Trump gets Barbara Jordan’s immigration views wrong

Former Rep. Barbara Jordan (AMERICAN-STATESMAN file)

President Trump invoked the words of the late Barbara Jordan, the trailblazing Texas Democrat, in a statement Wednesday on the 22nd anniversary of her death. But the statement seemed less about her than about Trump’s politics on immigration. Not surprisingly, it drew the ire of Texas Dems and scholars who said the president had misrepresented Jordan’s views for political gain.

Reaction was swift on Twitter:

Twitter user @Commonsenseb0t wrote:

While @Cellularlinks said:

And @JoelKlebanoff had this stinging take:

In his statement, Trump tied his “America First” immigration agenda to the “spirit” of Jordan’s vision. The president said Jordan “epitomized the American Dream she worked so tirelessly to protect.” He noted that in 1966 Jordan was the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate and, in 1973, became the first woman to serve Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, a seat she held until 1979.

Mostly, though, Trump — who has been criticized for comments he made about restricting immigration from some poor countries — focused on some of Jordan’s views on immigration.

Trump said Jordan challenged our nation’s leaders “to maximize opportunities for all Americans by adopting an immigration policy that puts American citizens first.” He’s right.

As chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Jordan said the commission believed that the nation needed a properly regulated system of legal immigration that set limits on the number of immigrants — 550,000 — on a yearly basis. It’s no secret that Trump would like to limit who gets into the U.S.

As committee chair, Jordan “was reflecting the views of the commission, a group of people, and she was taking a middle position,” Ruth Wasem, an LBJ School public policy practice professor who was a Congressional Research Service immigration specialist, told the American-Statesman.

“Jordan called for an end to chain migration, which has allowed millions upon millions of low-skilled foreign nationals to compete for opportunities and resources against our most vulnerable American citizens — many of whom come from African-American and Hispanic-American communities,” Trump said in the statement.

Several studies show that claim is misleading.

“The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low… However, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do,” Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in her Brookings Institution Essay, “The Wall.”

Immigrants find jobs because Americans don’t want the jobs that are available.

Those more likely to “steal” American jobs are immigrant professionals — engineers and technology workers — of which Trump suggests we need more.

More importantly, Trump’s statement doesn’t appropriately reflect Jordan’s immigration views.

Wasem said that Jordan was worried about the impact of unskilled immigration on minorities but that she was not advocating a return to race-based immigration policies. “She wanted to fully incorporate immigrants into American society,” Wasem said.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson’s protegee, Jordan found inspiration in Johnson’s Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 which — besides concentrating on attracting skilled labor — abolished a quota system based on national origin and focused on reuniting families.

It would be inaccurate to paint Barbara Jordan as a supporter of racist policies that discriminate against immigrants from poor countries, said Jeremi Suri, a University of Texas history and global affairs professor.

“Jordan would find such positions offensive,” Suri said.

Missing from Trump’s cynical attempt to connect Jordan’s immigration views to his are her support of refugees and respect for all people. Respect for others was not unique to Jordan in her time. It was present in the nation’s overall political climate then.

Oh, how things have changed.

During her congressional tenure, both sides of the aisle favored civil rights-related rhetoric, Suri said. That rhetoric, he said, centered around inclusion, absence of prejudice and the belief that all parts of the world should be respected.

Back then it was rhetoric that Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill could agree on, even if policy didn’t always back the rhetoric, Suri added.
Not anymore.

“Today we have the party of Reagan regularly, its leaders, use racist rhetoric when they talk about people of color and immigrants,” Suri said.

And, it seems, shamelessly use the legacy of beloved leaders of color like Jordan for political gain.

Updated to reflect Jordan’s time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kissinger on Vietnam: A few mistakes, saddest moments, no regrets

Kissinger
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks Tuesday night during the LBJ Presidential Library’s Vietnam War Summit.

“Why don’t you get out of Vietnam?”                                                           “Because a sudden withdrawal might give us a credibility problem.”        “Where?”                                                                                                                                                                         — French President Charles de Gaulle to Henry Kissinger, March 1969

Henry Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and later his secretary of state. The peace deal Kissinger negotiated with North Vietnam in January 1973 lasted long enough for the Nixon administration to finish withdrawing U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam and cynically claim it had achieved “peace with honor.” Kissinger won the Nobel Prize for his efforts — which famously prompted humorist Tom Lehrer to quip, “Political satire became obsolete when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize.” Two years later, South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam.

Kissinger, 92, was at the LBJ Presidential Library Tuesday night for a conversation with Mark Updegrove, the library’s director, as part of the library’s Vietnam War Summit, which ends Thursday. Kissinger described the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 and the evacuation of Saigon as “one of the saddest moments of my life.” He talked about President Lyndon Johnson’s anguish at failing to achieve peace in Vietnam — Kissinger, a Harvard professor at the time, had advised Johnson — and he noted what he thought were some lessons learned from the war. (One of them: Don’t go to war unless you can describe an aim you can sustain.)

Just as Johnson inherited American commitments to South Vietnam from his predecessors, and then tragically escalated America’s military presence there in the mid-1960s, Nixon inherited Johnson’s escalation in 1969 and tragically expanded it to Cambodia and Laos. Though Nixon began a gradual withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam soon after taking office, he and Kissinger were determined to prosecute a lost war without losing American “credibility.”

They implemented a strategy known as “Vietnamization”: Slowly remove U.S. forces from South Vietnam, train and equip South Vietnamese troops to take their place, and bomb the hell out of the enemy in the meantime. More than 21,000 Americans and perhaps as many as 1.5 million Vietnamese would die while Nixon and Kissinger kept up appearances for allies and enemies, as David Milne wrote in his 2015 book, “Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy.”

Tuesday night at the LBJ Library, Kissinger admitted “tactical” mistakes were made but said he had no regrets about Vietnam. Asked by Updegrove how he thought history would judge him, Kissinger shrugged and said his extensive record was in the hand of others to judge and that history’s judgment wasn’t an obsession for him. “I tried to do the best I could, and that’s all I can say,” he said.

Myopia and hubris mark America’s involvement in Vietnam. History’s judgment probably won’t rest on whether Kissinger tried the best he could. It likely will rest on whether he ever acknowledged that what he thought was right might have been terribly wrong. Tuesday, he gave no indication he will ever consider such a thing.