Sanctuary cities of all kinds, and our new nullification crisis

A handful of small cities and towns in Texas have declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn”. These are communities that outlaw abortion within their city limits.

Abortion, however, remains legal within the state of Texas. And abortion is legal throughout the United States, owing to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

This makes such laws, which impose penalties for anyone “aiding and abetting” an abortion, technically unenforceable.

The organization behind this trend, Sanctuaries for the Unborn, is banking on an eventual overturn of Roe v. Wade. This would make the local laws suddenly enforceable—and maybe even retroactively.

The term “sanctuary city” was of course coined on the left. It refers to cities where the local governments have chosen to disregard federal immigration laws.

There is an old word for this: nullification. The basic idea of nullification is that local governments have the right to invalidate, or nullify, federal laws that they disagree with, for one reason or another.

Nullification has also been practiced at the state level. In what became known as the Nullification Crisis of 1832, South Carolina refused to enforce federal tariffs.

During the height of the Nullification Crisis, President Andrew Jackson threatened South Carolina with military action. When a visitor from South Carolina offered to carry home any words that the president might have for the people of his state, Jackson said the following:

“Please give my compliments to my friends in your State and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.”

No one is using the term nullification today, but that is effectively what the anti-ICE, sanctuary cities movement amounts to. The Democrat-controlled governments of San Francisco, New York City, and dozens of other smaller cities have effectively decided to nullify U.S. federal immigration laws.

California, meanwhile, now practices a statewide form of nullification—just like South Carolina in 1832. On October 5, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed California Sanctuary Law SB54. This law basically turns all California law enforcement personnel into federal outlaws, as they are prohibited (in most circumstances) from cooperating with ICE officials when handling illegal immigrant suspects.

Language matters, of course. Notice that Chicago doesn’t call itself a “nullification city”. The use of the word “sanctuary” is an attempt to claim the moral high ground.

We should therefore not be surprised that some folks on the right—who hold different concerns—have co-opted the same language. “Sanctuary cities for the unborn” focuses on the parties being protected, not on the federal (or state) laws being violated.

Like “reverse discrimination”, “cultural Marxism”, or “political correctness”, “sanctuary cities for the unborn” is a term that will no doubt drive the progressive crowd absolutely nuts.

In these highly polarized times, many of us believe that Americans on the other side of the political divide are not just misinformed, but morally corrupt, and maybe even downright evil. Therefore, they are completely beyond the reach of reason or persuasion.

If this is what you believe, then it’s a short psychological walk to the tactics of nullification— provided that you live around enough other folks who are similarly minded. In areas that tend to be ideologically uniform (like big cities on both coasts, or small towns in certain red states) a local nullification drive has high chances of success.

Sooner or later, though, there will be a challenge from state or federal authorities. President Trump may not threaten to hang the Governor of California from the nearest tree. (It might not be out of the question, though.) But the Trump administration has already taken measures to penalize sanctuary cities by cutting off portions of their federal funding.

Progressive municipalities that nullify national immigration laws are sowing anarchy. They are also attempting to rewrite immigration laws for all of us, since every community is porous, and connected to the rest of the country.

The “sanctuary cities for the unborn” laws, meanwhile, are mostly symbolic. Most women seeking abortions will be able to travel outside the limits of a small Texas town.

But the symbolism fails, too. This is the kind of law that easily plays into the narrative of pro-life activists as villainous despots from The Handmaid’s Tale. This seems to be an action taken out of political spite, more than anything else.

In addition to its role at the center of the Nullification Crisis of 1832, South Carolina was also the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860, provoking the American Civil War. So-called Fire-Eaters in the state capitol, Columbia, pushed through the legislature a “Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President a Hostile Act”. The hysteria over Lincoln in the South in 1860 mirrors the hysteria over President Trump in progressive quarters today.

Nullification—whether it comes from the right or the left—is a bad way to attempt to change state or national laws that one doesn’t like. It may not lead us to civil war. But nullification makes our political system increasingly dysfunctional.

‘The Pacific’: HBO

I’m watching The Pacific on HBO. This series is a significant investment in time, but well worth it. 

There haven’t been nearly enough films and novels about the Pacific war. World War II movies and fiction tend to gravitate to the war in Europe.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. The war in Europe took place in the middle of Western Civilization, in countries that everyone is familiar with: France, Germany, Russia, etc.

And, of course: Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Probably half the documentaries on the History Channel are about the Third Reich. 

Much of the war in the Pacific (the part that we were involved in, anyway), was fought on thinly populated, remote islands. While the ideology of the Third Reich is well known to anyone with even basic historical literacy, few Americans grasp the essentials of the Japanese Empire, and its major players. 

Those are among the reasons why the war in the Pacific has been such a challenge to storytellers, and–as a result–often neglected by them. But this HBO series does a great job of bringing “the other World War II” to life.

Fall of the Berlin Wall + 30 years

The Berlin Wall fell thirty years ago today, on November 9, 1989. (Several more years would pass before it would be systematically demolished.)

I won’t recount the entire history of the Wall’s fall here. (You can find that in various places throughout the Internet.) But I will provide a personal perspective.

I was twenty-one years old in November 1989, and a college student. Like most people at the time, I viewed the fall of the Wall with intense optimism.

And there was a lot to be optimistic about in late 1989: The USSR still existed, but a progressive-minded reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, was at the helm. And he was allowing the Berlin Wall, that symbol of Cold War Soviet tyranny, to come down.

US domestic politics were relatively calm. Not everyone loved George H.W. Bush, of course. But few saw his administration as seriously divisive. This was an era when you could simply ignore US domestic politics, if you wanted to. There wasn’t a lot of drama.

There were problems in the Muslim Middle East. (Aren’t there always?) But the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait was still just a gleam in Saddam Hussein’s eye. No one in the West had yet heard of Osama Bin Laden.

We believed, at that time, that the world was on the verge of a peaceful new era of free markets, international harmony, and peace.

Some scholar–Francis Fukuyama, I believe it was–described this moment as “the end of history”, meaning: the end of traditional historical conflicts.

But it didn’t work out that way, did it? Russia did not develop into another Sweden (as many predicted at the time), but became a paranoid, bellicose, neo-czarist state, in some ways worse than the USSR. The Muslim Middle East continued its long descent into fratricidal chaos. China became more aggressive.

And the West–well, let’s just say that both North America and Western Europe looked much better in 1989 than they do today.

Proof that things don’t always work out as you expect. The evidence can deceive you. Sometimes the future is better than you anticipate, but sometimes it’s far worse, too.

Black Tuesday

On October 29, 1929, –90 years ago today–the world changed.

This was the Crash. Investors on the NYSE lost $14 billion ($206 billion in 2019 dollars.) Over the next four days, total losses would balloon to $30 billion.  You do the rest of the math…

Black Tuesday ended the Roaring Twenties–the Jazz Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald–and brought on the Great Depression.

I don’t remember Black Tuesday or the Great Depression, of course. Those who can are now a dwindling number.

But I do remember some of those who lived through it.  I heard about the Great Depression secondhand.

My grandparents often talked about life during the Great Depression years.  As my grandfather explained it, “You didn’t really consider yourself poor, because everyone around you was poor. Your cousins were poor. Your neighbors were poor.”

My grandmother maintained what the family jokingly referred to as “Depression mindset” through the end of her days. She was very frugal, and very much a hoarder…You know–the kind of person who reuses every glass jar, and buys tea bags in bulk because they’re cheaper that way.

Depression mindset is completely alien to those of us who were born in a time and place of greater abundance.

Reuse a glass jar? Heck, we think our iPhones are “old” after we’ve been using them for two years.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing…well, I’ll leave that one up to the reader.