There was a short-lived frenzy on Tuesday as Trump comments to news anchors indicated that he might be open to an amnesty for some unauthorized immigrants. Liberal journalists and anti-Trump Republican consultants were going crazy with the thought that Trump might agree to the compromise that sunk Marco Rubio. It was disgusting to watch them whine and moan about how compromise had been rejected but now Trump was coming around. The truth is that Rubio’s Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform was no compromise, and many of the elites in both parties are so caught up in culture of lies that they spun themselves right into Trump’s presidency.
The thing is, I’m a total immigration moderate. I want amnesty (without euphemism) and a path to citizenship for most of our current population of unauthorized immigrants. I just want this amnesty to be conditional on prior implementation of universal employment verification, a visa entry-exit tracking system, and a shift of future immigration streams in the direction of skills and English proficiency.
I assume that the journalists and political consultants who support Gang of Eight–style immigration are neither ignorant nor stupid. When they reference Rubio’s reforms as simple common sense, they are choosing to lie by omission.
When I listen to the immigration debate, I am struck by the constant lying, extremism, and gaslighting by the supporters of Washington-style comprehensive immigration reform. They keep bringing forward their wish list and keep smugly pretending that their wish list is a compromise. The allegedly commonsense nature of Washington-style immigration reform is the bipartisan elite version of “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.”
There is nothing wrong with having a wish list. There is a lot wrong about lying to the public about the content of your proposals. There is a lot wrong in pretending that people who believe in conditional legalization (a category that seems to include many Trump voters) don’t exist. There is lot wrong in pretending that the vast majority of Americans who oppose increased immigration are just a speed bump for our betters.
The lying comes at a price. Our bipartisan elites have been lying to each other and everyone else for so long that they talked themselves into believing that their ideas are overwhelmingly popular. They can’t see gradations of public opinion, and they can’t see that the preferences of the lobbyists, journalists, and consultants sometimes diverge from those of the general public.
What is worse is that the lies open the door for more lies. Most people don’t read Congressional Budget Office reports about the impact of immigration proposals, but they eventually figure out that they are being deceived. Trump tells flagrant and (as in the case of the health of his steak business) sometimes absurd lies but can come off as more genuine than most politicians. Trump is a crude liar, but that can be easier to take than an insistent, smarmy liar.
Most Trump supporters can recognize that his initial promises of mass deportation were an opening bid that would eventually get bargained down to something more humane. They can also recognize that many of the self-proclaimed apostles of compromise are among the most extreme and relentlessly dishonest people in politics.