The immigration issue is mostly presented in the mainstream media as a story of big-hearted humanitarians versus mean bigots. Immigration restrictionists, by enacting the policies of the despised Dwight Eisenhower, will tear families apart and defy America’s core principles. By contrast, immigration enthusiasts will do the opposite, welcoming newcomers, celebrating their diversity, and allowing America to extend its generosity to all seven billion people of this uncrowded planet (and not merely cynically add to the ranks of the Democratic Party, get cheaper maids, and hurt flyover country with exogenous wage pressure).
Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech was a great success that presented his core themes to the country without the usual media filter. And while it touched on many themes, immigration was one of his core differentiating issues during the campaign and this speech, which turned the standard immigration narrative on its head in at least three ways.
First, by offering a very generous proposal to legalize so-called Dreamers, in exchange for the wall, an end to the diversity lottery, and more robust enforcement mechanisms, he has shown centrist realism. As he said, “we presented the Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise—one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”
Indeed, this proposal shows extreme generosity of spirit—too generous in my view, as it risks the long-term devolution of the Republican Party and the Republic through engineered demographic change. But it is undeniably a compromise that any reasonable counterpart would recognize as such. Instead of getting down to negotiations on numbers and other items, the Democrats have simply suggested that Trump is a hateful, mean racist for the millionth time. From the pouty Pelosi to the smirking Schumer, the Democrats seated in the audience could not bring themselves to clap for this proposal, nor for such once-unifying themes like the flag, the military, and ordinary Americans who display great generosity of spirit, such as the adoptive parents of Baby Hope.
If the DACA deal goes away because Democrats demand everything, forgetting they lost an election, who is being mean spirited and overly political? The Democrats in the audience did a great disservice to their party and to the country by rejecting everything Trump said and offered, even when it consisted of simple good news like the retreat of ISIS or the booming economy.
Second, Trump reminded us that many of those affected by immigration are recent (legal) immigrants and minority communities. Illegal immigrants have shown from the beginning that they do not respect our laws. Is it surprising that they commit other non-immigration crimes in greater numbers than both native-born Americans and legal immigrants?
Trump introduced us to the brutal MS-13 gang, native to El Salvador and now present in many parts of the United States. It has been responsible for the deaths of many Americans, including—most often—Hispanics, whose communities they terrorize. Trump highlighted that the immigration issue is not solely a white vs. non-white issue—as the far Left and some immigration restrictionists would maintain—but one of our government’s failure to protect our countrymen from gratuitous and unnecessary violence that would not occur, but for the presence of these illegal immigrant killers.
The image of four weeping Hispanic parents, whose teenage daughters were murdered, could only fail to move the hearts of politicized fanatics. Consistent with his “citizenist” approach to immigration, Trump also highlighted a Hispanic ICE officer. Trump did much through these optics to take away the Democrats’ usual, but tired and robotic, insinuations of racism at all of those who want to restrict immigration. Trump instead drew a distinction between those who care about America and Americans and those who don’t.
Third, Trump also implicitly knocked down one of false justifications for mass immigration, which is that immigrants will do the “jobs Americans won’t do.” In the form of a young African-American welder—a good paying job incidentally—Trump made a broader paean to ordinary workers, by praising this man simply as “an all-American worker.” This sounded refreshing, old fashioned even, as such a celebration of blue-collar work and workers is almost unheard of due to the mania for college among Democrats and entrepreneurship among Republicans. Jeb Bush in the campaign said he “wanted more millionaires.” Who doesn’t? But most people simply want good work, and Trump, as someone who has hired and depended on real workers, gets this.
Since the 1960s, a change has occurred to the American education system and American self-concept: namely, the idea that manual work is both unremunerative and unworthy of a decent person. Summer jobs are on the decline, factories have disappeared, and office work by heavily-indebted “communications” majors is now more common. But “jobs Americans won’t do” are still done, many times by Americans, who hold their heads a little lower than they once did, mocked or ignored by the institutions of our culture. The world would function fine with fewer public relations experts, app builders, and consultants, but if the bricklayers, plumbers, and garbagemen quit, we would lose our civilization.
Trump spoke of these workers’ dignity, something he undoubtedly learned to respect with his construction business, where many men must work in great difficulty to produce sturdy and beautiful buildings. Trump said, “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.” While not a sentiment directed to immigration, this matters for the immigration issue, because these jobs are ones Americans are perfectly capable of doing and would gladly do for a decent wage—which they would receive without competition from armies of illegal immigrants who are underpaid for various reasons, not least their vulnerability, their sheer numbers, and their less expensive barracks-style living.
Trump, like Reagan and Nixon, understands the alienation of the country’s middle from its coasts, who purport to set the tone of the culture, but also aim to change it. He understands that one can be uneasy with illegal immigration or with one’s country becoming unrecognizable, while also welcoming anyone loyal to and willing to assimilate into the broader American nation. In short, he is a unifier, his policies are moderate and popular, and, in this speech, he exposed the cold, calculating, and callous indifference among the Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans to the ways illegal immigration hurts their fellow Americans. Trump masterfully reminded us all that “Americans are dreamers, too.”