Trump blew a chance to follow in Reagan’s footsteps
Our families shared many ideas consistent with Republicanism, but we didn’t know actual Republicans. My parents weren’t fans of the party, based mostly on misperceptions. But who could blame them? It’s not like the GOP was a dominant presence in our Democrat-friendly area. None of this was about ideology as much as a deep sense of which party “cared” about them.
After going to college, I discovered Milton Friedman and other free-market thinkers. I was highly influenced by U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who spoke about freedom and opportunity in a compelling way. Then Ronald Reagan’s campaign literally changed the mind of this 20-something college kid.
Dad never changed his progressive thinking, but so what? He was a proud American and his kids turned out to be a Trump supporter, a liberal Democrat and this libertarian. Welcome to America. Sorry to go on about family background, but this backdrop explains why I’m so deeply perturbed by the president’s recent tweets telling members of the Democratic “Squad” to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
For starters, three of the four minority members of Congress were born and raised in the United States. The fourth is a naturalized citizen. They have every right to be here, to win a seat to Congress and to spout their ridiculous collectivist ideas. If we told every American to “go back” to their ancestors’ countries every time they espoused an idiotic idea, this would be a sparsely populated country. Since when do immigrants have a responsibility to remake their home countries? Does Melania Trump have an obligation to remake Slovenia?
My Republican friends are almost all instinctively defending the president. That’s the new tribal political situation. We can never criticize our own and neither can they. So there’s no common ground, no accountability. It’s just an endless political grudge match, and those of us who aren’t members of either tribe can only shake our heads in despair.
This is part of a campaign strategy to rile up the GOP base, which makes it worse in my mind. Clearly, Trump is willing to put his short-term political goals above any sense of national cohesion or comity. If this is not un-American, it certainly stands at odds with the nation’s highest principles. It’s too bad — but not unexpected — that the Squad took the low road, also.
In a tweet, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. … We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.” Sorry, but there is no one pre-approved way for Americans of any group to speak. We can say and do as we please. That’s similar to Trump’s idea that immigrants must subscribe to a higher level of citizenship than others. Both ideas are collectivist.
National Review’s David French had this to say about that implication: “What must natural-born citizens do to earn their citizenship? Survive labor and delivery. That’s it. If anything, natural-born citizens should exercise the most gratitude. What did we do to earn our liberty?”
Optics are important. The country is pretty evenly divided. Trump’s election hinged on a tiny percentage of votes in three traditionally Democratic states. Democrats won the popular vote in the last six of seven presidential elections. Trump seems likely to win re-election, but at some point the GOP is going to need to grow its brand — and not just energize older voters from economically depressed states.
Yes, it’s perfectly legitimate for a president and his party to take on existing U.S. immigration policy. Many immigrants no doubt agree with the GOP’s efforts to tighten up southern border security. But how you do it — in terms of rhetoric and policy — matters. The impressions that approach leaves could affect a party’s long-term future.
“We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world,” said President Reagan in a 1989 speech. “And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams.”
Words like that made it easy for this son of an immigrant to embrace the Republicans. “Go back home” does the exact opposite. If the current GOP can’t understand the distinction, then I suppose Republicans will eventually become as endangered in other parts of the country as they have become in California and were in my family circle.