Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has finally reached the public consciousness thanks to Jon Oliver:
Setting aside for the moment the absurdity of public policy in the world’s most powerful country being dictated by late night comedy and variety shows, I’d like to focus instead on the absurdity of a country, founded in a revolutionary war against a colonial empire, that maintains colonies over a large part of the world.
In 1901, in a series of frankly racist majority opinions, the Supreme Court ruled that the residents of conquered and subverted lands could be denied basic protections of citizenship because they were inferior and incapable of self-government. It was one thing to accept the unacceptable when racism was a respectable and majority view. It’s quite another to assert stare decisis when you can be fired from virtually any job for spouting such odious nonsense.
The bizarre and byzantine series of statuses held by residents of different American territories is best explained by:
and, again, by Jon Oliver:
While the text contains a hole big enough to drive a truck full of Federalist Society nutjobs to a book burning, the gist of the Fourteenth Amendment is pretty clear:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
It’s also pretty clear that a country established as an Enlightenment-era political experiment in liberty is inviting some pretty serious political legitimacy questions by maintaining empire and demi-citizenship.
It produces legal and political precedents for all kinds of assaults on human rights, whether economically or politically motivated. It makes no difference whether these abuses take place overseas or in the District of Columbia. There can be no half-citizens. Every liberal and progressive should be committed to the principle of In or Out: Every place subject to American law must be part of a state whose residents have full representation both in Congress and the Executive or it must be all or part of an independent country. After all, our first rallying cry was: