Talk to a present-day GOP die-hard about issues, and pay attention to the emotional level associated with each. Run the gamut of today’s big issues, and gauge the fervor behind each response. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that, in most cases, you’ll see the greatest ire, agitation, and outrage when the topic is immigration.

Immigration.

Not unfunded entitlements. Not a welfare state run amok. Not the ObamaCare mess, or Medicare, or health care in general. Not the $21T national debt. Not government agencies run amok. Not the social justice/PC movement. Not education. Not taxes, or trade, or tariffs. Not energy. Not defense spending. Not Russia, or China, or North Korea, or Iran. Not our foreign wars. Not illegal drugs. Not religion, or gay marriage, or bake-that-cake. Not freedom of speech.

Immigration.

Many will stress that their concern is “illegal” immigration, noting a sharp distinction between illegals and those who come to America (or look to come to America) via established law and proper procedure. Some will actually even mean it, and more will believe it of themselves.

Check out the rhetoric that has surrounded the immigration debate for the past decade or more, however, and you may very well be inclined to be as skeptical as I am about that distinction and those who make it.

Immigrants steal American jobs. Immigrants come here to freeload on the welfare state. Immigrants are criminals, or terrorists, or have no skills, or are unwilling or unable to fit into American culture. Immigrants depress wages. Immigrants don’t speak English. Immigrants degrade our society, harm our economy, and add to the national debt. America is already full, there’s no room for more people.

These and countless other arguments litter the rhetorical landscape. None of them stand up to scrutiny.

Unfortunately, few care about that scrutiny (and that includes abolish-ICE, no-border leftists). Immigration has devolved into a highly partisan, zero-sum, with-us-or-against-us tribalist issue, facts and realities be damned. See my first paragraph.

Why is this so?

Because immigration as a political issue plays extremely well on our emotions. One set of those lies in our tribalism, our natural distrust of “other,” and our inclination toward zero-sum thinking. Another set is our empathy, especially for those we see as having it worse off than us. And, right in the middle of all that are those who know that playing both sides against each other is a tried-and-true political tactic. While people contain both those sets of emotions, and both sets can be plucked like a harp, decades of plucking have led to the bitter factionalism we witness today, with each side taking matters further and further to the extreme in response to what they are told is the other side’s extremism and intractability. Thus, we are offered either a wall or absolutely nothing, not even a Le Petomane Thruway toll booth. A classic false choice, but that’s where the loudest voices on the Right and on the Left stand.

Heaven forbid someone suggest a compromise. The Thor Odinsons of the Internet are poised to swoop down from far above, and deliver a mighty Mjolnir blow to the skulls of anyone who dares suggest that we fix immigration by making it easier to immigrate legally, tighten the border, and come up with a path to citizenship for the long-time illegals already here. There can be no compromise any more.

Partisans and many politicians are not upset by this in the slightest.

I once read a theory about the origin of the dietary restrictions in some cultures and religions, one that suggested it derived from tribal times as a means of reducing tribal defections. If you have, inculcated in you, a deep-seated revulsion for a food that’s dominant in a rival tribe, the chance of that tribe luring you over is greatly reduced. The fear-mongers on both sides of the immigration debate behave in the same way, and have created a self-perpetuating (and, indeed, metastasizing) situation where not conforming to the absolutist position of your tribe is guaranteed to result in scorn and aggression from your fellow tribe members. That’s intended to either coax you into making your position more comforming and absolute, or to get you to hush up rather than voice dissent.

Immigration should not be in anyone’s top 10 list of issues. We’re not being “invaded,” the costs and perils are overstated and overwrought, and the issue has existed for decades without threatening the fabric of the nation. Yes, it’s a problem that needs addressing, but it’s a problem that has at-hand solutions that merely require a willingness to compromise with reality instead of embracing unachievable hard-line fantasy.

Unfortunately, it’s the latter that sells, and it sells well. Trump figured it out before the other GOP candidates in 2015-2016, and leveraged it to gain the nomination and eventually win the Presidency. Trump’s opponents have since found success in whole-cloth contrarianism, and so nothing gets done. Opponents who, years back, said many of the same things that Trump and his anti-immigration hard-liners said, and who did nothing about immigration back then either.

Immigration politics is one big con job, intended to divide us up, define and test our tribal loyalties, and deflect our eyes from the much bigger issues the nation faces. Nothing that will fix the problem, such as it is, will get done, because politicians benefit from the rancor and division far more than they’d benefit from actually resolving this relatively minor issue.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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