Well, this presidential election cycle has taken a turn for the surreal, hasn’t it? Three of the candidates drawing the largest crowds — Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — are characters you’d expect to see written into the pages of satire. Unfortunately, this is an actual run for chief executive of what’s still the most important nation on earth, not a Christopher Buckley novel.
Let’s begin with the pseudo-conservative Trump and his preparation to convert the presidency into a reality TV show. The man has no serious policy proposals. But he’s popular at the moment — in the way Ron Paul, Ross Perot and George McGovern were in their times — because he effectively uses pop-culture idolatry, iconoclasm and marketing to tap into a baser populist impulse.
For Trump, the populist catalyst he has found is immigration. His two-pronged solution — a mass roundup and deportation of illegal aliens and magical repeal of the 14th Amendment — is simplistic, brutal and ridiculous. Parts of it are probably illegal.
George Will is right: the Donald’s Great Alien Roundup is not a conservative proposal, but a radically statist one requiring an expansion of government on the order of the New Deal. A program of this scale would by definition require a police state to even begin to approach success. It’s an idea more worthy of a Hugo Chavez than a Ronald Reagan.
As for the idea to rescind birthright citizenship, Trump and his Trumpeters run into the wall of conservative juridical philosophy. The conservative constitutional position is constructionist in nature — the firmly held view the Constitution means what it says, reflective of the intent of its authors, not a malleable “living” being subject to whatever interpretation happens to be politically convenient at the moment (unlike, say, Donald Trump’s political convictions.)
The 14th Amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Trump’s flexible interpretation of this (a sloppy resurrection of an old tension between natural law doctrine and inherited common law) is worthy of the elasticity of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He tries to reason illegal aliens aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. and therefore the amendment doesn’t apply to their offspring. But it is a self-defeating argument: If illegal aliens aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the United States or the state in which they reside, then how can they be “illegal?” Who’s law are they breaking, and why would we think we could do anything about it? If Trump’s position were the case, no erstwhile illegal alien would ever have to worry about a driver’s license or traffic stop, much less deportation. They could simply point out they’re not subject to local jurisdiction and tell the nice officer to be on his way.
Part of the tragedy of Trump’s nonsense is the hijacking of a serious discussion on a serious issue. Illegal immigration is a real and immediate problem, one of the most critical facing this nation. Border security needs to be immediately and aggressively addressed, followed by well-thought-out reforms, along the same lines as tax reform, which simplify and modernize a hopelessly complicated, bureaucratic and labyrinthine system while providing order and enforceability where something close to chaos now reigns. Reductionism of the sort Trump is encouraging adds little to the conversation beyond poisoned rhetoric that will merely frustrate actual progress on fixing the problem.
Fortunately for the GOP, the port side of the political spectrum hosts its own madcap candidates.
Bernie Sanders attracts the same radical insanity on the left as Trump does on the (ostensible) right. An unapologetic socialist, The Bernie’s policy positions are just as vacuous, sophistic and discredited as The Donald’s, if not even more so. He epitomizes the class warrior for his followers — “comrades,” if you will — down to evidently eschewing combs as being too bourgeois. He even shares some of the nativist inclinations of Trump, preaching a form of socialist insularity that scorns trade with foreigners as a great economic evil. One major difference, of course, is Sanders actually believes in his positions and has for a long time — which isn’t exactly something to recommend him.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidate-presumptive Hillary Clinton has succeeded, if in nothing else, in reducing her campaign to cartoon-level status thanks to her attempts to out-Watergate Nixon using 21st century technology and her comically absurd protestations of grandmotherly “well-I-just-don’t-know-about-all-this-e-letter-stuff” innocence.
Trump, Sanders and Hillary are indeed making quite a burlesque show out of this election cycle. Thankfully, the GOP has a few grown-up candidates waiting to ably lead the nation on the next commercial break.