With Donald Trump’s help, Republicans are laying claim again to the mantle of family values. For those who’ve been concerned that the GOP’s preference for deporting undocumented immigrants might separate parents from their U.S.-citizen children, Trump has devised a family-friendly solution: He’d deport the children, too, their citizenship be damned (more precisely, if Trump gets his way, revoked).
Trump’s testament to familial bonds has lit a spark with his peers. Since he unveiled his plan this week, other Republican hopefuls have scurried to support its fuzzy particulars. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) also have called for an end to birthright citizenship. On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave what sounded like provisional, or maybe just confused, assent to Trump’s call to end bestowing citizenship on those born here to an undocumented parent, telling a reporter, “I think that’s something we should — yeah, absolutely, going forward.”
Walker also endorsed erecting Trump’s border wall, noting that the wall separating Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank has proved itself a success. Walker’s big on uncovering otherwise obscure Middle Eastern parallels to American issues: Having already suggested that the mettle he showed in vanquishing Wisconsin school teachers is proof he’d be able to vanquish the Islamic State, he now seems to believe that U.S.-Mexican relations, like Israeli-Palestinian ones, are best addressed by a Netanyahu-like belligerence toward the Mexicans. Trump is not the only Republican hopeful who talks faster than he thinks.
A fish, the Yiddish proverb tells us, stinks from the head, but the Republican position on immigration stinks from the base. In calling for walls and mass deportations, GOP presidential candidates are telling tea party militants what they want to hear. CNN’s polling this week not only showed Trump well ahead of the rest of the field with the backing of 24 percent of GOP voters; it also showed that 44 percent of Republicans trusted Trump on immigration more than any of his rivals . Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who’s no fan of either walls or mass deportation, was the second most trusted, but with only 12 percent support.
The anti-immigrant animus that fuels the Republican right finds scant support anyplace else on the political spectrum. In a Gallup Poll released last week, 65 percent of Americans favored letting undocumented immigrants remain in the United States with the right to become citizens if they met certain criteria, while just 19 percent wanted to deport them. A bare majority of Republicans — 50 percent — favored the citizenship option, but these are not the Republicans driving the party’s debate.
Two arguments fuel Trump and the tea party’s nativist rants. The first, that Mexicans are disproportionately criminals and, as Trump put it, rapists, is massively belied by the falling crime rates in the cities that immigrants have transformed over the past two decades. The second, that immigrants are the cause of declining wages for U.S. workers, may be true for some of the native-born in the lowest-skilled jobs, but the erosion of the middle class is much more the result of the offshoring of manufacturing, the destruction of unions and the growing power of major investors at workers’ expense.
In his immigration plan Trump called for seizing the remittances that undocumented immigrants send to their families (how the government will be able to distinguish them from the remittances from documented immigrants and everyone else, Trump didn’t say). But the resources flowing to distant lands that have really hurt U.S. workers come not from immigrants but from corporations and banks that invest abroad in the production of goods that are sold here at home.
Trump’s concern for Americans’ declining incomes goes only so far. When NBC’s Chuck Todd tried to pin him down on what he thought constituted a living wage, Trump replied, “I want to keep the minimum wage pretty much where it is right now” since “I want to compete with the rest of the world.” Of course, once Trump deports those low-wage immigrants, they’ll just become part of that “rest of the world” that he says holds wages down. Still, with his support for tariffs and the like, you might think his protectionism would lead him to back higher wage standards at home. Otherwise, most of the additional income from increased domestic production would flow to big-time investors like his buddy Carl Icahn. Trump wouldn’t support that, would he?
Erecting Trump’s wall won’t complete the nativists’ public works projects. The Republican Right’s mission won’t really be done until it tears down the Statue of Liberty. A beacon to immigrants, tired and poor, the single greatest emblem of American exceptionalism — what a waste of prime real estate! Imagine the profits if another Trump Tower rose in its place.
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