The Useless Specifics

We are not alone. No, there are no little green men from other planets amongst us. It’s just that Republicans shouldn’t fool themselves into believing that they’ll get their party back from Donald Trump, if they even have a party anymore, if he says just one more outrageous thing – that one thing, that final straw that will drive their voters back to sensible and responsible Republicans. Well, given the current array of Republican candidates trying to undo Trump with their own amazing new views – use the FBI and military to stop all abortions, because a newly-fertilized human egg is a full citizen, with rights – no abortions when that’s necessary to save the life of the mother – let her die – sensible and responsible are relative terms. Even so, many of the others have been around the block a time or two. Senators and former and sitting governors know how things work. Government is a complex system of checks and balances, with an overlay of lobbyists and major donors. You need to know which lever to pull at the right time, and that comes from experience. Only someone who is part of the establishment, or at least clearly understands it, can get anything done.

Donald Trump knows none of that. He’s never held elective office. He’s never worked in government, or with government. He sneers at all that – but sooner or later voters will get it. This is a man who won’t get anything done. There’s nothing there but the sneers. He’ll be a flash-in-the-pan. Republicans won’t have to worry about him. America won’t have to worry about him. He’ll be gone soon enough.

That’s clearly not happening, and Reihan Salam argues that this is because we are not alone:

Go to almost any European democracy and you will find that the parties of the center-right and center-left that have dominated the political scene since the Second World War are losing ground to new political movements. What these movements have in common is that they manage to blend populism and nationalism into a potent anti-establishment brew. One of the first political figures to perfect this brand of politics was the very Trumpian Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media tycoon who rose to power as part of a coalition of right-of-center parties in the mid-1990s, and who has been in and out of power ever since, dodging corruption charges and worse all the while. More recently, the miserable state of Europe’s economies has fueled the rise of dozens of other parties. Britain’s Labour Party has been devastated by the rise not only of the leftist Scottish National Party, but also by UKIP, a movement of the right that has been growing at Labour’s expense by campaigning against mass immigration, and by largely abandoning what had been its more libertarian line on the welfare state. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, has a penchant for bombast that endears him to his working-class base, which might sound familiar to you.

The Danish People’s Party went from the far-right fringe to become Denmark’s second-largest party by combining anti-immigration sentiment with a commitment to protecting social programs that serve native Danes. In neighboring Sweden, the Sweden Democrats are trying to pull off a similar feat, which is challenging in light of the party’s neofascist roots. France’s National Front has been a major player for decades, yet under its current leader, Marine Le Pen, is on the verge of a major electoral breakthrough, despite near-constant infighting. The most successful populist movements in southern Europe – Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and Syriza in Greece – are generally on the left rather than the right, yet they’re just as aggressively anti-establishment as their right-wing counterparts.

We simply have our own style of that now, as Salam saw in the first Republican debate:

As a political outsider, Trump has the freedom to say or do almost anything. While every other Republican on stage made an effort to demonstrate their conservative bona fides, justifying this or that heresy by invoking the Bill of Rights or the memory of the sainted Ronald Reagan, Trump had no compunction about breaking with ideological orthodoxy. When asked about his past support for a Canadian-style single-payer health system, Trump didn’t back down. Instead of repudiating his past position, or apologizing for it, he said that “as far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.”

Why didn’t Trump reverse himself? It could be that he recognizes that there are many GOP voters who are just as passionate about defending Medicare as they are about protecting America’s borders, and that the prospect of Medicare-for-all might not faze them. Or it could be that he realizes that the forces that have pushed him to the top of the GOP primary fight are far bigger than just the Republican Party, and he need not toe the line to keep his candidacy alive.

It seems that there are larger forces at play here. Trump is riding an international wave here, whether he knows it or not, although E. J. Dionne puts it a bit differently:

William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” written in 1919, is my nominee for the most cited poem in political commentary. The line invoked most – “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” – is irresistible. It’s always tempting to assume that the side we oppose brings vast reservoirs of demonic energy to bear against our own sad and bedraggled allies.

The other oft-quoted verse comes four lines earlier, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” This sentiment comes back again and again, at times of stress when Establishments seem to be tottering and when moderate and conventional politicians find themselves outshouted and outmaneuvered.

What he fails to mention is how the poem ends – “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Mike Huckabee is off to Israel again – perhaps to arrange the apocalypse, finally. There will be war with Iran, not agreements, unless they capitulate on everything, and maybe find Jesus. He knows End Times when he sees them, but Dionne is more interested in Trump:

The word of the moment is “authenticity,” and that’s what electorates are said to crave. There’s certainly truth here, but the science of persuasion is advanced enough that authenticity can be manufactured as readily as anything else. In any event, I am not at all certain that an authentically calm, authentically moderate, authentically practical and authentically level-headed politician would have a prayer against the current tide. Voters instead seem in a mood to demand heavy doses of impatience, resentment and outrage, whether these emotions are authentic or not.

And Trump has his issue:

Widespread immigration can weaken social solidarity by complicating national identity and setting off new debates over what the word “us” means. The economic crash of 2008 aggravated the sense of distress in factory and mining towns far removed from the large cosmopolitan city centers.

Political Establishments worthy of the name and middle-ground politicians who care about more than power understand the dangers of a Yeats moment – to social harmony, to tolerance and, if things go really badly, to democracy and freedom.

And now we have our Yeats moment:

If Donald Trump were president, he would put U.S. ground troops in Iraq to fight Islamic extremists, rescind President Obama’s executive orders that protect millions of immigrants from deportation, eliminate American citizenship for U.S.-born children whose parents are in the country illegally and “police” but not necessarily revoke the nuclear pact with Iran.

These are some of the positions the poll-leading Republican presidential aspirant laid out in a Sunday interview and a policy paper, adding a little more substance to a campaign that has been marked by populist statements and fiery criticism of rivals.

Trump’s immigration plan, released on his campaign website, says he would “end birthright citizenship … the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.”

That would require a constitutional amendment. Anyone born in the U.S. has been considered a citizen since the 14th Amendment’s adoption in 1868.

That’s the plan, but the details are puzzling:

Trump wants to deport all immigrants in the U.S. illegally – an estimated 11 million people – but says he wouldn’t break up families because their families would be deported too.

“We’re going to keep the families together … but they have to go,” he said in a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We have to make a whole new set of standards. And when people come in, they have to come in legally.”

Deportees who qualify could return, he said.

Trump would end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young people, brought to the country illegally as children, to work and attend college without facing deportation.

And he would require Mexico to pay for a wall along the southern border. If it refused, he would “impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages” and increase fees for temporary visas and all border-crossing cards, among other measures. He did not define what he meant by illegal wages.

That will fire up the base, but this won’t:

Trump told NBC that his views on abortion had evolved, and that he now opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life was at risk.

He said Planned Parenthood, which has been sharply criticized after the release of undercover videos about how it handles the donation of fetal tissue, “has to stop with the abortions.” Asked whether he had donated to Planned Parenthood, Trump said he wasn’t sure. “I don’t think so, but it’s possible,” he said, noting that he has given to many organizations over the years.

However, he hesitated when asked whether he would support shutting down the government to defund Planned Parenthood, as some Republicans advocate.

And there was this:

He said he supported affirmative action and gay rights, for example. “I’m fine with affirmative action. We’ve lived with it for a long time. And I lived with it for a long time. And I’ve had great relationships with lots of people,” he said.

When asked whether private companies should be allowed to fire a person because he or she is gay, Trump said he didn’t think that should be a reason.

And he won’t rip up the Iran deal. He’d just “police” it. Donald Trump has been called “the first post-policy” presidential candidate, because he had spent most of his campaign frothing at the mouth about Mexican rapists and calling our leaders “stupid” – he was offering no specifics about what he would do in the White House. Now we have a few specifics. They don’t clarify much.

Dara Lind seems to need clarification:

Donald Trump wants all unauthorized immigrants out of the country. He’s said it before, and he said it again on Sunday to Chuck Todd of Meet the Press: “They have to go.” But Trump also says he doesn’t want to split up unauthorized immigrants from their families. That is a real contradiction: many of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country have children who are US citizens.

Todd pressed him on this, asking Trump if his plan required deporting, alongside unauthorized immigrants, their children as well, even if those children are US citizens. Trump responded, “Chuck. No. No. We’re going to keep the families together – we have to keep the families together. But they have to go.”

There’s a logical problem here:

It’s not clear, from Trump’s answer, whether he’s simply refusing to acknowledge the contradiction between “deport all unauthorized immigrants” and “keep families together,” or if Trump’s plan, as Todd suggested, is to reconcile that contradiction by deporting any children of unauthorized immigrants.

The former certainly seems possible; this wouldn’t be the first time that Donald Trump offered an incoherent and internally contradictory policy plan. But so does the latter: Trump, after all, doesn’t believe that the US should grant birthright citizenship to the children of unauthorized immigrants, so it’s at least possible to imagine that he would like to deport those children.

But he doesn’t say that:

It’s important to stress that Trump has not explicitly called for deporting the children of unauthorized immigrants, even if those children are US citizens, en masse. But that’s the logical conclusion of his plan to deport all unauthorized immigrants while also “keep[ing] the families together.” That’s why Todd asked about it: it’s the only way that the pieces of his plan fit together.

Trump didn’t say that this was his plan, but he wouldn’t quite deny it either. There are several ways to read this. Maybe Trump simply doesn’t understand that this is the inevitable conclusion of his plan. Maybe President Trump would reconcile the contradiction by declining to deport unauthorized immigrants whose children are citizens. Maybe “we’re going to keep the families together” is just a lie, and his plan is to deport unauthorized immigrants without their children.

Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t know, but here is where experience, knowing how things work as currently configured by our government, might have been useful. Facts are facts:

Millions of American citizens live in families where at least one member is an unauthorized immigrant. Deporting all of those unauthorized immigrants without separating them from their families sounds like it means deporting their families alongside them. That would include as many as 4.5 million children who are full citizens of the United States. And that would be exactly as cruel and inhumane as it sounds.

The details matter here:

As of 2010, 4.5 million US citizens under the age of 18 had at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant. (It’s entirely possible that the number has changed as the unauthorized-immigrant population has gotten more settled over the last few years.)

That likely includes an awful lot of American schoolkids. As of 2012, 6.9 percent of all students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in the US had at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent. 5.5 percent of all K-12 students were US citizens with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent. That’s one out of every 18 school-aged US citizens.

Separately, a 2008 study estimated that 400,000 adults who were legally present in the United States were members of families where at least one person was unauthorized. So in large numbers of cases, deporting all unauthorized immigrants would mean breaking up families.

Either Trump does want to break up these families, or he wants to deport the entire families – US citizens and all – alongside the unauthorized immigrants.

And then there’s the matter of birthright citizenship:

During his Meet the Press interview, he confirmed to Chuck Todd that he wants to get rid of birthright citizenship. Trump’s logic was that “they have a baby, and all of a sudden nobody knows the baby’s here.” Ironically, the only place this could really be happening would be Texas, where the state is refusing to issue birth certificates to some unauthorized-immigrant mothers – thus making it harder for them to claim citizenship for their children.

To eliminate birthright citizenship, President Trump would have to lead a successful effort to repeal or amend the 14th Amendment, or get the Supreme Court to reverse the 1898 case that affirmed that the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to anyone born in the US (as long as their parents weren’t “foreign diplomats… hostile occupying forces or on foreign public ships”).

This would be difficult enough. But ending birthright citizenship wouldn’t change the status of the millions of children in the US who are citizens and who have at least one parent who is unauthorized immigrant.

This is a mess:

If President Trump isn’t going to deport these millions of kids or strip them of citizenship, maybe he just hopes that, if he deports unauthorized immigrant parents, their US citizen children will leave with them. But there is a lot of evidence to indicate that, no, they wouldn’t.

Parents who are deported, or are at risk of being deported, often work hard to find a way for their kids to stay in the US under other care. In 2011, when an Alabama law cracking down on unauthorized immigrants went into effect, many terrified parents drew up “power of attorney” letters stating that if they were detained or deported, a trusted friend or relative would become the legal guardian of their children.

When parents haven’t made plans in advance, their children can simply end up in foster care here in the US. A 2011 study found that 5100 children were in foster care who had had a parent detained or deported. The study estimated that if deportations continued for five more years at their 2011 pace, 15,000 children would end up in foster care after parental detention or deportation.

In 2011, the pace of deportation was roughly 400,000 a year. It’s reasonable to assume that if deportations were closer to 11 million, we’d be talking about a lot more children in foster care.

This raises some obvious questions:

Does Trump feel that millions of children should be stripped of their American citizenship? Does he feel that communities should be responsible for taking care of US citizen children who are left behind after their parents are detained or deported? Or does he feel that, even though children of unauthorized immigrants are Americans by birth, and are being educated in American schools, they are at heart so un-American that it’s okay to expel them en masse to places they’ve never known?

That may be the idea:

Many Republican politicians, and millions of Americans, believe that there is no morally acceptable way to give unauthorized immigrants legal status in the US.

But there’s a lot of room for disagreement among these groups about how hard the US should work to force unauthorized immigrants out. Is mass deportation the only effective solution, or should America try something closer to “attrition through enforcement” (otherwise known as “self-deportation”)? At what point does the effort and cost required to track down 11 million people become more trouble than it’s worth? Should children born in the US to unauthorized immigrants be treated as Americans, or as “anchor babies,” and what are the implications of that?

Donald Trump isn’t answering those questions, which might actually be helpful:

When asked about them, as he was on Meet the Press, he typically dodges, asserting that other politicians are incompetent managers and that he is uniquely equipped to make this work. But the good news is that these questions are getting asked to begin with. And the more ridiculously Trump asserts that they’re easy, the more clearly he throws into relief just how hard they are.

Perhaps that’s helpful, but this is instructive:

Shortly after Donald Trump’s helicopter touched down in Des Moines on Saturday, a reporter asked him a question about his policies. Trump told her to watch Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” when he would present a “very comprehensive” plan for immigration. That would be followed in a few days by a policy on taxes (“Who knows the system better than me?”) and then others, one after the next.

Good, the reporter said, because “a lot of voters are saying that they really want to see your policies now.” For which Trump had a remarkable response.

“Well, I think the press is more eager to see it than the voters, to be honest,” he said. “I think the voters like me, they understand me – they know I’m going to do the job.”…

“But I know the press wants it,” he continued. “I don’t think the people care. I think they trust me. I think they know I’m going to make good deals for them.”

Donald Trump gets it. Go to almost any European democracy. Blend populism and nationalism into a potent anti-establishment brew. That works. Donald Trump is just riding the same wave. It may be that only someone who is part of the establishment, or at least clearly understands it, can get anything done these days, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. So what else is new?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Useless Specifics

  1. Rick says:

    First off, I have my own beef with Chuck Todd.

    In that famous interview segment with Donald Trump on his plane, Trump turns the tables on the costs of deporting all the immigrants, and starts asking Todd questions:

    Trump: “Do you think there’s tremendous cost for the illegals that are in here right now?”

    Todd: “Of course there’s cost to it.”

    Trump: “Tremendous! Do you think there’s tremendous crime being committed by illegals?”

    Todd: “Well, there’s definitely evidence that it’s happening…”

    Trump: “Tremendous! Far greater than what…”

    Todd: “Heinous crime. Bits of heinous ones.”

    Trump: “And you see it all over…”

    Even overlooking whatever Todd may have meant by that incomprehensible “Bits of heinous ones”, since I may have transcribed that wrong, I’m thinking maybe Chuck should stick to his job of asking the questions, rather than answering them, or at least get his facts in line first. This is from in 2009:

    So, how much do illegal immigrants cost federal, state and local governments in the U.S.? Estimates vary widely, and no consensus exists. … a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examined 29 reports on state and local costs published over 15 years in an attempt to answer this question. CBO concluded that most of the estimates determined that illegal immigrants impose a net cost to state and local governments but “that impact is most likely modest.”

    And “net”, I would guess, refers to the fact that immigrants, even “illegal” ones, spend money in our economy — food, shelter, clothing — in addition to the money they send home.

    As for crime committed by the undocumented? Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about Trump’s habit of trumping up of crimes committed by illegals, a subject which his fellow Republican candidates, seeking the Latino vote, might want to correct him on:

    They might start by pointing out that numerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated. A new report from the Immigration Policy Center notes that while the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2013 to more than 11.2 million, “FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48%—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41%, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.”

    A separate IPC paper from 2007 explains that this is not a function of well-behaved high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers. The data show that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants,” according to the report. “This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

    I’m a big fan of Chuck Todd, but he should realize that it’s one thing for an interviewer to not correct his interviewee on facts he gets wrong, but it’s another to actually agree with him when he gets something wrong.

    But secondly, going back to the question of deporting all those kids, I think Dara Lind, of Vox, is confused, because she may not be listening hard enough:

    Donald Trump wants all unauthorized immigrants out of the country. He’s said it before, and he said it again on Sunday to Chuck Todd of Meet the Press: “They have to go.” But Trump also says he doesn’t want to split up unauthorized immigrants from their families. That is a real contradiction: many of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country have children who are US citizens.

    I heard that soundbite again this morning, and I don’t see the same contradiction that Lind and others see here. He wants to deport all “unauthorized” immigrants, and because he wants to keep families together, he wants to also deport their children, whether or not they were born here, which would make them American citizens.

    Where’s the contradiction? Maybe it’s in that you can’t deport American citizens, especially natural-born ones? But that’s not a contradiction, it’s a matter of law that, if he were to try it, he might find is even bigger than he is. Maybe he thinks he can change the Constitution on the question of birthright citizenship? But to do what he wants with deporting these kids, he’d have to make it retroactive — and might just try to do that so he could prove that Barack Obama, who was born in Kenya, could not have been legally president, even though his mother was American born.

    Are you following all this? If not, don’t bother trying, since Trump’s not getting the nomination anyway, much less the presidency.

    At least not according to Nate Silver, of “538”, the guy I followed on a daily basis in 2012 which ended up making me smarter than Karl Rove and everybody on Fox News Channel (except Megyn Kelly), since at least I knew going into election night who was going to win. Silver is one of those genius sports odds-makers, and he’s not too swayed by these early polls:

    In the case of presidential primaries, indicators such as endorsements and support from party elites tend to be more reliable indicators of eventual success. To the extent that you’re looking at polls, you should probably adjust for name recognition and the amount of media attention a candidate is receiving. And you should account for favorability numbers and second-choice preferences, since all but a few candidates will eventually drop out of the running.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, but then you have someone like Trump! He may seem like a noisy clown, but seems to defy all the pundits with his poll numbers staying high and going higher!

    It’s possible — pretty easy, in fact — for a candidate to improve his standing in the polls while he simultaneously lowers his chance to become the nominee. …

    What about being a jerk? If you can make yourself the center of attention — and no candidate in modern memory has been more skilled at that than Trump — you can potentially turn the polls into a referendum on your candidacy. It’s possible that many GOP voters are thinking about the race in just that way now. First, they ask themselves whether they would vote for Trump; if not, they then choose among the 16 other candidates. The neat thing about this is that you can overwhelmingly lose the majority in the referendum — 75 percent of Republicans are not voting for Trump — and yet still hold the plurality so long as the “no” vote is divided among a sufficient number of alternatives.

    Another trade-off comes from entrenching your appeal with a narrow segment of the electorate at the expense of broadening your coalition. I’ve seen a lot written about how Trump’s candidacy heralds a new type of populism. If it does, this type of populism isn’t actually very popular.

    Trump’s overall favorability ratings are miserable, about 30 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and they haven’t improved (whatever gains he’s made among Republicans have been offset by his declines among independents and Democrats). To some extent, the 30 percent may like Trump precisely because they know the 60 percent don’t like him. … But running a campaign that caters to (for lack of a better term) contrarians is exactly how you ensure that you’ll never reach a majority.

    Speaking for “538”, Silver gives their bottom line:

    Our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination. It’s not even clear that he’s trying to do so.

    I’m feeling more at ease already — as also might be, I would imagine, Megyn Kelly.


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