A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his listeners, so that they will think they are as smart as he is, quipped Karl Kraus, the fin-de-siecle Viennese gadfly. Donald Trump’s claim that illegal immigration into the United States is “decimating the country” is a case in point. Illegal immigration is a bad thing, and the social costs of a mass influx of poor and uneducated migrants from Mexico and Central America are significant, but that is not one of America’s bigger problems. Migration actually fell after the 2008 crash because construction jobs disappeared.
The best data we have suggest that net immigration from Mexico was negative between 2005 and 2010–that is, more Mexicans left the US than arrived. Hispanics, to be sure, are more visible in the workforce–their share of total employment has risen from about 14% 10 years to to 17% today–but that is due to the natural increase in the Hispanic population. In 1990, non-Hispanic whites had a fertility rate of 1.7 children per female, vs. 2.9 children for Hispanics. This bumper crop of Hispanic children has been entering the workforce for the past several years. But that has nothing to do with recent trends in immigration.
Americans are angry and are looking for someone (other than themselves) to blame, and popular rancor has attached itself to illegal immigration. That isn’t America’s problem. If Americans imagine that it is, they will look for consolation in misplaced against a scapegoat and avoid the hard problems ahead of them.
Mr. Trump may be an ignoramus or a ignominious liar. But his sudden popularity is cause to worry about the mental and spiritual state of the American electorate.
(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)