Staff Columnist

This is bigger than Trump's small vulgarity

President Donald Trump (right), listens while Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, speaks during a meeting with bipartisan members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 9, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.
President Donald Trump (right), listens while Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, speaks during a meeting with bipartisan members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 9, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

Persuasion is dead, or in a coma. Our current immigration “debate” is the latest boulder in a landslide of evidence.

There are persuasive arguments that the Trump administration’s wrongheaded push for some sort of race-based immigration preference system betrays American values and ideals. Most Americans, according to polls, believe young dreamers should be given a chance to carve out their futures in the United States. On policy, there’s a broad swath of folks already convinced or who can be convinced Trump and his disciples are flat wrong on immigration.

Instead, we’re arguing over whether President Donald Trump is a racist. Again, it’s all about him.

Trump actually did us a favor by reportedly referring to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” It shined a bright, if vulgar, spotlight on the spiteful, intolerant foundations of his team’s immigration aims. Add it to his travel bans, refugee policies, condemnations of Mexicans and various groups, defense of white nationalists, etc., and you get a pretty clear, unmistakable picture.

But the big picture seems to be getting second-billing to the small expletive. Making this all about Trump’s personal racism plays into the hands of a president who loves to frame every conflict as me vs. them. His supporters, far from being persuaded to abandon the president, are rallying to his defense. Besides, liberals and the media probably are making it all up.

The policy is far less defensible. And it’s not fake news.

Trump’s team envisions an America that turns away immigrants because of where they’re from and how they worship. And when the president says he wants more Norwegians and fewer Haitians, the deplorable racial dimensions are inescapable. It’s called “merit-based,” but has nothing to do with merit.

I’m not saying there should be no limits on immigration. Not everyone can come, and some, including criminals, should be barred. But do Americans really think it’s fair to make race, ethnicity and religion barriers? When did we allow our fears to overwhelm our brightest ideals?

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More importantly, is this what Republicans who continue to support Trump think? If not, they should be speaking out and pressuring Trump to stop listening to angry hard-liners and get serious about measures that reflect our values. Think Martin Luther King, not Steve King.

Presidents’ words matter, to be sure. But their deeds matter more. Lyndon Johnson’s utterances on myriad issues, including race, would take the paint off a wall. But he pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Expletives faded, but the deeds spoke loudly.

Instead, Trump is following a different historic model. In 2016, I wrote about an 1885 article in The Evening Gazette headlined “Italians Not Wanted.” It urged coal mine owners to avoid hiring Italians.

“They will not educate,” the piece argued. “They have poor conception of our standard of morality. They are not self-governing. Whenever they are to be found in considerable numbers, that locality bears every evidence of blight.”

Will we ever learn? I could argue we will, but I doubt I’d be very persuasive.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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