to heal the gaping wound in the credibility of American claims to freedom and equality that was slavery, a wound that is still not fully healed. But it also codified the notion of citizenship in a unique and historic manner.
The 14th amendment grants full rights of citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States. There are no gradations of citizenship in this country and that principle has been crucial in granting equal rights to all men and women regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual preference or physical disability.
The anti-immigrant motives of this bogus constitutional strategy are gossamer thin and fully transparent. With the singular exception of the descendants of full-blooded Native Americans, every American citizen is descended from someone who is from somewhere other than America. And, not surprisingly, American history is full of efforts by more established descendants of immigrants to claim superiority over more recent immigrants.
The Scotch-Irish and German Americans treated the Irish cruelly and ranked them below dogs when they first came to this country in large numbers. And then as the Irish became more “American” they joined in the condemnation of the huge numbers of Chinese who came to this country as laborers in the 19th century. The Chinese remained notably silent in attacking future immigrants, but that was not the case with the less recent immigrant Americans who rallied against the influx of Italians. And then the Eastern Europeans and Russians and more Germans came, and so on.
Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, however, the flow of immigration which has been this nation’s life’s blood starting getting darker and less familiar to “real” Americans. They came from Puerto Rico (technically a part of America but enough to fuel the anti-immigrant fires – see “West Side Story”), the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana and Mexico. These dreaded and darker immigrants have come in the millions and multiplied before the horrified eyes of the right wing of the right and their yahoo cohorts and their wholly-owned Tea Party subsidiaries.
And in the thought-deprived intelligentsia of the right wing of the right wing, this bright idea was born like Aphrodite strolling full grown from the brow of Zeus. Abolish the 14th amendment and the children of illegal immigrants will no longer be granted citizenship. Of course, the children of actual citizens would also have to have additional documentation aside from a birth certificate in order to claim citizenship, but the right wing of the right wing has never concerned itself with details or logic.
We have been witness to the “birthers” claiming that Barack Obama is not President of the United States because he was not born in America. With the abolition of the 14th amendment it is a safe bet that a faction of the “birthers” would claim that President Obama’s father was not legally in the United States and the “birther” farce would continue. With the abolition of the 14th amendment the Roberts-Thomas-Alito-Scalia wing of the United States Supreme Court will endeavor to more strictly circumscribe the rights that should be granted to all citizens and everything from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Voting Rights Acts will be in serious jeopardy.
For a long time it has been time for the progressive aspects of American body politic to comprehend the very real jeopardy that the right wing of the right wing represents. This is not an issue of conservative versus liberal – that is a useful and constructive discussion that invigorates the rational exchange of ideas and concepts. What we see now are mean, nihilist and mindless avatars of injustice seeking to impose their small-minded vision of this planet on those of us who remain silent or inactive.
Clearly, now is not the time for silence or inaction.