14th Amendment Gave Ex-Slaves Citizenship—Trump Says Shred It

Updated August 31, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On August 25, Donald Trump was challenged (for a change) at a press conference in Iowa. Jorge Ramos, news anchor of the Spanish-language Univision network, attempted to question Trump about his policy for deporting people born in this country. First Trump had a bunch of thugs throw Ramos out of the press conference, and snarled at him to “go back to Univision.” In case anyone didn't understand the code Trump was using, a Trump supporter assailed Ramos (who is a U.S. citizen) and ordered him to “get out of my country.”

Bob Avakian, "Why do people come here from all over the world?"

Ramos, urged by other reporters to return, went back into the press room. Later he would tell other reporters: “When human rights are involved, when immigration rights are involved, when discrimination and racism is involved, we, as reporters, have to take a stand.”

And so again Ramos challenged Trump: “You cannot deny citizenship to children who are born here.”

Trump responded, “Why?”

* * *


Donald Trump brands himself a champion of ignorant and arrogant white men, but he knows perfectly well that for almost 150 years, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has guaranteed citizenship to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States.” He knows that this guarantee has been considered totally unambiguous, applying to anyone born here. And Trump knows that this amendment was passed to give former slaves citizenship.

In that light, Trump’s response amounted to: So fucking what?

The 14th Amendment was ratified a few years after the U.S. Civil War ended, during the period of Reconstruction. Its primary purpose was to ensure that Black people, the overwhelming majority of whom had been slaves, would be U.S. citizens. It was bitterly contested at the time, in particular by Southern states. While the 14th Amendment made Black people citizens of the U.S., formal citizenship proved hollow in a society profoundly shaped by white supremacy. The 1896 Supreme Court decision (Plessy v. Ferguson) explicitly legitimized white supremacy and the systematic and built-in inequalities of Jim Crow under the hateful, racist legal doctrine of “separate but equal.”

But with the 14th Amendment, the “law of the land” in the U.S. became that Black people were entitled to all the rights of full citizenship. This amendment has been a cornerstone of the “legitimizing norms”—the laws and institutions that are supposed to provide a system with at least the appearance of fairness in the eyes of all or at least most of its citizens, and in the eyes of the world—whatever injustices may be occurring at any particular time. It is no coincidence that the summer of Trump is the summer when white men have gone into the streets with automatic rifles—at Stone Mountain, Georgia, to celebrate the Confederate war to maintain slavery (and in other places that have not been reported); in Ferguson, Missouri, when Black people rebelled; at army recruitment centers around the country; and who knows where next. More than one observer has noted that the hard-core white supremacists infuriated by the taking down of some Confederate flags in the aftermath of the massacre of Black people at a Bible study class in Charleston, South Carolina, see Trump as their champion.

Even more to the point, a significant section of the U.S. ruling class sees it in their interest to promote Trump, to provide him with endless TV coverage that amounts to free infomercials. And those sections of the ruling class who do not share his fascist agenda have overwhelmingly cowered in the face of his outrageous lies and threats, or assured their followers he represents no real threat.

* * *

The dangers of Trump are real. His agenda is seriously genocidal. It is just as important to get what gave rise to Trump. Trump is a product of huge strains on U.S. society caused by the insane, dog-eat-dog workings of capitalism. On profound social fault lines—the oppression of Black people, global wars of empire, trying to force women back into forced motherhood, and the environment—things are being driven to extremes and this system has no real answers. There has always been an intense contradiction between the rights this system claims to respect and the reality that the oppressed have no rights the oppressor is bound to respect. But when ruling class forces start pumping out a fascist thug who sneers at rights that have supposedly been enshrined in their Constitution for generations, that, too, intensifies social conflict. At one and the same time, this drives many people to defend the old (less fascistic but still oppressive) social norms and creates conditions where people are open to rethinking everything about what kind of world we should live in.


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