I saw an interesting tweet from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump this weekend, about how Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio were "VERY weak on illegal immigration" and how the "country will be overrun!" because of it. It's nothing new rhetoric-wise for Trump, who appears to have made the calculated decision that adopting an anti-immigration stance would provide the largest return on investment on the campaign trail.
A few years ago a Republican political operative told me that illegal immigration gets Republican base voters even more animated than the war on terror. Defending immigrants, in other words, was even riskier than defending civil liberties against the war on terror.
What was particularly interesting to me about the tweet was the formulation—that the U.S. would be "overrun" by immigrants. And? If the U.S. were overrun by immigrants interested in taking jobs, what exactly is wrong with that? It seems it would comport to Trump's goal of "making America great again."
From the beginning of American history, immigration has made the country "great." Thomas Paine, who wrote Common Sense, a treatise that probably did more than any other to radicalize the colonists in favor of the cause of independence in the 1770ss. Paine arrived to the colonies as an immigrant from England, in 1774, and Common Sense was published less than two years later. The wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century helped propel the United States ahead of European powers economically and politically.
Immigration in the 21st century can do the same, if the United States government got out of the way of peaceful people trying to enter the country and the employers who want to hire them. The idea that immigrants are a burden on the welfare system is a persistent but wholly inaccurate myth.
The wonderful thing about Twitter is it lets people engage with political, thought, cultural, and other "leaders," without the professional media or handlers getting in the way. I tweeted a quip at Trump about how these immigrants overrunning the country could actually "make America great again," Trump's campaign catch phrase. Donald Trump has probably not read it, but a bunch of his supporters have, and yesterday I got a flurry of tweets about how the border had to be secured so that American jobs would be secured.
The "national security" aspect of the push for a "secure border" isn't what animated the anti-immigration crowd as much as the fear that "they took our jobs." This is also wholly inaccurate—immigrant workers don't displace the native-born. Even more, they help native workers be more productive.
If national security and the war on terror got Republican base voters as hot and bothered as immigration does, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would be doing a lot better. He promises to crush ISIS and all terrorists, but he also believes the U.S. should, more or less, welcome immigration.
Donald Trump wants to "make America great again," but his campaign is based on exploiting the fears of people who believe they're entitled to more from the U.S. economy than they're getting, people who believe they are not doing as well as they could be not because of any personal failings or a lack of a sufficient work ethic or just hard luck, but because the border isn't secure and so the illegal immigrants are taking the good-paying job the average Trump supporter would have.
I'm not one to call anyone a loser, but Donald Trump is, and it's hard to imagine he doesn't realize that's what many of his supporters are.