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Shawn Vestal: Another chance to choose decency over loyalty, Representative

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA chant slogans and carry signs while joining a Labor Day rally in downtown Los Angeles, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. (Richard Vogel / AP)

Here’s your chance, Representative.

If it hasn’t passed you by.

If you’ve been laying in wait, looking for the best opportunity to stake out a position on the right side of the bright line that runs between the president and human decency, another one has arrived.

If you’ve been noticing, Congresswoman, as have most Americans, that the Mephistophelian deal you and your team has struck is worsening by the hour, here’s a wonderful chance to demonstrate it.

If you have an eye on the political future, when judgments about courage and leadership will be made through the hindsight of the entire disaster, now would be an opportune time to fashion yourself as a lawmaker of principle, who didn’t simply follow when following required too high a price.

Now’s your chance, Rep. McMorris Rodgers. Do something for dreamers. Draft, sponsor, or get loudly behind legislation to prevent the senseless and inhumane deportation of 800,000 people brought here as children under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which the Trump administration ended Tuesday. Sponsor or support the DREAM act, or something DREAM-ish. Protect those who are here now, and extend the protection. Demonstrate your understanding that punishing these people in this way is not acceptable, whatever kind of rationalization you cloak it with.

You deserve some credit here so far. In a statement Tuesday, you said “we must protect children who are already here in this country and those who are currently protected under DACA. That principle is fundamental for me.”

So far, so good. Hurry, though. This is an easy one, comparatively, and you’re not the only member of the Congressional majority waiting for the opportune moment, angling to obtain a sliver of moral daylight between yourself and the president. Surely you can see that you will need that daylight eventually; politics will force you there if principle does not.

The president has provided – and will provide again – opportunities for you to show political independence and principle, to choose decency over fealty. It’s the choice that has faced you all along, going back well before the election, going back well before the grabber tape emerged, even. To say nothing of the hundred subsequent opportunities to choose decency.

So far, fealty has carried the day. But a tipping point will come – a time when leadership is no longer an option, because everyone will be rushing from the ship.

Undoing DACA and opening the prospect of deporting hundreds of thousands of people who came here as kids appeals only to the cruelest, most detached or most bigoted Americans. Even if the whole thing is just a charade, meant to force the hand of Congress to provide a fix, it’s a charade performed to appeal to the worst of us.

Step out from the shadow of this appeal.

It’s been clear this was coming for a long time, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it official Monday morning. Sessions peddled it as a rule-of-law matter, because the DACA program was enacted by presidential fiat – an executive order by President Obama.

Because of this, opposition to the DACA program has taken on the same dual political existence as many of the other ugly manifestations of our moment: a technical, legal yin married tightly to a yang of bigotry.

Thus we have those who love Confederate statues and Nazi protests because they are Confederates and Nazis at heart – and those who say they just love history and free speech.

We have those who thrill to the notion of a Muslim ban because they believe in banning Muslims – and those who want to make of the issue a legalism regarding presidential authority.

On issue after issue in the Trump era, a candy coating of attempted respectability is draped over a rich nougat of bigotry. Discouragingly, one often senses a deep frustration among Republicans over being asked to separate themselves from this sticky nougat, rather than an eagerness to do so.

So it is with DACA. Some people – let’s call them the base, as in the low – love the notion of deporting brown people. Love it. They are drawn to the harsh spirit of it, the juice of hatred and power of it. In the quarters of the alt-right – where I sometimes venture on social media to make myself depressed – there is racist exultation over this move, just as there is racist intensity over Charlotte, over antifa, over media combat.

All of these attitudes couple with more “respectable” versions of the same opinions. But these seem ever more like veneers, like gold leaf over rusty lead. The country needs leaders now, and especially leaders from the governing party, who will make a clearer distinction between themselves and the ugly underbelly.

That could be you, Representative.

You say protecting those who are already here under DACA is a matter of principle, which makes me recall that you also said protecting people with pre-existing conditions was a matter of principle before the health-care debacle – but never mind that now.

Here’s another chance to lead. Before all that’s left to do is follow.

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