In recent weeks, the issue of immigration has catapulted itself to the forefront of American consciousness, as a crisis of violence in Honduras and other Central American countries has resulted in a swell of refugees at the southern border of this country. The Creator so ordered this world that whenever you find large number of dark-skinned people trying to come to America, there too you will find hateful Internet memes denouncing them. We’ll be taking a look at two of them today, each providing not only respectable quantities of bullshit, but also some insight into the mindset of modern-day American wingery.
The first one plays on an old dodge of the xenophobic right: It’s not immigration they object to, per se; it’s illegal immigration. It must be said that this is a reasonable position; most Americans, and indeed most citizens of most nations, do not believe in open borders — there’s a general sense that there ought to be some sort of orderly process involved in becoming a member of this great republic. It’s such a reasonable position, in fact, that it is the precise policy of the Obama administration, which has deported more illegal immigrants and spent far more on border security than its predecessor.
But there’s illegal immigration, and there’s invasion; this meme is claiming that the current influx of Central American children is no less than the latter. Now, we here at Meme Killer are not what you might call expert defense analysts — we’re lovers, not fighters, if you will — but we like to think we know an invasion when we see one. And we can’t help but noticed a prominent lack of armored personnel carriers, self-propelled howitzers, and even the lowest-caliber of crew-served automatic weapons among these invaders, either the ones depicted in this stock photo, or the women and children being screamed at by the good people of Murrieta, CA. In fact, we’re tempted to conclude that this is not an invasion at all but rather a stream of dispossessed refugees, fleeing the worst kind of violence (fueled by American’s ever-successful “War on Drugs,” but let’s leave that one be today) and braving all manner of unspeakable horrors along the way.
“All right,” you have grudgingly conceded, “so it’s not an invasion.” But you haven’t given up yet; you still don’t like all these Mexicans or whatever coming to America and taking all the money. So you play your ace card: a Willy Wonka image macro. Now, most of the time, a Willy Wonka image macro is an argument-ender — who can dare stand up to the penetrating gaze and top hat of Gene Wilder? The answer: Meme Killer.
This image macro is Essence of Resentment in its purest form: It manages to bring hostility towards immigrants, paranoia about guns, and the sacred issue of veterans’ benefits all together in barely over a dozen words. That is some high-grade wingery right there. Let’s go through it piece by piece.
1) “Cutting Veterans’ Benefits.” Veterans and their issues have been much in the news lately as well, and for excellent reasons: Massive waiting-lists for care, and literal fraud and deceit to disguise the size of those waiting lists, have deprived thousands of veterans across this country of the medical care they need and deserve, sometimes with fatal results. This is a no-shit scandal, a crisis, and a national embarrassment and disgrace. But it’s not because any veterans’ benefits have been cut. Veterans have the same package of benefits and entitlements they’ve always had, and some important new ones were added in 2008 and 2010. The issue has to do with the ability of the VA to effectively administer the services they’re obligated to provide. It’s certainly true that more money in the VA budget would alleviate the problem, but last spring 41 Republicans ensured that wouldn’t happen.
2. “to pay for” This speaks to the idea that federal spending is a zero-sum game; that in order to pay for Program X, money has to be taken out of some specific Program Y. Sometimes, this is the case; lawmakers often try to make their new initiatives “deficit-neutral” — this is known as the PAYGO system. But that’s not the case here. President Obama’s proposal for alleviating this border crisis involves $3.7 billion in emergency spending — which is exempt from PAYGO rules. We might have to consider the possibility that Willy Wonka is not as much of the expert on the U.S. budgetary process as his stylish jacket bowtie might lead us to presume.
3. “Illegal aliens” Here’s a crazy-but-true fun fact: These refugees are not illegal aliens. They are not sneaking past federal Border Patrol Agents, making up fake Social Security Numbers, and getting paid under the table to put up drywall and roofing. They are in many cases turning themselves into Border Patrol Agents and asserting their status as refugees, as is their right under an international (dun dun DUNN!) convention to which the United States is a signatory.
And what is the U.S. supposed to do with these refugees? In the case of minor children, which many of these refugees are, the U.S. is supposed to conduct a hearing to determine what disposition is in the best interest of the minor child. Sometimes this means sending them home to their families; sometimes it means keeping them here. In all cases, it means that the children are going to be here for some time while their cases are adjudicated. So, again, the Obama administration is just following the law here. Specifically, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Which was signed into law by George W. Bush. After it passed the House and the Senate. By unanimous consent. Co-sponsored by then-Senators Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). That is to say, in 2008 lawmakers thought it was common-sense and uncontroversial to act in the best interest of the child when making decisions about refugee cases. What could possibly have changed since then?
4. “Welfare.” It is true that, while these children are having their cases adjudicated, they are being provided such frilly luxuries as hot food, shelter, and basic medical care, and these things do cost money. This is not generally what people, especially wingers, mean when they say “welfare.” “Welfare” is wingerspeak for certain types of benefits for poorer and therefore undeserving Americans: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the “welfare check” in its most narrowly-defined form), Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program (SNAP or “food stamps”), and depending on just how much the winger in question objects to such things, Medicaid, Medicare, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The problem: Most immigrants, legal and otherwise, are not eligible for any of these programs. (It is true that some refugees, if they have been granted asylum, retain eligibility — but, again, this does not apply to these Central American children and families).
5. “You want to take away their guns.” It’s not entirely clear who the “you” in question is. The reader of the meme? We’re pretty sure that none of us here at Meme Killer have ever tried to take away a veteran’s guns (although we can’t entirely discount the possibility that it’s one of the zany things we tried when deep into the whiskey). Barack Obama personally? The ever-nefarious entity known as the Government, of which veterans were once the agents? In any case, Willie’s not entirely wrong: It is true that, in the aftermath of the mass murder of 20 first-graders by some douchebag with an AR-15, modest efforts at reforming gun laws were undertaken at the federal level and by some states. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, which banned strictly-defined classes of weapons such as rifles with rocket or grenade launchers attached. It promptly…died in the Senate, with only 40 Senators voting in favor.
So, have no fear, angry wingers! You can still rock out with your AR-15s at the low-ready, prepared to be brave warriors in the inevitable resistance against our tyrannical, veteran-hating, brown-people-loving, welfare-doling-out government. Or to turn back the invading hordes of shoeless 9-year-old refugees, lest they have the temerity to receive due process and eat hot meals. If we at Meme Killer didn’t know better, we might be tempted to conclude that Willie Wonka is not the most credible mouthpiece for aggrieved nutbars.