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
My first up-close glimpse into the enduring power of political fearmongering came through a two-way mirror in 2006.
I was watching a focus group of women in southern Ohio discussing a variety of issues, when the topic turned to terrorism. One young mother shared her fear that foreign terrorists might attack her children’s playground in their small town.
“It could happen,” she said, looking around the table. “We all know it could.”
Several of the other women nodded their heads. My notes from that evening describe one of the women shivering as she pulled her cardigan tighter and said, “Really, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before they find us.”
There was no logical reason for these women to believe that in their remote patch of Ohio, a suicide bomber from the Middle East would fly a plane into their children’s school or blow himself up on their playground. But Republican rhetoric had worked its magic, and these women lived in constant fear for their families’ lives. They also seemed likelier to vote for Republican candidates because, not remotely coincidentally, the Republican Party was vowing to protect them from this nonexistent danger. I marveled at the cynicism of it all, even as I felt utter disgust for the tactic.
Ten years later, the Republicans are still at it, bringing their doom-and-gloom show to Cleveland. In one of the more memorable moments, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who recently called the Black Lives Matter movement “inherently racist,” offered an unhinged screed. Repeatedly jabbing the air with his hands as he screamed, Giuliani declared: “The vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe. They fear for their children. They fear for themselves. They fear for our police officers, who are being targeted with a target on their back.”
The Republican Party’s platform insists that parents of gay children should be allowed to force them into “conversion therapy.” Abuse, in other words.
The platform also includes a prescriptive for Donald Trump’s long-touted war on America’s immigrants: “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Because, you know, Mexicans.
The Republican Party of Trump wants us to fear the other.
If we’re straight, we should fear the LGBT community.
If we’re working-class, we should fear the poor.
If we’re white, we should fear African-Americans.
If we speak English, we should fear anyone who speaks with a foreign accent, which is any accent that doesn’t sound like ours.
We should fear Muslims, all of them, always.
In Trump’s world, we should fear anyone who is not like us. What a long, miserable list that would be.
In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed this fear of the other in a keynote speech to Americans for Democratic Action on Individual Liberty:
“Somehow we must keep ourselves free from fear and suspicion of each other. I sit with people who are representatives of communist countries, and to sit with them is a lesson in what fear can do. Fear can take away from you all the courage to be an individual. You become a mouthpiece for the ideas that you have been told you must give forth.”
Some might argue that Roosevelt spoke for a different time in our country and therefore for a different world.
Fortunately, there is no expiration date for wisdom. As a country, we are as much at risk today of letting fear rob us of the courage to think for ourselves as we were in 1950, when Red-baiting ruined lives.
I understand the seduction of fear. It can feel easier to believe the worst about our world — and rely on someone else to save us — than to take charge of our own lives. If we tell ourselves we are in constant danger beyond our control, we are also more willing to surrender our duties as citizens to those who claim to know better what is best for us. The Republicans count on this.
This fear takes its toll, whittling away at our self-esteem and rendering us timid in a country that needs our strength. It takes courage to accept the truth that though terrorism is surely a threat in the world, most of us Americans are free of danger every day of our lives. Living this truth unleashes our own powers as citizens, emboldening us to elect leaders who reflect the enduring optimism that continues to make this country imperfectly great.
A leader is not someone who reflects the worst within us, leaving us cowering in the shadows.
A leader reminds us who we are — and inspires us to try harder.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: The delegates of the Republican National Convention pose for a group photo at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A congressional seat opened up in Nevada earlier this year when Senator John Ensign, mired in a scandal over having tried to pay off the husband of a staffer with whom he had a romantic relationship, resigned. Dean Heller, Congressman from the 2nd district, was appointed to replace him by the Republican governor of the state, and that gives us a special House election just in time for the debt ceiling fight. The Tea Party-affiliated Republican nominee, Mark Amodei, is airing this ad on the subject:
No mention is made of the catastrophic effect not raising the debt limit is likely to have on markets, unemployment, and the economy in general. This kind of rampant debt fear drove the Tea Party last fall, but will a younger, more diverse electorate next fall–as we are certain to have in a presidential year with Barack Obama on the ballot–be convinced by such comic appeals? This may be fodder for The Daily Show but that would seem likely to be where its influence stops. And yet Erick Erickson over at Red State is convinced this is “extremely timely” and, on his Twitter feed, that “this is the commercial we should see other candidates duplicating.” [Red State]
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