The Bloom Briefing 5: On the Ethics and Morals of Resistance; ICE Raids; Judicial Victories
Welcome to the Fifth Edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. As the sheen of the Women’s March begins to fade slightly, we now gear up for the long haul. What does this mean for how we lead our lives? What are our responsibilities to each other and to the resistance? Our strength is required with immediate effect to confront the latest brazenly racist Trump administration action, the expansive ICE raids across many major cities. Yet there is good news as well: this week witnessed a pair of big wins for progressive values in the courts. We ought to be careful not to politicize the courts too much, though.
As a reminder, I encourage participation. I want to know if you think I’m right, or, more interestingly, wrong. You can respond directly to this email and it will come to me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Viva la Resistance!
On the Ethics and Morals of Resistance
In my conversations with other folks who count themselves among the resistance, I have noticed a potentially debilitating tension. People rightly recognize the need to for constant vigilance, but they are also wary of burnout. This leaves people questioning how to lead their lives while not abandoning their responsibilities to the cause.
In many respects, these are two distinct questions. The first is an ethical question: how we live our lives in this new age (for a new age it is). The second is a moral question: "What do we owe to each other?" This second question also entails a series of subquestions: to which people do we owe what?
For me, the ethical question is primary. A life is lived not piecemeal, but holistically. The question of what type of life we choose to live is something more than a mere aggregation of the various choices we make. It is a set of guiding principles (not rules), which give structure, meaning, and purpose to our lives. As a pluralist, I believe that there are many forms of the good life. But I also believe that there are forms of life that are bad, and that these bad lives are identifiable based on the bad moral outcomes of decisions made according to the given ethical framework.
That's vague and abstract, so let me provide an example. We all lead different lives according to different principles and beliefs about what those lives should contain. Yet an outcome of most of our lives is the provision of help to those less fortunate than ourselves. I call this a positive moral outcome.
What many of us are feeling now is a sense of distance between our ethical principles and our moral outcomes. In the Obama years, the Administration shouldered much of the burden of our collective moral pulling. Many of us were content to sit (reasonably) idly by and let them pull us slowly, but methodically, to the left. Now, that cover is gone. There is no Obama to pull us in that direction. There is no Democratic Congress to pull is in that direction. The only thing standing between us and the abyss (for it is truly an abyss) is our own commitment to the cause.
Suddenly our ethical decisions about how we lead our lives (everything from area of employment to involvement in recreational activities to how we spend time with friends) is ripe for reevaluation. We recognize that to lead a life with positive moral outcomes, we must tinker with our ethics.
The good part about being a pluralist and believing that there are many forms of the good life is that there's not one right answer to how to lead a life. Even in distressing times, the good life takes many forms. The important thing to remember is that however you approach this question, your life must work for you.
Counterintuitively perhaps, when people feel the distance we feel between their ethical lives and their moral outcomes, they often overcompensate, upturning big chunks of their lives to try and make progress. That's not usually a good idea. Your life probably shouldn't change that much. It's okay to watch trashy TV, to retreat to your bed with a good book, to recharge over an evening out with friends. I think this is what a lot of people mean when they talk about self-care, and it's essential.
But your life will have to change. Our commitment to our black and brown sisters and brothers must be redoubled. Our willingness to stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters must be redoubled. Our steadfastness to supporting the poor and the unwell must be redoubled. And our resolve to stand up for principles of liberalism and democracy, even as the other side seeks to throw them soiled at our feet, must be redoubled. This will take sacrifice - of time, of money, of our bodies. We will have to be twice as good and work twice as hard.
This still remains woefully abstract, so let me answer the most common specific question about how to lead a life in the resistance. What is my duty with respect to engaging Trump supporters?
Continue to presume positive intent. We cannot preemptively cut off dialogue. That would be a breach of our own principles, to the idea that others begin with our respect and must un-earn it if they are to lose it. One vote cannot be enough to un-earn our respect.
Always be respectful.
Never display moral judgment or condescension, however justified and righteous that moral judgment might be.
Always be right. The resistance must be committed to facts. Do not share things you haven't fact-checked if they don't come from a reputable source. If you feel you must share them, acknowledge as you do that you don't know whether or not they are true.
You need not engage with those who will not accept facts. If someone is committed to the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, you will not persuade them even with a mountain of evidence. Our battles can be won without the ostriches who refuse to lift their heads from the sand.
Remember that your first commitment is to the most vulnerable of society. Sometimes this rule supersedes the rule on not displaying moral judgment. Your moral outrage in the proximity of someone more vulnerable will be valuable because it will strengthen them even if it turns off the Trump supporter.
Remember that these issues are not partisan; they are moral. We are right and they are wrong. Do not frame the conflict in partisan terms; frame it in moral ones.
Only engage when you have the strength and energy to do so with the preceding rules. That may be never for some people, which is acceptable. There are other ways to be of value to the resistance.
The fight will be long, it will be hard, it will hurt at times, but with enough committed individuals, we can bend the long arc of history back towards justice.
Arizona SB 1070 Goes National: The Terror and Racism of “Show Me Your Papers”
Over the course of this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a self-described surge of raids. These represented a break from Obama administration policy as they also targeted non-criminals. “Immigration officials acknowledged that as a result of Trump’s executive order, authorities had cast a wider net than they would have last year.”
Based on firsthand reports of these raids, they are seriously problematic. Consider this paragraph from the Washington Post story linked above: “A video that circulated on social media Friday appeared to show ICE agents in Texas detaining people in an Austin shopping center parking lot. Immigration advocates also reported roadway checkpoints, where ICE appeared to be targeting immigrants for random ID checks, in North Carolina and in Austin.”
In Atlanta, immigration lawyer Hiba Ghalib reported that there had been accounts of “ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers.” This is, to say the least alarming.
Clearly, these raids aren't targeted. What if you don’t happen to have your papers on you? How does ICE know whom to ask for papers? Would they have asked me for my papers? Something tells me probably not. Can a raid at a shopping mall parking lot be targeted? That seems unlikely. There’s no way that a method like this won’t also round up US citizens or legal permanent residents who happen to not have their papers at hand. Laws or enforcement strategies that target people based on their race are not only unconstitutional but immoral.
As the ACLU argued about Arizona’s SB 1070 (and its derivatives) which required police to ask for the papers of someone for whom there was “reasonable suspicion” they were in the country illegally, “Laws inspired by Arizona's SB 1070 invite rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be "foreign" based on how they look or sound.” Now we have enforcement at the federal level based on the same principles.
For a full run-down of how terrifying a universe where ICE attempts to follow-through on Trump’s campaign would be, read what Conor Friedersdorf, a self-identified conservative leaner with libertarian views, had to say to a Trump supporter on the issue in May:
On immigration, set aside whether illegal immigrants "deserve" to be deported in some moral sense—maybe we can return to that question. For now, it seems to me that you're not thinking through what it would mean, practically, to deport 12 million people, or even a sizable fraction. New York City has a population of 8.4 million. To police the city requires 34,000 uniformed officers patrolling the streets and 51,000 NYPD employees overall, despite the fact that most of those 8.4 million are law abiding and have zero interaction with the criminal-justice system. You're talking about identifying, arresting, and deporting 12 million people, most of them in cities where the local police forces are not only already overburdened with existing duties, but controlled by city councils—and beyond that, voters—who will forbid them from assisting any mass deportation.
So you're talking about dispatching federal law enforcement, all of whom already have their own duties. How many new federal employees will have to be hired and trained?
Then they'll be sent out into America.
How will they identify the illegal immigrants? After all, Americans aren't required to carry their papers on the streets. Will that be required now? Either you've got to start forcing all Americans to prove their citizenship, or else target people who “look like illegal immigrants,” meaning you'll impose a tremendous burden on American citizens and legal immigrants of Hispanic background. That racial profiling would be illegal.
Would that change?
It's illegal to stop and search people without reason to suspect that they committed a crime.
Would that change?
There would be massive street protests in opposition to this effort; significant civil disobedience; significantly less cooperation between illegal immigrants and their family members with the police and other government authorities on unrelated matters; and a massive new unionized workforce of federal law enforcement. How efficient and competent and respectful of people’s right's you think folks who take that job are going to be? If by some miracle they achieve anything resembling success, do you think the new police force just goes away, melting back into unemployment? For those reasons and more, it seems obvious to me that mass deportations would prove a logistical and civil-liberties disaster, one that would do more to divide the country and spark riots and violence than anything since the Vietnam War.
In addition to these terrifying consequences, there’s also the humanitarian effect of immigrants fleeing the U.S. for Canada. The ICE actions are literally producing refugees. The refugee centers in Winnipeg are full. The refugees? In a throwback to the days of the Underground Railroad, they're walking on foot from the U.S... in the middle of winter.
How to Treat Judicial Victories
This week brought about two major judicial victories for progressives. First, as you're probably aware, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the Muslim ban. The unanimous (3-0) decision means that if Trump wants to reinstate the ban, he will have to get a majority of the 8 Supreme Court justices to rule in his favor, a seemingly unlikely proposition given the 4 liberal justices are likely to be opposed.
Also this week, a federal district court struck down Wisconsin’s legislative district boundaries, i.e., gerrymandering. While legislative districts have been struck down before, they’ve mostly been struck down on racial grounds. What makes the ruling here unusual is that it was done on partisan grounds. The district court ruled that Wisconsin’s districts unfairly disadvantaged Democrats.
The plaintiffs in the case created an innovative methodology for measuring how partisan legislative districts are. If this ruling is upheld all the way to the Supreme Court (to which it will likely eventually arrive), it would mean that the legislative districts in 13 states would have to be redrawn. In 12 of those cases, the redrawing would eliminate districting that disadvantages Democrats.
Both of these cases are big wins for the left. That shouldn’t be denied. But I’ve seen takes this week that point to the cases being the result of people being in the streets. I think it’s both self-serving and self-defeating to attribute these judicial decisions to the resistance. Judges rule on the merits of the law in the context of the Constitution. They are independent, not partisan. And while it’s true that the judicial system has become more political in recent years, I don’t think the left really wants to countenance the acceleration of that trend.
An independent judiciary is one of the centerpieces of American democracy. The left will already have a massive amount of work to do to rebuild confidence in the institutions of democracy. The Muslim ban is morally wrong and unconstitutional. We will be in the streets because it is the former. The courts will rule against it because it is the latter. We need not conflate the two; it will only create more work for us to do upon Trump’s departure.
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