The Beginning or the End of America

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Photo by zelle duda on Unsplash

I can’t keep up with it all. None of us can. The Trump administration is going full bore on its quest to reshape America. Migrant families are being set asunder violently, children have been shipped away from their parents, records of what’s taking place are being destroyed, and no one is saying where the older girls are. Camps are being built. Meanwhile, the federal judiciary is being remade and not just at the Supreme Court level. Unethical men are making back-room deals about who will get these lifetime appointments. There’s a push to make administrative court judges (like those who handle immigration cases) political appointees who can be fired at any time. Steps are being taken to make protest illegal. High-level Executive branch appointees are constantly being caught out on the grift. The heist that’s happening is the thing that’s flying most under the radar. Then there’s the creepy religiosity and glassy-eyed hyper-patriotism sitting on top of this smoldering trash heap. Every day there is more news that something else has been broken, something that will take years, if not decades, to fix.

That feeling of being overwhelmed by it all, of not knowing what to focus on is being induced deliberately. It’s a classic authoritarian tactic — turning the firehoses on to full force and having opponents scurry as they worry about where every drop will fall. And they have to. Each one of those drops is damaging real people, destroying real lives, and those people have to be identified, protected, and looked after. The task is daunting, and it’s meant to be. It’s meant to exhaust people into giving up.

Giving up isn’t an option, but neither is spending every moment desperately trying to mop up water that’s being sprayed everywhere. The hoses have to be turned off.

That’s why “Abolish ICE” is such a powerful statement. It gets to the point: that there is an apparatus, a network of institutions that has to be in place for the injustice to be carried out. Dismantling this apparatus will remove many of the tools those bent on doing damage require. It will also create a new equilibrium of power. Those in power want to hold on to it, and that’s why “Abolish ICE” is already being mutated into “Kinda Reform ICE, but not really” by the Democratic establishment. They don’t want the hoses turned off; they want them on a lower setting.

ICE is part of the post-9-11 explosion of America’s security state. The trauma of that event shouldn’t be underestimated. Nevertheless, after nearly 20 years of unceasing war, the resulting catastrophic destabilization of the Middle East, and the increasing brutality of America’s immigration system, perhaps it’s time to admit the U.S. government overreacted. That overreaction was bipartisan. Owning up to consequences isn’t something politicians are good at, so it’s predictable that everyone who went along with it all is trying to downplay the magnitude of the mistakes that were made. In addition, low-level authoritarian thuggery is rarely the dealbreaker it should be for people who seek to rule. ICE and other arms of immigration enforcement (and wider law enforcement) have been behaving badly and abusing their authority for years. Part of what is coming out in the wash is how many people in Washington believe it’s a necessary evil.

ICE is the tip of a massive iceberg — a dysfunctional law enforcement apparatus that is rife with civil and human rights abuses. A real movement to abolish ICE will eventually lead more Americans to connect the dots, and uncomfortable questions will become more mainstream. Questions like: Why does the United States imprison more people than any other country on earth by such a wide margin? Why are the racial disparities so stark? All the other countries we’re constantly being told are authoritarian hellscapes manage to implement their hideous agendas without racking up the prison population the United States has. Why has this massive outlier (a giant red flag) been presumed by so many to be benign? Only certain people were in the crosshairs — mostly Black men.

What is happening under the Trump regime is that the target group has widened, and the consequences are getting too close for comfort to some people. It’s becoming clearer that model minority posturing isn’t going to save people. Anyone who thinks the “I have an engineering degree from Stanford!” argument will effectively rebut racist anti-immigration policies has lost the plot. That “infestation” they keep referencing? They’re talking about you guys too. The plan (and they’re not being shy about it) is to purge America of people who aren’t White.

This will all eventually pivot to the neo-Confederates turning their attention to their historical enemies: the descendants of the enslaved Africans who built America’s wealth. This is why those prison population numbers are so important. Black men are the demographic that has been targeted for concentration in America’s jails and penitentiaries. Schools are being used to funnel them into this system. Systemic racial discrimination in every area linked to upward social mobility (education, banking and finance, housing, etc.) keeps most Black Americans locked out. Housing discrimination — a particular evil — has concentrated much of Black America into urban ghettoes. I keep using that word “concentration” because I think people don’t understand where this could all go.

They really are fascists. What we’re watching down at the Mexican border is the precursor to genocide. That’s not hyperbole. “Forcibly transferring the children of one group to another group” is one of the tactics of genocide.

They’re not going to stop with El Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians. They’re not going to stop with immigrants. Anyone who understands the history of the United States and how the country has treated the descendants of its slaves knows where this is going. I understand why people don’t want to see it, but Black Americans know better than anyone what America is capable of doing to its own people.

In 1970, James Baldwin wrote an open letter to Angela Davis. He had just left Germany, “which was made notorious by a silent majority not so very long ago.” He connected what was happening in the United States at the time to what had happened in Germany in the 1930s. He called America’s prisons concentration camps. He named the dangers of Nixon and Reagan. He wrote that, “The enormous revolution in black consciousness which has occurred in your generation, my dear sister, means the beginning or the end of America.” It seemed like America may have been on the path to a new beginning, at least for a little while, but the nation’s failure to engage with that revolution in consciousness in good faith allowed White supremacy to mutate and metastasize. It never went anywhere, and those who insisted it did have shown themselves to be too obtuse to be taken seriously going forward.

A profound shift is happening in America. It’s eerily similar to what happened in the 1960s. It’s unclear what will emerge on the other side. A kleptocracy? A Dominionist theocracy? A fascist regime predicated on Apartheid? Right now some combination of all these things seems to be emerging. Could the country collapse the way the Soviet Union did? Perhaps. Unless the hoses are turned off. Unless a stop is put to this. Abolishing ICE is a good start, but it is only a start. There is a scaffolding of injustice that must be dismantled, and if it is, America may indeed make a new start. My fear is that the worst will have to happen for enough Americans to even acknowledge that it exists.

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*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: | IG: kitanyaharrison

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