Can right and left break out of their disastrous cycle?
Nature’s temporary solution to the crisis on the United States’southwest border is upon us, in the form of high summer temperatures that should reduce the migration rate and relieve some of the pressure on our overcrowded camps and courts. So it’s a good time to step back and assess the disastrous cycle in which our immigration policy has been caught.
The cycle started with a gap between the elite consensus on immigration — unabashedly in favor — and the public’s more conflicted attitudes, which differ depending on the day’s headlines and the wording of the polling questions. Across the first 15 years of the 21st century, too many Beltway attempts to simply impose the elite consensus set the stage for backlash, populism, Trump.
Unfortunately that backlash did not just give us a more restrictionist president. It gave us a restrictionist president who mixes ineffectiveness in legislating, incompetence in administration, and an impulse toward “toughness” as the response to every challenge — one that easily becomes a license for cruelty when a crisis hits. As it has, in the form of the wave of family migration — to which the Trumpian response has been, first,
- the formal inhumanity of the child separation policy, and since then, the
- informal inhumanity of an overwhelmed detainment system.
This inhumanity, in turn, has driven many liberals — led by the Democratic Party’s would-be nominees for president — to repudiate not only the specific evils of Trump’s approach, but the entire architecture of immigration enforcement as implemented by, well, the last Democratic president. The camps for asylum seekers must not just be made more humane; they must be closed. Deportations of non-criminal aliens must not only be limited; they must be ended. As migration rates increase exponentially, the government must respond by … decriminalizing illegal entry and extending public benefits to undocumented immigrants.
These policies are far more reckless than the old path-to-citizenship, more-guest-workers elite consensus, because they learn exactly the wrong lessons from the last five years of turbulence. We now have multiple case studies, European and American, of how in a globalized and internet-connected world migration can suddenly cascade, how easily a perceived open door can lead to a dramatic rush to enter — and then how quickly the most generous societies can find themselves retreating to enforcement and lurching toward populism.
For this cycle to break, for immigration policy to stabilize instead of whipsawing between folly and cruelty, you would need fraternal correction to happen within both the right-wing and left-wing coalitions.
On the American right, that correction ought to come from religious conservatives and their representatives, who have generally been far too blasé about the conditions in the migrant camps and the Trump administration’s moral responsibility to migrants.
Yes, these conditions reflect funding shortfalls in which Democrats as well as Trump are complicit; yes, some of the problems were also problems under Obama, and liberal partisans are only just now noticing; yes, reckless adult migrants are often responsible for putting children in peril in the first place.
But none of this absolves the United States of a basic responsibility to keep vulnerable people, children above all, in the most humane conditions possible when their detention is required. The harsh reality of border enforcement tends to breed callousness and prejudice, of the sort that pervades a recently-exposed Border Patrol Facebook group, unless someone in authority is pushing back hard against that tendency. And it’s plain that Trump’s team doesn’t regard that kind of pushback as a moral obligation, that they are either invested in the idea that cruelty might be a useful deterrent or indifferent to the conditions that visitors to the camps keep uncovering.
This is where the president’s religious supporters should be intervening, should be applying moral pressure, should be working to prove that the immigration restrictions they support can be implemented in accord with basic Christian principles. At the moment their efforts are meager, and that proof does not exist.
Then on the Democratic side, the obligation to halt the march of folly falls upon the party’s moderates, its House and Senate leaders — who behaved responsibly last week in passing the border funding bill over Ocasio-Cortezan objections — and finally on the would-be moderate trying to win the party’s nomination, Joe Biden.
Of all the questions that his leftward critics want to relitigate on the debate stage, this might be the most immediately important: Were Barack Obama’s deportation policies (which at their peak removed more people than Trump’s) immoral and un-American, a compromise with fascism that liberalism must now repudiate and permanently leave behind?
Biden has an obvious incentive to answer no, to defend as pro-immigration realism the last administration’s efforts to legalize longtime residents while also resisting migration waves.
But it’s how the party’s voters answer, and what the next Democratic president does, that will determine how fast the cycle of polarization continues turning, how wide our immigration gyre becomes.
Some of our worst inhumanities as nations, including Britain and America, have been perpetrated on foreign soil and kept at a distance, as if to hide from our own soul the sacrilege of what we are doing. . . . Something in our collective psyche has pretended that the families of another land are not as sacred as the sons and daughters of our own. . . .
.. Think of the hubris of our lives. Think of our individual arrogance, the way we pursue our own well-being at the neglect and even expense of [others]. . . . Think of the hubris of our nationhood, pretending that we could look after the safety of our homeland by ignoring and even violating the sovereignty of other lands.
.. [This] is opposite to the way of Jesus, who taught the strength of humility, of being close to the humus, close to the Ground from which we and all things come. The humblest, says Jesus, are “the greatest” (Matthew 18:4). Not that following Jesus’ path of humility is straightforward. Constantly there is tension—the tension of discerning how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, how to honor the heart of another nation as we honor our own homeland, how to revere the truths of another wisdom tradition as we cherish our own inheritance, how to protect the life of other species as we guard the sanctity of our own life-form. Jesus knew such tension. He was tempted to use his wisdom and his power of presence to serve himself, to lift himself up over others. But to the tempter, he says, “Away with you, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10). Away with the falseness of believing that I can love myself and demean others.
Up until now, Trumpism has been a largely victimless crime. Or, to be exact, one whose victims were largely speculative and unnamed.
President Trump has been doing great damage to the fabric of our democracy with his venomous attacks on the free press (“Our Country’s biggest enemy”), the FBI (a “den of thieves and lowlifes”), people of color (who hail from “shithole countries” and “maybe shouldn’t be in the country” if they don’t stand for the national anthem), the political opposition (traitors who don’t “seem to love our country very much”) and other favorite targets. He has been doing just as much damage to America’s international standing by attacking our allies (e.g., calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest & weak”) and praising our enemies (e.g., calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “tough,” “smart,” “talented,” “funny”) while launching trade wars and tearing up international agreements.
.. his barbarous policy of separating the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents, Trump has finally provided vivid, camera-ready examples of how his policies are destroying the lives of ordinary people.
.. The suffering of adults — and adult men at that — doesn’t pique popular sympathy the way that the mistreatment of children does.
..Why would Trump do something so evil? Because he is desperate.
.. for all of Trump’s “fire and fury,” he has not managed to secure the border. Failing at his top task, he is lashing out at defenseless mothers and children in the hope that his inhumanity will scare other immigrants from coming.
.. not a single Republican has signed on. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the most liberal member of the Senate GOP caucus, is willing to criticize the family-separations policy but won’t support the effort to repeal it.
.. Republicans, seeing the fate of Trump critics such as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) — who was just defeated in his primary after the president tweeted an endorsement of his opponent — are so petrified of crossing the vengeful strongman in the White House that they are voluntarily separating themselves from their sense of right and wrong.
.. His GOP enablers are so craven, so soulless, so abject in their dishonor that they will allow any amount of human suffering rather than risk suffering the wrath of Trump.
.. he won’t be forced to act by Congress.
.. If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards — that would truly enhance America’s greatness.