Don’t Validate Trump by Spreading His BSPosted: December 28, 2015
It was surprising to see the usually reasonable and moderate Tennessean columnist Saritha Prabhu’s Sunday op-ed lending legitimacy to Donald Trump’s nativism, and rather disappointing to find her doing so with assertions about immigration that are factually false.
Allowing that Trump is trafficking in xenophobia and ignorance, Prabhu’s offers up an apologia that the Donald is “giving voice to the anxieties of many people across the political spectrum.” He says things about immigration “that many independents and centrist Democrats are thinking.” While there may be some truth to this, Prabhu’s attempt to explain how Trump has supposedly tapped into some moderate political zeitgeist runs her off the rails into the same ditch of hallucination that is Trump’s home turf.
Prabhu: “Jobs are being lost due to globalization, technology and uncontrolled immigration.”
Uncontrolled immigration? Although the unauthorized immigration population grew rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s, it dropped markedly in the couple of years after the recession and has been essentially stable for five years now. The number of babies born to unauthorized immigrant parents is also declining.
Prabhu: “Porous borders and uncontrolled immigration have got to stop.”
Porous borders? More Mexican immigrants have left the U.S. than have come here since the end of the recession, and the overall flow of Mexican immigrants is at its lowest level since the 1990s. The “immigrant share” (percentage born outside the U.S.) has dropped markedly over the last 15 years for Mexicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Salvadorans, Cubans, Dominicans. There are fewer Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. than there were in 2009.
Prabhu: “Our mainstream discourse has a kind of binary quality to it. For example, if you are against illegal immigration, you must be nativist.”
This observation rests on a foolish assumption: virtually nobody is actually in favor of illegal immigration. Prabhu seems to misconstrue nativism, defined as “the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants.” Trump’s approach to immigration is precisely nativism, and by the way it is hardly mainstream: Recent polls show almost three quarters of Americans (including a healthy majority of Republicans) think undocumented immigrants currently living here should generally be allowed to stay, and only 17% favor deporting all immigrants here illegally. Two-thirds favor a path to citizenship.
The premise of Prabhu’s piece is not absurd: lots of pundits are struggling to explain Trump’s surge, and it isn’t off-base to surmise, as Prabhu does, that he is “giving voice to the anxieties” of some who are disaffected. But let’s keep in mind that on immigration Trump is giving voice to the anxieties of a rather small minority, and is doing so as a demagogue with a penchant for making shit up to suit the nativist narrative. Parroting inaccurate drivel about “uncontrolled immigration” doesn’t explain the beast; it feeds it.
A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.