The Immigration Wars

This article by conservative writer David Frum, writing for the Atlantic, is long. But it’s the best overall analysis of the current state of our immigration wars that I’ve seen.

Frum answers one of my most pressing questions: how can voters who otherwise think of themselves as good and decent people support the intentional brutality, demagoguery and authoritarianism of Trump’s immigration policy?

Those voters fall into two buckets. One is comprised of people who have authoritarian tendencies anyway, and are susceptible to a demagogue like Trump.

A classic 2005 study by the social scientist Karen Stenner predicted the consequences of such feelings. In any given population, according to Stenner, roughly one-third of people will have authoritarian tendencies. This habit of mind is just part of the way human beings are, in much the same way that a certain percentage will be born with depressive tendencies.

Happily, the authoritarian tendency does not necessarily lead to authoritarian politics. In secure and stable circumstances, it goes dormant. But perceived threats to social norms trigger the tendency. Rapid ethnic change figures prominently on the list of such apparent threats. “Authoritarian [personalities] are not especially inclined to perceive normative … threat,” Stenner writes. “They are just especially intolerant once they do.”

The other bucket holds lower income Americans who derive essentially no benefit from low wage immigration. The immigrants benefit. No matter how poorly paid or stressful their jobs here are — think midwestern chicken processing plants — the jobs pay better than what they could get at home. Rich people benefit because they can hire maids and gardeners and nannies on the cheap. But lower income Americans don’t benefit at all, and may even lose ground relative to those willing to work for less and under worse conditions.

To remain a vibrant country and a vibrant economy we have to solve the immigration wars. That means gathering data, making honest assessments, committing to hard choices about who we want to let in and why, and holding the line on what we finally decide. None of that is amenable to Trump’s tweeting, his glee in enraging the already enraged, and his inability to understand or come to terms with complex information. Under Trump, management of the immigration wars is essentially left to people like Stephen Miller, a demonstrably nasty piece of goods.

If you only read one long article this week, I recommend it be this one.

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