Donald Trump is still a birther.
It’s important to point this out because that’s how Trump, as he often refers to himself, first demagogued his way to prominence in the Republican Party, after decades of pretending to run for president with no major political party taking him seriously. Trump became so popular with the conservative base in 2012 that the eventual GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, stood on stage to gratefully accept the billionaire’s endorsement.
Do you remember all the evidence that Trump had that our president wasn’t a citizen?
There was Obama’s skin color. And Obama’s hair. And don’t forget Obama’s name! What relevance did this ridiculous fantasy hold to a nation struggling with the worst economic crisis in half a century? None, unless you value titillating racists and delegitimizing the first black president, which leads us to Trump’s current “campaign.”
The GOP frontrunner’s xenophobic bashing of Mexico stinks of the same sort of free-floating, evidence-free, birther-style race baiting that appeals to guys like Lou Brudnock, 71, who attended the anti-immigrant rally Trump hosted with fellow birther Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix on Saturday.
“This country today is sad, sad, sad,” Brudnock told the Washington Post. “You can’t say anything or they call you ‘a racist.’ It’s like we’re back in Nazi Germany. But look around, man. It’s people here reading and listening to his message.”
Those who think the big problem in Nazi Germany was that one couldn’t appear to be a racist are doomed to think Donald Trump is a serious candidate for president.
Of course, immigration is a serious issue, but not for any of the reasons trumpeted by Trump.
The undocumented population from Mexico has declined from its George W. Bush-era peak. And that, combined with crime being at its lowest rate since 1978, presents a real opportunity to pass reform that benefits our economy. We could then focus law enforcement on policing and deporting actual criminals, not millions of law-abiding immigrants.
These facts haven’t gotten through to people like Brudnock, who see the rise of the Latino population as the same type of existential threat that nativists saw from the explosion of Irish immigration in the 1850s. That’s why we’re hearing anecdotal cases of crime and disease that are undeniably disturbing. But these glaring aberrations are completely alien to the reality most Americans face. Still, a few gripping stories can form the basis for slurs that demonize millions — and damage any hope Republicans had for reaching out to minorities.
So while a Donald Trump nomination would likely guarantee a 2016 Democratic victory and thus improve the future of our republic, he’s still destructive to a national conversation we need to have.
Our immigration crisis is that we can’t and shouldn’t deport more than 10 million people. Even serious Republicans, if you can find them, admit that. Likewise, we can’t get rid of Donald Trump, who I assume is a citizen though I’ve never held his long-form birth certificate in my hand. But here are five reasons we’d be better off if we could.
1. People like Trump crashed our economy.
Immigrants didn’t issue millions of bad mortgages, bundle them and then sell them to suckers, leading to the loss of trillions in wealth and 8 million jobs. Speculators like Donald Trump did. And though the richest were among those who helped engineer the crash, they’re also among the very few Americans who are soaking up the gains of the recovery.
Our nation’s greatest economic problem is income inequality. It’s slowing our growth, depressing our economic mobility, and corrupting our democracy. The idea that the rich know best for America has resulted in one thing: The richest getting richer.
That’s the point of Donald Trump’s candidacy and the goal of the Republican Party. And it’s wrecking our middle class.
2. People like Trump are polarizing our government.
Republicans told themselves to pass immigration reform after losing in 2012. When a bipartisan bill passed the Senate — a bill that would have doubled the number of border patrol agents — the House GOP refused to vote on it. Instead they voted to deport law-abiding undocumented immigrants, over and over.
Why? The House GOP does not need to win one Latino vote to keep its majority. And while Latinos care about far more than immigration, the issue is hugely consequential and symbolic, as it shows whether your outstretched hand is open to new Americans, or making a fist.
For decades Republicans have used racial resentment to win elections and gut the policies that built the middle class. Now they need minorities to win the White House, and the seeds of distrust and division they’ve planted have grown into vines that threaten to strangle the party itself, the same way they have cut off all air to reform.
3. Unlike Trump, immigrants have every interest in steering clear of wrongdoing.
Every murder is a tragedy, but Trump’s attempt to turn Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez into a new Willie Horton betrays a cynical dismissal of reality that rises on a pungent cloud of xenophobia and opportunism.
The logic is pretty simple. Immigrants come here to work to support themselves and their families. Going to jail or back to Mexico screws this plan up. Avoiding law enforcement is the goal, to the point that crimes against the undocumented often go unreported, to avoid the risk of deportation. The exploitation of those in the shadows by criminals and employers is one huge reason that humanitarian groups and the Catholic Church support reform.
Trump, in an effort to seem less racist, argues that Mexico is capriciously sending criminals north. As if saying, “Not all Mexicans are rapists, just the ones in America” is any less offensive. And while his racist invective definitely has an audience, it’s likely to be less effective than George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton attacks for a simple reason: Violent crime was actually spiking in the late 1980s, and Republicans didn’t need minority votes to take the White House.
4. Immigration reform will extend the life of Social Security.
Donald Trump could help extend the life of America’s retirement guarantee by arguing that people like him who have benefited the most from America should pay into Social Security on all their income, the way the middle class does.
Since the current Republican Party exists to make sure rich people don’t pay taxes, this simple fix to the country’s most invaluable social program isn’t likely. But the Senate passed a bill in 2013 that could have extended Social Security — immigration reform.
“Here’s how the math works,” The Daily Beast’s Eleanor Clift wrote. “Five percent of the U.S. workforce is undocumented, which is some 8.1 million people. Thirty-eight percent of the 8.1 million pay Social Security taxes, which comes to roughly $12 billion a year, according to CAP estimates. That’s a pretty nice cushion for a graying America.”
This is a common-sense way to keep the program going without asking America’s hardest-working people to work even longer.
5. Immigrants can help solve our biggest economic problems.
Given that President Obama has led the longest private sector expansion in American history—which has seen the unemployment rate cut faster and more dramatically than even Mitt Romney promised, as we’re on pace for the second-highest number of jobs ever created in one president’s term—Republicans have to find other numbers to whine about. Their current fixation is the labor force participation rate. It is falling, as it has for decades, mostly because those pesky Baby Boomers actually thought we were serious when we said Americans should be able to retire.
I know Republicans just like to complain instead of trying to solve problems. But if they really want to increase labor force participation, immigration reform is the way to do it. Immigrants have showed a higher labor participation rate recently, and could help replace — and support — the legions of retiring Americans.
Forcing all workers to join in a legal labor market, where they can’t be exploited, would also help to address our second biggest problem: stagnant wages. Immigrants have already raised wages for American workers between 0.1 and 0.6 percent. And with these workers invited to participate in and contribute to our economy, they can advance the efforts to raise salaries through a higher minimum wage and a new overtime threshold that will pay millions of Americans more for work they’re already doing.
Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr