Among the biggest news emerging from this presidential campaign is that Donald Trump is not a model of verbal precision or restraint. Because loose lips can be dangerous in a president, whose words can move markets, shake governments, and even trigger war (and “sink ships”), it’s entirely proper for the media to cover the flood of factual blunders, hyperbole, illogic, canards, and half-baked ideas the Republican hopeful generates.
But an even bigger insight about the Trump phenomenon is being almost entirely missed so far: In an important way, journalists’ coverage of Trump’s statements has been just as juvenile, downright silly, and obtuse as this rhetoric himself. And nowhere is this problem worse than in coverage of the two issues on which Trump has most forcefully opposed the establishment consensus that too many Mainstream Media journalists either actively support or implicitly accept: immigration and trade. The former has of course generated the biggest headlines, so let’s confine our discussion today to that subject. And to keep this relatively short, let’s focus on “mass deportation.”
As I’ve noted, Trump is largely responsible for the uproar over this option. Although deportation was never mentioned in his immigration plan, he did endorse the idea, and surely out of stubbornness, has refused to back down. The media – including Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly – have proceeded to rake Trump over the coals, characterizing his position as everything from delusional to racist, xenophobic, and fascistic.
There’s no doubt that mass deportation is wildly impractical, for reasons ranging from economic to humanitarian. And that’s why nothing even remotely like it will happen, even under a Trump administration. Indeed, that’s likely why such deportation was absent from his plan (though I have no evidence to support this claim). But it’s not necessary even to insist that journalists concentrate on the plan – which is full of proposals strongly endorsed by many immigration specialists in academe, and even strong bipartisan majorities in Congress (e.g., expanding the E-Verify program) – to recognize the immense bigger picture the Big Media is missing.
Thoughtless as their content is, Trump’s deportation remarks were necessary push-back against strong bipartisan insistence that America has no choice but to accept that the roughly 11 million illegals estimated to be living here. Thus, both Democrats and Republicans in their parties’ mainstreams have worked overtime to insure that what immigration debate is permitted is limited to whether illegals will be granted a path to citizenship or not.
But however reasonable these views seem, they overlook (or cleverly define out of existence?) a huge likely downside: Any form of legalization will become a powerful magnet for still more illegal immigration, no matter how circumscribed legal status is, how strict the conditions for securing it, or how well the border is secured. Disagreeing amounts to accepting two related propositions that make mass deportation look like the essence of realism:
>That populations in Latin America in particular will react by thinking, “The U.S. government has just decided that if we can get into the United States, we’ll be allowed to stay forever. Therefore, we’ll just keep living here in [Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. – including, more recently, collapsing Venezuela?].”
>That when Latin populations begin coming north, Washington will decide to leave them stranded in the Mexican desert.
That’s why it’s time for journalists to start doing some thinking to try to figure out what Trump is really saying – and why it’s resonating so strongly even beyond Republican ranks. Roughly translated, it’s “Legalization looks like a disaster. As a result, it would be off the table in my administration. And something else is urgently needed.” And indeed, not so surprisingly, Trump’s plan points unmistakably to the alternative: an “attrition” strategy that aims at denying illegals both jobs and government benefits.
Clearly, this might leave a large illegals population still in the country. But eliminating most payoffs for unauthorized border crossing is likely to both prompt some outflows (much evidence indicates that the U.S. recession convinced many illegals to pick up stakes and return home) and, at least as important, deter inflows. Trump himself of course could help clarify matters enormously by shifting his own emphasis. But some minimal smarts by the media wouldn’t hurt, either.
Fortunately, some evidence of genuine thought is starting to emerge in its ranks. Is it delusional to hope that we might get at least a tad more?