Almost two decades ago, the late essayist and controversialist Christopher Hitchens wrote a scathing book about Bill Clinton entitled “No One Left to Lie To.” The title is, ironically, an apt description of today’s GOP, which, having already caved on its years-long promise to repeal Obamacare, now seems eager to abandon its other core pledge to its voters. After putting in action a plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Trump announced his support for legalizing the “Dreamers” via legislation instead, asking for nothing but vaguely defined “border security” in return.
In some respects, President Trump’s announcement is a head fake — President Trump can’t sponsor any legislation. The real action is likely to be on the establishment-backed Lankford-Tillis amnesty bill that will soon be introduced in the Senate. Perhaps, having seen the fierce blowback from his allies, President Trump will make a mid-stream course correction. It would hardly be unprecedented for him, and he has always been attuned to his base.
The short-term politics of a DACA amnesty would likely be devastating for Trump — for his most committed voters and supporters, immigration was his key issue of differentiation. For these voters, DACA amnesty is a knife in the heart. It’s no coincidence that some of the president’s staunchest defenders (Sean Hannity, Breitbart, Ann Coulter) are attacking the possibility of a DACA amnesty, and at times even Trump himself, in an unprecedented fashion. Helping to pass a DACA amnesty would likely be a strategic blunder of historic proportions for the president and his team.
But despite that, honesty compels an acknowledgment that our crystal ball is cloudy. Many Trump supporters are driven more by his overall personality than by his specific policies. It’s also possible that, in a new incarnation as #AmnestyDon, he’ll pull in some independents who want to “get something done,” as well as low-information GOP voters who don’t understand the Schumer–Pelosi–GOP establishment con job being sold to them as “enforcement.” Trump may not get tired of winning, even if many of his 2016 voters get tired of him.
But while the politics and substance of DACA itself are attracting the most attention, the broader questions it raises are more fundamental and more interesting. They’re questions conservatives have been asking implicitly since the 2010 tea-party revolution, and they pertain to whether we are living in a post-democratic age.
To use a favorite term of the Left, should we “normalize” a situation in which Republicans win victory after victory at the polls while accomplishing essentially none of the policy priorities of those who vote for them? This is not how politics is supposed to work — and certainly not how it works for the Democrats. Combine these failures with absurd and lawless judicial rulings, and Americans’ ability to set their own immigration policy is under threat.
It is under threat in part because the GOP establishment doesn’t really want to end Obama’s blatantly illegal DACA amnesty — and it never did. That’s why they were never willing to advance a serious argument to stop it, despite such arguments’ being provided for them, eloquently and persuasively, in conservative outlets ranging from NRO to Breitbart. In that narrow sense, the Trump die-hards attempting to shift the blame for a possible amnesty from Trump to the party as a whole are on to something. If party elites actually cared about eliminating DACA, we wouldn’t be in this position today.
Critics will point to DACA’s alleged popularity as driving the policy decision, but this mistakes effect for cause — any proposal is going to be popular if lies in its favor are left unchallenged. While the conservative media has often done a good job of bringing the Left’s numerous DACA myths to light, the Republican party’s leaders have rarely offered much assistance. Genuinely conservative voters who understand in detail what a DACA amnesty will actually do, rather than what liberals and the GOP establishment say it will do, are vociferously opposed to any mass amnesty — much less the DREAM Act monstrosity being pushed by Schumer and Pelosi, which would legalize millions of illegal aliens.
America’s politics increasingly resemble those of Augustus’s Roman Empire. The outer forms of democracy, such as the senate, still stand, but they merely add a patina of legitimacy to effectively dictatorial rule. Our emperors today are a group of bipartisan pro-amnesty elites, supported by a lawless judiciary and corrupt bureaucracy and cheered on by a leftist media at every turn.
This brings us to a moment of unrecognized danger. If the GOP accepts Obama’s DACA amnesty, the party’s elite may think they are stepping over a small and inconvenient stream blocking their progress — but in fact they will be crossing the Rubicon without the support of many of their voters. Republican voters have shouted a clear mandate at the deaf ears of GOP politicians. And this reality is increasingly becoming apparent to a broader section of the electorate.
We have recently seen a growth in radical groups whose members feel they have no stake in the current system. As alt-right leader Richard Spencer retweeted shortly after the DACA announcement, “Upside of MAGA ideology imploding early in Trump’s presidency is that it speeds up the process of supporters seeking more radical solutions.” Those solutions are unlikely to involve peaceful and democratic change.
A DACA amnesty implicates fundamental democratic questions. Why should millions of Republicans owe any loyalty to a party that has broken one promise after another, or to a system that actively works against them? Why does the GOP expect its increasingly disenfranchised voter base to continue to participate in a quasi-democratic charade? Why should we expect large numbers of frustrated and angry voters not take to the streets, given they are being told in no uncertain terms that their votes and their opinions are irrelevant to the leaders of the party allegedly representing them?
The GOP has had massive failures before, but the twin failings of DACA and Obamacare repeal feel somehow different.
The GOP has had massive failures before, but the twin failings of DACA and Obamacare repeal feel somehow different. They feel more like standard features of our current political system than bugs in it.
The 19th-century Russian revolutionary socialist Nikolay Chernyshevsky, a major influence on Lenin and his comrades, was reputed to have coined the phrase “The worse, the better”: The worse that social conditions became for the poor, the better the chances were that they would launch a revolution. Therefore, increasing Czarist repression was actually welcomed by Chernyshevsky and his followers.
Conditions are without question getting worse for the most energized base of voters that elected Donald Trump. These are some of the voters suffering the most from uncontrolled illegal immigration.
In their refusal to stand by their past promises on DACA, the GOP is making a risky bet that history will not repeat itself.