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David Frum On Immigration: A Polished, SFW Version Of A Tucker Carlson Rant

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David Frum argues in the April issue of The Atlantic that "the political rise of Donald Trump has radicalized many of his opponents on immigration." Conservatives often lament that Trump's extreme views have caused an equal and opposite reaction from Democrats. For instance, the Trump administration callously locks up immigrant children and Democrats politely suggest we maybe not do that. It's really getting out of hand.

Frum specifically singles out presidential candidates Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Castro supports a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants currently living in the US illegally. That wacky idea was part of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" reform bill that died in 2013, back when Trump was safely still a reality TV host. Harris refused to reopen the government unless Dreamers were protected, but the Dream Act also predates Trump. Now, Gillibrand did denounce ICE as a "deportation force," which is probably a reaction to a lot of crappy stuff they've done under Trump. Frum pats Gillibrand on the head and wonders how the silly senator thinks we could ever enforce border security without a "deportation force." Gillibrand's actual views were more more complex than that.

Somehow, these measured positions are so far outside the mainstream that they risk driving Americans to embrace Trump's totalitarian fascism. Sure, fine, whatever.


Frum dredges up past quotes from Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama to apparently demonstrate how far off the rails modern Democrats have gone on immigration.

"What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy," Sanders said in a [2015] interview with Vox. "Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country."

Commenting on the right-wing desire to exploit cheap labor for the benefit of the wealthy is not quite the same as suggesting we should just give up the whole "give me your tired and your poor" thing.

Even the famously cosmopolitan Barack Obama, in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, lamented, "When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I'm forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration."

We don't really see this as a "gotcha" passage from a book that's literally called The Audacity of Hope and not The Practicality of Cynicism. Obama was big on political empathy. Like Bill Clinton before him, he tried to connect with what average Americans were feeling. Yet, unlike Trump, Obama hoped we could evolve from our reflexive positions on an issue. He understood how, say, a veteran might feel about Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protests but he also thought the veteran should consider why Kaepernick chose to protest this way. Obama's controversial "bitter" comments about working class Pennsylvanians weren't a condemnation. Trump might enable and fan the flames of cultural resentment, but Obama believed we can always do better.

Frum also reminds us of comments Hillary Clinton made in 2018 regarding immigration in Europe.

CLINTON: I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration, because that is what lit the flame [of far-right populism].

He interprets this as Clinton "warning" us that "mass immigration was weakening democracy." That's not quite what she meant. Like her successor in the Senate, her actual views were more complex.

Frum notes that he himself is an immigrant. He was still a Canadian citizen when writing speeches about the "Axis of Evil" for George W. Bush. (A Mexican national working for the Obama administration is something we think Fox News would've noticed.) He is now a refugee from conservative media. The Atlantic and MSNBC gave him a home even though Fox News and the Bush administration hadn't really sent us their best. He's not a hypocrite, though. Frum isn't skeptical of immigration in general, just a certain shade of immigration.

If you grew up in the 1950s, the 1960s, or even the 1970s, heavy immigration seemed mostly a chapter from the American past, narrated to the nostalgic strains of The Godfather or Fiddler on the Roof.

Hold up. The fucking Godfather is a sweetly nostalgic look at immigration? Are we the only ones who get that the Corleones were cold-blooded killers who agreed to profit off narcotics sold exclusively in black communities? We love cannolis as much as the next person, but seriously, try paying attention to the movie next time.

We get it: Immigration was kinder and gentler when it was white immigrants from white places building organized crime empires or singing, "Yubby dibby dibby dum."

Precisely because advanced societies have so few children of their own, immigration brings change at startling speed... Today, a relatively smaller amount of immigration is exerting larger population effects, because Americans are not replacing themselves.

White supremacists in Charlottesville insisted that "Jews will not replace us." We should stress that we don't believe Frum is a racist. However, we must address the loaded cultural dynamics behind the "fear" of modern-day immigration. Fewer white ethnics (and conservatives from Canada) and more brown people. You'll recall Tom Brokaw's full-on racist breakdown on live TV a couple months ago.

BROKAW: Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, "Well, I don't know whether I want brown grandbabies." I mean, that's also a part of it. It's the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other. I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That's one of the things I've been saying for a long time.

Yes, Hispanic immigrants should make sure to fully assimilate but separately and equally. White people don't want too many "brown grandbabies." They also don't want to have to Press 1 for English.

These are similar but less crazy-sounding arguments to those that Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have made. There's this eternal Catch-22 that immigrants will take good jobs while simultaneously not having the skills to thrive in the US economy. They're both opportunity takers and deadbeats. These immigrants also don't look and sound like "natives," as though the only Americans with a true "native" claim are white and English-speaking.

Frum contends that America must ultimately reduce immigration and select immigrants "more carefully." Liberals should get on board, he warns, or Americans will turn to fascists to do the job for them. The reality, though, is that immigration is changing the country, but America becoming less white isn't inherently destructive to democracy. White Americans might collectively freak out at this thought, but enabling white supremacy to prevent fascism is not the answer. The two go hand-in-hand.

[The Atlantic / Vox]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Seattle. However, he's more reliable for food and drink recommendations in Portland, where he spends a lot of time for theatre work. His co-adaptation of "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins is playing NOW at Pioneer Square's Cafe Nordo. All Wonketters welcome.

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