By Rudy Barnes, Jr., October 27, 2018
America watched in fascination and fear as hurricanes Florence and Michael threatened our shores. We were as prepared as possible for those natural disasters, but we are totally unprepared for the unnatural disaster now moving inexorably toward our southern borders. It’s a tidal wave of Central American migrants who seem determined to inundate our borders.
America’s two political parties have predicted a red or blue wave in midterm elections. Democrat political pundits have predicted a blue wave to end Republican control of Congress; but the prospect of a migrant tidal wave is likely to dissipate any blue wave, unless Democrats can offer a disaster preparedness plan for the approaching tsunami of immigrants.
President Trump is exploiting the rising fear of a massive migrant caravan that began in Honduras and is now moving through Mexico. It has given Republicans an election issue that makes their immigration policies to block Central Americans at the border seem reasonable; and so far Democrats have not proposed any political alternatives, instead emphasizing health care.
The silence of Democrats on the migrant caravan is damning. In America’s two party duopoly each party must be able to represent a majority of voters to rule and to hold the other accountable. But that’s not possible with a radical right Republican Party and a leftist Democratic Party that thrives on identity politics. There’s no place for centrists in either party.
The biggest challenge for a democracy is to balance the wants and rights of individuals and identity groups with providing for the common good. Politics is the art of compromise, and the radicalization and polarization of America’s two political parties has made that impossible. It will take partisan restructuring to give centrists a political voice and make compromise possible.
Neither a party of minorities nor a radical right populist party can provide the consensus needed to resolve critical national issues like those on immigration. Structural political reforms are needed to overcome the partisan gridlock that has undermined the American civil religion, and any structural reforms must be based on a strong moral foundation.
Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians. Social justice is a priority of Christian morality, but ironically most white Christians vote Republican and ignore social justice issues. While Democrats are less religious, their obsession with social justice issues that benefit their minority constituents makes it difficult for Democrats to win in statewide and national races.
The greatest commandment provides an altruistic moral imperative that can promote the compromises needed to provide for the common good. The moral imperative to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions, is a common word of faith and politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
A moral immigration policy requires balancing humanitarian concerns with protecting our borders. America needs a Congress that can do that. But the lack of moderates in either of the two political parties has left America vulnerable to Trump’s fear-mongering on immigration. Is a choice between a border wall and open borders the best Congress can do?
Fareed Zakaria has attributed Trump’s political success to the failure of Democrats to compete “in the bloody crossroads of American politics.” If Trump’s exploitation of American fears of a migrant tidal wave dissipates a blue wave in the midterm elections, the Democrats will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, further illustrating the abject failure of America’s polarized two-party duopoly to sustain a healthy democracy. When will we ever learn?
On how the migrant caravan became so big and why it’s continuing to grow, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/how-the-migrant-caravan-became-so-big-and-why-its-continuing-to-grow/2018/10/23/88abf1a6-d631-11e8-8384-bcc5492fef49_story.html?utm_term=.dc6a15884593&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On the migrant caravan through the eyes of Catholic teaching on social justice teaching, see https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/10/23/migrant-caravan-through-eyes-catholic-social-teaching?utm_source=Newsletters&utm_campaign=5cae97b219-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_10_09_08_42_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0fe8ed70be-5cae97b219-58692321.
On conflicting issues in micro immigration policies that favor open borders and social justice issues and macro immigration policies that restrict immigration, and the need to address these issues soon, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-immigration-conversation-we-need-to-have--and-soon/2018/10/23/3921ea36-d709-11e8-a10f-b51546b10756_story.html?utm_term=.4f94bd15c52a&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
David Brooks has characterized the Democratic Party as “...fundamentally a materialist party. The Trumpian challenge is primarily a moral and cultural challenge. But the Democrats are mostly comfortable talking about how to use federal spending to extend benefits. Some Democrats want to spend a lot more (Medicare for all, free college education), and some want to spend less, but their basic instinct is that national problems can be addressed with more federal money. Their basic political instinct is that you win votes by offering material benefits….When Democrats do raise a moral argument, it tends to be of the social justice warrior variety. The core argument in this mode is that the oppressive structures of society marginalize women, minorities and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. communities. ...If your basic logic is that distinct identity groups are under threat from an oppressive society, it’s very hard to then turn around and defend that society from authoritarian attack, or to articulate any notion of what even unites that society. You can appeal to women as women and to ethnic groups as ethnic groups, but it’s very hard to make a universal appeal to Americans as Americans, or defend the basic American norms that Trump calls into question. It’s a messaging vulnerability that Democrats have imposed upon themselves. ...Instead of drawing disaffected voters away from the G.O.P., [Democrats] seem to be pushing Republicans back to Trump. It has now become evident that Republicans are better at politicizing cultural issues and Democrats are better at offering economic benefits to those who are struggling. See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/22/opinion/midterms-democrats-health-care.html.
Geography makes it difficult for Democrats to get along. Urban “progressives” promote a path to victory in the midterm elections by motivating their youthful base and moving to the left., while “pragmatic centrists” in the suburbs argue that victory requires ideological moderation to attract independents. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-geography-makes-it-difficult-for-democrats-to-get-along/2018/10/22/afe7d4d0-cd6f-11e8-a360-85875bac0b1f_story.html?utm_term=.e149d8d0a346&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
Fareed Zakaria has attributed the dilemma of the Democrats to their liberal views on cultural issues “— chiefly immigration, but also things such as transgender bathroom laws and respecting the flag — on which a key group of Americans thinks the Democrats are out of touch. ...the challenge for the Democratic Party politically is not whether it can move left economically but whether it can move right on culture. I say this as someone who agrees with the Democrats on almost every one of these cultural issues. But a large national party must demonstrate that it can accommodate some people who disagree with it on some issues. Doing this without abandoning one’s core principles is a challenge, but it is a challenge Democrats will have to embrace if they seek a durable governing majority. Eventually, the electorate will be more young and diverse, but in the meantime, the Republican Party is utterly dominant in American politics because it owns the bloody crossroads where culture and politics meet.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-owns-the-bloody-crossroads-of-american-politics/2018/10/25/f3eba9c8-d886-11e8-a10f-b51546b10756_story.html?utm_term=.dcf3e906821f&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
Trump promises to stop the migrant caravan, but his administration struggles with how to do it. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-promises-to-stop-migrant-caravan-his-administration-struggles-with-how-to-do-it/2018/10/24/ecc1ebde-d7b5-11e8-aeb7-ddcad4a0a54e_story.html?utm_term=.5991202f98f7&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Defense Secretary Mattis is expected to send some 800 U.S. troops to the border with Mexico. See https://www.npr.org/2018/10/25/660568492/defense-secretary-mattis-will-send-some-800-u-s-troops-to-mexico-border.
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