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Gerson: Trump's demonization of immigrants marks the GOP as a source of intolerance


This is the strangest of political moments, in which a historically weak president believes he is acting from a position of strength.

After a year in office, Donald Trump has an approval rating below 40 percent—the lowest for any president in modern times. In the special state legislative elections held so far this year, Democrats have outperformed Hillary Clinton’s presidential results by an average of 23 points—presaging a disastrous Republican midterm election.

And yet, Trump and his supporters feel they are riding a wave of momentum. The president has claimed victory in his shutdown showdown with Democrats. In the conservative media bubble, he is declared a leader of rare courage and achievement—a judgment with which the president is inclined to agree.

And a confident Trump seems to be toughening up his demands in the brewing legislative fight over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—the program allowing some young people who entered the country illegally as minors (the “Dreamers”) to legally stay.

We don’t know what a final deal on DACA might look like—though it would certainly involve some legal status for the Dreamers in exchange of some version of the southern border wall. Trump is holding a popular group (more than 70 percent of Americans support allowing the Dreamers to stay) as legislative hostages in order to put a highly unpopular policy (less than 40 percent of Americans support building the wall) into place. Normally this would be a poor negotiating position. But Republican control of the House and Senate matters.

No deal on DACA will pass the House without Trump’s blessing. His apparently random interventions in policy debates—based on something he just saw on morning television, or heard from the last person in the room—should make for an interesting legislative process.

But Trump supporters are also showing their hand on the broader immigration debate. The Securing America’s Future Act in the House and RAISE Act in the Senate—both proposed by immigration hard-liners and endorsed by Trump—reveal the ultimate goal of restrictionists: dramatic reductions in legal immigration. The House bill would reduce the number of legal immigrants by 38 percent in 2019, the Senate bill by 43 percent. These would be the most severe reductions in legal immigration since the 1920s.

The theory? America needs more skilled immigrants (in Trump’s view, from places like Norway) and fewer immigrants overall. The bills would eliminate the diversity green card lottery, dramatically restrict family sponsorship and put in place a point system that gives an advantage to more accomplished and educated applicants.

The public case for this type of immigration overhaul concerns economics. It would, supporters argue, protect American workers from job competition and increase wages for the working class.

This is bad economics in every respect. It is wrong that new immigrants are generally in job competition with the native-born; they are often in competition with more recent immigrants, who hold the kind of jobs that better fit their skills and background.

There is little good evidence that acts of massive restriction in the past—the deportation of some 500,000 Mexicans during the early years of the Great Depression or the end of the bracero program in the 1960s—resulted in better job prospects or higher wages for native-born workers.

This is counterintuitive, but completely rational. Immigrants are not just workers, they are consumers at stores and restaurants. A grape or almond picker helps create value and job opportunities up the whole chain of processing and distribution to the grocery store—and helps keep the price of food low for other consumers.

Large numbers of migrants can put strains on public services. But it is both terrible economics and terrible morality to regard human beings as leeches and economic drains. In a capitalist system, humans are ultimately the source of all creativity, productivity and wealth (h/t Jack Kemp).

And because of slowing birth rates and lower work participation rates, America is depending on immigrants at every skill level—from agricultural workers, to nurses, to engineers—to create economic growth, pay for and care for retiring baby boomers and maintain our global standing.

By every economic measure, America needs more immigrants. But passions on this issue have less to do with economic theory than with fear of cultural change—the reason that Trump demonizes migrants as rapists, murderers and terrorists. In this way, a president—sure of his instincts and flattered by his courtiers—marks his party as a source of intolerance.

Your Views: Disgusted with The Gazette's vicious criticism of Sheriff Spoden

The day your editor had another meltdown in his latest anti-Sheriff Robert Spoden rant, people in a local diner took notice. What started as a discussion amongst a table of regulars soon spread to other tables. However, before you start congratulating yourselves for a character assassination well played, it should be noted that the discussions generally ran along the lines of disgust and perplexity at The Gazette’s relentless treatment of Spoden. For months I’ve heard people in this community express their support for the sheriff as well as their condemnation of this paper for its shoddy treatment of him.

How unfortunate that a fading newspaper’s Hail Mary pass to (seemingly) sell more papers has been done at the expense of a man’s honorable 30-year career of service. The name calling of Spoden and County Board President Russ Podzilni was cheap and petulant. The lack of respect for the findings (no wrongdoing) and decisions (no censure) by both the state of Wisconsin and the county board has one asking just how personal this vendetta has become. To accuse the board of malfeasance because they didn’t vote as you’d hoped is irresponsible journalism. Ironically, in attempting to denigrate the reputation of Spoden all you’ve done is ruin your own.

If you want to editorialize power abuse and the audacity of those “who believe the rules shouldn’t apply to them,” then look no further than Rep. Paul Ryan, but leave Sheriff Spoden alone. Enough is enough.



Web Views for Friday, Jan. 26

From online story comments and Facebook

On Rock County Board rejecting censure of Sheriff Robert Spoden: The silence by the county board is disappointing and disgusting. Something is terribly wrong when a governing body condones poor judgement, bad behavior and conduct unbecoming a law enforcement official. Censure is warranted, at the very least, for this sheriff.

—Wilson Y. Leong

  • Spoden was elected to represent ALL Rock County citizens, not just his family and friends. And certainly not just the prominent Rock County families.

—Susie Thorp

On Janesville proposed reclamation fee: $55 to get my mutt back? You can keep him.

—Traveler Dan

  • Sad, the life of a friend that gives you unconditional love and affection is worth less than $55 to you. Sounds like they are better off at the shelter.

—DeWayne Manon

On Tour of America’s Dairyland coming to Janesville: We’re trying to stop all these bike rides. They don’t create more business and cause a lot of lost business and traffic problems. And it’s becoming more and more dangerous driving on our city streets with all the bike riders. Start charging a $100 fee to do these rides please.

—Dennis T Menance

On Jan. 18 vehicle explosion: Heard it northeast of Edgerton. Dog went nuts.

—Chuck Slayton

  • Considering I just got back from Hawaii, I thought maybe I was losing my mind from my new found paranoia of bombs.

—Lauren Park

  • It’s great that no person or property was damaged but why does that mean no charges will be filed? Something or someone could have been hurt. If houses shook and it scared people, this should be investigated further. When people do this stuff, if they get away with it, they and others are more likely to do it again.

—Kathie Buttera Duschene

On long waiting list for Janesville rental assistance: The quality of affordable rental properties around here isn’t great. There are a lot of slumlords in this town. They aren’t doing upkeep either.

—Michael J Nehls

On former GM plant selling for $9.6 million: There’s twice that in scrap metal alone on that property.

—Sean Simonson