“Virtue Signaling” describes “…the act of showing support of doing something ‘virtuous’ because it makes you look good to your peers, rather than because you truly believe it.” While virtue signaling is part of the DNA in most organizations and cable news, it is front and center in Congress. Unfortunately, members of Congress find greater ego satisfaction virtue signaling to the media than doing the hard work needed to enact carefully crafted laws that will be effectively implemented.
Virtue signaling is destructive of the rule of law. It is designed to make government sound serious, good, thoughtful, reliable, and principled but when the virtues are not implemented, government looks hypocritical, deceitful, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The American public is much smarter than its politicians. Pew Research finds 64% of Americans believe a lack of trust in the federal government is a reason for it being unable to solve important issues.
While there are thousands of examples of the disconnect between what is enacted into law and the real-world actions of the U.S., the laws outlawing child labor, forced labor, and illegal immigration are excellent examples of the disconnect and a lack of trust in government.
Virtue Signaling – Congress signaled great virtue when it enacted Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 to prohibit the importation of goods made, in whole or in part, by the forced labor of children. With more virtue signaling, Congress in 2005 assigned the Department of Labor the responsibility to reduce the likelihood of these goods being imported into the U.S.
Abuse of Rule of Law – Unfortunately, still today, many of our most in-demand products are made by the forced labor children and are being imported into the U.S. Wise step, a recruitment software company, in an article, identifies the 28 companies that still use child labor. Most of the companies are top brand names but more interesting is the breadth of industries still using child labor to produce products for American consumers. The industries include chocolate making, food production, fashion, apparel, sneakers, toys, and cell phones.
Even more cynical, is that many of the companies using child labor to make their products gave countless millions of dollars to Black Lives Matter (BLM), to appear righteous while governments allowed BLM to burn cities without punishment. Simply, corporate America knows how to buy protection from radical groups and the federal government.
Virtue Signaling – Forced labor, commonly referred to as “slave labor,” is defined by section 307 as “All work…extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its non-performance which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily.” While the statute prohibits any product mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, by forced labor, it has little enforcement due to a clause that allows the U.S. to waive enforcement if it lacks the resources (i.e., money) to conduct inspections or the products are no longer made in the U.S. but wanted by consumers.
Abuse of Rule of Law – As to the lack of inspection resources, Congress merely fails to appropriate the money for inspections. As to products no longer made in this country, U.S. business decades ago exported its manufacturing base to China to acquire cheap labor.
Having two self-fulfilling reasons for not enforcing prohibitions on forced labor, the federal government rarely used its section 307 enforcement powers; only 60-75 times between 1930 and mid-1980 and 27 times between 1991-1995. There were no enforcement actions between 2000-2016. In 2016 Congress removed the exemption clause. Since then, there have been 16 enforcement actions.
Even more cynical, the federal government and corporate America feign abhorrence with the Chinese use of Uighur slave labor, but under the guise of capitalism and free enterprise, we allow the largest companies in the U.S. to have their products manufactured by Uighur labor. The federal government is pleased to allow these products into the U.S.
Immigration and Illegal Immigration
Virtue Signaling – Congress enacted a comprehensive Immigration and Nationality Act that is several hundred pages long. It addresses every aspect of immigration from application forms, different aspects of travel for the different status categories, to visas and foreign entry, to detention procedures. Literally, every step of the legal immigration process is established so that foreign citizens can apply to the United States for citizenship or permission to work. The law is supplemented by regulations, policy manuals, memoranda and Handbooks, comprising tens of thousands of pages on how to become a U.S. citizen. It appears nothing is left unsaid by the bureaucrats.
Congress has been legislating on citizenship issues since 1790. While Congress has legislated many inconsistent policies over the years, e.g., exclusion at various times of Chinese, Communists, idiots, alcoholics, preferences for nurses at times, and countless other categories of exclusion or preference, it has always had detailed policies allowing for legal entry into the country.
Abuse of Rule of Law – Notwithstanding the countless immigration policies and procedures for legally entering the U.S., President Biden, without any change in law, promised good treatment to undocumented immigrants crossing our Southern border, in violation of U.S. law. He also reinstituted catch and release policy in which these unauthorized citizens are caught and immediately released into the interior of the country, making it impossible to ever find them. For all intents and purposes, these undocumented people are now permanent residents of the U.S., they just lack paperwork.
In the month of March 2021, alone, there were 172,000 persons in this category. Estimates are that 6000 people, per day, are now entering, the U.S., the highest in our history, without complying with our immigration laws.
Even more cynical, the U.S. has had a war on drugs since 1971 when Richard Nixon was president. The U.S., with the marijuana industry booming in almost half the U.S., still has 40,000 individuals in prison for marijuana offenses. Yet, the U.S. has an open southern border that allows drug cartel members, and gang members with indentured servants, sex traffickers, and drug dealers to freely enter.
The Rule of Law Is a Fiction in the U.S.
The United States continuously signals virtue claiming to be a Rule of Law society. We have comprehensive laws regulating or prohibiting child labor, indentured servitude, sex trafficking, drug smuggling, and have a process for legal entry into the country. Actually, the U.S. has tens of thousands of laws that regulate most aspects of society, from low-flush toilets to the ethical treatment of animals. The U.S. has so many laws, no one can even estimate a number. In short, we constantly signal our virtue to the world. The U.S. has made almost 5000 individual actions criminal offenses. The U.S. has more people in jail than any country in the world; U.S. 2,121,600; China 1,710,000 and Russia 511,030.
Unfortunately, we have a government that randomly and arbitrarily implements the laws of the nation. We have a big business community that regularly skits the law for extra profit. We openly allow illegal entry into our country of people who are the worst of the lawbreakers, i.e., drug dealers, cartel operators, sex traffickers, and those who enslave others.
The U.S. government should be honest with the laws it enacts. It could legalize certain drugs and prostitution. It could increase the number of work permits for foreign labor. Taking these steps would make it easier to administer the remaining laws. But the U.S. won’t do any of this. In the end, the federal government wants a massive number of laws so it can prosecute, regulate or eliminate those it finds objectionable.
Tacitus warned us that “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” By that definition, the U.S. is the most corrupt nation on earth.
Congress needs to eliminate all unnecessary laws and enforce the necessary laws. In more colloquial language, Congress needs to stop virtue signaling and start being responsible lawmakers. Having reasonable laws that are obeyed is the basis of the rule of law society. It will also engender respect for our institutions. Over time it might even engender respect for Congress.