Fake Sense

There are five problems with the Biblical justification of the family separation law policy.

First, Romans 13 is taken out of context and is cherry picking—plenty of Biblical support could be amassed for justifying opposition to unjust laws.

Second, Romans 13 has, historically, been invoked by Loyalists advocating, well, loyalty, to the crown during the American Revolution, and, more disturbingly, by supporters of slavery prior to the Civil War.  And as is well known, Paul supported the institution of slavery.

Third, even if there were clear and unambiguous Biblical support for such a policy, that is not a legitimate justification for any federal law or policy due to the first amendment.  We live in a constitutional republic and a pluralistic democratic society, not a theocracy.  It may be a nation of Christians, but it is not a Christian nation.

Fourth, this justification ignores the difference between morality and legality.  Just because something is legal does not mean it is moral. This has always been an aspect of Judeo-Christian morality and politics, from Moses’ slave revolt against the Egyptians to Christian opposition to infanticide under the Romans to King fighting segregation in America.

Fifth, even disregarding the first amendment, on balance the teachings of Jesus would almost certainly be opposed to such a policy.  The entire thrust of Christian morality tends toward a concern for the poor, the child, the stranger, the disenfranchised, toward mercy and compassion for “the least of these.”  


Beyond the Biblical justification, there are problems with the administration’s rhetoric surrounding the policy, as well as its approach to immigration in general.

First, the administration is not “enforcing the law.”  This is not a statute.  It is a matter of discretionary policy, one the administration chose to enforce.  

Second, this is not a problem created by the Democrats. Trump has employed this strategy before, e.g., claiming that the Democrats created the DACA problem.  That’s another lie.  But even worse, it’s really an attempt to extort broader concessions on immigration policy, as I’ll explain below.

Third, this is not a “crisis” in which the president’s hand has been forced.  The administration has deliberately inflated the immigration problem more broadly.  The facts are these:  Immigration across the southern border has declined precipitously in recent years, in large part because the Mexican economy has improved, its birth rate has declined, and deportations spiked significantly—under the Obama administration.  

Fourth, increasing legal immigration, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, is good economic and social policy.  First, it is not true, as Trump and co. often claim, that immigrants are a threat to public safety.  The fact is that such people are less likely, on average, to commit violent crimes.  Second, immigration is good for economic growth, which is a function of two things:  population growth and productivity growth. The US birth rate has declined, so the only way to hit the 3% or 4% growth targets Trump and co. desire is to boost immigration. Third, social security has recently started drawing from its trust fund, and in the middle future there will not be enough payroll tax revenue to fund benefits, making the system insolvent. Increased immigration means more young, productive people paying into the system. 

Fifth, the administration is pretty obviously using this policy to extort concessions on immigration in order to be able to campaign on it in 2018 and 2020.  In other words, this is all about The Wall.  The Wall—a solution we can’t afford to a problem that doesn’t exist—is, of course, not about the Wall—it’s about Trump getting re-elected.  

Sixth, there is a long history of conservative politicians cloaking appeals to resentful white voters under the mantle of “public safety,” “national security, “sovereignty,” “law and order,” and the like:  Goldwater’s opposition to desegregation by appealing to states’ rights, Nixon’s southern strategy promising to restore “law and order,” etc.  Trump doesn’t even bother with the ruse—he openly admitted that the invocation of an obscure national security law to justify the tariffs against our allies was in bad faith.


All of which is to say that the first mistake–made by proponents–is to try to defend the policy on its merits, and the second–made by opponents–is to object to the policy because it doesn’t make sense.  These aren’t really “policies”—they’re political strategies.  Nearly none of the administrations policies make sense—from trade to taxes to energy to climate to Iran to spitting in the face of our allies to the gutting of the State Department to praising authoritarian rulers to healthcare to immigration—because they’re not concerned with solving problems, but with creating them. 

The Trump administration does not make sense.  They fake sense. 

They do not assess the factual lay of the land and decide on how best to solve problems; they assess what their voting and donor bases believe to be problems—and what will best distract, divide, and confuse the public–and then fixate on and inflate those faux problems.  The most important, long-term structural problems—reducing income inequality, funding a new infrastructure plan, combating climate change, and building a globally competitive American renewable energy economy—are neglected.

Finally, the policy is needless, and needlessly cruel, and in this way it is vintage Trump. While the Bible is an inappropriate legal foundation, its invocation in this debate is actually crucially important, because it can shed light on just how heinous, inhumane, and morally retarded Trump is as a person and as a president. What irony that the
party that claims to be so animated by family values has thrown its lot in with a twice-divorced man, a serial adulterer with porn stars and Playmates, and a bully who relishes inflicting pain on powerless people seeking asylum by separating families.


What we need, of course, is not a physical wall, but a moral one.  Trump can rip up trade deals, flout democratic norms, cancel regulations, and perhaps even obstruct justice and collude with a foreign power to sabotage our electoral process.  But the most important long-term damage he is doing is to undermine our respect for the differences between true and false and right and wrong.