This letter to the editor was written by Andrea Richmond in response to the guest column “Why I support Donald Trump for president” by Alexandrea Martin.
I’d like to begin by saying that while I disagree strongly with the positions you professed, I respect the openness and boldness which you exhibited by choosing to speak your mind. Thank you for giving your perspective.
I too hope that compromise can still be salvaged from its current position in our politics as the new c-word. Reaching a compromise through respectful dialogue is, in most contexts, a laudable goal. It’s one that can be difficult to achieve, as the dramatic disputes and petty squabbles that pepper our history demonstrate, from the days of the all-too human founders whom you alluded to, to our own current “do-nothing Congress.” But it’s a goal worth pursuing. I still have faith in dialogue. But dialogue can only be beneficial when it is rooted in fact.
Politicians in general have a reputation for a loose relationship with the truth. If Mr. Trump’s greatest sin were vagueness, as his tax plan showcases (that’s ultimately Congress’ purview anyway), or the occasional foray into a bit of self-promoting braggadocio, he might be forgiven. True to his larger-than-life nature, however, the man has gone above and beyond in the fact-fudging department. Mr. Trump, to borrow a phrase from an eminent polemicist, exhibits a noble disdain of being fettered by the laws of truth. To his credit, he has managed to build a solid base out of wispy half-truths and claims conjured from the ether. I want to address here some of these ideas that Mr. Trump has consistently fallen back on, and which your column made reference to.
For all the noise that Mr. Trump has made about immigration, the flow of migrants, legal or illegal, into the United States has actually been decreasing over the past several years (see Pew Research Center’s extensive data on Hispanic immigration). In fact, many Mexicans are returning to their motherland. Some of this southward traffic has come as a result of deportations, yes, but the great majority are voluntarily going back to Mexico to reunite with the families they were forced to leave behind. One would never guess that this is the case listening to Mr. Trump.
What is true is that while Mexican migration to the United States has been diminishing, the number of immigrants from Central America has been growing, and a considerable number did not enter the country legally. But it’s worth noting that the term “immigrant” does not quite convey the circumstances that many of these people have fled from. Many are more akin to refugees, and the UN has been documenting their situation. Far from seeking to bring crime and violence into the United States, they come desperate to leave these things behind.
First generation immigrants are in fact less likely to commit violent crimes, as numerous studies have indicated (Pew, again, has a great deal of information on this topic). It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Mexico has “exploited” America as a depository for its undesirables, just as it’s inaccurate to say that the Mexican government encourages illegal immigration. Mexico actually imposes harsh penalties for aiding people in illegally crossing the border. The Mexican government’s supposed “how-to” guide on illegal immigration which you referenced can only be understood as such through partisan misrepresentation. As PolitiFact explains, this pamphlet is more of a humanitarian effort than anything else, an attempt to save lives by educating potential migrants about the dangers they face. Arguably, I suppose, it’s a mixed message. But it’s far from active encouragement.
I take you at your word when you say you don’t harbor ill will toward people of color. I wager a large number of Trump supporters would say the same. But the story that Mr. Trump is telling about America’s decline and what is required to “make America great again” is outlined by animosity and panders to the most base and ugly of our fears: the fear that somebody else who is Not Like Us is coming to take what we have, that somebody else’s success necessarily means our failure. According to Mr. Trump, everything from our sluggish economy to last year’s unrest here in Ferguson was the fault of illegal immigrants. This is not reasoned policy-making. This is scapegoating, and it’s literally as old as sin. Almost the first words out of Adam’s mouth after the forbidden fruit went in? “It was my wife’s fault!”
The blame for America’s “fall” can’t neatly be attributed to others, whether we’re talking about Mexico or China. I’ll grant that our country’s global prestige has receded, but we’ve done a pretty fine job of getting here on our own, I think. We’ve attempted to stick our fingers in a lot of pies over the course of our history. That was a messy and intrusive business, as the metaphor suggests, and I wonder just when this last glorious period of American greatness that we’re supposed to return to is. I’m not entirely sure I’d like it.
Frustration with the lack of mutuality in our trade relationship with China is reasonable, but Mr. Trump’s negotiation strategy as communicated on his website, which includes “show[ing] our strength” through “a strong military presence,” trumpets an uncompromising hawkishness that discards mutuality in favor of dominance. Force shouldn’t be a panacea, and it certainly doesn’t help our image in the rest of the world’s eyes. For better or worse, we are only one part of a highly interconnected global system. At any rate, I’d be able to take Mr. Trump’s plan to “beat” China more seriously if he outsourced less of his own business there.
The sort of vision Trump has in mind for America might seem appealing on the surface, but it is rooted in slander and a slanted view of history. You don’t need to be a racist to support him, but his resonance with that crowd ought to prompt some hard thinking.