Every civil war has a Fort Sumter moment—a point of contention over which disputing factions stake a political claim and refuse to budge, leading to all-out war. And in this Cold Civil War through which we are now living, the growing hostility between President Donald Trump and sanctuary state politicians will inevitably produce such a confrontation; probably within the next year. [Attorney General Sessions Raises Stakes for Sanctuary Cities, by Pete Williams, NBC, July 25, 2017] If Donald Trump is wise enough, he can capitalize on the situation in much the same way that Abraham Lincoln capitalized on the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter during the first Civil War.
The attack on Fort Sumter in 1861 is often portrayed as an act of unprovoked aggression on the part of the Confederacy. But the truth is more complicated than that. Fort Sumter was not simply a military installation, but a Union tax collection office perched in the center of Charleston harbor.
The Morrill Tariff, which was widely supported in the North, but vehemently opposed in the South, was signed into law by President James Buchanan two days before Lincoln took office. The legislation promised to triple the import tariff, and was especially burdensome on the import-dependent South. The challenge, for Lincoln, was that the Confederate South no longer considered itself obligated to pay any tariffs to the Union government.
In his Inaugural Address, President Lincoln directly responded to this challenge and insisted that he had the full authority to collect all tariffs owed to the federal government, by force, if necessary. (Lincoln also insisted, incidentally, that he was perfectly willing to maintain slavery).
President James Buchanan—long regarded, perhaps unfairly, as one of our weakest presidents—had sent a supply ship to Fort Sumter in January, 1861, but the ship immediately turned around after being fired upon. Lincoln, therefore, surely knew that the Confederates would attack again when he ordered a small fleet of ships to resupply Fort Sumter in the spring of 1861. He even sent a delegate to the governor of South Carolina to inform him that the ships were on their way.
Whatever the merits of the Confederate cause, they had boldly challenged the authority of the American President and the legitimacy of federal law over their territories. If the Union was going to survive, Lincoln could not back down over Ft. Sumter. More pressingly, Lincoln knew that the side that fired the first shot would be at a serious moral disadvantage.
Fast forward some 156 years later and the United States is in the midst of a different kind of civil war—a Cold Civil War over the National Question. And our Fort Sumter may well come over the issue of “sanctuary cities”—cities whose official policy is that of non-cooperation with the Federal immigration authorities.
During last year’s campaign, Donald Trump promised to withhold federal funds to sanctuary cities and he has kept that promise, so far, by appointing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and supporting, among other things, the No Sanctuary For Criminals Act, which bars sanctuary cities and states from receiving federal funds (a policy VDARE.com has long advocated).
In response, some jurisdictions have backed away from their sanctuary policies. .[ Miami-Dade commission votes to end county's 'sanctuary' status, By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY, February 17, 2017]
But most sanctuary politicians remain defiant and insist that they will defy any federal attempts to deport illegal aliens in their cities. In fact, California and, to a lesser degree, Massachusetts, are now moving to officially become sanctuary states. [Debate rages over California's 'sanctuary state' law, by By Kyung Lah and Alberto Moya, CNN, July 3, 2017 and Supreme Judicial Court ruling gives legal cover to sanctuary cities, By Milton J. Valencia, Boton Globe, July 24, 2017]
So how should President Trump respond?
From allegedly liberal Massachusetts (home to five sanctuary cities), Bristol County Sherriff Thomas Hodgins told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "If these sanctuary cities are going to harbor and conceal criminal illegal aliens from ICE, which is in direct violation of title 8 of the US Code, federal arrest warrants should be issued for their elected officials." [MA Sheriff: Arrest Leaders of Sanctuary Cities, CBS Boston, March 8, 2017]
In response, Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, MA was defiant: “Come and get me.” [‘Come and get me,’ Somerville mayor says to sheriff calling for arrest of sanctuary city leaders, by Dialyn Dwyer, Boston Globe, March 29, 2017]
They should do exactly that. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should issue an arrest warrant, and federal officials should enter Somerville City Hall, throw the cuffs on Mayor Curtatone, put him in jail, and prosecute him.
Sure, the mayor might be out of jail in an hour. And the Main Stream Media talking heads will freak out. But can there be any doubt that the American public will overwhelmingly support Trump—especially if he communicates why he was forced to act?
Such a high-profile arrest would also put the fear of God into most sanctuary politicians. As Netflix President Frank Underwood put it: “I have often found that bleeding hearts have an ironic fear of their own blood.”
Indeed they do. These sanctuary politicians will be shocked when they discover that the vast majority of Americans are actively hostile to sanctuary policies and side with Trump.
An arrest of a sanctuary politician would also serve as a very inexpensive form of immigration enforcement because it would encourage many illegals to self-deport and deter many more from entering in the first place.
My guess is that the Left’s strategy will be to challenge the No Sanctuary For Criminals Act in the courts, and effectively nullify it until a Democrat is elected to the White House. This was pretty much the strategic response to California’s Proposition 187 (1994), and it worked.
In other words, they don’t really believe that Trump can pull this off. And that is all the more reason why he must act boldly.
My candidate for the best politician for Trump to arrest: California Governor Jerry Brown. “Governor Moonbeam” is the perfect poster boy for Sanctuary America; the kind of political opponent Trump could steamroll, not just because he is a weird guy, but because he is a total hypocrite.
For example, Brown once claimed to oppose sanctuary policies. “I don’t support sanctuary cities,” he said in 2010. “Just opening up the cities and saying our borders don’t mean anything, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I’m not going there.” [Jerry Brown on the issues, SFGate, March 10, 2010 ]
But Brown more recently most definitely has “gone there”. Governor Brown recently appropriated as much as $30 million in the state budget to help illegals escape deportation. This is in addition to the small fortune California has spent hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder for the same purpose. In fact, Brown recently pardoned several deportees who had been convicted of serious crimes so that they can return to the country—implying that he has the power to pardon the crime of illegal immigration, which he does not. [Gov. Jerry Brown issues pardons, commutes sentences hours before Easter Sunday, by John Myers, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2017]
Indeed, Brown’s hypocrisy on immigration runs deep. When Brown was governor during the 1970s, he openly opposed the importation of Vietnamese boat people. "There is something a little strange about saying, 'Let's bring in 500,000 more people' when we can't take care of the 1 million [Californians] out of work," said Brown in 1975. He even tried to prevent the planes carrying refugees from landing at Travis Air Force base in Northern California. [Governors' Tough Talk Can’t Block Refugees, by George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2015]
Moreover, despite Brown’s significant inherited wealth, Brown and state legislators recently gave themselves a 3% pay raise, making Jerry Brown the highest-paid governor in the country. [Lawmakers, Jerry Brown, Get Another Pay Raise, by Christopher Cadelago, Sacramento Bee, June 19, 2017 ]
If the feds were to arrest Brown, and he should protest, Trump should simply remind the public that Jerry Brown doesn’t understand the law and that is probably why he flunked the bar exam the first time he took it.
Remember, Abraham Lincoln took infinitely more drastic steps during our first civil war—the suspension of habeas corpus, the imprisonment of some 30,000 private citizens without trial, an executive order to seize any newspapers critical of the Union cause etc. And yet we have effectively canonized Abraham Lincoln and honored him with the most magnificent memorial in our nation’s capital.
In contrast, all Donald Trump needs is the courage to enforce the specific law that is already on the books.
What will the obstructionist judiciary do when President Trump arrests a public official for breaking the law? Especially when most of the citizenry applauds—and they will, if Trump states his case forcefully.
Patriotic Immigration Reform’s Fort Sumter moment is coming. Will President Donald Trump face the challenge as Abraham Lincoln did before him? Or will he allow these modern-day rebels to flout our immigration laws in perpetuity?
We’ll soon find out.
Matthew Richer (email him) is a writer living in Massachusetts. He is the former American Editor of Right NOW magazine.