The result of the June 23 Brexit vote continues to cause much gnashing of teeth on both sides of the Atlantic from those who expected the United Kingdom would remain in the European Union; many of who arrogantly dismissed the notion that the citizens of Britain might actually want to regain control over their own affairs. Hungary is set to be the next country to hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EU, and there are strong political movements in France, the Netherlands, and Italy to put the matter to a public vote.
The “leave” victory in the U.K., and the movement in Europe away from a bureaucratic super state, with one of the main reasons being the unpopularity of immigration policies dictated from Brussels, has caused some U.S. political observers to reevaluate what role Donald Trump plays in American politics, and what role immigration plays in the Trumpist movement – most notably The New York Times’ David Brooks and the chief economics commentator for The Wall Street Journal, Greg Ip. Prominent political scientist Charles Murray has also changed his position on the benefits of expansive immigration policies, or at least has come to acknowledge that there are drawbacks for most Americans.
There is much agreement that Trump catapulted to the front of the Republican presidential field because he articulated, however unartfully, the simple fact that immigration policy should be designed to broadly benefit the American people. In doing so, he deviated from the modus operandi of modern Presidential politics and has attacked, and been attacked by, the leadership of both parties. The influential media voices who are now beginning to reevaluate their commitment to ever-increasing immigration are beginning to see Trump not simply as a man with a genius for self-promotion, but as a symbol of the long-standing divide between the political elite and the U.S. electorate.
(The words “elite,” as well as “establishment,” are bandied about so much in current political discourse that rarely are they used with precision, and often they are conflated. The establishment controls America’s two dominant political parties and, hence, controls its government. The problem with the establishment for most Americans is that it is comprised of the elite, with the elite in this case not being those who, with the blessing of nature combined with hard work, have risen to the top of their chosen fields –- including those whose field is politics. It is instead a very narrow group of politicians, businesspersons, and intellectuals who hold the levers of power and believe that the rule of law should operate in such a way as to prevent the vast majority of people from having any genuine influence on the governmental and juridical authorities to which they are subject.)
Nothing reveals that divide more so than the issue of immigration. Those political elite who call for the perpetuation of mass migration into the United States and Europe assert that tens of millions of people have the inalienable right to migrate to the West, and the benefit to the receiving countries is intrinsic. In other words, the political elite believe no valid argument can be made in favor of more restrictive immigration policies.
There is little political, legal, or even religious basis for the claim that an individual has the inalienable right to migrate from one country to another of his choosing, but there is an intrinsic benefit from mass migration for the political elite. Mass migration has benefited them both economically and politically, causing them to grow richer and more powerful at the expense of their fellow citizens. This is not seen as naked self-interest by the political elite since, by their way of thinking, whatever benefits them is unquestionably good for all of humanity.
Support for less expansive immigration policies by the majority of the citizenry who do not benefit from mass migration is not seen by the political elite as a position contrary to theirs that can be openly debated; it is viewed as a threat to all that is true and just in the world. (Christiane Amanpour perfectly illustrates the virulent self-righteousness of this worldview). That is why the political elite demonize those who oppose them on immigration. They believe that theirs is the only acceptable position to hold, and reducing immigration is not even a subject that can be discussed.
It isn’t that that immigration is harmful to Western democracies, it is the level of immigration that is the problem. But it is only through large-scale migration that the elite can maintain their hold on power by further eroding the middle class and shifting demographics to favor them electorally. They have had great success in cloaking their own self-interest in a mantle of self-righteousness. They are thus able to undermine the standing of their fellow citizens and weaken the national community while claiming the position of moral superiority in the process.
The American public's concern about excessive immigration is nothing new. It has been evident since the 1990s, when it became clear the promises of the 1986 amnesty were not going to be kept. The prolonged economic downturn brought it to a head, when, in the face of massive unemployment and protracted wage stagnation, the political elite pushed for a doubling of annual immigrant admissions and an amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens, without tying it to any accompanying enforcement provisions.
It is hardly necessary to point out that The Donald is unlikely to elevate the political discourse in the upcoming general election, but was the political discourse so lofty in 2012 when the media focused on Big Bird and “binders full of women,” and immigration was merely a footnote? Trump has thrust the debate about immigration to the forefront of a U.S. Presidential election, which is something the political elite have been trying for years to avoid. In the upcoming general election campaign, Hillary Clinton will actually have to defend her positions on immigration in front of the American people. It will be interesting to hear what she has to say, as well as to see if Trump can turn his rhetoric into substantive policy prescriptions.
Whatever Trump’s political fate, his candidacy, along with Brexit, has already changed the minds of some pundits who once thought that those who favor more restrictive immigration policies “are on the wrong side of history” – which isn’t the same as recognizing that history takes no sides, but it’s a start.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Jul 28th 2016 @ 10:30am EDT