Looking Out for What’s Ours

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is arguing over at The Atlantic that Democrats are losing the immigration battle, despite So-Called President Trump’s backing down (while praising his own political “courage” in partially undoing what he himself had done) over the child separations at the border.

This controversy (though possibly not Trump’s mendacious flip-flop) was all orchestrated and engineered by Stephen Miller, the right-wing’s self-described “troll” in chief.  Much has been made of the shortcomings of the man-child in the oval office, but it’s also important to understand the entitled, self-aggrandizing ideology promoted by Miller. With a president so bereft of actual political beliefs, Miller has held tremendous sway.

Thirty-two year old Miller’s political rise would be impressive if it was based on anything other than sycophantic suckling at the teat of established conservative blow hards and his remorseless commitment to provocateur politics. He has not so much espoused ideas during his career–beginning at the tender age of sixteen–spouting off hard-line conservative platitudes as he has delighted in irritating liberals like his parents.

It seems his sensibilities are frozen in the state of that rebellious teenager out to thumb his nose at mom and dad and dig in with a world view based on protectionism, nativism, and–if those folks at the Mexican restaurant the other night are to be believed–quasi-fascism.

Miller is betting that the immigration issue is a big win for Trump and his ilk in the midterms, partly because it was a big win in getting Trump into office. But he also sees the populace the same way that Gobry does in his Atlantic piece.

Miller believes that, sympathy for children or not, Americans fundamentally want an immigration policy that protects what’s theirs–ours.

Indeed, many polls show that Americans do believe in the central tenant of US immigration law and most are receptive to the straight-forward argument that the law must be enforced and that immigrants should only be allowed to enter and stay in the country if they enter through established, legal channels.

This is the “rule of law” argument that Trump and Sessions hold to–when they’re not saying other horrible things like that immigrants are going to “infest” the coutnry or that wrenching children from the mothers will be a nice “deterrent” to future migrants.

Gobry argues that “many progressives seem to think that whenever politicians invoke ‘the rule of law’ as a motive for enforcing borders, that is racial code,” admitting that “I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to this. Maybe a lot of it.”

More than a lot, I’m afraid.

You see, progressives are right. More right than Gobry seems to understand. Not only is Trump’s and Sessions’s talk of deterrents and infestations thinly veiled racial code, immigration law itself is a racial code. All immigration law in the United States has always been motivated by racism. The first immigration laws were the Chinese Exclusion Acts and later immigration legislation explicitly favored white Europeans.

The entire idea of policing our borders is based on the belief–fueled by what anthropologists call “otherness”–that we Americans have more right to the fruits of the American Dream than anyone not lucky enough to be born here.

It is a belief based, as science is increasingly showing most of conservative political thought to be, on fear.

Fear of change in society. Fear of crime. Fear of the “other.”

It’s understandable that, seeing this anti-immigrant “populism,” progressives and Democrats feel outraged, disturbed, and seem capable of little more than shrilly shouting: “Look, this is totally some Nazi-level shit here, people!”

Gobry’s right, though, that progressives and Democrats need to do more than just lament the right wing’s embrace of this history of racism to milk populist anti-immigrant sentiments–if for pragmatic reasons alone. What they need to do is articulate a clear vision of how immigration and law-abiding immigrants serve the best interests of America in the 21st century, even if they lacked the resources or access to make that migration through the official, legal channels.

What we need is real leadership, something lacking for quite some time. Obama talked the talk, but ultimately his charisma and intellectualism was not enough to be transformative (and precipitated one of history’s nastiest backlashes). We see what qualifies as “leadership” on the other side of the aisle now–bullying and deceit–so what is it that progressives really need to bring to the table in order to stir the imagination of the American people?

It’s a question we need to answer quickly.

Because Stephen Miller has Trump’s answer ready and if we don’t find a way to inspire the better angels of America’s collective character, the devils are going to win.

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