Brooks: How to beat Trump on immigration
A wave of anxiety swept through Democratic ranks this past week when a New York Times/Siena College poll suggested that Donald Trump is leading key Democrats in a bunch of swing states. How the heck is this guy still doing so well out there, after all that has happened?
The short answer is: immigration. Trump, like global populists everywhere, understands that we’re in the middle of a vast social experiment. Waves of migration are transforming societies across the globe. The U.S. will have no majority group in three decades. Sweden could be 20%-30% Muslim by 2050, according to Pew Research projections.
As the saying goes, everybody is now everywhere. We’re entering into states of interdependence with all sorts of people unlike ourselves. In the course of this, millions of people perceive that they are losing their country, losing their place, losing their culture.
Trump, like global populists everywhere, tells them: I’ll help you regain control.
By contrast, highly educated white progressives tell them: If you want to restrict immigration you’re probably a racist. As Eric Kaufmann notes in his book “Whiteshift,” 91.3% of white Hillary Clinton voters with graduate degrees said it’s racist to want less immigration for ethnic and cultural reasons.
Trump then turns around and says: See? These liberal elites want to silence you! They think you’re bigots! Game over.
If Trump opponents want to reach these voters, they need a better answer to one of the central challenges of our age: how to create a mass multicultural democracy where people feel at home.
This past week I was at a Faith Angle Forum conference in France with a group of European and American scholars and journalists. I got a glimpse of that better answer.
The Europeans reminded me of something that is taboo here: that immigration is always, at the most personal level, a cultural encounter. It’s a person with one language and set of values interacting with a person with another language and set of values. When people meet in this way, they put their opinions, identities and way of life at risk. They might be changed by the encounter. The process is unsettling.
The crucial question becomes: Do the people in the encounter feel secure enough to learn from it rather than to react with anxiety and fear? Right now, we are asking millions of Americans to accept high immigration while they are already living with maximum insecurity. Their wages are declining, their families and communities are fragmenting, their churches are shrinking, government services are being cut, their values and national identity feel unstable.
Of course they are going to react with suspicion if suddenly on top of all this they begin to feel like strangers in their own place.
The lesson is that to create thick pluralistic society, you first have to help people embed in a secure base. That includes economic and health care security, but it also involves cultural and spiritual security. It involves offering people opportunities to embed in their local culture, to practice their particular faith, to live by local values that may seem alien to you and me.
Only people who are securely rooted in their own particularity are confident enough to enjoy the encounter with difference.