Where Democracy Is Greener



The Haitians at Del Rio

Over one weekend, some 15,000 people, mainly Haitians, suddenly appeared at the Mexican border of the US, wanting to come in.  They fled Haiti because Haiti is broken down.  Its resources are meager and mismanaged.  Its political culture is corrupt; its government, dysfunctional.  Its last democratically elected president, Jovenel Moïse, was mysteriously assassinated, possibly by a clique of private outside adventurers.  He left Haitian government in a precarious position, for he had been hollowing out and disabling its already puny civic institutions.  Haiti is a Somalia in the making, where utter lawlessness could follow a decline in stable control.

Extreme weather plagues Haiti.  A colossal earthquake recently shook the country, which has long been the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.  Nothing relieves the people there, despite perennial international efforts, including the infusion of massive amounts of cash, food, and other forms of humanitarian aid.  Haiti is a nation state that doesn’t deliver what its people need.  To an alarming extent, Haiti’s problems are representative of many of the world’s nations, where poor governance, corruption, chronic violence, and extreme weather threaten the safety and survival of citizenry.

In olden times, misery made Haiti a pressure cooker of change.  Its history is as heartbreaking as any country’s.  In the 17th century, the French colonized Haiti.  French masters sent enslaved Africans to work sugar plantations there under pestilential conditions, knowing that the majority would have brief lives.  The terrifying violence and brutality of the slaves’ captivity is poignantly captured in their spiritual art.  Eventually, their misery bore fruit, for, in 1804, the slaves revolted and became self-governing.  They fomented a remarkable revolution, rebuking France and casting off oppression for the sake of personal freedom and political autonomy.  Ninety-five percent of Haiti’s 11.26 million inhabitants today descend from those once-captive slaves.

Now, however, the Haitians can flee rather than remake the oppression and misery besetting them again.  Modern communications and the ease of movement have led to swelling migration around the globe.  It’s hard to create a healthy democracy and the rule of law where they’ve ceased to exist, harder still to build a prosperous economy where the necessary cultural capital has always been wanting.  So, though Haitians already live in a democracy, some are flooding toward where its blessings are in fuller flower, leaving Haiti itself even more hopeless than before.  Because, why flee overland to the US?  Failing as citizens, Haitians want to live in a polity where the living is good.

So they have undertaken a harrowing, roundabout journey across Mexico, over water and mountains, leaving everything familiar to huddle together under the Del Rio International Bridge, which normally admits travelers into the US via south Texas.  Given the abnormal flood of migrants, most of whom have no hope of legal entry, the border crossing at Del Rio has been completely closed.  Journalists report that the Haitians will be flown back to their country at US government expense.

I feel for the Haitians who made this journey.  If I were in their place, I might consider leaving Haiti, too.  The fact that they are from a democratic country, though, and that people all over the world are now fleeing pseudo-democracies where repression, exploitation, and corruption are flourishing, gives me pause.  The tendency of many journalists to depict these hapless citizens as childlike and powerless victims is dangerously patronizing and retrograde.  When should the people of Haiti be regarded as accountable for the terribly low outcomes from their country’s “democratic experiment?”  When will the US get its act together, put aside its vanity, and restore order at the border by promulgating a set of new, Congressionally approved immigration laws?

To be in a reactive position with respect to immigration and border control exposes the “both ways” dithering that is impairing the prestige of the democratic form.  Common sense and realism must temper compassion in crafting a rationale for augmenting the current population mix of the US.  Global instability is increasing, requiring the US to temper boundlessness with a regard for its own political vulnerability.

Human migration is destined to swell, particularly as extreme weather events make barely habitable places like Haiti even more uninhabitable.  The US must meet the new forces driving human migration with something more than ad hoc executive orders, fuzzy feelings, vice-presidential sound-bites, and so-called media “campaigns.”  The circumstances under which non-citizens may enter the US and the procedures they must follow should be clear, universally broadcast, and incontrovertible.  Paradoxically, the firmness with which such boundaries are drawn may redound to the long-term health of other democracies.

Image: A Port-au-Prince neighborhood,
courtesy Alsandro via Wikimedia 
Commons.

 


w-c-osborn

Why Not Contribute to American Inquiry?

Your donation helps ensure that American Inquiry remains freely available to all, instead of being hidden behind a paywall. Contributions can be made in any $10 increment by clicking the quantity button. Your total will appear on the subsequent payment page. Many thanks!

$10.00

States That Went For Trump In 2020

Where Trump beat Biden in 2020, his margin of victory was often wide.  Listed below are the states where Trump prevailed, in order of his relative popularity.  The results show where Democrats are least competitive, where Trump prevails because of an absence of viable competition.

After that is a second list, of the ten states most closely decided in 2020.  In four states (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania), Biden prevailed by a margin of less than one percent. Had these states gone the other way, Trump would still be president.

The political crisis of the United States will resolve when a rival party becomes ideologically competitive in the many states where Trump dominated comfortably last time around.  Many of these states are small.  How to woo votes away from Trump in these areas is an experiment worth embarking on prior to the election of 2024.


KEY: State (Electoral votes) NUMBER OF VOTES CAST FOR TRUMP / Margin of victory

    • Wyoming (3) 193,559 / 43.3 %
    • West Virginia (5) 545,382 / 38.9 %
    • North Dakota (3) 235,595 / 33.3 %
    • Oklahoma (7) 1,020,280 / 33.1 %
    • Idaho (4) 554,119 / 30.8 %
    • Arkansas (6) 760,647 / 27.6 %
    • South Dakota (3) 261,043 / 26.2 %
    • Kentucky (8) 1,326,646 / 25.9 %
    • Alabama (9) 1,441,170 / 25.4 %
    • Tennessee (11) 1,852,475 / 23.2 %
    • Utah (6) 865,140 / 20.5 %
    • Nebraska (4/5) 556,846 / 19.1 %
    • Louisiana (8) 1,255,776 / 18.6 %
    • Mississippi (6) 756,764 / 16.5 %
    • Montana (3) 343,602 / 16.4 %
    • Indiana (11) 1,729,516 / 16 %
    • Missouri (10) 1,718,736 / 15.4 %
    • Kansas (6) 771,406 / 14.6 %
    • South Carolina (9) 1,385,103 / 11.7 %
    • Alaska (3) 189,951 / 10 %
    • Iowa (6) 897,672 / 8.2 %
    • Ohio (18) 3,154,834 / 8.1 %
    • Texas (38) 5,890,347 / 5.6 %
    • Florida (29) 5,668,731 / 3.3 %
    • North Carolina (15) 2,758,775 / 1.3 %
    • Maine (1/4) 360,737* / -9.1 %

*Votes garnered in Maine gave Trump 1 electoral vote out of a possible four.

The most closely contested states in 2020: Biden’s narrowest margins

    • Georgia (16) B by 0.2 %
    • Arizona (11) B by 0.6 %
    • Wisconsin (10) B by 0.6 %
    • Pennsylvania (20) B by 0.7 %
    • North Carolina (15) T by 1.3 %
    • Michigan (16) B by 2.6 %
    • Nevada (6) B by 2.7 %
    • Florida (29) T by 3.3 %
    • Texas (38) T by 5.6 %
    • Minnesota (10) B by 7.1 %
    • New Hampshire (4) B by 7.1 %

SOURCES
Vote totals from https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/2020

Margins from https://cookpolitical.com/2020-national-popular-vote-tracker
Downloadable blank outline map from JFK Library

 


WHY NOT SUPPORT AMERICAN INQUIRY?

Your donation helps ensure that American Inquiry remains freely available instead of hidden behind a paywall. Contributions can be given in $10 increments by using the quantity button. Your total will appear on the subsequent payment page. Many thanks!

$10.00

 

The “Contraband”—A Precarious Freedom


As the Civil War unfolded, slavery began ending.  It didn’t end through a single act or pronouncement, any more than it had gotten started that way.  Instead, as battle followed battle, humans began chipping away at slavery on an extemporaneous basis, as opportunities arose.  White officials in the North, agents of the Union cause, did something to facilitate this process of emancipation, which yet required Southern slaves’ own determination and action to become a real thing.  To become free was momentous, but it was also a curiously precarious and fearfully abstract condition.  It was “nothing but freedom,” as historian Eric Foner aptly put it.

This photograph captures the momentousness and curious sameness of emancipation.  In 1862, as Union and Confederate troops battled in Virginia, slaves seized the moment, leaving their putative masters and seeking refuge from bondage by crossing over into Union camps.  The slaves pictured here were newly free, but their freedom was tenuous and geographic, dependent on the Northern forces’ advance onto enemy ground.  Before the war, such fugitives could never rest easy, for a federal law passed in 1850 required Northerners to respect slaveholders’ rights and allow them to recapture their “property,” even if their property had fled into the North and resided on “free ground.”

All that went by the boards when the sections warred.  Union strategists recognized that hastening slavery’s end was key to defeating the rebel states.  Hoping to deprive the Confederates of a captive labor force and to disrupt slave-master relationships, Northerners began encouraging and harboring the freedmen, as former slaves were called.  Besides, many of those leading the Union effort were abolitionists who recoiled at the inhumanity of the “peculiar institution.”  To many Northerners, though by no means all, liberating and “uplifting the slave” was a principled, intrinsic part of what the war was for.

Others saw the refugee slaves as more problematic.  Laws had yet to be written or passed establishing that former slaves should enjoy the status of free citizens and the attendant rights.  Years would pass before the legal and civil status of former slaves was settled.  In the meantime, some folk regarded the freedmen as more akin to “lost property”–chattel who fell short of being truly human and free.  White ambivalence toward the freedmen was reflected in the word they used initially to define them: “contraband,” a word for forbidden or illicitly held property.

The Union army, willing to facilitate the former slaves in their passage to freedom, hastily staked out and ran provisional “contraband camps.”  The refugees pictured above had been assigned an outbuilding on a farm in Cumberland Landing, Virginia, where Union officers were also headquartered.  Eventually, the Union army would shelter a population of contraband estimated at as many as one million souls.  In 1862, though, when this picture was taken, fleeing slaves were a novelty: they were the emissaries of a race of people white northerners were unfamiliar with, whom they would previously have had little chance to see or know.

The strangeness of this historic moment lives on in the photograph, in the stances and facial expressions of the newly free, whose difference from the photographer and the army around them is registered in expressions of watchful gravity.  Only one woman in the center is smiling, and no wonder.  Despite having survived their first flight to “freedom,” these intrepid souls were right to doubt whether they had truly arrived.  They needed to keep the army between themselves and the Southern rebels, or else face the awful risk of being re-enslaved.

Image: from this source