Steve Gottlieb: Immigration And Mob Psychology
I don’t like pack journalism. Seems too unoriginal, and mostly found in wrong-wing politics. They have a huge, repeating megaphone. Determine what point to make and all their commentators are on it. Sometimes their media bosses command it. Sometimes they just like to chime in. Plus, it’s easier.
Turns out that’s an effective strategy. Tocqueville figured out nearly two centuries ago that American public opinion can function like mob psychology. Whatever seems like the majority or the trend must be right, so many follow. Plus, what Elisabeth Noelle Neumann called the spiral of silence. We get cowed by the amplification of one point of view until the rest of us shut down. Then it really seems like there is only one right way. So repeating arguments like a pack of wolves is effective.
And it’s been very effective in hounding the immigrant community. The number of refugees who have entered the U.S. has declined sharply. But instead of relaxing about immigration, American attitudes about letting them in have continued to polarize. More Americans believe that we have a responsibility to welcome refugees than those who don’t, but the number of nay-sayers has been increasing. As Republicans polarize, the numbers opposing immigration increases. It’s fundamental to their nativism, prejudice and white supremacy.
Now the Administration has nominated Ronald Mortensen to be Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration to widespread opposition. I’ve spoken frequently about the value of immigration for America, our leadership of the free world and our future economic and industrial strength. I think his is a horrible nomination. Like the appointment of Pruitt to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency and many other Trump appointees whose purpose is not to administer but to destroy their departments and make the underlying purpose of their agencies unenforceable, Mortensen’s opposition to all aspects of immigration will also make management of immigration impossible. In blog posts for the Center for Immigration Studies, “Mortensen linked illegal immigration to ID theft and higher crime rates; railed against Dreamers, who were brought to the country as children without documentation; [and] criticized efforts at reforming the nation’s immigration system.” All that will be left is a stop sign. No immigration allowed. Go home. This is a terrible nomination.
But what will the effect of opposing him be? By keeping the issue in the public eye, will it strengthen Republican opposition to immigration and increase support of Mortensen for that very purpose? Trump himself is the main opposition to immigration. If this strengthens Trump among Republicans, will fighting back on the immigration issue support Trump and his supporters in the 2018 and 2020 elections? Would silence about immigration help to defeat Trump and as a result do more for immigrants than fighting for immigrants?
Absolutely not. Democrats can’t tack toward the center and away from strong moral positions. The administration’s treatment of immigrants is outrageous. They can’t bring themselves to welcome even those who know and love this country and no other, the dreamers who were brought here as children and want only to live the American dream in the only country they’ve known. The administration has played politics with the parent-child bond, ripping children out of their parents’ arms, losing track of which children belonged to which parents, and announcing they couldn’t reunite many. Democrats cannot stand down on strong moral issues.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran. This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 31, 2018.
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