As you can see from the story we posted Wednesday evening, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma is half warning, half threatening that the President’s impending immigration executive order could lead to “instances of anarchy [or] violence.” That suggestion speaks for itself on various levels. But in his conversation with USAToday’s Susan Page, in addition to suggestions of “anarchy” and “violence”, Coburn also spoke about acts of “civil disobedience.”
And that made me think, I wonder what he has in mind? What would that look like?
Civil disobedience can take a myriad of forms. But in most of the cases we know from history it is either the weapon of an oppressed group or focuses on oppressive or illegitimate government action. Whatever you think of what the President is doing, though, it’s difficult to see how either of those apply. In a very narrow sense, the whole game here is the President declining to act rather than acting.
Now, declining to act can be as illegitimate as acting. I can think of numerous concrete examples that would illustrate the point. But in purely practical terms, it does challenge the idea of civil disobedience since there’s little in the way of government action to pivot against or protest. Again, it’s inaction.
More substantively, who is the oppressed or injured group? Yes, you could manufacture some construct about how we’re all collectively oppressed by an attack on the rule of law. But that’s a bit strained – quite apart from the fairly broad agreement that the President has this power, whether or not it’s prudent to exercise it. The concrete idea seems to be that anti-immigration Americans – and let’s be honest, mainly white people – are oppressed in some way by having undocumented immigrants be able to walk around in the open and be able to work in the open.
Not to be too jocular but I guess anti-immigrant activists could lay down on the sidewalk in the way of undocumented immigrants trying to walk to school and challenge the authorities to arrest them or lay down in the streets in the path of undocumented workers driving to work?
It’s a bit like anti-gay marriage activists who wonder who will step forward to become the anti-gay marriage Rosa Parks. To liberals who see marriage equality as a freedom movement the whole idea is preposterous and offensive. But just in a basic nuts-and-bolts structural sense, it is hard to pull off the trappings of the righteous demand for your own rights when your own rights aren’t in any question and what you’re demanding is that someone else not get those rights.
Even liberals who do not buy any of the arguments of the Pro-Life movement can I think recognize that the argument that Pro-Lifers are defending the defenseless unborn provides and logic and coherence to their activism even if its a logic you don’t at all agree with. The simple fact is that with immigration and gay marriage there’s nothing going on other than not deporting people or allowing people to marry each other. Even if you think those things are terrible it’s very hard to find a victim. And it’s even harder to explain why that victim is you.
Needless to say, the practical challenges of civil disobedience in this case simply dramatize the inherent silliness of any of this constituting any form of oppression. And while I could imagine violence over this, let’s be honest, it would almost certainly be racially motivated violence or your standard order anti-government ‘regain our liberties’ sort of activity that usually stays relatively close to the ground in ridiculous border militia type nonsense but occasionally flares up into something truly awful.
If you have any ideas about what anti-Obama immigration executive order civil disobedience would look like, please drop me a line and let me know.