Why is an arrogant buffoon who made loads of money by manipulating the socialist rules of New York City real estate; selling overpriced, kitschy products and properties; skirting bankruptcy regulations; and making an ass of himself in the media suddenly looking like a genuine contender for the GOP presidential nomination? One might say that the question answers itself. Snake oil salesmen are nothing new in politics. After all, Bill Clinton was so good at it that he redefined public morality down to the point where demeaning an ignorant, immature young woman in the Oval Office and then obstructing justice (you know, the crime Nixon resigned over?) were waived away at his impeachment trial. And then there is Barak Obama, who convinced enough of the nation that “hope and change” meant something both real and nice that he not only got elected, but got reelected, even after it became clear that his hope was to change America into a third-world cesspool ruled by presidential decree.
Republicans like to think of themselves as more sensible than Democrats. There is no socialist in the GOP field claiming that government ownership is simply a friendly form of labor relations, nor is Lady Hillary Macbeth running in the Republican primaries on a platform of “trust me, I haven´t lied to you yet today.” Why, then, is there a boomlet for a man who clearly would sell his own mother (or latest paramour) for good seats to a Knicks game, was a Clinton donor, supports socialized medicine, and has no intention of actually enforcing laws dictating the deportation of illegal immigrants?
As usual, the lamestream media blames it on the supposed intrinsic racism of anyone who doesn´t toe their party line. As usual, the Republican establishment blames it on the stupidity (and intrinsic racism) of its own base of support. Even Kevin Williamson, who generally represents a genuine conservatism long out of fashion at his magazine, National Review, recently posted a diatribe linking Trump´s popularity to the whiny dreams of right-wing crazies. Williamson dubs the people he disagrees with WHINOS, by which he means people who actually recognize that Republican primaries tend to be stacked against conservatives by, you know, the people who actually run Republican primaries: establishment Republicans more committed to their own power and positions than to principles or even victory if said victory entails commitment to principles.
Which is not to say that it is not foolish to support Donald Trump. Then again, it remains to be seen whether any significant number of more-or-less conservative Republicans support the snake oil salesman. You see, the real problem with most of the anti-Trump hand-wringing among Republicans is that they confuse the salesman for the product. A snake oil salesman will happily sell real medicine, if he can get it more or less for free. And immigration reform is an issue the Republican Party establishment has been working so hard to devalue that it more or less sits there for the taking. Sadly, Trump seems to have no interest in actual reform on immigration, only in using the issue as another means of blowing hot air. That is a definite problem, and one we all should hope people soon realize pervades his candidacy.
Having no real principles, only a nose for publicity, Trump was in a position to capitalize on Americans´ frustration with an out-of-control immigration situation. Of course, he suffered instant backlash from the grievance industry and its lackeys for his in some cases genuinely ignorant and abusive rhetoric. Contracts were lost. Then again, Trump´s financial security is the least of America’s worries. Moreover, the size of Trump´s pocketbook is proof that neither hard work nor talent is necessary for one to gather and regather great wealth.
The real danger in all this is that it will derail the necessary conversation about America´s immigration policy (have no doubt, there is one) that the establishments of both parties have been burying for decades. The sad fact is that representatives in both parties, along with the grievance industry and a rather narrow range of corporate interests have been profiting handsomely for decades off the misery of a very real peasant population that is kept in poverty by both sides.
The long, sad history of corruption, abuse of power, and ideological grandstanding in Mexico has kept a potentially prosperous and influential nation on the brink of collapse for generations. As with so much about our neighbor to the south, most Americans fail to recognize that its central problem is a selfish ruling class that uses left-wing rhetoric to conceal its kleptocratic ways and that recent stirrings of a two-party system represent merely the possibility of a long, difficult struggle to rebuild a deeply damaged society. That society has been torn apart by deeply antireligious policies and elite-driven fervor, an entrenched and illegitimate class structure, and the intentional maintenance of a vast underclass left without education, hope of advancement, or an understanding of political realities in a democratic society.
Trump´s insults against Hispanics (my wife, whose mother was from Mexico, rejects the term “latino” as a bit of political gamesmanship) miss the point. Of course a lawless border policy will allow in a disproportionate number of the lawless; this says nothing about the character of Mexicans in general, but rather about the foolishness of the policy. Of course an uneducated population constantly in fear of deportation and the power of employers who well know they are breaking the law by employing them will attempt to use the state to gain whatever advantage they can in their unequal struggle to build a decent life. This says nothing about the capacity of immigrants to stand on their own two feet in facing the normal struggles of free markets. Of course the grievance industry, filled with academics and activists whose self-image and professional progress depends on others being dependent on them, will manipulate the fears of people seeking familiarity in a strange land to promote destructive policies like “bilingual” education that keep immigrants from properly assimilating so that they can succeed economically and socially.
The “special treatment” immigrants from Latin America have been receiving for these past few decades in actuality has trapped them in exploitative relationships with employers who want pliable, ignorant laborers, politicized “advocates” who want manipulable poster children for leftist ideology, and political elites on both sides of the border who refuse to clean up the mess caused by decades in which a self-conscious policy maintaining a gray market in immigrant labor has enriched the powerful at the expense of both illegal immigrants and American citizens.
The current immigration policy is to abet illegal immigration, using the immigrants as political and/or economic tools. It should surprise no one that such a policy creates many losers. Among the chief losers are the thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants surviving in migrant labor camps, other Hispanics forced to live under a cloud of suspicion, and working-class Americans in general, who see the rule of law breaking down around them, abetted by federal, state, and local governments that pretend to care about those whose exploitation they enable. Also losing in this situation are societies on both sides of the border, one torn apart by racial tensions and mounting distrust of our own governments, the other still mired in corruption in part due to the availability of the “escape valve” provided by the porous border with the United States. None of this will improve until laws are enforced as written—on employers as well as immigrants—so that we all may again have a predictable rule by which to conduct ourselves. Then, and only then, can we set about determining how best to allow a limited but sufficient amount of immigration to fulfill the needs of America and provide the opportunity for assimilation and progress for those who seek to become a part of our society.
Bruce P. Frohnen is Professor of Law at The Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law.