Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Henry Olsen—one of the few analysts who correctly gauged the 2016 election results before they were in—predicts ongoing electoral disaster for the Democrats. Olsen is spot on when he argues that Democrats, whether they mean to regain lost electoral ground or to lay claim to new ground, will have to back away from their untenable positions on immigration.
Given the nature of the 2016 Democratic loss—that is, noting where Democrats either lost ground or failed to claim new stakes—their prospects in coming national contests appear likely to follow this losing trend unless there is a fundamental change in their approach to the electorate. This was a systemic failure, in other words. It was not a one off.
Olsen explains that most of this failure is tied to the zealous attachment Democrats have to an uncompromising open borders ideology. This position will do nothing to persuade former Democrats from the working class (Obama-Trump voters) or loosely Republican/cosmopolitan voters (Romney-non-Trump voters) to come around and take them seriously again as an alternative to Trump. Democrats cannot win a national election without appealing to one or the other of these groups. But in the eyes of these two voting blocs, the Democrats’ stridency on the immigration question demonstrates for the first, a lack of compassion for the plight of the American working class and, for the second, a callous disregard for the security of their country.
Olsen hints at, but does not quite say why Democrats have arrived here when he asks,
Can [Democrats] admit that one can have concerns about either type of migrant [foreign born workers and Muslims] without being prejudiced or racist — that there might just be some rational reason for Americans to be wary of a lax or overly trusting approach to immigration?
In other words, sufficient numbers of voters are offended, even repulsed by the Democrat insinuation that their concerns about the economic well-being and security of the country is rooted in racism or some other of the pet phobias Democrats like to trot out for the purpose of denouncing their fellow citizens. The real problem for Democrats is that their immigration policy exposes a malignant, frightening, and frankly un-American sort of identity politics. And this identity politics is now so inexorably tied to their thinking on a whole host of other issues that it probably will be impossible to untangle this Gordian knot.
On the surface this is good news for Republicans because the Democrats are extremely unlikely to take Olsen’s counsel and stop insulting Americans who happen to disagree with them about immigration. They cannot. They are wed—till death they do part, now and forever—to identity politics. Their immigration position is no mere political calculation or prudential consideration. For them it is as fundamental as religion. It is who they are (or, at least, it is who they have become). Further, it is what they consider to be their political raison d’etre.
In reality, however, this is not good news either for Republicans or for the country. Why? Because it means Democrats will go on being terrible little Leftists and Republicans, in many respects already fairly unimpressive and incoherent, won’t have much of an incentive to improve themselves or work at uniting the country behind a coherent understanding of what it means to be an American. And, being Republicans, too many of them will fail to come to terms with the stark reality that the Democrats, if ever they were, are no longer a loyal opposition party.
Democrats today are nothing more than the party of identity politics and the naked will to power. But well-meaning and bumbling Republicans will fall, again and again, as predictably as Pavlov’s dogs, for the little traps that Democrats spring as they speak of “bipartisanship” and shared goals.
Olsen (who, although prescient about political matters, personally declined to support Trump in either the primaries or the general election) shared with me that although his article made no mention at all of race and merely suggested that Democrats might want to consider making arguments that didn’t insult the voters they were trying to persuade, he was roundly attacked as “prejudiced and racist” just for bringing up the question of immigration. The very idea that there could be a more nuanced or multi-faceted approach to immigration than the one Democrats currently advance is so foreign (heh) to these correspondents, that it was greeted with insult and disbelief. Trump or no Trump, if you don’t toe the Democrat line on immigration, you’re a horrible racist. Although Olsen made no argument at all about what immigration policy ought to be and, instead, only suggested that Democrats might want to dial down the insults if they wanted to persuade voters about their position, these correspondents were outraged. Other views are not just wrong, by their lights. They are illegitimate.
So, look: We have no “shared goals” with this Democratic Party. They made that plain when they supported Obama’s talk of a “fundamental transformation” of the country. In order to “Make America Great Again” Republicans will need an effective but, above all, American opposition party. Someone needs to “Make Democrats Great Again”— but that won’t happen unless or until someone can make Democrats become American in their principles again. So long as they argue that the views of their fellow Americans on political questions are not just wrong but illegitimate, they are illegitimate.
It is possible for people to have different opinions about what is the the most prudent or effective immigration policy for the country at any given moment. But just as it is extreme to say that there are never good reasons to admit immigrants, it is likewise extreme to suggest that there are never good arguments for limiting or, even, stopping the flow. One can disagree with the extent of those limits or their timing or even about the merits of the reasons people advocating them cite to support any given limit. But when these debates are elevated to the level of fundamental principle, it becomes an argument about whether or not it is legitimate to argue for limits. At that point, whatever one may think of the call for limits, those arguing against them are the ones who have lost legitimacy.
A country is a country. And in this country, whether Democrats like it or not, the people are their own sovereigns. They get to determine who will be their potential friends and fellow citizens.