A chunk of of ice floats in a thawing pond.

Let’s chat about abolishing ICE

The surprise victory of a Democratic Socialist in a liberal enclave in New York State has finally brought the “Abolish ICE” slogan to the forefront. And while I know a lot of Democrats who heard this and said “hell yeah, abolish ICE,” it’s spooked some others and I think we need to have a chat about that.

Not about abolishing ICE. If you are a Democrat and you don’t think we should abolish ICE you have some homework to do. I don’t want to rehash that topic here because frankly reading articles about ICE activities for, like, it’s entire fifteen years of existence ought to give you enough justification. Ya’ll are Democrats, I am sure you can read a newspaper.

If your reaction is “hey, we should abolish ICE but can we not talk about it because it will scare away Democratic voters and we really need to win the midterm elections,” then you are the person I want to chat with.


So stick with me for a moment here. Imagine in your head someone who has seen the news for the last couple of week or so. The child separations at the border. The right-wingers insisting asylum seekers are somehow lawbreakers. The apparently intentional destruction of documentation linking parents to children so they can be reunited. The growing suspicion that these children were taken to be passed out among Christian adoption agencies which would seem like a whacked-out conspiracy theory if American authorities at the border weren’t telling parents “hey, your child is going to be put up for adoption” and also if this Administration didn’t worship at the altar of InfoWars so they think grand conspiracies are the way the world works anyway.

Imagine that person is at least uneasy with all of this. Should be easy, because that’s probably like you.

Now imagine that person hearing a Democratic Socialist — or even a Democrat — on the TV Machine saying “hey, you know what? We should abolish ICE.” What’s the reaction going to be?

  1. Yes, We should abolish ICE.
  2. That seems kind of extreme, maybe we could reform ICE
  3. That’s crazy, I obviously can’t vote for anyone this year.
  4. That’s crazy, I am going to vote for Trump.

One and two strike me as likely. Three not so much. Say it out loud. “Because Democrats think we should abolish ICE I am going to vote for Trump.”

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots — lots — of people who are going to vote for Trump because they absolutely love ICE and they want to see harmless people kicked out of the country because their skin color is wrong. Those people were not going to vote for Democrats anyway.

The people who are likely Democratic voters are going to fit into #1 and #2. And absolutely no one who thinks this administration is deep-fried crazypants is going to stay home on November 6 because someone said we should abolish ICE.

On the other hand, people do stay home because they think their vote won’t make a difference, and one of the reasons they might think that is their politicians lack the guts to make a firm statement about anything.


Most of the same people on the opinion page saying we will lose voters because we say “abolish ICE” are the same people saying we will lose voters because we’re uncivil. Those people, by and large, are conservatives.

Never take electoral advice from the party opposed to you. They do not mean to do you any favors.

Instead, look at what conservatives have done. They’ve run nasty campaigns. They’ve run so far to the right that the President himself called American Nazis who killed a counter-protester “very fine people.” Trump regularly calls for abridgments to Constitutional protections. He and his administration lie to people constantly. And not clever lies, no, but lies that are so obviously false that it takes concentration to believe them.

They are clearly not worried, when it comes to their own house, about extreme positions turning off Democratic voters. That is not the political moment we are in.

No, the extreme positions excite his base. That’s why he does it. And an excited base votes. Most mainstream Republicans voted for Trump, still, support Trump. They didn’t go away.

The ones that did go away — well, they were replaced by people who typically didn’t vote Republican. White supremacists and just plain racists who were thrilled at the kind of prospect we are watching now. The mainstream Republicans who weren’t appalled enough? They convinced themselves it was just rhetoric to fire up the base, that he wouldn’t actually do it.

They didn’t say “woah, man, you are going to turn off a lot of voters.” Well, some of them did. But most of them didn’t. They’re not really concerned about us.

And they are winning a lot more.


We have a lot of people who should vote Democratic but don’t. People who need a fair shake, people who need their rights protected, people who need a hand up, maybe even possibly (gasp) people who need a hand-out. Republicans talk a lot about freedom but they haven’t done much to preserve it this century. They’ve done a lot to make sure people are tied to terrible jobs through economic desperation.

Bernie Sanders made a lot of Democrats see red, but he also activated a lot of these inactive voters. Many people I’ve been friends with who have not been particularly politically engaged became engaged because of Sanders. He was not a particularly good speaker. Heaven knows he needed a better barber. But he drew people in because he spoke clearly and forcefully to their needs.

Student loan forgiveness. Livable wages. Free college. Stronger unions. These things excite people.

Several of the dramatic moments in the last couple of years have been tightly tied to these values. The Fight for Fifteen; gun control laws, Abolish ICE, Times Up — these are all movements that demand justice and accountability. They get a lot of attention, a lot of traction, and a lot of energy from people.

Smart Democratic candidates ride that wave. That is how you #resist. You don’t worry about whether it’s going to turn off a moderate or two. None of these proposals are extreme – not even “abolish ICE.” But they are a clear declaration of values and intent, something to rally around. An alternative vision to the current hellscape. This is what will turn people out.


No one is going to switch sides because they think we need a $12 minimum wage instead of a $15 minimum wage. Or because they think we should reform ICE instead of abolishing it. Or because a stand-up comic said something Maggie Haberman was determined to hear as offensive even if it wasn’t.

The ones who tell you they would vote Democrat “except for” those things are not being honest with you. They are trying to sabotage you.

It is gaslighting.

Democrats need to stand for something. We can’t be “everything else but Trump.” And we need to speak to people in a way that will get them excited.

So what if Republicans don’t like the way we talk about ICE? They say we shouldn’t do it? They are not telling us that to help us. They are telling us that because the message scares them.

Keep scaring them.