On immigration, Trump’s xenophobic invective, efforts to curb legal immigration and attempts to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may have had the unintended effect of inspiring Americans to rally to immigrants. Gallup’s latest poll finds, “Thirty-four percent of Americans, up from 27% a year ago, would prefer to see immigration to the U.S. increased. This is the highest support for expanding immigration Gallup has found in its trend since 1965. Meanwhile, the percentage favoring decreased immigration has fallen to a new low of 28%, while 36% think it should stay at the present level.” Furthermore, “This marks the first time in Gallup’s trend that the percentage wanting increased immigration has exceeded the percentage who want decreased immigration.”
This is especially striking during a time of astronomically high unemployment, the sort of environment in which Americans have often adopted a pull-up-the-drawbridge attitude toward foreign workers. Not this time. Democrats and independents seem to have adopted the notion that if Trump is against something, it must be good. (Gallup reports: “The rise among Democrats and independents coincides with a period of time when Republican leadership has attempted to limit immigration via physical barriers or changes to visa restrictions and de jure bans of immigrants from over 10 countries.”)
Trump churns out a host of misleading claims about immigration. His message has fallen on deaf ears. “Nearly 8 in ten (77%) Americans think immigration is a good thing for their country,” Gallup reports. Even more striking is the attitude among Republicans. “When measured in this more general sense, public support for immigration shows far less of a partisan divide, and both parties express a more generally positive view of immigration.”
We have seen this phenomenon before in the context of foreign policy and human rights. As Republicans became “America First"-ers, Democrats recovered their internationalist roots. However, it is also quite possible that recent events have given Americans a newfound appreciation for immigrants. Americans have been educated about the plight of "dreamers” — the undocumented immigrants who came to the United States at a young age. Americans have seen immigrants holding down jobs as essential workers during the pandemic.
If American public opinion is a pendulum that swings between tolerance/inclusion/communal spirit and intolerance/xenophobia/self-centeredness, Trump may have pushed the pendulum in the opposite direction he intended. Americans see in Trump a quintessential hater, bully and bigot. It is not a pretty sight, and they recoil, showing sympathy for the targets of Trump’s ire.
It is often said that each president is the opposite of his predecessor. Voters rejected a president perceived as less than resolute in 1980 for a muscular conservative. After Ronald Reagan, they chose the more genteel George H.W. Bush, who spoke of a kinder, gentler America. And after the first African American president — among our most cerebral presidents — they chose the dull-witted, racist Donald Trump. If that pattern holds true, then America is ready for a kind, thoughtful, inclusive, well-informed president who understands that immigrants enhance our country and help renew the American Dream and spirit in each generation.