Trump, Mateen and the question of belonging

 20 Aug 2016 - 2:12

By Janell Ross

In the course of American history, a relatively shortlist of naturalised citizens have been stripped of their US citizenship and the rights that come with it, then forced out of the country.
These individuals have, in the eyes of the US government, so violated the laws of this country, so completely embraced an ideology counter to national interests or offered such critical support to enemy causes, that the pact between the individual and the nation has been irrevocably broken. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have just offered a potential addendum to that list.
His name is Seddique Mateen. He is the father of Omar Mateen, the gunman who shot and killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub. Seddique Mateen is also a naturalised US citizen, spotted at a Hillary Clinton campaign event last week. And he’s a man about whom Trump was speaking during a Fox News town hall aired Wednesday night when the GOP nominee said he would “throw him out.” It’s not clear if the “out” in question here is out of the country or out of a hypothetical Trump campaign event. However, this much is clear: Trump has spent much of the past 14 months arguing in favour of an edit of US citizenship, its almost uniform permanency, the rights it guarantees and who should be a beneficiary of those rights.
The list of people, groups and things Trump has described as a kind of insufficient, suspect or rightfully dismissible “other” is long. Very long. But the subset of people, groups, actions and ideas that, to Trump, should not retain the label of US citizen is not. In fact, if put into action, Trump’s ideas would create a US citizenry far whiter and more Christian than exists today. One year ago, Trump suggested that the 14th Amendment should be tweaked. Trump and his supporters claimed that as written, the 14th Amendment had become a legal means for undocumented immigrants to best the United States. A constitutional addendum establishing the US citizenship of slaves and their progeny, equal rights for all citizens - natural born and naturalised — has been systematically abused by undocumented immigrants, they insisted.
Right now, if undocumented immigrants can simply make it to the United States and reproduce, those immigrants create new US citizens, children Trump calls “anchor babies.” These children, according to Trump (but virtually no reputable review of social safety net data or US law), are almost certain to place intense, long-running demands on all sorts of publicly financed programs and resources to which they have no right.
But in suggesting that the country take another look at the 14th Amendment, Trump was not just riffing on a little law. He was suggesting an edit of the legal root of American equality.
What he was describing was a rewrite of the rules by which most black Americans derive their citizenship and right to demand equal protection under the law, and basically the only reparation ever made to freed slaves. Trump seemed to think the idea that he would want to do this in such a way that millions of mostly Latino, black and Asian children, born in the United States to undocumented parents, would be disinherited, utterly stripped of the benefits of clear citizenship in any country, would be regarded as no big deal. These are not small matters. Natural born citizenship would become revocable, en masse. This is the stuff of wars, riots and other possibilities nearly unfathomable. This is why both the libertarian publication Reason and the liberal magazine Mother Jones described the idea in alarming terms.
Flash forward to December 2015, when Trump suggested yet another simple solution to a complex set of problems: how to combat the Islamic State while minimizing civilian casualties, preventing domestic terrorism and dissuading lone-wolf actors who subscribe to extremist ideologies.
Show no mercy, Trump basically said. Kill terrorists — and their families, too:
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. ... They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
This was a window inside the mind of Trump. This, as the conservative National Review, PolitiFact and many other media outlets pointed out, would also amount to a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the most common international understanding of human rights.
It would punish, or at least require no particular care with the lives of, people who may have no involvement in terrorism or knowledge of terrorist plans, and might not even subscribe to the ideologies behind them. This is the assigning of group guilt in a way that violates international law. Trump made no distinction between the families of terrorists in territory controlled by the Islamic State and those who live inside the United States.
That same month, Trump suggested a ban on Muslim immigration, then disavowed it, then seemed to embrace it, only to later disclaim it again. The proposal was paired with a plan to collectively house or somehow closely monitor all of the nation’s Muslim residents and citizens. Trump compared his idea to Franklin D Roosevelt’s decision to force Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.
Trump’s 21st-century update was a possible database of US Muslims. You know, for easy tracking. Over the past few weeks, Trump has explained that under a Trump administration, his Muslim ban would, in fact, become a ban on immigration from countries with a history of terrorism. Japanese internment is so widely recognized as a decision so out of step with US law, custom and the rights of American citizens that decades later, the federal government paid survivors reparations. This is a country founded, in part, on the pursuit of religious freedom. And Trump’s latest version of his immigration ban simply exchanges codified religious group guilt for guilt by way of national origin.
This, of course, brings us to this week’s Fox News town hall. After Trump illuminated a national-security-related rationale for systematic racial profiling, Fox News’s Sean Hannity turned the conversation to Mateen. As The Fix’s Aaron Blake wrote: “Hannity also asked Trump about Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, who was seated behind Hillary Clinton at a rally last week. “ ‘What do we do when we find somebody that has extreme views?’ Hannity asked. ‘Do we throw them the hell out?’
“Trump said he would throw Seddique Mateen out, though it’s not clear whether he meant from a rally or — as Hannity appeared to intend — from the United States. “ ‘I’d throw him out,’ Trump said, according to a transcript. ‘If you look at him, I’d throw him out. You know, I looked at him. And you look, he’s smiling. ...’ “
Granted, Trump might have been talking about giving Mateen the boot from any Trump event. But given the past year, the idea that Trump might also have been talking about booting Mateen from the country isn’t without basis.

Janell Ross is a reporter for The Fix who writes about race, gender, immigration and inequality.

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