My favorite right-wing retired local news anchor is Dave Rye, even though I shamelessly allowed Roger Clawson to regularly call Rye a “weenie” in his weekly column at the Billings Outpost.
I never figured out why Roger used that term and never bothered to ask. As I used to tell people who disagreed with something Roger wrote, “Why would you agree with him? He’s barely even sane.”
I didn’t agree with Roger either. I like Rye and consider even his most bullet-headed opinions worthy of respect.
So I was inclined to nod my head when I read Rye’s Sunday letter to the editor in the Gazette praising Russ Fagg, the former district judge now running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
“I believe he is as good a man in politics as I have ever known – good in the senses of both virtue and ability,” Rye wrote. “No vitriol, no sham, no pretense, no phoniness.”
I don’t really know Rye as well as it feels like I do, and I know Fagg even less well, but Rye’s description struck a deep chord. In my few dealings with Fagg, he always has come across as courteous and genuine.
It’s true that I beat up on him for writing that the U.S. Constitution was “divinely inspired.” As I pointed out, the founders were perfectly well aware that blame, or credit, for the document rested with them, not with God.
But I figured everybody is entitled to believe one crazy thing, and maybe that was Fagg’s. All those years weighing evidence and the law ought to have cultivated the trait most desirable in a judge – good judgment.
Now I’m rethinking Fagg, both as a candidate and as a human being. His latest ad on illegal immigration is the slimiest political ad I have seen this campaign season.
Actually, I wanted to write “slimiest political ad I have ever seen,” but that caused me to reflect on the slime of campaigns past, and that was too dispiriting to endure.
You really have to see the ad to get the full effect – it is quite professionally done, complete with tattoos and gun barrels aimed directly at the viewer. But the words alone, perhaps fueled by the desperation of a flagging campaign, are chilling enough: “The difference between right and wrong is black and white because facts don’t lie: Criminal illegal aliens threaten America,” the ad says.
When I saw those words “black and white,” I thought I heard a dog whistle. Then there was that ominous “facts don’t lie.” Of course, they do, sometimes in this very space.
Just last week, I quoted a Washington Post article that said President Trump had made 2,000 false or misleading claims in the first year of his presidency. The statement was accurate but obsolete. By May 1, the Post reported, the total already had risen to more than 3,000.
Fagg’s lying fact was more reprehensible: “Criminal illegal aliens threaten America,” the ad said. He could have said “Criminals threaten America” and been just as accurate, while waving a less bloody shirt.
Anyone running for one of the highest offices in the land ought to know that, except for the initial crime of entering the United States, peer-reviewed studies have shown that illegal aliens are less likely to commit crimes than certified Americans. Aliens have good reason to obey the law: Even a traffic ticket could mean imprisonment and deportation.
Fagg might just as well have shown shots of illegal aliens risking their lives, hugging their families goodbye or slaving away at low-wage jobs, all to accomplish that most American of goals: to create a better life for themselves and their families.
But he did not. Instead, he ends with this: “Murderous illegal aliens must be stopped from killing again. If we don’t secure our borders, they’ll never stop coming.”
Fagg’s ad was running as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was announcing a “zero tolerance” policy along the Mexican border, even if that means separating families and even if the illegal immigrants are facing violence and unrest back home. That’s what passes for “pro-life” in America.
I confess to a bias against border walls. I grew up in South Texas, a place where the quality of the Mexican food in local restaurants might hinge on how recently the last immigration raid had occurred. My hometown was where 17 immigrants were found dead in the sweltering, abandoned trailer of a truck.
In the Army, I spent over a year on the Elbe River, following the radio transmissions of border guards ordered to stop desperate illegal emigrants from escaping East Germany in search of a better life in the West. My sympathies in both places were with those who wanted to get across the border, not those who wanted to stop them.
You don’t have to favor open borders to believe that immigration policies must be tempered by mercy. And you don’t have to be a liberal patsy to expect politicians to show some of the virtue and ability Dave Rye thinks he sees in Russ Fagg.
I don’t know. Maybe the founders got it wrong. Maybe they didn’t inspire the Constitution; maybe God did. But I’m sure of this: God had nothing to do with Russ Fagg’s anti-immigration ad. That came purely from the dark side of his soul.