As a professional author — paid to present policy positions — it grates to write something nice about Donald J. Trump’s immigration proposals, which are written poorly. My livelihood is founded on the proposition that political ideas are only as powerful as the words which introduce them to the world.
An exemplar from the Trump plan: “The cost of building a permanent border wall pales mightily in comparison to what American taxpayers spend every single year…” There are several things a person (or an event, or a concept) can do “mightily” but paling is not one of them. If we were back in Rome, we would be calling Roto Rhetor immediately to clean that up.
The plan itself is a winner, and the outraged pundits who hurl sharp objections at it may well find vital organs sliced off by their boomerangs returning to base. The successful elements of Trump’s sortie into the sordid fray over immigration policy are twofold: a) he throws down the gauntlet to nations which view our shores as a dumping ground and b) he draws fire from the lefty and the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand thinkers whose outraged opposition is fueling the glee of his supporters.
Most of Trump’s support comes from the enemies of his enemies. Eventually he may also develop friends, but that takes a lot of personal contact in an extended campaign. His poll vault to the top has relied on his ability to get in your face, so if you policy wonks want to volunteer your faces to the cause, he will gratefully oblige by getting in them.
But let’s go in order, invoking the Talmudic rule that the wise man answers the first question first and the later question later. The first point is that his plan is designed to affront Mexico and other countries specializing in emigrant manufacture and export. It includes several elements which can be fairly characterized as excessive and hyperbolic, a fact the best-selling author of The Art of the Deal knows well, at least as well as any economist or diplomat. His tactic is to stride angrily into the boardroom, pull his chair up to the negotiating table with a loud bang and remind everyone who is boss. Then he can start a pleasant conversation in couched terms, and produce a far better result.
Think about it. We are angry at Kerry for getting a bad deal. So how can we be angry at Trump for demanding too good a deal? Maybe we will wind up with something we can live with, rather than these hairy Kerry suicidal arrangements.
To take one sample of a Trump trump, he tells Mexico to pay for a wall between our countries or we will slap a tariff on their goods. Along come our wily wonks to explain that tariffs leave us with a net loss. Well, sure they will, if they actually happen, but that loss will not be Mexico’s gain, so Mexico is still intimidated by the threat of that eventuality. No exporting country wants tariffs. This is not cutting off our nose to spite our face; it is threatening to cutting off both our noses to spite their face.
Gamesmanship, yes. Brinkmanship, yes. Statesmanship? In ordinary times, no. But these are extraordinary times.
Mexico has already taken the bait, issuing various statements brimming with bluster. Getting them into a “will-not-will-too” kindergarten screaming match is great theater. It will hurt neither Trump nor the Republican Party nor these United States. Trust me.
Some of today’s voters are too young to remember, but in the 1970s and 1980s the Presidents of Mexico used to make loud complaints about how Uncle Sam was not treating Mexican immigrants well enough. They howled for better treatment! Even Ronald Reagan was on the defensive when the “summits” with Mexican leaders would convene periodically. That atmosphere has long since leveled off, but no one before Trump has the Mexicans squirming. The very fact that a primary candidate of one party has elicited a response from the Mexican government is revealing. Voters think Trump can sit down and end the Mexican standoff.
Finally, our second point. This proposal is red meat for the green eyeshade guys. The think tanks are leaking; the braintrusts are suspicious; the college faculties are losing theirs; the eggheads are cloudy side up. While all these goofballs are acting goofy, the popular vote is ducky for Donald. This is the Trump nuclear doctrine: Mutual Assured Distraction.
Will any of this serve to improve life in this country? Will it aid the legal immigrant while punishing the illegal? Your guest is as good as mine. Or not…