On Aug. 31, Donald Trump delivered a mind-boggling speech on immigration, striking for its anger, its mendacity, its hostility, its cruelty and its frank bigotry. Trump has once again defied the expectations of longtime political observers with behavior that sets the bar for presidential candidates ever lower, that veers wildly outside the mainstream, that competes with history’s most dangerous dictators in its audaciousness.
Even as Republican strategists have advised a more welcoming attitude toward voters of color, Trump has cemented his party’s reputation as the home of racially resentful white people. He has virtually guaranteed that the Republican Party will struggle to attract Latino voters for the next generation.
So the matter of whether the GOP nominee can “pivot” to a style of campaigning that more closely resembles the conventional — and that doesn’t scare the socks off most reasonable voters — ought to now be settled: No, he cannot. This is, in the language of his Twitter handle, the real Donald Trump. He is hateful, bullying and vile. Period.
Moreover, Trump’s noxious views will likely set back the cause of comprehensive immigration reform even further. Since President George W. Bush tried to push forward a reasonable solution to the plight of 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, congressional Republicans have balked, afraid of a backlash from the far-right precincts that can determine GOP primary elections. Given the way that Trump’s bashing of Mexicans and Muslims has resonated with the ultra-right, mainstream Republicans are unlikely to sanction even a mention of immigration reform.
That’s despite the fact that most Americans disagree with Trump’s proposals. According to a July CBS/New York Times poll, 61 percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship. Fifty-seven percent oppose Trump’s “beautiful” wall.
But there is a deep partisan cleavage here. While 83 percent of Democrats oppose Trump’s wall, as well as 56 percent of independents, only 27 percent of Republicans do. According to a Bloomberg poll, 73 percent of Democrats oppose Trump’s plan for blanket deportations, but only 54 percent of Republicans do. It’s no wonder, then, that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., faced with opposition from the right-wing fringe, fled from his previous support for sensible policies to legalize the illegal immigrants already here.
That cowardice hurts not only the Republican Party, but also the country. Our refusal to pass comprehensive immigration reform has cut off opportunities for countless bright, hard-working young immigrants who’d like to go to college but can’t afford it because they don’t have the papers that would allow them to get scholarships and reduced tuition. Our failure to act has stifled countless illegal workers who would like to own homes and start businesses. They are Americans in virtually every way. It makes no sense to leave them in limbo.
But Trump has managed to persuade many working-class whites that illegal immigrants destroy neighborhoods, peddle drugs, murder innocents and drive down wages. They take well-paying jobs, he says, from citizens who deserve them. (To be fair, most of those claims aren’t original to Trump. They’ve been bandied about on the right for decades now.)
Much of that is simply not true. The population of criminals among illegal immigrants is lower than the percentage among native-born Americans, according to criminologists. As for the economic competition, there is no doubt that low-wage workers can be hurt by an influx of undocumented workers. The biggest burden falls on those without high school diplomas, who may see their wages fall by anywhere from 0.4 percent to 7 percent, research shows. That is certainly cause for worry.
But the answer to that is to make those undocumented workers legal, which would force their employers to pay them a higher wage. Too many employers get away with paying illegal workers less money and placing them in dangerous conditions.
If the solutions are all too obvious to most Americans, they represent a bridge to a treacherous new world order to many Trump supporters. And, for now, we are all held hostage to their prejudices and fears.
(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com.)
Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri