Jaco: When a racist symbol takes your paycheck

American conservatism since Reagan has been built on the Three R’s (well, four, if you count the Russians)—the rich, the religious, the racist.

The rich are waiting for more money, the religious are waiting for Jesus to come again to they can finally kick those pesky Jews out of Jerusalem right before the Rapture, and the racists are waiting for the day they can line up the firing squad for Barack Obama, and all of them are waiting for The Wall.

To them, and to Donald Trump, The Wall is not the same as an actual barrier of razor wire, steel, and concrete. The Wall is an idea, a metaphor like the Confederate flag or a red MAGA hat. The big idea behind The Wall is that America is a white country and that pesky brown people have to be kept out or deported while American people of color have to be kept from voting.

The Wall is a less a reality than a potent symbol of resistance to the tsunami of melanin that will make whites less than 50 percent of the population by 2050. The Wall is their fear made tangible, which is why they fight so hard for it, and why the government was shut down for 35 days and, depending on Trump’s brain chemistry, may or may not be shut down again come Friday.

And Donna Rogers has had quite enough.

“It’s just unreal that they would continue to do this,” Rogers said. “I’m not hearing anybody screaming for the wall except him. Why are we being affected in what’s just a political battle?”

Rogers, 51, is a North County mother of two who usually spends her days processing federal loans for farmers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture facility on Goodfellow Boulevard. A veteran who went into federal service after her stint in the Army, she helps make sure farmers in rural Missouri and surrounding states have the loan money they need each year to purchase seed and equipment, and keep their farms running.

She just trudged through a 35-day government shutdown over the wall, one of 14,000 federal workers in Missouri who were either furloughed or forced to work without pay. She missed two paychecks, but got her money back once the government reopened, which kept her creditors happy.

Come Friday, money to keep a chunk of the government running runs out. Trump keeps demanding a border wall, Democrats who control the House of Representatives refuse to pay for it, and no one knows if the last-minute deal they’ve reached to pay for border fencing and keep the government open will satisfy Trump and his legion of mouth-breathing talk radio listeners.

“They don’t live paycheck to paycheck,” she said of Trump and his cabinet secretaries, some of whom suggested workers hit by the last shutdown hold garage sales or sell off their possessions. “I don’t make that kind of money. I just got my head back above water, and now I’d be sinking more.”

Congressman Lacy Clay, who wrote an open letter urging St. Louis banks, utilities, and credit card companies to be understanding of federal workers situation during the last shutdown, said “Federal employees will suffer to satisfy his ego and his racist campaign promise to build a wall that has absolutely nothing to do with border security.”

Of course The Wall has nothing to do with border security, the same way a Blue Lives Matter flag has nothing to do with the grit of actual police work. Both are dog-whistle symbols of racist ideas. The Blue Live Matter flag got traction after Ferguson, shorthand for the idea that only cops stand between us and anarchy from the angry dusky hordes. In the same way, The Wall is also an abbreviation of fear, and the idea that the United States is a white country.

It’s evident that racist fear, not border security, is the prime driver for The Wall when you look at the eight states where support for The Wall is strongest. According to Fox News Voter Analysis, support for The Wall has the best poll numbers in West Virginia, South Dakota, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. None of them are anywhere near the Mexican border.

So maybe Trump will ok the Congressional deal for less funding for the border, and the government will stay open this time. Or maybe he won’t, and federal employees will go without pay again. Either way, the uncertainty is shredding the last nerve of federal workers like Donna Rogers.

“Nobody knows what he’s going to do,” she said. “There’s no loyalty. How can I as a front line employee know what this man’s going to do?”

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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