Trump did not say the 14th Amendment is unconstitutional

(Courtesy of the Byrom-Daufel family) Most 19th Century Chinese immigrants were single men, but a few families lived in the Portland area. The Byrom-Daufel family of Tualatin retained this portrait, but descendents no longer have the Chinese family name. Scan from print.
Chinese immigrants in Oregon. Birthright citizenship dates to 1898, when the Supreme Court cited the 14th Amendment in overturning a California law. Photo published by The Oregonian, courtesy of the Byrom-Daufel family.

My Facebook feed is filling up with posts from liberal friends informing me that Donald Trump is, among many other bad things, an ignoramus when it comes to the Constitution.

Trump allegedly stepped in it on Tuesday, telling Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that the 14th Amendment wouldn’t necessarily impede his rather horrifying proposal to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States.

Cue the outraged headlines. “Donald Trump says 14th Amendment is unconstitutional” is the takeaway at Yahoo Politics. Or consider this, from Politico: “Trump to O’Reilly: 14th Amendment is unconstitutional.” Or Mother Jones: “Trump: The 14th Amendment Is Unconstitutional.”

Of course, it’s fun to think Trump is such a buffoon that he doesn’t realize something that’s part of the Constitution can’t be unconstitutional. All he’d need to do is spend a few minutes watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” videos on YouTube to disabuse himself of that notion.

But that’s not what Trump said. In fact, Trump made the perfectly reasonable assertion that the federal courts may be willing to revisit how they interpret the 14th Amendment. Trump told O’Reilly:

Bill, [lawyers are] saying, “It’s not going to hold up in court, it’s going to have to be tested.” I don’t think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers, some would disagree…. But many of them agree with me — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship. [Quotes transcribed by Inae Oh of Mother Jones, whose story is more accurate than the headline under which it appears.]

Birthright citizenship is not exactly a new issue. Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post noted earlier this week that, back in the early 1990s, none other than future Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid supported reinterpreting the 14th Amendment in order to end automatic citizenship — thus confirming a remark made on the campaign trail by Scott Walker, one of several Republican presidential candidates who have joined Trump in opposing it.

In searching the archives, I couldn’t find a specific reference to Reid. But The New York Times reported in December 1995 that House Republicans and some Democrats supported an end to birthright citizenship, with most arguing that a constitutional amendment would be needed and others claiming that legislation would suffice. Any attempt to enforce such legislation would have triggered exactly the sort of court challenge that Trump envisions.

And it’s not as though the 14th Amendment has stood immutable over time. After all, it wasn’t until 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education, that the amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” forbade segregation in the public schools.

Birthright citizenship was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1898, three decades after enactment of the 14th Amendment. In that case, according to the 1995 Times article, the court overturned a California law that had been used to deny citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents were Chinese immigrants.

Trump’s rhetoric represents the worst kind of nativism, and he should be held to account for his words. But what he’s actually saying is bad enough. When the media exaggerate and distort, they hand him an undeserved victory.

Also published at The Huffington Post.

Could the anti-incumbent fever be breaking?

It depends on how seriously you regard polls taken six months before the November election. But there’s some intriguing news on several fronts today:

  • Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing in his re-election battle has jumped 10 points in a month, according to Rasmussen. He now leads Republican Charlie Baker by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, with independent Tim Cahill bringing up the rear at 14 percent. It appears that the Republican Party’s relentlessly negative anti-Cahill ads have damaged Cahill without doing much for Baker.
  • Public Policy Polling reports that President Obama’s approval/disapproval rating is now 50 percent/46 percent, his best standing since last October.
  • Even Harry Reid is looking less like a goner than he has in many months.

Who knows what will happen over the next few months? These things generally come down to the economy, and the recovery has been slow and unsteady. At the very least, though, it seems that the throw-them-all-out story line has been called into question.

A single standard

This Associated Press story is a good example of the mindless way in which Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s stupid remarks about President Obama and race are being compared to those of Trent Lott in 2002. Lott was forced to step down as Senate majority leader after he endorsed Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign 54 years after the fact.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calls it “a clear double standard” if Democrats do not remove Reid. Good grief.

The difference, plain enough to anyone who wants to engage his or her brain: Reid, though his words were awkward and racially insensitive, was expressing his enthusiasm that an African-American might be elected president. Reid said Obama was electable because he was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid’s words were unfortunate, to say the least. But Lott, who had long been active in racist politics back home in Mississippi, was essentially saying it was a damn shame those blacks were ever allowed to drink from the non-colored water fountain. Here’s what Lott said at Thurmond’s 100th-birthday party:

I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.

There’s really no comparison, and sensible people of all ideological stripes know that. Check out how conservative pundit George Will put Lynne Liz Cheney in her place on ABC’s “This Week” after Cheney claimed Reid’s words were “racist”:

WILL: I don’t think there’s a scintilla of racism in what Harry Reid said.  At long last, Harry Reid has said something that no one can disagree with, and he gets in trouble for it.

CHENEY: George, give me a break.  I mean, talking about the color of the president’s skin …

WILL: Did he get it wrong?

CHENEY:  … and the candidate’s …

WILL: Did he say anything false?

CHENEY:  … it’s — these are clearly racist comments, George.

WILL:  Oh, my, no.

Indeed. Oh, my. No. Despite Reid’s idiotic choice of words, this remains a racially charged society, and his analysis — as Will noted — happened to be exactly correct.

Glenn Beck’s paranoid religiosity

Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck

It strikes me as overly cynical whenever I hear someone argue that Glenn Beck’s just an entertainer who doesn’t mean half the things he says. I find it hard to believe anyone could spew that much toxic rhetoric just for laughs (and money).

Now the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has advanced an alternative explanation, based on some pretty extensive research. According to Reilly, what animates Beck may be an out-there, retro strain of Mormonism he has embraced with a convert’s zeal.

Unlike mainstream Mormon public figures like Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid, Beck, Reilly argues, harks back to the virulent 1950s anti-communism of Ezra Taft Benson, a member of President Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet who later became head of the LDS Church.

And when Beck says the Constitution is “hanging by a thread,” he’s not just indulging in a cliché — he’s invoking the very specific language of a particular type of religious paranoia.

Reilly’s piece is well worth your time.