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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Sunday, September 17, 2017
On IMMIGRATION, Let Trump BE Trump
It looks like President Trump may have lost Ann Coulter, maybe for good this time.
These screamers from the entertainment wing of the Republican Party are part of the reason for our present troubles with immigration policy. Immigration is a practical problem with practical solutions, yet the second anybody proposes one, somebody starts shrieking “amnesty” to attract a crowd.
It’s time we recognize the tactic for what it is: a buzzword, a label, meant to cut off thought rather than stimulate it. Proof it works: there are still millions of Americans who think they can have everything they want in this area, despite the fact that many of their ideas are distinctly unpopular. That’s not how democracy works. That’s not how any of this works.
If Trump’s supporters ever want to achieve anything in immigration, this is the moment of truth. Y’all can get real about congressional politics, or you can spend another decade posting the same old comments on Breitbart.
You had your pick of Republicans swearing to oppose illegal immigration, from the silly — Scott Walker talking about a wall with Canada — to the calculated — Sen. Ted Cruz’s Senate career to that point was practically designed to get as far right as possible on the issue. And maybe that was the problem — too calculated. So you picked the guy who said cringe-inducing things without blushing.
You picked your champion, a man who said he knew how to make great deals. So let him make one. Let Trump be Trump. Here is the best chance you will ever have at getting some of what you want, so you might ignore the cries of “sellout.”
You wanted somebody to shake things up, right? Somebody to break out of the old ruts of party loyalty? And now people are freaking out that he had a conversation with Congressional leaders. How else would you start?
Trump hasn’t signed off on a deal. He has just identified what the other side wants most, and offered it to them, but I doubt he’s going to give it to them so easily, whatever he’s said already. In a negotiation, nothing is final until everything is final. (Reporters were confused about this, wondering how Trump could tweet about some points of agreement while denying a deal was in place.)
Trump’s style of negotiation is weird, uncommon, and I’m not sure that it’s effective, but there is a method to the madness. True narcissists can rearrange narratives, loyalties, entire worlds in the time it takes you to decide on dinner, but the confusion they create is superficial. Underneath, there is a definite and intentional actor. I think.
Thing is, it’s really hard to tell sometimes, and the narcissist works this to his advantage. One day he’s promising to give away the store, sucking you in, the next he’s got a list of demands so absurd and unreasonable that anybody else would be ashamed to make them. But this guy, no, he’s not ashamed. He just really did that. Your move. I’m no negotiator, but I do know that when the other party knows what you are truly after in a complex negotiation, they have an advantage. Think of the classic psycho in a divorce who doesn’t even want the kids but works the custody angle to get everything else.
Trump knows what the Democrats want. Nobody knows what Trump really wants out of immigration reform. He spoke well of the Dreamers before and during the campaign, and since his election, but he’s also said plenty of harsh stuff. He sent an unmistakable signal with his Sheriff Joe brodown. But he used to be a Democrat. We all know who his base is. So what does he want? A hardline solution? Favorable headlines? Re-election? It’s hard to say, all the more given his general aversion to policy details.
All that uncertainty is giving his base a bit of the anxiety the rest of the country has been feeling this year, but we’ve started getting used to it. So a bit of advice: don’t get so worked up about the talk, and just wait and see what he does. Nobody knows what that will be, including the Democrats, who have no way to stick it to him to get more concessions.
In the meantime, we should talk about common ground, about the realm of possibility, about what it would take to get all the parties to the table. Start by ignoring anyone who uses the words “racist” or “amnesty,” as they’re playing the same game.
The first thing is recognizing that you have to get all the parties to the table. This is often unclear to the most passionate grassroots conservatives, who are nearly unanimous on this issue. I remember filling in as a speaker at a FreedomWorks BlogCon a few years ago (now following James O’Keefe, here’s somebody you’ve never heard of, on how to get noticed), and when one of the speakers asked if any of the 1,000 or so people present supported the Gang of Eight bill, mine was the only hand in the room that went up. Our social media bubbles create the same effect of false unanimity, but the country is not onboard with hardline proposals.
According to polling from March, 60 percent of the country favors a path to legalization for immigrants, while 26 percent of respondents said they prefer a plan to stop immigrants from entering illegally. Just 13 percent said they favored deportation. Just 18 months prior, 46 percent wanted the path, while 39 percent wanted a plan to block illegal immigrants. That’s not surprising, as a surging economy tends to dampen resentments, but even in late 2015, when fevers were higher, there was the same minimal support for deportation.
The issue is an absolute loser in terms of practical politics, and Republicans would do well to reach some sort of deal and move on. In purely political terms, there’s no reason for them to take on the risk of passing a bill on a party-line vote, a bill which would of course have concessions to party moderates. They’d alienate their base while also risking all the blowback that bad law creates. The big, serious reforms for well-acknowledged problems tend to be bipartisan for this reason. The parties insure each other against the blame.
Those polling numbers are also why Republican candidates will talk endlessly about securing the border and getting tough without ever talking deportation. Hardly anybody wants it and a lot of folks think it’s pointless and cruel. Nothing that polls at 13 percent is getting through Congress. That’s basic. And any solution to the illegal immigration problem that doesn’t involve this unpopular idea is necessarily going to involve some sort of legalization. This is why it’s so, so boring to hear half-wits cry amnesty.
You could argue for a wall-only approach, I guess, but Congress knows that’s not going to work. I remember a story from earlier this year where a team of reporters couldn’t find one Texas congressman willing to endorse the approach, and they asked everyone. Congress isn’t going to fight for a wall, but if you really want one, it might produce some more funding for part of one as part of a deal.
The wall, in other words, is negotiable. So is E-Verify. So is more funding for border enforcement, although that’s already grown tremendously. The combined budget for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has grown from $9.2 billion in 2003 to $19.3 billion today. Back in 1990, Border Patrol was just a $260 million line item. Denying or reducing social services is negotiable, too, although it’s difficult to enforce. It’s more practical to legalize and tax.
But there are two areas, one on each side, that I see as non-negotiable. Or at least they are concerns of such obvious validity that they ought to be taken seriously. One is legal status for Dreamers, and the other is the value of U.S. citizenship.
Trump is handling the Dreamer issue exactly the right way, dealing with the illegality of Obama’s executive order, demanding action, and also creating uncertainty about what he’ll do if Congress doesn’t fix it.
But the substance of the issue, what to do about 800,000 people brought here illegally as children, is uncomplicated. How can you punish children for obeying their parents? Who would do anything else but follow? This is the point that’s non-negotiable for the left and center; and I think many on the right who object to it would find that objection in rooted in misunderstanding of how immigration law actually works.
The practical question is easy, too. It has been proven over and over that the children of immigrants are just as law-abiding and hard-working as folks born here. The only folks who think there’s a problem with assimilation just don’t have the firsthand experience to know any better. I grew up surrounded by the children of Mexican immigrants, and if there’s one who doesn’t speak English, I haven’t met him.
I can think of two Dreamers I know well who came here from Mexico as teenagers with their parents. They finished high school and then college, but then entered limbo. They were “in line,” but the line doesn’t move. Their visas had expired, yet they couldn’t leave the country without losing their semi-legal status, but they couldn’t work, either. The only solution for most Dreamers is to get married to a citizen, and both are very pretty, so that worked out fine. Now they both work in midsize oil and gas companies, one in the accounting department, the other managing supply chains. And both, I kid you not, are Trump supporters.
Yes, immigrant parents are often poor, but their children, if given the chance, will seize the opportunity to be successful, because this is still America. It’s that point, I think, that a lot of moderates and Democrats miss. It still means something to be an American. It’s something more than just permission to work, and we shouldn’t treat citizenship cheaply.
American Greatness made that point Thursday. Actually, the pro-Trump journal had two points, aside from its moaning about amnesty, one worth underlining and the other worth rebutting.
“The rights of American citizens and the equal, impartial enforcement of our laws—all of them—should not be for sale and voters know it,” the journal’s editor, Chris Buskirk, wrote.
This idea that we care passionately about the uniformly exacting enforcement of our laws is, sorry to say, sanctimonious claptrap. If it were true, we would all favor harsh jaywalking enforcement, universal red light and speed cameras, breathalyzer ignition locks, a crackdown on home poker games and improper streaming and password sharing, and of course a massive budget increase for IRS auditors.
We care, or some care, about illegal immigration because it’s an illegality that obviously affects us. Sometimes that effect is positive — who do you think is going to refurbish 40,000 flooded homes in southeast Texas? Sometimes it’s negative — immigration surges temporarily depress working class wages in some fields. A lot of times, it’s hard to figure, especially when you take it out to the broadest economic scope.
But American Greatness identifies another reason that Trump supporters are so upset, one that moderates and Democrats ought to consider.
“Even talk of a deal with Schumer-Pelosi-Ryan undermines the president’s credibility with his base,” Buskirk writes. “Amnesty violates the central principle that binds together the entire Trump agenda: a high view of the value of American citizenship. It is not a mere policy dispute to be negotiated away in exchange for some other win. It animates every element of the Trump agenda, from antipathy to optional wars to pro-worker economic policy to the deconstruction of the deep state.”
Look again. It’s in there.
The first sentence may be accurate in a way, if it reflects what others think, but as a normative statement, it’s insane. How is it that Trump could accomplish anything at all if he doesn’t deal with Congressional leaders? The only way to read that is as evidence of how disconnected some supporters are from basic aspects of political reality, how unconcerned they are with accomplishing anything.
But if he’s arguing for the high value of U.S. citizenship, he’s got a winner, a point worth defending for its truth value, and a talking point that will poll a lot better than 13 percent. It’s a point the Democrats don’t want to talk about, and it’s the line I’d advise Trump supporters to take up and defend.
Here’s how Trump can solve the problem. It’s a solution that will bring people out of the shadows to pay the taxes needed to offset costs, a solution that will also dissolve the anxiety that’s suffocating them. It’s this: legalize, but no path to citizenship for people who knowingly violated the law.
Make work permits and residency easy to obtain. Set the taxes to cover whatever services are provided. But prohibit citizenship to anyone of legal age who ever violated immigration law. Their penalty is they don’t get to vote, they don’t get full participation in this country, and they remain subject to removal if they commit a crime. The Dreamers, who are as American as the rest of us, get citizenship.
The Democrats don’t get a bunch of free votes from the parents, and the GOP gets a chance to save its image in the eyes of their children and grandchildren, before it’s too late.
Make the Democrats live up to their talk, and show they actually care about people, not just votes. But you want to roll the whole deal out together, including whatever border security elements are negotiated. Trump could flip this issue from a loser to a winner in no time.
Just imagine: a firm but fair punishment for those who broke the law, the gift of citizenship for young people who treasure it profoundly, and American flags flying all around.
Turn the ballyhoo boys loose — greatest law ever made. Give a banquet, a star-spangled banquet, and declare a national holiday.