"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake," Napoleon is supposed to have said.
That maxim explains why so many Democrats can barely hide their glee every time Donald Trump lets loose a fresh torrent of idiotic bombast or a new poll reinforces his pre-eminence in the Republican field.
Trump is too much for the general electorate to stomach, Democrats reason, but not for the lunatic fringe of the GOP. The more he dominates the Republican primaries, the more he damages his party. So, by all means, let’s not get in his way.
This view is shortsighted. Trump is laying the groundwork to do real damage to the nation largely because nobody has put him in his place. Not Republicans, because they fear his influence and his willingness to make a third-party run, and not Democrats because they look forward to the benefit of a ticked off Latino electorate.
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So the field has been left open to Trump, and he has taken advantage. He has made it respectable to express ethnic prejudice in the vilest terms while making excuses that people are just too sensitive, too politically correct.
And now he’s filling the heads of the Republican faithful with unrealistic ideas about deporting millions of people, building a border wall and altering the Constitution’s definition of citizenship. He has crafted a highly populist message aimed at average white (and even black) Americans to focus all their frustration and fury on the Mexicans in their midst.
Trump’s immigration platform, if enacted, would balloon the deficit and tank the U.S. economy — and still fail to achieve its objective. Trump released a six-page position paper that is largely bereft of details, particularly pertaining to costs, and lacking basic understanding of geographic and historical reality.
Some of the measures he proposes are illegal and unethical, such as rounding up families of immigrants, including people who are U.S. citizens, and flinging them like scraps out of the country. He thinks the U.S. can impound the remittances that undocumented immigrants try to send back home as a way to get Mexico to fund construction of the border wall.
Most egregious is his proposal to hack into the 14th Amendment, which begins thus: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…." Trump says he would end "birthright citizenship," despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen.
Ending birthright citizenship is not a new idea. However, it is a pipe dream. It almost certainly would require a new constitutional amendment. Were that hurdle to be cleared and citizenship denied to certain class of person born here, our small problem with undocumented immigration would transform into a civic cancer. Do we really want the caste system Germany and other nations created with their "guest worker" programs? Not if we really care about law and order, justice and humanity — not to mention one of the truly exceptional traits of American democracy.
Trump’s proposal to build a wall at the 2,000-mile long southern border is among the most ridiculous. The cost would be unfathomable, and it wouldn’t be the most effective deterrent in many areas. About 75 miles of the border is the sovereign native land of the Tohono O’odham Nation. No wall’s going up there.
Yet rather than call this lunacy what it is, other Republicans are falling in line, including Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham. Jeb Bush, whose wife emigrated from Mexico, cranked up the language and used the term "anchor baby" in referring to such children.
Where are the adults in the room? Where are the candidates to stand up and outright say that Trump is a dangerous fool?
Someone needs to point out that contrary to the Trump-land version that paints Mexico is an evil neighbor, the country is the U.S.’ second largest export market, after Canada.
How about a candidate letting people know that migration from Mexico has been at net zero for several years now, as the economy of our southern neighbor has stabilized, among other factors? How about acknowledging that undocumented immigrant workers are a cornerstone of the U.S. economy and that their sudden disappearance would throw our economy into chaos?
The U.S. needs immigration reform. But it will only come through bipartisan action in Congress, supported by the electorate. Letting Trump’s xenophobia fester and spread only makes that possibility more remote.