Perhaps no one issue more embodies the United States’ slide into barbarity under President Trump than the intentionally created crisis that unfolded at the southern border in June, with families fleeing violence in Central America presenting themselves to immigration officials, and seeing children, including toddlers, ripped away from parents, without any process to ensure reunification.
Just as a reminder, many of these children are at the most sensitive age of development, and yanking them away from their parents and other caring adults does incalculable and irreversible harm. Some of the parents were deported without any financial ability to recover their children, who are scattered in remote detention facilities across the United States. Some of the children have been shifted into foster care. The president opened his campaign by demonizing immigrants from south of the border in the most vicious and degrading terms. The panoply of policies enacted since his inauguration have inflicted undeniable material harm on immigrant families. The worst excesses of these policies have produced backlashes, yes, but they’ve also pleased the base voters who swept him into office in 2016.
Which brings us to the midterm election.
Reminder: Early voting opens across North Carolina on Wednesday. There’s an argument — endorsed in our voter guide — that the most effective check on the reckless, corrupt and gratuitously cruel administration in the White House is for voters to return control of Congress to the Democrats. After all, the Republican Congress has become little more than a rubber stamp for executive power. And the successful nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court ensure a conservative judiciary that is effectively in Trump’s pocket. If you’re following this logic, the Democratic majority is everything, and the specific Democratic candidates are kind of an afterthought.
The voters in the 13th Congressional District, which covers two thirds of Guilford County, have the power to flip one of the 24 seats Democrats need to retake the House. The website FiveThirtyEight.com currently gives Republican incumbent Ted Budd a 2.3-point advantage over Democratic challenger Kathy Manning. If only it were a matter of choosing between Budd and Manning; there are two other candidates on the ballot — a self-described “socialist” named Robert Corriher on the Green Party ticket whose platform resembles Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and an anti-war Libertarian named Tom Bailey.
There’s another important calculation — if you don’t buy the argument that everything in this election hinges on the Democrats taking control of Congress, that is. In a word: It’s the policy, stupid. If you accept that the Trump administration’s human-rights violations at the southern border is the signature issue in this election, then you have to reckon with the inconvenient reality that immigration is not necessarily the Democratic Party’s strong suit.
Consider the contrast between Manning’s and Corriher’s positions, as reflected in their statements to the Lexington Dispatch. After calling for comprehensive immigration reform and taking potshots at lack of leadership from incumbents in Washington, Manning writes, “We must have secure borders, increase penalties for companies that break the law, find better ways to track people who visit our country and overstay their visas, and we also need a system that strengthens North Carolina and our country’s economy. We need to create a pathway for Dreamers, especially those who serve as first responders or in the military.”
Notice that the first two thirds of the statement is devoted to increasing security and strengthening the economy (whatever that means), and only after that does Manning mention helping one particular immigrant constituency — people who were brought to the United States without authorization as minors, and even then she makes a point to emphasize “worthy” immigrants who have served in the military.
Contrast that with Corriher’s statement: “I unequivocally believe we should abolish ICE and offer amnesty to all undocumented people in this country. If capitalists and factory owners can cross borders with ease to find cheaper labor, all workers should be able to cross borders for higher wages. ICE leadership and agents have proven to be reckless, violent, and we cannot trust them. If voters want a real choice, a real chance to have an anti-racist, anti-capitalist leader in Washington, they can vote for me. Otherwise, both of these parties will let these racist agencies continue to destroy families.”
As the headline in the cover story for the recent issue of the New York Times Magazine declares, “The Democrats have an immigration problem.” If Manning’s position is a political calculation that comprehensive immigration reform will only be politically viable after Democrats concede to the compromise of strengthening border security, it’s the same position President Obama took for eight years. The Obama administration increased deportations to record levels, but the Republicans never reciprocated by passing a bill to create a pathway to citizenship. Meanwhile, the conservative lie that the border is broken — contradicted by all the evidence — paved the way for the white nationalist demagoguery of Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016.
When Democrats have held the majority, they haven’t enacted immigration reform because of fear of alienating conservative voters. President Bush couldn’t find partners in the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass immigration reform in 2007. And in 2010, when Democrats controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government, the DREAM Act came up five votes short in the Senate. One of the withheld votes? Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
In short, Democrats have a lot of work to do to earn voters’ trust on immigration reform. But let’s acknowledge that political power is a cumulative process of building unwieldy coalitions to achieve the necessary majority to govern. A vote is not like wearing a patch to signify your favorite indie-rock band. It has to merge together with a lot of other votes to amount to something.
The election between Budd and Manning could be very close. If FiveThirtyEight’s prediction holds, it’s conceivable that Budd wins by 2 points. It’s also possible, even probable, that Corriher could earn more than 2 percent of the vote. Conceivably, some of the votes for Corriher will come from people who would otherwise vote for Manning. But it’s also likely that some of Corriher’s votes will come from people on the left who have been too demoralized to participate in previous elections.
I’m not going to recommend a course of action. I don’t have as much influence as many people believe, and honestly a lot of people would go against my recommendation just to spite me, so the effect is probably a wash. But it’s not hyperbole to say the left has an awesome, even a terrifying responsibility in deciding between Manning and Corriher in the 13th Congressional District. Go vote, and do so with solemn resolve.