In a striking display of how powerful the grip of "governing through crime" remains on both US political parties, President Obama yesterday signed a law to spend some 600 million dollars on additional patrols of the US Mexican border (read the Julia Preston's reporting in the NYtimes). The bill, introduced by long time crime warrior, Democrat Charles Schumer, was instantly co-sponsored by born-again budget deficit hawks, Republicans John McCain and John Kyle in a display of bipartisanship and quick congressional action not seen since the much decried financial bailout of October 2008.
Mind you the law is mostly symbolic. Six hundred million is a pittance in terms of federal spending, and the money will be extracted from foreign companies seeking to move high tech workers through the US immigration system. But the threat is even more symbolic. Despite the horrific carnage on the Mexican side of the border, created by the unwillingness of the US to legalize and regulate the massive demand for marijuana in the US, there is no crime surge along the US side of the border. As Randal C. Archibald reported in the NYTimes back in June, crime has actually been dropping along the border. What is real is the growing conviction among Americans of non-Hispanic descent that their way of life is threatened by high levels of Mexican immigration into the US, an anxiety aggravated by the deep economic crisis in the US (ironically one that has almost certainly reduced the level of immigration).
The core of that fear is racism, the same kind of racism that led 19th century Protestants to protest high levels of immigration from Catholic parts of Europe. But with one party, the GOP, convinced that they can only win by harnessing that racism, and the other party, the Dems, convinced they can only win by not challenging racism, the easy compromise is a symbolic war on imaginary crime along the border. The results are fiscally trivial, but the reinforcement of the bipartisan politics of fear that has dominated the US for at least forty years is, at a time when we desperately need the political courage to face our deep and growing economic and environmental problems, a clear and present danger to democracy.