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Columns
Gerson: Even on his finest behavior, Trump can’t be gracious to immigrants

WASHINGTON

In general, a State of the Union address is massive in the moment and quickly forgotten. And Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was even more unmemorable than usual.

That, presumably, was the point. The speech aspired to political normalcy, and largely achieved it. The lavish use of everyday heroes was welcome relief from Trump’s relentless narcissism. The partisan jabs were generally within acceptable State of the Union boundaries. The proposals on vocational schools and prisoner re-entry gave evidence of a working White House policy process. The platitudes of unity were familiar and reassuring.

For Trump, rhetorical expectations are always a hurdle just millimeters above the ground. Did he call for restrictions on press freedom? Did he try to obstruct justice? Did he attack an opponent’s wife? With Trump, being anodyne is an achievement. On State of the Union night, official Washington was like a sailor returning home from the Southern Hemisphere—grateful to be navigating by familiar stars.

But the speech was instructive in another way: by the obvious exception to its general tone. Even on his finest behavior—even wearing his Sunday best—Trump could not be gracious to immigrants. Their role in the address was largely to create an atmosphere of menace—variously killing children or running a truck into a bike path. “Americans are dreamers, too,” said the president, as though young people facing deportation were living lives of privilege at the expense of American citizens.

Elements of Trump’s immigration approach are better than his rhetoric. A path to citizenship for migrants brought to America as minors is a genuine concession on the part of the president. A pivot toward skills-based immigration has broad support, and not only on the Trump right. Few have ideological objections to additional border security (though Americans generally don’t support a wall).

It is the sum total of Trump’s plan, however, that reveals his deeper intention: a dramatic cut in legal immigration. According to a Cato Institute report, the president’s approach would reduce the number of legal immigrants by up to 44 percent each year. It would likely bar 22 million immigrants over the next five decades. These would be the largest cuts in legal immigration since the 1920s.

Trump’s arguments on immigration are uniformly exaggerated or wrong. There is little evidence that migrants take jobs from working-class Americans. They generally have skills and attitudes toward work that put them in competition with other migrants. There is no evidence that immigrants have higher rates of crime. The opposite is true. And most terrorism experts see little urgent threat from refugees (who are highly vetted), or from family unification.

But Trump is not really making a case that can be refuted with rational arguments. He exemplifies what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls the moral foundation of “purity.” Trump’s approach to immigration assumes that migrants are contaminates. Haitians “all have AIDS,” Trump is reported to have said. Developing nations are “s—-hole countries.” “They’re bringing drugs,” he argued, “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” His language about the border is borderline eugenic. The wall would prevent not just migration but infection.

As the State of the Union demonstrated, this attitude is not a removable part of Trump’s appeal. It is a Jenga piece at the bottom of his ideological tower. Without promoting fear of “the other” there would be no Trumpism.

The desire to cut legal immigration is at odds with America’s long-term interests. An aging population taking more and more entitlement benefits will require more workers to sustain those commitments (or confiscatory tax rates that undermine economic growth).

Trump is opposed to entitlement reform and proposes to exclude tens of millions of legal immigrants—a dreadful combination. This demonstrates a reckless ignorance of economics and demography. It would condemn America to declining wealth and power.

America actually needs a generous supply of skilled immigrants over the next few decades. But “skilled” does not just mean engineers. Our economy requires skills in construction, the service industry and the agricultural sector as well—capabilities across a spectrum of work.

Economic arguments, however, only go so far. The best response to dehumanization is humanization. Someone needs to highlight the resilient Syrian refugees fleeing oppression and violence; migrants seeking a better life for their families beyond the Rio Grande; Haitians working long hours to send remittances back home.

Their stories also deserve telling in the State of the Union address. But that will require a different president.


Other_views
Guest Views: Racist internet trolls aren’t a reason to cut back on free speech protections

The founder of a neo-Nazi website who encouraged his followers to “troll storm” a Montana woman—who was then subjected to hundreds of abusive and anti-Semitic messages, including death threats—has asked a federal court to dismiss a civil lawsuit against him because his actions were protected by the First Amendment.

It’s the latest, but certainly not the last, case to question whether the the balance the courts have struck between free speech and the protection of privacy and personal safety applies to the internet.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer, is a bully and a bigot. And it’s impossible not to sympathize with Tanya Gersh, the real estate agent targeted by Anglin and his followers after she was involved in a dispute with the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer. According to the lawsuit filed on Gersh’s behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center, she was inundated with hateful emails. One repeated “Death to Tanya” more than 30 times, while another suggested that Gersh’s 12-year-old son should crawl into an oven.

Gersh’s lawsuit also claims Anglin provided his followers with phone numbers, email addresses and links to social media profiles for Gersh, members of her family, friends and colleagues. Her suit alleges invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of Montana’s anti-intimidation act.

Anglin has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. “The only thing he did was call for people to speak,” one of Anglin’s lawyers told CNN, “but people want to draw the line for speech they don’t like.” As for invasion of privacy, Anglin’s lawyers say that “the entire information defendant allegedly published about Ms. Gersh was publicly available.”

In the past, courts have rightly held that the First Amendment protects what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called “the thought that we hate,” including racist and insulting speech, so long as the speech at issue also makes a comment about “matters of public concern.” Seven years ago, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that speech cannot be restricted “simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”

These decisions don’t mean that victims of online threats and harassment have no legal recourse. Federal and state laws against making threats apply whether the medium of those threats is a phone call, a letter, an email or a Facebook post. Someone whose reputation has been falsely besmirched online can also take advantage of defamation laws or sue for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

The problem, some say, is that these laws—and the way the courts interpret them in light of the First Amendment—don’t provide enough protection for people who find themselves harassed or “trolled” on the internet, an environment in which a person with a large following can share a single cruel or demeaning comment with thousands of people instantaneously, potentially inspiring a virtual mob to flood someone with hostile tweets or Facebook posts.

Some would argue that new laws should be passed to allow victims of internet trolling to seek recourse even if they aren’t the targets of clear threats or the victims of libelous statements. But this assumes that the internet poses a unique threat to privacy and personal dignity, one that justifies scaling back protections for free speech. It does not.

The tests for speech should be the same regardless of where and how it’s conveyed. Otherwise, each step forward in technology could ratchet back the freedom to speak in this country, chilling disruptive speakers and technological innovators alike. That doesn’t mean that those who claim they have been the victim of illegal or defamatory acts committed online shouldn’t have their day in court. But there can only be one First Amendment.

—Los Angeles Times


Letters
Letters to the editor for Saturday, Feb. 3

Taking away local control hurts constituents

This letter is in response to the Sunday story, “What about local control?” (Page 1A), concerning the wheel tax proposed by state Sen. Steve Nass.

If Nass really believes the taxpayer should have a voice concerning taxes or fees, why were the taxpayers left out of the decisions for the Milwaukee Bucks and Foxconn?

It is our opinion the Legislature passes laws that respond to issues of their contributors. The Legislature passing laws restricting actions of local government, such as a wheel tax, is not giving local control. The Legislature needs to allow local governments to govern themselves. Local elected officials are “kept under control” by listening to their constituents.

When our legislative members have the attitude they can do anything they wish and prohibit local government from fulfilling its needs, it may be time to replace them with someone that is interested in the taxpayers’ needs. After all, who pays the bills, special interests or the voting public?

JERRY and SHIRLEY GRANT

Whitewater

Club had good reason for marketing Super Bowl tickets

We are incredibly grateful for the donation of that fabulous Super Bowl package and excited to announce that the tickets were sold today for a total of $15,000. (Our original ask was too high, but $15,000 will do an INCREDIBLE amount of good work for Janesville youth.)

We made the decision to pay to “boost” the Facebook post in other cities, which had two results: It netted us our highest bid, from Massachusetts, and it resulted in some crass comments that demonstrated a lack of understanding that this was from the beginning a fundraiser for our Boys & Girls Club.

We chose to put these tickets to use to benefit the largest number of Janesville kiddos, and if that made us seem “greedy,” we know that those in our community who follow the club know that we are just the opposite. If you, as a community member, have any questions at all about this wonderful donation, please reach out to us. We would MUCH rather have a conversation than a negative comment.

Thanks once again to our spectacular ticket donor who is always pushing us to do more, dream larger and serve more of the kids who need us most. And thank you, Janesville, for supporting the club and our kids in so many ways.

SARA STINSKI

Executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville

Democratic obstructionists deserve to be replaced

Congratulations to Donald Trump for all of his successes in making America great again!

How about the “Do Nothing Democrats”? They have accomplished nothing for all of 2017. They call themselves “obstructionists.” Democrats control the Senate because Republicans do not have enough votes to pass Trump’s legislation into law. So everything Trump wants to do for us is being shut down by the Democrats.

In November, the American people must change this situation by changing Democratic-held seats to Republican. Otherwise the Democrats will continue to do nothing and obstruct progress. There will be no wall, no immigration plan, no infrastructure improvements and no good health care. America needs to wake up and understand that the Congressional Democrats do nothing for anyone.

How about the State of the Union? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sat the entire time. She looked and acted bizarre, making contortions with her face and mouth. Almost every Democrat sat the entire time, and they found nothing to clap about. The Congressional Black Caucus sat in silence when Trump indicated that African American and Hispanic unemployment rates are at their lowest point in American history. Are you kidding me? These people act like pouting children on the playground.

They all sat for topics regarding our flag, our anthem, middle-class tax cuts, bonuses, our veterans, ISIS’s destruction and, yes, they even sat for God. These Democrats get six-figure salaries, accomplish nothing and are not suited to hold any government position. They are disgraceful, disgusting and part of the swamp.

RICK KAUTZ

Janesville