By Lee A. Daniels
The Republican Party doesn’t have a lunatic fringe. It has a lunatic center: a core bloc of White voters and officeholders whose extreme conservatism leads them to indulge again and again in outlandish conspiracy theories and, more seriously, proposed and enacted legislation of disgraceful callousness.
The past few weeks have offered two striking examples of how dependent the Party’s base and elected officials have become on spouting and trying to enact as legislation their own worst impulses.
One involves the American military’s three-month-long Jade Helm 15 combat-training exercises that will get underway in July and spread over various sparsely populated parts of the Southwest and West from Texas to California. The military periodically engages in such exercises, and officials said they’ve chosen these states because the terrain where the exercises will occur most closely matches the terrain where combat troops and Special Forces units have recently seen and are likely to see action.
But to the conservative conspiracy bloc, Jade Helm 15 is, as one conspiracy-monger posted, part of Obama’s plan to provoke civil unrest, enact martial law, suspend the Constitution, suspend next year’s national elections, and extend his term of office indefinitely.
A poll released last week by Public Policy Polling organization found that 60 percent of those likely to vote in the Republican primaries believe that Jade Helm 15 could be a federal government attempt to take over Texas.
Pentagon officials have tried to calm the fears. And Arizona Sen. John McCain R-Ariz.), among a few other Republicans, derided the claims as “bizarre. We’ve been having military exercises in the Southwest for a couple of hundred years.”
But Texas Republicans by and large have held a firm line on pandering to the extremists. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state national guard to “monitor” the military’s activities once the exercises start. And Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert characterized the conspiracy concerns as understandable because, as Cruz said, the Obama administration “has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy.”
I like New York Times columnist Gail Collins’ take on this. Before noting that although the state is a hotbed of anti-Washington sentiment, more than a quarter of the committees in the House of Representatives are currently chaired by Texas Republicans (and two of the last four presidents have been Texas Republicans), Collins wrote, “Texas is getting more diverse by the hour, so maybe that’s it.”
That population diversity – the substantial growth over the last two decades of Texas’ and the nation’s Hispanic citizens (54 million), and the sizable bloc of undocumented Hispanic immigrants (about 11 million) – is indeed what’s behind conservatives’ interest of recent years in revising the clause of the post-Civil War 14th Amendment that automatically grants U.S. citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”
Of course, the “birthright citizenship” clause was specifically enacted to ensure that all Black Americans had full citizenship rights. But by the end of the 19th century, the court had ruled that the “all” in its language did indeed apply to all other peoples in the U.S. as well.
Now, some conservatives want to sharply narrow that bedrock characteristic of the American nation (the principle is actually older than the 14th Amendment clause). In the Senate, Louisiana’s David Vitter has been introducing a bill to narrow the clause since 2011; and in late April the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security (Republican-chaired, of course) held a hearing on birthright citizenship, at which two of the three witnesses argued the issue deserves a “national debate.”
It’s clear the birthright citizenship clause is safe; the extraordinary mechanism for revising or excising a constitutional amendment makes it so.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the true purpose of this gambit. Conservatives aren’t primarily concerned about the children of undocumented immigrants being born here now. They’re worried – given the GOP’s hostility to immigration reform – about what party those children will support when they reach voting age.
In short, they’re worried that the children of today’s undocumented immigrants – citizens of the United States by birth – will be adding to the substantial majority of Hispanic-Americans, and other Americans of color, who have multiple reasons not to vote Republican.
So, in that regard, conservatives’ current Jade Helm 15 lunacy and their attacking the principle of birthright citizenship offer further evidence of how driven the conservative movement is by a view of American society that demands they dominate other Americans – especially the ones who are “colored.”
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com.