Politics & Policy

Chuck Schumer’s Tears Shouldn’t Be Taken Too Seriously

Sen. Schumer on Capitol Hill in 2015. (Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
Democrats professing horror over Trump’s travel ban were fine with stripping constitutional rights from citizens so long as Obama was president.

I am beginning to suspect that the Democrats are not acting entirely in good faith.

Protests have been convened, and a national crisis declared, over the Trump administration’s promised expansion of Obama administration policies restricting some refugee inflows from the Middle East and identifying the residents of certain majority-Muslim countries as likely threats subject to heightened scrutiny. The Democrats are behaving as though President Trump had just commissioned a very large order of Zyklon B.

Funny what rises to command their attention.

As the Editors have pointed out here, both the list of targeted countries and the policy of using executive action to prohibit U.S. travel by members of suspect populations date from the Obama administration — they are not Trump-era innovations.

These of course were not the only Obama-era innovations nor the most significant of them. Only a few months ago, the idea of using unilateral executive action to limit the travel not of foreigners and green-card holders but of U.S. citizens — and to strip them of specific constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights — thrilled Democrats, who described all opposition to such heavy-handed abuse of civil liberties as indulgence of terrorism. Stripping away the constitutional rights of purported terrorism suspects — U.S. citizens who had never even been charged with a crime, much less convicted of one — “isn’t politics, it’s common sense,” declared Representative Ted Deutch (D., Fla.). Hillary Rodham Clinton supported stripping U.S. citizens of their constitutional rights in a secret process without trial or hearing or presentation of evidence, as did Senator Bernie Sanders, President Barack Obama, and practically every other Democratic figure of any consequence.

Stripping U.S. citizens of their rights was “common sense,” according to the same Democrats who now protest that temporarily refusing Yemeni nationals entry into the United States — the government of which has no particular obligation to them and where they have no legal right to entry or anything else — is a crime against humanity.

Strange, that. But then, who complained when the Obama administration announced its policy of assassinating U.S. citizens as part of the so-called war on terror? A few libertarians, Glenn Greenwald, and one right-winger at National Review.

So, to review: Stripping away the actual constitutional rights of U.S. citizens without due process through a secret military-intelligence process without appeal, trial, or representation? Hunky-dory. Ordering the assassination of U.S. citizens because one of them is, in your considered view, “the Osama bin Laden of Facebook”? Kill away. But telling a few Iranians that they are welcome to travel anywhere in the world they like except the United States?

Panic and alarums.

I wrote a few days ago that blind and unthinking opposition to a president is only a variation on blind and unthinking obedience, and that I myself intend not to do anything blindly and unthinkingly. I have advocated using the visa and immigration systems as an anti-terror tool since long before Donald Trump was a presidential candidate, much less president. I concur with my colleagues that his botching the executive order brings unhappily to mind the “amateurism that dominated his campaign,” i.e., the impression that Trump and his associates give of not knowing what in hell they are doing, and would add that it seems to me that a policy change of this scope should be led by Congress rather than by the president, whose proper role is not the making of new law but the execution of existing law. Perhaps congressional Republicans could rouse themselves to take an interest in this. Democrats do not object to this sort of presidential arrogation, only to the president doing the arrogating.

Democrats do not object to this sort of presidential arrogation, only to the president doing the arrogating.

Here, I have a premonition of scoffing: “Oh, that’s just whatabout-ism!” You’ll remember “whatabout-ism,” which was the Democratic talking point of the day a few weeks back. And they’d have a point if the argument were: “It is acceptable for President Trump to do things that are wrong, illegal, or unconstitutional, because President Obama did those things, too, or similar things.” But that isn’t the argument at all. The argument is: Democrats are fundamentally unserious, opportunistic, and dishonest in their assessment of what is happening, believing that they can simply use Trump and Trumpism to discredit conservatism and perhaps mortally wound the Republican party. Alas, that “amateurism” the Editors mention promises to give them ample opportunity to do just that.

But no honest-minded person with a sincere desire to actually understand what is going on in American politics should take Chuck Schumer’s tears very seriously. The Democrats are happy to do what Trump contemplates doing — and much worse — not to foreign nationals and would-be asylum-seekers but to American citizens at home under the protection of the Constitution.

Which is to say, if you dislike Trump and believe that the credible alternative to his approach is that of Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi, you are mistaken. The Democrats stand ready not to inconvenience the citizens of other countries but to strip citizens of this country of their rights, so long as they get to be in charge of doing it. If you not only failed to speak up against the Obama administration’s all-out assault on the Bill of Rights but cheered it, then I do not want to hear very much from you about the Trump administration’s denying visas to would-be Somali immigrants or Sudanese tourists. 

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