The Bad Ideas Behind Attacks on Trump’s Blunt Truth

What hysterical attacks by the president's detractors are designed to hide.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Donald Trump’s leaked alleged comments about “sh*thole countries” to some Congressmen in a closed-door meeting has triggered the Dems’ and mainstream media’s usual hysterical recourse to their all-purpose smear, “racism.” With no arguments that can answer Trump’s concrete successes, the left relies on its favorite question-begging epithet to create a smog of invective in the hopes that it can distract people from Trump’s policy improvements. And other criticisms are based on ideas that are just as questionable, but remain the received wisdom of our ruling elite.

Over at Townhall one can find a selection of reactions that show how irrational and ideologically opportunistic have been the responses to Trump’s statements about Haiti and Africa. Never missing an opportunity to weaponized grievance, the Black Congressional Caucus is ginning up a Congressional resolution to censure the president for his “bigoted fear mongering,” and for insulting countries that “produce immigrants that are remarkable and make significant contributions to our country.”

This hysteria relies on taking Trump’s comments out of context. Trump was talking about getting rid of chain migration and the visa lottery, policies that some Congressmen in the meeting were negotiating to keep basically intact. But Trump believes correctly that randomly admitting immigrants without any of the standards of selection that most countries rely on has been harmful to our country. The point is to admit the best, not just anybody who accidentally has a relative already here, or got lucky in the lottery. Particularly when there are so many politically, socially, and economically dysfunctional countries whose citizens are eager to emigrate, which is why Democrats insist on accepting refugees from them. But taking in randomly selected people from such countries creates a much higher probability those immigrants will be harder to turn into productive Americans than those from other countries less dysfunctional. 

Of course, good candidates exist in Haiti and everywhere else, people who can make “significant contributions” to our country. That is precisely why we need a clear-cut set of criteria for admission that can find those people, criteria based on what skills and qualities they have that will benefit both the U.S. and themselves. The current admission policies seemingly are based on some implied right of anybody from anywhere to become a U.S. citizen. This is patently absurd just as a matter of domestic and international law. Every sovereign nation determines the criteria of admission according to its own customs, mores, and national interests. Try immigrating to Saudi Arabia if you’re a Christian or Jew, or to Canada if you’re broke and badly educated.

The implication, then, from representatives of both parties that Trump was talking about race, and so his comments were “racist” or a “racial delusion,” as leaker Senator Durbin said, rather than referring to culture, government, and ways of living, is itself actually racist. It reflects how thoroughly obsessed we remain with the superficial traits used to define race and assign collective identities, even as we ignore the much more significant factors such as culture and the qualities, talents, and virtues of distinct individuals. This obsession with race is simply the perfumed version of the old arguments for segregation and white supremacy, the bad habit of taking people as a simplistic collective rather than as complex individuals. 

Then there are John McCain’s comments, which take refuge in banalities and recycle the whole “nation of immigrants” cliché favored by the peddlers of amnesty. Seemingly confused about the American political order created by the Founders, McCain tweeted, “Respect for the God-given dignity of every human being, no matter their race, ethnicity or other circumstances of their birth, is the essence of American patriotism.” 

But McCain’s tweet is a non sequitur. Yes, all men are created with certain inalienable rights that give them their dignity. But those rights are a starting point in a life of actions and choices, and their true meaning and dignity lie in how people live, what they believe, and what motivates their actions. Moreover, a dysfunctional culture, or one that doesn’t believe in those inalienable rights, reinforces behaviors, customs and mores that violate that notion of natural rights fundamental to being American. A secular government charged with the protection of its citizens and the fundamental beliefs of their political community must look to how people live before granting them the privilege of American citizenship. The “essence of American patriotism” is accepting those who live up to their God-given rights, and who respect the political order that makes possible the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

McCain’s next tweet––“People have come to this country from everywhere, and people from everywhere have made America great. Our immigration policy should reflect that truth, and our elected officials, including our President, should respect it” ––is equally banal and simplistic. Some of the people from “everywhere” did help make America “great.” Some didn’t. The Italian immigrants who created the mafia certainly didn’t. The MS-13 and cartel thugs ravaging many of our communities aren’t helping to make America great. Neither are the immigrants legal or not who are disproportionately imprisoned in our federal penitentiaries. 

This means our immigration policy should “reflect” that truth as well. Large numbers of immigrants will not assimilate, will not respect our foundational principles, will not discard the old-country ways that are incompatible with ours, or will see America as a source of hand-outs or a venue for crime. That’s why we need a rigorous selection process that sorts out the wheat from the chaff, something chain migration and visa lotteries don’t do well.

Then there are the seemingly more pragmatic criticisms that Trump’s rhetoric damages our interactions with other countries and hence damages our foreign policy. The State Department seems to think that the essence of foreign policy is convincing other countries that we like or respect them. A spokesman from State said that Trump’s remarks make that job “extra hard.” Diplomats now must convince other countries that the U.S. commitment to them “hasn’t wavered.” Republican Congressman Mike Simpson repeated the same bad idea, saying Trump’s remarks were “stupid and irresponsible and childish,” because “America’s influence and power in the world has really been about our ability to persuade because of our leadership, and he’s just destroying that.”

This notion of foreign policy as social work and flattering other countries’ self-esteem is a tenacious fallacy predicated on a naïve, if not delusional, understanding of interstate relations. National interests, not flattery or sensitivity to feelings, are the heart of foreign relations, and so “no nation,” as George Washington said, “can be trusted farther than it is bounded by its own interests.” Whatever its diplomats’ lofty rhetoric, every nation calculates its relationship with us based on how our interests either serve or hinder their own, not whether or not they like us or our rhetoric, or find it “persuasive.” And that calculation in turn reflects their estimation of our strength or weakness. 

Our concern, then, should not be whether they like us, but whether we like them and deem them useful for our own interests. Our leadership depends not on therapeutic outreach, but on showing strength and confidence, and behaving like the unprecedented global power we are. Our rivals and allies may not like us, but they will respect us and seek to gain our favor. Going around the world apologizing for our president’s remarks about our domestic policies does not project strength or confidence. Barack Obama was beloved in foreign capitals even as they serially picked his geopolitical pocket.

The president’s main job as a leader is to protect the interests and security of American citizens. Immigration policy should be based on the same calculus: admitting those who have something to offer us, who are eager to be good and loyal Americans worthy of the privilege of U.S. citizenship. For half a century, our immigration policy has benefitted us to a certain degree, but it has harmed us as well by letting in deadbeats and criminals. All Trump is proposing, in his trademark crude way of speaking truth, is that we make American interests and security the primary goal of our policies. 

But that job is harder to do when political advantage or factional interests take precedence over truth and principle. The cry of “racism” is a reflexive smear that diverts attention from the pursuit of partisan advantage. The Dems and the Black Congressional Congress are trying to leverage Trump’s remark in order to keep immigration policies like chain migration that benefit them politically. The State Department, filled with deep-state bitter-enders, is protecting its institutional received wisdom that deferential “engagement” and “outreach,” rather than enhancing our prestige by projecting strength and confidence, are the most important instruments of foreign policy. The “gang of amnesty” faction of Republicans wants to keep our borders permeable and immigration high in order to get cheaper labor both skilled and unskilled, and to preen morally about their “inclusiveness” and lack of racist taint. And John McCain is just being John McCain, seizing every opportunity to flog the upstart outsider who exposed the entrenched Republican elite’s long history of rolling over for Democrats.

We won’t know until 2018 and 2020 if Trump’s words are more important than his accomplishments. Will coarse talk and successful deeds trump decorous words and failed policies for most voters? The only thing we may know for certain is that Trump has faced relentless outrage from his opponents since the inception of his candidacy, and it did not succeed in derailing his electoral prospects the first time around.