In a summer punctuated with horrific mass shootings, the American public yearns for a new sense of unity and common purpose. Unfortunately, both the bloviating President Trump, and the large (and largely clueless) field of Democrats seeking to replace him, seem solely capable of moving the nation in the opposite direction.
That’s a shame, since a more productive approach requires nothing more than a recognition of reality and a fresh willingness to acknowledge the undeniable points of the opposing perspective. Consider two of the most explosive issues of the moment: the purported immigrant “invasion” that obsesses many of the president’s most ardent advocates, and the alleged “white supremacism” that alarms the administration’s most caustic critics.
First, Donald Trump and his followers must abandon the offensive terms “invaders” and “invasion” in describing the beleaguered migrant families trying to establish new lives in the United States. The word suggests a hostile, organized, purposeful incursion with the goal of subjugation or destruction. No one can look at the hordes of desperate Central American asylum-seekers and see evidence of organization, or some master plan seize control of the United States. The newcomers, like prior generations of impoverished arrivals, seek solely to better their own circumstances, not to damage of benefit the United States.
This doesn’t mean that every participant in migrant caravans represents a paragon of nobility and virtue. Even impassioned activists for immigrant rights should recognize that among the more than ten million undocumented, unauthorized entrants to our country, several hundred thousand have committed serious crimes, including a handful of barbaric gang members who richly deserve quick deportation.
In other words, those who presently prattle about an “immigrant invasion” should concede that the overwhelming majority of the undocumented manage to work hard at their jobs, care for their families and stay out of trouble. Meanwhile, those of us who describe ourselves as “pro-immigration” must acknowledge that a small minority of these “illegals” do perpetrate horrific crimes and should become the principal target of aggressive enforcement.
On the other issue polarizing the public, the toxic charge of “racism” and “white supremacism” against the president and his fans, progressives need to make parallel distinctions.
President Trump won 62,984,828 votes in 2016, and Democrats know that his supporters don’t all count as bigots, cretins and deplorables. Most of them, of course, qualify as decent and dedicated to their country’s welfare; veterans and church-goers, good people and good neighbors. Of course, calling them all racists and neo-Nazis provokes their ire, just as it enrages liberals when some right-wing radio blowhard suggests that every one of them is an effete, America-hating, flag-burning, Christian-bashing elitist.
That doesn’t mean that each head crowned by a MAGA cap thinks clearly or shuns prejudice: yes, there are elements of the Alt Right that traffic in ancient hatreds, and some of them have clustered at the fringes of the Trump coalition. But that acknowledgment hardly amounts to an indictment of the president himself, or undermines his claims to real accomplishments in his first term.
This approach – recognizing that your own side of the political battle isn’t perfect or pure, at the same time that you grant that the other team isn’t purely evil—provides the only basis for the bipartisan progress the public longs to see. You can root for the Red Sox with all your heart, and pray that they beat the odds to win another World Series, without insisting that the Yankees represent the epitome of wickedness.
Regarding the issues at hand: the president and other Republicans should commit themselves to purging their ranks of nativists and crazies, while avoiding chants like “send her back” and shunning warnings of a non-existent invasions. At the same time, Democrats in Congress should commit themselves to a bi-partisan, laser-like focus on undocumented immigrants who deal drugs, perpetrate violence, or populate gangs, while giving the other millions a chance for Americanization and legal status.
This sort of balanced approach shouldn’t be impossible for either side. It requires only a willingness to open one’s eyes, and to appreciate a complicated world that isn’t laid out in stark contrasts of black and white, but offers an array of real color and even delicate shading.
(This piece appears in the online USA Today, August 13, 2019.)