In 2012, Donald Trump criticized Republicans for seeming “mean-spirited” on immigration and alienating Hispanic voters. (His target was that notorious wild-eyed radical, Mitt Romney.) Fast forward a mere three years, and the candidate who “tells it like it is” has flip-flopped 180 degrees, putting forward what amount to a plan to declare war on Mexico.
Trump’s plan includes all the characteristics of a war short of actual fighting: the threat of an embargo, a plan to build a defensive wall, and a demand for reparations from the (presumably) defeated enemy.
Let’s start with the reparations. Trump presents a list of grievances against the government of Mexico and demands that they fork over billions of dollars—the exact amount is not specified—to build a wall between the two countries.
How is he going to force them to do this? By the threat of an embargo. That’s right, under President Trump, we would not have a trade embargo against Cuba, but we would have a piecemeal one against Mexico. Trump threatens, “among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards—of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options].” (Brackets in the original.)
In other news, Trump promises to get our economy moving again—right after he clamps down on commerce with our third-largest trading partner.
To complete the warlike atmosphere, Trump’s plan to impound remittances would presumably require US officials to search all mail between the US and Mexico. But what is a war without the curtailment of civil liberties at home? And so Trump’s plan would also require that we “end birthright citizenship” for children of immigrants who are born in the United States. The best answer to that is provided by Ben Domenech, who ends by pointing out that being married to Donald Trump is a job Americans won’t do. (If Trump were elected, his current wife, a Slovenian former model, would be the first foreign-born First Lady since Louisa Adams in 1829.)
And the goal of this quasi-war with Mexico? To build a massive defensive wall. His proposal intones, “A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.” Interesting how he equates a border with a wall—by which standard America has never been a nation. I remember when Americans used to boast, with good reason, that we have the longest undefended border in the world: our northern border with Canada. If Trump were to get his way, we would also have the longest fortified border.
There’s room for debate on what our immigration policy should be, and how to reform it, but this isn’t it. For example, as Jim Geraghty points out, Trump’s plan would increase the incentive for illegal immigration by creating increased barriers and costs for legal immigration—including an indefinite moratorium on all immigration until all open jobs have been filled by Americans, however that is supposed to be determined.
All of this is based on a whipped-up war hysteria, blaming all of our problems on immigrants. More to the point, it is based on another good wartime tradition: demonizing the enemy. Note that Trump is not really concerned about European immigrants or immigrants from other countries. (Though buried in his plan is an assault on H1-B visas for highly skilled immigrants, which he bills as an attempt to increase the representation of “minorities” in Silicon Valley—by means of purging Chinese and Indian engineers.) His plan and his rhetoric are aimed at Hispanic immigrants. In his proposal, and in his public statements, Trump portrays these immigrants as violent criminals and rapists who lounge around on welfare when they are not taking jobs away from Americans.
So the Trump of 2012, who warned about “mean-spirited” attacks on Hispanic voters, has fulfilled his own prophecy.
That’s one of the fundamental problems with the Trump candidacy. He is the fulfillment of the left’s fondest caricatures the right. He’s rich, arrogant, contemptuous of “losers” who have not achieved his status; he’s rudely dismissive of women; he is an ungrammatical, inarticulate boor; and now we can add that he panders to fear and suspicion of brown-skinned foreigners. In short, he’s Archie Bunker with money.
All of this is the reason why a lot of us are wondering, in the back of our minds, whether he really is a plant sent into the Republican primary by his friends, the Clintons.