What a president says, matters. His language is important. He’s not just another guy at the bar. His words have repercussions, at home and abroad.
His words affect foreign policy, as realists understand. They affect our relations with other countries and they affect our image in the world at large. This has a lot to do with our leeway, our leverage, our ability to shape events.
When you’re the top dog, as America is, you don’t have to put other countries down. You don’t have to refer to them as sh**holes. They know they’re sh**holes. You can afford a little graciousness, even a touch of nobility. Think of the conservatism of Burke or Buckley. There is a long tradition of this.
Kindness, courtesy, honesty, integrity — these are not the qualities of weaklings. These do not indicate an absence of strength. Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan — to name three presidents — were strong. They were also humane.
Over the generations, many “losers” from sh**hole countries have come to America to start a new life. Those who are sittin’ pretty in the Old Country tend not to come. Why should they? My ancestors weren’t doctors, lawyers, and nuclear engineers. How about yours?
Think of Italy and Ireland. Today, they are fairly happy and prosperous countries. Once upon a time, they were not. You could even have described them as sh**holes. That’s why a lot of people emigrated from those countries, coming to America. They were not necessarily sh**ty people. Far from it.
“But it was different then!” you might say. “It’s different now!” You may be right. But bear in mind that Americans in every generation have said those same words: “It was different then! It’s different now!” Remember how they complained about the Italians and the Irish: wrong religion, too many children, too alien — all of it.
The Left is loath to acknowledge any problems with immigration. They are apt to denounce our concerns and prescriptions as racist, xenophobic, etc. The Right, I’m afraid, is often loath to acknowledge any blessings of immigration. It would behoove us to offer a good word about immigration from time to time. You can be for e-verify — even the Wall — and still appreciate the place of immigration in the American story and the American Dream.
Last year, Anthony Daniels, a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple, had this to say about Trump: “By his crudity, he will end up strengthening the forces of political correctness.” Will Trump end up hurting the cause of restriction in immigration? I don’t know — but it’s something to think about.
In the ’80s, I heard Alan Simpson say something in a Senate hearing on immigration. It was charming. “No fair quotin’ the Statue of Liberty,” he said. Well, if it’s no fair quotin’ the Statue of Liberty, it’s doubly unfair to quote Reagan at the Statue of Liberty, as he was in 1986, celebrating the Lady’s centennial. He spoke of people “who had a special love for freedom and a special courage that enabled them to leave their own land, leave their friends and their countrymen, and come to this new and strange land to build a New World of peace and freedom and hope.”
Reagan was a conservative too. His strain was not the strain that is dominant or popular today, but it still exists, within the broader orbit of conservatism.
We are in a huge mess, where immigration is concerned. We must curb illegal immigration. We must do something about the ruinous combination of mass immigration and social-welfare programs. We must honor the rule of law (which has been left in tatters). We must be mindful of jobs and wages. We have to work out some sensible policy.
I know that “merit” is all the rage now — merit as in graduate degrees and other credentials. Maybe that ought to be the standard. But I can’t help thinking that, sometimes, your merit is that you cross an ocean, embrace America, and work your tail off.
Above all, we should try to solve this problem amicably, remembering that the issue is tangled and that lives of various kinds are involved.
(End of sermon. Don’t forget to stuff your largest bills in the velvet pouch as it passes.)