There is a new line of thinking developing from anti-Trumpers on immigration. You hear if from people like David Frum and Damon Linker. It goes like this: Trump is a cruel xenophobe but Democrats need to be wary of playing into his small, clever hands by overdoing it on the open borders business. Ixnay on the atch-and-release-kay!
If you wanted to ensure the eventual triumph of immigration restrictionism in the United States, you couldn’t devise a surer path to that goal than getting the Democratic Party to explicitly embrace a policy of de facto open borders.
Unfortunately, this is precisely where the liberal reaction to President Trump’s viciously harsh immigration policies is headed.
(O)utrage is the mood of the moment, perhaps more than at any time since the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election.
The Trump administration’s border policies and his dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants have triggered this incandescent reaction. . . .Trump and his brutish methods are radicalizing his opponents. But those opponents still retain the choice not to be radicalized.
Translation: we cannot let stand the lie that Trump is the true nationalist here. We must reclaim that for the anti-Trumpers.
The human longing for communal solidarity — and its corollary, the love of and privileging of one’s own above others — cannot simply be wished or legislated away. No matter how much moral discomfort it causes.
The spreading view that immigration is a civil right and that immigration enforcement is totalitarian is an attack on democratic legality. It subordinates rules and norms to desires and passions. It is also a corrosion of the ideal of a constitutional state.
(I)t’s crucially important for voters to know that, wherever we ultimately choose to set the annual rate of immigration and whatever admissions criteria we use, we will enforce it, by taking firm control of the border and continuing to uphold the politically crucial distinction between who is and who is not a citizen.
Sounds kind of Trumpian but of course it is not. It sounds . . . nicer . . . and of course it is being articulated by a Trump opponent.
For his part Frum concludes by trying to talk the Democrats off the ledge from which they are about to jump. And he does so cannily, in the manner of that good cop by the window, by flattering their refined sensibilities:
It’s not easy to decide what to do about the accelerating surge of illegal immigration from Central America—or about the surges that will soon follow from the rest of the planet if the present surge is not checked. But the decision will surely be better made by means of rational discussion than in response to emotive images. You want to be different from Donald Trump? Fine. Do what he does not do: Think.
Hilarious. He frankly acknowledges the seriousness and scale of the problem but refuses to concede an inch on Trump’s efforts to do something about it. Hey liberals, think! If only you would do that all would be well. But please please please don’t jump!
Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg takes a similar tack. Writing of Trump’s zero tolerance border policy Wilkinson argues that “the cruelty, accompanied by the lies deployed to excuse it, further inflamed political passions and sharpened the divide between Republicans, who support the president, and Democrats, who detest him.” As a result not only are we already in a soft civil war but if the Democrats do not regain control of Congress:
(h)ere’s an easy prediction. Democrats will then experience rage — at Tea-Party levels or worse.
Of course Democrats have no agency here. They will have been driven to war by the evil genius Trump. Moreover, what is really tragic is that while the Democrats may erupt in fury it will only reflect a sad souring of their most noble impulses:
Democrats won’t give up on democracy. It’s too central to their identity, and their commitment to democratic norms and processes is also their point of greatest contrast with Trumpism.
So it is possible that while the Democrats will never give up their inflated self-esteem and virtuous self-image they may be willing to get somewhat more realistic about the challenges of unlimited and uncontrolled immigration. They may need to do that only if they can simultaneously hold on to the belief that Trump is the villain of the piece. But, hey, as I have always said, hypocrisy is the handmaiden of all great things.
Peter Beinart sketched all of this out with a lot more honesty last year in The Atlantic. Beinart freely acknowledges that the shift by Democrats to open borders goes back before Trump and is essentially self-inflicted.
Beinart also comes closer to real solutions, though as he admits it ain’t an easy problem to solve.
He is an honest liberal on the issue and happens to believe that more unskilled immigration can be a good thing. He first develops an economic argument: if immigration adds to overall economic growth but disadvantages some then why not devise ways of tapping into the increment of growth created to offset the losses where they occur? But he notes this kind of distributive policy is hard to pull off politically.
More importantly he sees that it is not simply an economic argument. He is open about questions of culture and cohesion that mere economic redistribution cannot readily resolve. People resist “the other”–or at least too much of the other, applied with too heavy a hand and with no ability to influence or control the cultural consequences. His answer: a return to the value of assimilation.
In theory this could work of course. But can it work in practice? It is easy to say we will return to assimilation but is such a thing even possible? Whatever assimilation we promote in this day and age is likely to be a soft and gauzy thing, in keeping with liberal values. But assimilation in practice had, and must have, a hard edge. Are Democrats even close to taking on the cultural demons that would have to be tamed in order to create a serious approach to assimilation?
It’s political, of course. The more people who live in the United States and are not interested in assimilating the harder it will be to adopt that approach as policy.
It may well be that our last anti-Trumper of the day, Andrew Sullivan, is right: to end the border crisis give Trump his friggin’ wall. If we could only find a way to do it without giving that jerk the credit . . . .