“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties,” James Madison wrote in 1785. President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday that he plans to move from experimentation on liberty into widespread application of the tyrant’s playbook.
In an interview with Axios on HBO, Trump confirmed what had been suspected since last summer: He is planning an executive order that would try to change the meaning of the Constitution as it has been applied for the past 150 years—and declare open season on millions of native-born Americans.
The order would apparently instruct federal agencies to refuse to recognize the citizenship of children born in the United States if their parents are not citizens. The Axios report was unclear on whether the order would target only American-born children of undocumented immigrants, children of foreigners visiting the U.S. on nonpermanent visas—or the children of any noncitizen.
No matter which of these options Trump pursues, the news is very somber. A nation that can rid itself of groups it dislikes has journeyed far down the road to authoritarian rule.
The idea behind the attack on birthright citizenship is often obscured by a wall of dubious originalist rhetoric and legalese. At its base, the claim is that children born in the U.S. are not citizens if they are born to noncitizen parents. The idea contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause, it flies in the face of more than a century of practice, and it would create a shadow population of American-born people who have no state, no legal protection, and no real rights that the government is bound to respect.