Nancy Pelosi’s DACA ‘Filibuster’ And The Dishonest, Manipulative Illegal Immigration Debate

Nancy Pelosi illegal immigration filibuster - DACA - Dreamers - House of Representatives

When lawbreaking is openly celebrated and any efforts at immigration enforcement painted as racist by the Left, Democrats are stoking social division and political gridlock nearly as much as Donald Trump

From both Democrats and Trumpian Republicans, all we get is a stream of dishonesty on the subject of immigration.

Conservative anti-amnesty extremists live in a fantasy world where millions of people without legal status can be summarily removed from the United States without a seriously disruptive effect on both society and the economy, and where building an expensive and functionally questionable fortified border wall will prevent future illegal immigration when they know full well that even a hundred foot wall would do nothing to prevent visa overstays and other methods of subverting immigration law.

Meanwhile in the space of a decade, the bulk of the Democratic Party, cheered on by its most ideological activists, seems to have moved toward a de facto Open Borders position, refusing to countenance any additional immigration enforcement measures and regarding those already in existence as openly racist. Using Donald Trump’s often ignorant and xenophobic rhetoric as a cover, Democratic Party leaders have preposterously suggested that any effort to implement a skills-based immigration policy is by its very nature part of an immoral plan to “Make America White Again” (ironically failing to realise that their assumption that non-white people lack marketable skills is itself racist).

This is not the kind of political posturing from either side which is conducive to the kind of comprehensive deal on immigration reform which everybody knows is not only needed, but by far the most sensitive way to address an intractable situation in a way that allows both Left and Right to gain something that they desperately want.

But while much is made in the media of Donald Trump’s xenophobic boorishness and the lack of nuance to his border wall policy, virtually no scrutiny has been given to the Democrats’ new maximalist position – and certainly no Democratic politicians have been put on the spot by the media as to their actual stance on immigration enforcement (assuming they still believe in any such laws). Republicans are frequently put on the spot and made to squirm over their support (or lack of denunciation) of Donald Trump’s “leadership” on the issue, and rightly so. Meanwhile, senior Democratic politicians who for all intents and purposes have repudiated the need for any kind of immigration control are seemingly immune from the slightest scrutiny. The fact that the media take such a position without any self-awareness is itself evidence of their soft but deeply ingrained bias on the issue.

The latest example of left-wing intractability on the issue came yesterday evening when Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged an eight-hour filibuster-style speech in favour of unilaterally granting legal status to DACA recipients. From the New York Times’ misty-eyed account:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a record-breaking, eight-hour speech in hopes of pressuring Republicans to allow a vote on protecting “Dreamer” immigrants — and to demonstrate to increasingly angry progressives and Democratic activists that she has done all she could.

Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Pelosi, 77, spent much of the rare talkathon Wednesday reading personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month. The California Democrat quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis, as Democrats took turns sitting behind her in support. The Office of the House Historian said it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on record.

Of course, this was immediately (and falsely) reported by much of the mainstream media as a stirring speech in defence of immigrants in general, as though there were some unprecedented new dystopian war being waged against people who correctly followed US immigration law. But so successful have leftist efforts to conflate all types of immigration (legal and illegal) as indistinguishable from one another that few people now raise an eyebrow at this continual, deliberate manipulation of language.

One surefire way to prevent bipartisan agreement on immigration reform is to inject more emotion into the fraught debate than already exists. And again, both parties are guilty of cynically and immorally attempting to manipulate the overly sentimental or credulous by personalising the debate rather than making it one about principles and processes. We saw this at work most shamefully during Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union speech, when Democrats saw fit to bring unlawful immigrants into the spectator gallery of the House chamber, rubbing the lawbreaking aspect in the face of conservatives, while Donald Trump invited bereaved family members of innocent people killed by illegal immigrants, as though to suggest that all such people represent a violent menace to society.

All that this blatant emotional manipulation can do is harden the positions of each respective activist base, eradicating any nuance and unnecessarily demonising the other side. Such behaviour is equally irresponsible coming from Republican or Democrat; both should know better. And it’s worth noting that the Democrats have form when it comes to this kind of manipulative behaviour, with “undocumented” immigrants having been featured prominently and cheered to the rafters at Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party nominating convention in 2016.

But in yesterday’s speech Nancy Pelosi actually went further, not only making an emotional case for those Dreamers brought illegally to the United States as children – a plight with which many moderate, reasonable people can sympathise – but going further and praising the parents who brought their children to America and in doing so put them at risk of future deportation (or at best a childhood and adolescence spent in the shadows).

This crosses the line into open contempt for the rule of law. Many of these parents may have had the best of intentions in doing what they did, and nobody can deny that many American citizens and legal residents, finding themselves in similar circumstances, would likely do the same thing. But ultimately if the parents decide to take up residency in a country to which they have no legal right to remain, they can not be absolved of all blame if immigration law later catches up with their family. Yes, we should absolutely look to provide amnesty to those who have built productive, law-abiding lives in the United States, particularly those brought through no fault of their own as children, but we should also be able to acknowledge that the parents took a calculated and questionable risk in exposing their children to the very real possibility of traumatic future detention or deportation.

And yet Nancy Pelosi will not even make this slight rhetorical concession. Pressured by uncompromising “immigration” activists and her increasingly extremist base to hold the parents of Dreamers in the same high regard as the Dreamers themselves (or “the original Dreamers”, as Democratic leaders have taken to calling these parents) Pelosi instead offers nothing but fawning praise and endorsement of those who knowingly violated US immigration law. From her speech in the House:

“I say to their parents: Thank you for bringing these Dreamers to America. We’re in your debt for the courage it took, for you to take the risk, physically, politically, in every way, to do so.”

Pelosi made a similar point in a recent CNN televised town hall:

“Our Dreamers, they make America dream again, they’re so lovely and we frankly owe a debt to your parents for bringing you here to be such a brilliant part of our future”.

Astonishingly, there is absolutely no nuance to this praise from Nancy Pelosi. Yes, some or even many such parents may have legitimately qualified for refugee status and faced genuine danger and persecution in their home countries. But others simply moved for economic advantage and the promise of a better life – and normalising the flouting of immigration law in case of the latter is effectively an argument for open borders, a declaration that anyone able to set foot on American soil should have the right to permanently remain and ultimately enjoy the full blessings of citizenship.

This is not to attribute the current impasse exclusively to Democrats, who deserve only half of the blame for the present polarisation. But it is worth focusing on Democrat failings, as so much of the media seems determined to give the Left an entirely free pass on the issue, unquestioningly accepting the premise that unilateral amnesty should be offered with nothing demanded in return, and failing to interrogate left-wing politicians on what (if any) immigration enforcement measures they actually still support.

Neither is the Democratic Party’s commitment to the Dreamers proven beyond all doubt. Already they have rejected a deal which would have granted legal status to nearly two million DACA recipients (at significant political cost to the Republicans) because the deal also included measures to tighten future immigration enforcement. If the welfare of the Dreamers really is the top priority for Democratic leaders, why did they spurn an opportunity to secure their status?

Of course there can only be one answer to this question – because it is no longer enough for the Democrats to legalise everybody currently illegally present in the United States. They want to secure this prize while also doing nothing to make it harder for more people to illegally gain entry into the United States in the future, so that they can wheel out these same emotionally manipulative arguments in two decades’ time and cynically repeat the entire process. Having already mentally “banked” the legalisation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the Democrats seemingly want to ensure an endless, uninterrupted stream of future arrivals. Certainly no prominent Democrat has spoken convincingly about the need for more robust border protection since the 2016 presidential election.

At a time when much of the focus is (rightly) on the often xenophobic and discomforting language emanating from the Oval Office, it is also worth reminding ourselves of just how far Democrats have shifted to the Left on the subject of illegal immigration in a very short space of time.

Twelve years ago, this is what then-Senator Barack Obama had to say on the subject:

“When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

Yes, Obama went on in his book The Audacity of Hope to emphasise that Americans should not act negatively on such feelings, but rather look positively on illegal immigrants seeking to become American. But to even make such a statement today would see any Democrat hounded out of the party and summarily labelled a racist or (at best) an unwitting tool of white supremacy.

In his 2017 essay in the Atlantic, “How The Democrats Lost Their Way On Immigration“, Peter Beinart hammered home the same point about this radical shift:

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

That is an extraordinary shift in the space of a decade, yet the Democrats are going into immigration negotiations with the Republican leadership as though the country is in lockstep with them in their leftward lurch toward de facto open borders when there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. And while the Republicans (thanks to Donald Trump) doubtless win the prize for ugliest turn in rhetoric on the subject of immigration, the Democrats by far and away win the award for most radical policy shift in a short space of time. This is an incredibly significant fact which still attracts far too little media scrutiny.

Ultimately, this debate is characterised by exaggeration, character smears and base emotional manipulation of the worst kind – and the excesses of one side only encourage the other to behave even more outrageously and irresponsibly in pursuit of their own goals.

For many years there was an eminently practical and workable compromise almost within reach, based on compassion for those illegal immigrants who have built model lives in America but tempered with a resolve to improve border security, immigration enforcement and to reduce both the push and pull factors which drive future unlawful immigration. But thanks to extremists on both sides – frankly childish activists who demand nothing less than 100 percent of their wishlist from a deeply divided country – and spineless political leaders of both parties too afraid to stand up to those voices of unreason, instead we find ourselves in this dismal position.

It is easy to pin all of the blame on President Trump; he certainly makes a large and inviting target. But when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump does not have a monopoly on irrational, uncompromising behaviour. And a more honest media would do a better job of reporting as much.

 

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Don’t Expect Better Political Outcomes In Britain Until We Change The System

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Upset by how Brexit is being prosecuted by the government, overseen by Parliament and reported on by the media? It’s time to stop lamenting the symptoms and fixing the underlying issues with our constitution and system of government

Of the sum total of British political discourse at all levels, a good 95 percent is probably spent whining about events with just 5 percent devoted to thinking about the systemic issues which all but ensure that our political system continually throws up results we don’t like or believe to be illegitimate, over and over again.

I was musing on this the other day, and started a rambling Twitter thread on the state of British democracy which I thought was worth spinning into a slightly longer blog post, if for no other reason than to prevent the words being buried deep in the dusty archives of Twitter. And so here are those same words, expanded and transplanted to the even dustier archive of this blog instead.

The great question before us in these challenging times is this: Should the people, as they participate in the democratic process, be permitted to make mistakes? This is the underlying but often obscured contention behind some of the most contentious issues in British and American politics right now, namely Donald Trump and the “resistance” to his presidency in the United States, and the effort to undermine or reverse Brexit here in the UK.

Rightly or wrongly, the political classes of both countries, as a whole, object both to the policy initiatives of Trump and Brexit as well as the tone and context in which these events transpired. Parliament may have voted convincingly for Britain to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and commence the process of secession from the European Union, but few MPs believed that it was a good idea and many only voted to do so under duress. In America, most Republican politicians have either chosen to circle the wagons around Donald Trump or study feigned ignorance of his unsuitability for high office, in both cases because they see him as a useful idiot and an automatic pen with which to sign their own policy priorities. Yet hardly any of these Republican politicians are firmly aboard the Trump Train.

Whether it is Republican politicians using illegal immigration as an issue to get themselves elected in opposition only to blanch at the idea of illegal immigration actually being significantly impeded or reversed now they are in power, or Tory MPs building entire careers on moaning about Britain being ruled by a nascent European superstate only to fall in line with David Cameron and the Remain campaign during the referendum, there is a deep and unpleasant hypocrisy at work – a hypocrisy which needs to be acknowledged and confronted whether or not one agrees with the policies in question.

In both cases, the objectors – those who want to summarily impeach Donald Trump or overturn the EU referendum result in the light of “new facts” – are actually saying something quite serious. They are saying that in the cases of highly consequential decisions, the people are wrong and should not be allowed to inflict their wrongness on the country via the ballot box.

A degree of catastrophisation is required to pull off this argument, given how odious and undemocratic it sounds when stated plainly. And so we hear wildly overwrought tales about how Donald Trump represents a near-physical threat to designated minority groups, or that Brexit will see the UK economy returned to the stone ages.

The implication is that some decisions are simply too important, consequential or irreversible to be left to the direct judgment of the people (unless, conveniently, the choice in question can be blended with a bunch of other decisions in a general election, supported by all the main political parties and thus be preserved in perpetuity). And the clear subtext is that the ruling classes know best, are imbued with a deeper wisdom and sense of morality which must prevail any time there is a conflict between the governed and the governing.

Yet rarely do the decisions thus normally kept out of the reach of the people rise to this level of irreversible calamity. Take immigration. If throttling illegal immigration would harm the economy, do politicians have the right to override electoral wishes, even if the decision could be reversed? How great would the economic harm have to be, how would it be measured and how would it be balanced against any other factors?

Secession from the EU is rather more complicated, since reversal would likely involve the UK returning to the bloc on worse-than-current membership terms and therefore only ever be partially complete. But again, it could be done. So should politicians have the right to prevent the people from making only semi-reversible decisions? And if so, what are the criteria which should be met in order for politicians to step in and ignore popular opinion in order to effectively prevent the public from potentially scraping their knees?

Sometimes, though, the argument becomes more distasteful. Many polls have suggested that the British public would back the restoration of the death penalty given a straight-up referendum. Should politicians allow people to make that “mistake” too, and if not, what clearly written and easy for laymen to understand justification is there or should there be for thwarting such an odious policy change?

I am not (yet) a constitutional lawyer and I don’t have answers to all of these conundrums, but it seems clear that the current processes (if you can even call flying by the seat of your pants and making it up as you go along a “process”) that we in Britain have in place to adjudicate questions of vital importance are wholly inadequate to the decisions now before us.

When should referenda be offered, and when should they not? If they are to be offered, when should they be advisory and when should they be binding? When should blanket decisions be made at the national, supranational or local levels, and are exemptions ever to be allowed, and under what circumstances? What recourse should the public have when repeatedly rebuffed on a subject by politicians?

Many of these questions could be foreseen & mitigated through a well-written constitution which clearly prescribes the powers reserved by the people and those which are lent to local, national and supranational government. If we abandoned the Traditional British Fudge in favour of a written constitution, no longer could we so plausibly claim that we didn’t know what we were doing or that the outcome of any constitutionally legitimate process was unfair.

Of course a written constitution would not be a cure-all. Much would depend on the process of drafting such a document, who could participate and whether the process was taken seriously or simply used by special interests as an excuse to shoehorn every last entitlement onto the statute books as a “corporate necessity” or “human right”.

Britain’s constitutional monarchy is another complication, being one of those institutions which nobody would think to invent today but which arguably serves its purpose well enough and is part of the rich cultural fabric of our country that cannot be measured and summed up in an Excel spreadsheet. Embarking on any kind of constitutional convention would immediately generate enormous friction with the monarchy and its strongest supporters, which is one of the key reasons why such a movement has never properly gotten off the ground (with some honourable near-exceptions).

But unless we bite the bullet and physically write down a code of governance under which we are all willing to live, we are going to keep coming up against political elites of one faction or another assuming a divine right to attempt to implement their own worldview, wholesale, over the objections of others.

It’s worth noting too that such a national conversation was neither realistically possible nor worthwhile so long as Britain was bound to remain a member state of the European Union. When you are busy being slowly subsumed into a supranational government of Europe with its own ideas of federalism and subsidiarity, tinkering around with a little old national domestic constitution is almost laughably pointless, comparable to an animal grooming itself in ignorance of its surroundings while a much bigger predator sneaks up from behind.

It is only now that we have taken the first (hesitant and often erroneous) steps toward undoing the error – or great national act of settling for second best – that was our EU membership that we more fully realise the flaws in our own system and have the opportunity for a serious discussion about what comes next.

So what would such a constitutional document look like? That is a big question best left to a separate blog post but at the highest level I believe that any law or treaty which threatens to impinge on the life, liberty or property of other citizens – things like the death penalty or confiscation of property – should, *if* ever put to a referendum, require such a super-majority that the process is not easily abused by demagogues.

Other decisions, though, should be put within much readier reach of the hands of the people – such as whether successive UK governments are authorised to freely give up vast areas of sovereignty, wholesale, without sufficient oversight or realistic chance of painless future revocation.

I am open, for example, to the argument that the EU referendum should have required a certain threshold of victory to achieve quorum and passage, but then so every significant EU treaty signed by successive UK governments should have been put to the British people – the most recent of which would certainly not have been approved and ratified. But we are where we are and there is very little point crying over spilt milk – the best we can do is fix the system for the future.

At present there are virtually no meaningful checks and balances in our democracy. Victory goes who whoever can summon the loudest and most vociferous outrage, either on the pages of the tabloids or (far more effectively, though curiously less controversial) at the dinner parties & papers of those in the governing class.

By all means, we can keep blundering on as we are, lurching from crisis to crisis, failing to tackle our problems in a systemic way and then just working ourselves into a spittle-flecked outrage each time our broken system throws up a result we don’t like. That’s Option 1. Option 2 involves stepping back a bit and thinking about what kind of constitutional, governmental processes are most likely to yield outcomes which we can all get behind.

Option 2 is far more boring and requires more work, and lacks the appeal of being a meme-worthy MP, smug newspaper editor or shouty TV news talking head. But that’s what we need to do at this point, because given the period of discontinuity we have entered (one which affects many other countries too), there will be other hugely consequential decisions to make down the line, and we need to handle them a hell of a lot better than we are currently handling Brexit.

As a country, our capacity to competently govern ourselves has atrophied and withered during our 4+ decades of EU membership. That membership, combined with a bipartisan but increasingly broken centrist consensus, succeeded in masking the extent of the rot for some time, but no longer. Now the rot has been revealed and the full horror of the decay is clear to us, effecting every branch and level of government from the town council to 10 Downing Street.

If, as a side benefit, a period of serious reflection on how we govern ourselves as a country (whether or not that leads to a constitutional convention) further exposes just how ill equipped many of our institutions and present leaders are to navigate these national challenges, so much the better.

Sunlight can often be the best disinfectant.

 

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Over-Emoting Is A Growing Distraction In Live Music Performance

Overwrought emotional displays which detract from the music are not new to live performance, but are they becoming more pervasive and insufferable?

In an interesting segment from last night’s Ben Shapiro Show, Shapiro focuses on one stand-out act of celebrity leftist virtue signalling at the recent Grammy Awards in order to riff on performer over-emoting in more general terms.

The specific performance that raised Ben’s ire featured U2’s Bono – an Irishman, it’s worth remembering, not a US citizen – singing in front of the Statue of Liberty, and praising the “shitholes of the world” as the source of America’s greatness, intended as a rebuttal to President Trump’s use of the vulgar phrase in a meeting with members of Congress about immigration.

While looking wistfully at the sky and prancing around in front of the Statue of Liberty, Bono portentously intones into a megaphone:

Blessed are the shithole countries, for they gave us the American Dream.

And to this nonsense, Shapiro responds:

As a musician for many many years, my favourite violinist – as is every violinist’s favourite violinist – is Jascha Heifetz. One of the things I love about Jascha Heifetz is that there is no histrionics. Jascha Heifetz, when he plays the violin – go look at a tape of him – is just stone faced. He just plays, and it’s great.

One of the things I hate the most about modern music is modern music is all based on energy and histrionics. It’s all based on you making faces while you sing, and looking up to the sky like Bono. Look at him, looking up to the sky with his red, white and blue loudspeaker.

This is something that I also find incredibly annoying and distracting. Of course this kind of preening and prancing has long been connected with music, and performers caring more about how they look and portray their socio-political opinions than how they sound on record is hardly a new phenomenon.

Nineteenth century Romantic pianist and composer Franz Liszt cultivated such a following that it coined a term – “Lizstomania” – where women would fight even over his coffee dregs and discarded cigars. And Lizst himself egged on this behaviour, being one of the first concert pianists to rotate the piano so that he would face the side of the stage at a right-angle to the audience, the better that they could appreciate his dashing profile.

Neither are all of the musicians I admire entirely innocent of this behaviour. Conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein also cut a dashing figure and was famous for the “Lenny leap” where he would sometimes clear a full foot from the podium. Glenn Gould, long my favourite pianist, is almost as well-known for his eccentricities – such as humming as he played, sitting on a battered folding chair when giving concerts and dressing for winter even in the height of summer – as he is for his revelatory interpretations of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. But in the latter’s defence, many of his defining idiosyncrasies were clearly innate rather than studied, and in fact Glenn Gould had so little time for being a celebrity that he stopped giving concerts altogether at a young age to focus his energies on the recording studio.

British violinist Nigel Kennedy could likewise hardly be described as a staid, boring performer, yet his eccentricities somehow draw one into the performance rather than distracting or repelling the audience or listener. Watch Kennedy break normal concert protocol by addressing this BBC Proms audience immediately before launching into Elgar’s violin concerto and you’ll see what I mean:

 

But to me there is a definite order of magnitude between the baseline level of emoting that we see in classical music today and the more restrained (on average) approach of even thirty years ago. I confess that as technically brilliant as the likes of superstar pianists Lang Lang or Daniil Trifonov may be, I struggle to watch them because of the on-stage theatrics (in my opinion Yuja Wang does a far better job of being engaging and contemporary without appearing like a cholera patient on a storm-tossed sailboat).

I don’t care if you’re hamming up the rubato while playing some Chopin, there’s no need to lash your head around or make anguished faces as though someone is lurking under the piano pulling out your toenails as you play. But then maybe that’s just because I like my classical musicians the same way I like my journalists and TV news anchors – scruffy and unkempt, too dedicated to their craft to waste time worrying about being a walking shampoo commercial.

Now some of these behaviours and tics – maybe even a majority – can be put down to the understandable exuberance and vanity of youth. But I think a significant minority are inspired by a recognition that being brilliant is not enough unless one also looks and acts the part. And the look and act that audiences increasingly demand and reward is high on emoting, high on dazzling feats of technical brilliance (what Glenn Gould once derisively referred to as “piano-playing” in a self-critique of his earlier work) and lower on the kind of subtlety and introspection which is often needed to bring out the best in even some of the more bombastic repertoire.

And so might it be the case that the real problem with efforts to expand the market for classical music are not the things that usually get traditionalists so worked up – wearing jeans to the opera, mandatory white tie for orchestral musicians, informal lunchtime concerts and so on – but rather the fact that more and more classical performers are adapting to the Age of YouTube by attempting to groan and grimace their way to profundity just like every street busker who sings Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” at a quarter speed, or Ke$ha’s overwrought performance at this year’s Grammys?

The point of classical music is, unsurprisingly, to convey ideas through the medium of music itself. Of course individual musicians will want to put their own stamp and interpretation on works, either in service of what they believe to be the composer’s original intent or to shed new light on what can sometimes be over-familiar works in the repertoire. But if you frequently find yourself pounding the piano keyboard like you’re playing Whack-A-Mole or sawing away at the violin while grimacing like your appendix just ruptured, you’re probably doing it wrong. The emotion should go through the music and not be lost in the gaudy, inefficient heat exchange of on-stage pantomime.

Performer eccentricities, when unintentional and/or in service of the music, are fine, and sometimes even a blessing. But Ben Shapiro is right; when they detract from the music itself then that can become a problem – in classical music as much as pop music with all the schmaltzy, simplistic political preening of Bono’s preachy Grammy performance.

 

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Are Technocrats To Blame For The Rise Of The Know-Nothing Celebrity Politician?

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When unelected technocrats increasingly set policy and carry out the day-to-day business of governance we should not be surprised that electoral politics, castrated and less consequential than ever before, is becoming a circus freak show

Michael Brendan Dougherty has a new piece in the National Review which so succinctly captures the state of Western democratic politics that busy as I am this week, I feel the immediate need to blog a response/reaction to it.

Dougherty’s jumping off point is the sudden, feverish interest among assorted leftists and Democrats for television personality Oprah Winfrey (yes…) to run for president against Donald Trump in 2020, driven almost entirely by a speech Winfrey gave about the #MeToo movement while picking up an award at last night’s Golden Globes.

You might think it a little hypocritical for people who have spent the past two years bashing Donald Trump as an inexperienced dilettante in way over his head, a reality TV blowhard with no credentials and no right to occupy the office he holds, to immediately embrace a similar figure from their own side of the political divide – and you would be correct in thinking so. But the mere fact that voters are being drawn to these celebrity candidates is itself noteworthy, and crucially, Dougherty places the blame not with the voters but with the bland, interchangeable technocrats of the political class who offer those voters no compelling alternative.

Dougherty writes:

The average voter is going to be blamed for this. The great disdain of the educated class will fall on the Uhmurkans who have been hypnotized by their televisions. Maybe some of that’s right. But I blame the wonks. It was the wonks who, unawares, made the celebrity president not just desirable but logically necessary.

The wonk’s role is well-fitted to the centrist political ideal in the post–Cold War West. For them, government is most highly admirable when it is totally denuded of questions of value or morality (these having obvious and uncontroversial answers), and reduced to a purely technical exercise. The politician working with the wonk finds that his job is reconciling the public with what’s good for them. And this fits the machinery of the executive branch, which is filled with hundreds of thousands of civil servants, overseen by a much smaller retinue of political appointees almost all chosen from within the governing class of the country. Where this model of government is most advanced — in Europe — policy questions are routinely taken away from the passions of democratic peoples, and quarantined for expert management.

Taken together, these trends are more or less the abolition of traditional democratic politics. And so there is little use for the traditional politician, a person of judgment and charisma who represents the community from which he or she emerges, using his own wisdom in reconciling the diverse interests and needs of his nation and constituency.

You couldn’t write a better paragraph describing the impact of Westminster centrism and EU integration on our democracy, even though Dougherty is talking in his essay about American politics as much as European. On both sides of the Atlantic, political leaders have behaved as though we are living in the End of History even when Francis Fukuyama’s prediction has long since been disproven through bitter experience. Elections, while often bitter and hard fought, have generally offered little meaningful choice when it comes to big questions about how the nation can best order society and relate to the world. Even when political rhetoric has been heated and the candidates have seemed very different, the economic system and world order they ultimately support has tended to be the same, an embrace of the status quo.

Michael Lind also wrote at length in 2017 about the severing of the compact between the ruling class and the governed, with those in the political, professional and creative classes increasingly feeling no bond of kinship with or obligation to others in society, those they look down upon for holding “incorrect” or “oppressive views” (which can often be taken to mean “that which was mainstream twenty years ago”. And many politicians, nearly all drawn from this class (or inducted into it soon after election) do indeed spend their time explaining and defending the status quo to the citizens they nominally represent, rather than striving to change the status quo on their behalf.

I noted the same phenomenon only last month, in the context of Brexit:

Look at the big issues facing the West and the world in general in 2017 – global migration flows, Islamist terror, globalisation, outsourcing, automation and more – and there is not one of these complex problems which we as a country have failed to comprehensively sweep under the rug or otherwise avoid meeting the challenge.

Even on those occasions when the people have recognised burning problems and the need for bold new solutions, public opinion (such as on Brexit and immigration) has been repeatedly slapped down over the years by a cohort of politicians who think it is their job to explain and defend the current status quo to the citizenry rather than change the status quo according to the demands of the citizenry.

As I have also written, this managerialist technocratic approach to government, with the wonks in the driving seat and politicians as mere interlocutors to the public can potentially be justifiable when things are in steady-state, when times are good, society and the economy stable and when no large threats loom on the horizon. However, rather than a benevolent steady-state we instead live in interesting times, with numerous opportunities and threats ranged around us. This is the discontinuity about which I have been writing so much of late.

In such periods of discontinuity politicians must not remain in the back seat, because it then falls to unelected civil servants and powerful economic agents to dictate the nature and scope of change on their own terms and to their own advantage. For two decades now, globalisation, automation, outsourcing and immigration have changed the structure of our economies and the very meaning of work, and yet there has been no meaningful political debate about these topics until public dissatisfaction reached such a level that the debate could no longer be suppressed.

Nowhere has the debate been suppressed more effectively than on the subject of immigration, and nobody has done more to suppress that debate (thus pushing it toward the unpleasant fringes) than the Labour Party. On immigration, Labour and left-wing politicians very much see themselves as interlocutors rather than elected representatives. When people (including many of their own constituents) raise concerns about the dramatic levels of net migration since 2004, left-wing politicians and commentators see it as their job to explain why unprecedentedly high immigration is actually a good thing rather than seriously engage with voter concerns and amend policy based on that feedback.

When politicians refuse to take voters at their word and assume that their qualms about immigration are really about something else, this is not only patronising but ultimately counterproductive. One of Labour’s favourite fallbacks when it comes to immigration concerns is to pivot to worker exploitation. They think that by instituting new laws to crack down on hiring workers for less than minimum wage (as though it were not already illegal) the public will be placated because foreign workers will no longer be able to undercut local labour. Another favoured technique is to talk about infrastructure, a glib pseudo-concession to the reality that roads do not automatically widen nor hospitals acquire additional beds with every new migrant who lands at Heathrow. Of course, if they really cared about matching infrastructure to population increases caused by immigration they would have done so when they had the opportunity, so this is yet another evasion.

And even now that this tactic of ignoring voter sentiment and patronisingly explaining to voters why they are wrong to be concerned about mass immigration has spectacularly blown up in their faces, still the key voices of the Left can imagine no other way of functioning. Accepting that voters may have a point and amending their policies to reflect the democratic mood doesn’t occur to them. Instead we just see more earnest think pieces about how voters need to be better taught the benefits of immigration.

But immigration is only the most prominent policy area where we see this behaviour from politicians. The same haughty dismissal of public opinion occurs in nearly every sphere. As another example, both Labour and the Conservatives have long since coalesced around what is basically a social democratic economic worldview where profits were tolerated (though rarely celebrated) because the resulting taxes on those profits fund the massive, omnipresent public sector. This locked old-school socialists and more free-market conservatives out of the conversation until Ed Miliband’s failure to win the 2015 election saw Jeremy Corbyn bust open the consensus on the Left and take Labour in a more ideological direction. Theresa May still stubbornly refuses to come to an accommodation of her own with the libertarian right of her party, and this obstinacy and unwillingness to allow alternative views to influence policy is one of many reasons why the Conservative government is idling in neutral, doing nothing of value for the country and waiting for somebody to put it out of its misery.

So given the fact that our politicians (at least the ones who get ahead) tend to be dismal functionaries rather than inspired leaders with disruptive new ideas to meet the period of discontinuity in which we find ourselves, it is perhaps less surprising that many voters gravitate toward someone, anyone with charisma and a willingness to do something more than patiently explain to voters why all of the things they dislike are actually really good for them.

Dougherty writes:

Having eliminated the need for real probity in politicians, why shouldn’t the parties turn to celebrities as their political leaders? The celebrity will do the job of winning elections and riling up the public, but the machinery of government will go on, almost undisturbed.

This may be cathartic for some voters, but it has not taken long for the establishment blob to get the measure of most populist uprisings and swiftly tame them in all but rhetoric. In France for example, Emmanuel Macron discovered that by jumping around on stage and shouting a lot he could amass huge numbers of disillusioned voters and easily see off the threat from Marie Le Pen’s Front National, even though Macron is himself little more than a young face and a neat hairdo atop the same policies which so irritate the public and have increasingly proven inadequate to our present challenges.

And so it is too in America. Dougherty writes:

We can see how the permanent class of Republicans in government almost immediately tamed the Trump presidency. Instead of the populist presidency Trump promised, Trump is ushering in much of the pre-existing “moderate” Republican agenda of corporate tax cuts and economic deregulation. The political class and the media allied to it were able to expunge most of the populist figures from the administration. Soon, they might even succeed in expunging Trump, too.

We are thus heading toward a place where the theatre of democracy is almost entirely divorced from the process of governing. The connection between national elections and meaningful policy reform is becoming about as tenuous as the link between scripted reality TV and actual reality – in other words, almost nonexistent.

In this increasingly dystopian world, all our favourite celebrities can duke it out to become nominal presidents or prime ministers while the technocratic wonks pay no heed to the sideshow and quietly continue to go about implementing their preferred policies relatively unmolested.

But the blob may no more have the national interest at heart than the populist celebrity politician. Both are prone to self-interest, and while the celebrity politician’s interest likely lies in self-aggrandisement, the blob has often proven itself to be more interested in perpetuating policies which benefit its constituent classes in the short to medium term than strategically positioning the nation(s) they effectively govern to face the challenges and reap the rewards of the future.

And the blob is especially dangerous right now, having been moved to anger by unprecedented popular rejection in 2016. The disruptors may have thought that they could summon a good rage or indulge in a lavish pity party when they wanted, but their antics have proven to be nothing compared to the centrist persecution complex the displaced establishment has conjured up in response.

Neither side does their country any favours. The populists – whose figureheads are Donald Trump in America and the Hard Brexit Ultras in Britain – have by now proven their unseriousness and detachment from reality, but the blob still seems to be of the opinion that things can go back to the way they were once what they see as these temporary aberrations are over and the populist rebellions put down.

Patrick Deneen put it best in the Spectator this week, remarking that we now have “a liberal elite without a populace, and a populace without a moderating elite.” And so we are left to pick our poison – on the one hand an arrogant technocratic class which even now shows no humility or willingness to change its ways, and on the other a succession of telegenic performers who are great at channelling public anger but totally lacking the knowledge or leadership ability to turn anger into smart policy.

Not an enviable choice.

donald-trump-anxiety-therapy

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Will All Those In Favour Of Open Borders Please Stand Up?

No Borders No Nations Stop Deportations protest banner

Will the Left’s unspoken, newly-extremist position on immigration and open borders be their political undoing?

Using Brexit and Trump as a smokescreen, many leftists have quietly moved towards a de facto “open borders” position on immigration without ever actually uttering the words or having the courage to declare their intentions in public.

Whether it is members of the anti-Trump “resistance” in America or bitter defenders of the European Union in Britain, opposition to what they see as an ongoing regressive right-wing coup is prompting many on the Left to adopt an uncompromising, extremely permissive stance on immigration which previously existed only on the libertarian fringes and which many leftists themselves once opposed.

This extremist new position is red meat for many left-wing activists, particularly certain elements of the Hispanic voting bloc whom Democrats need to fire up and turn out on election days (as well as for self-proclaimed “citizens of the world” living in newly-fascist Britain). But is the Left’s closed information loop of outrage causing them to diverge from popular opinion at a time when conservatism is otherwise discredited and electoral gains are there for the taking? By tying themselves so closely and unapologetically to people who came to and live in the country illegally, have left-wing parties put themselves on a collision course with the electorate?

Vox’s Dara Lind chronicles the strange journey on which the Democrats have embarked:

The thing is, about 10 years ago, many Democrats — including, notably, Schumer — would have championed many of the Trump administration’s enforcement proposals, from increased local cooperation with immigration enforcement to a physical barrier on the US/Mexico border, even if they weren’t part of a deal to legalize unauthorized immigrants. And they’d certainly accept them, happily, alongside legalization.

Absolutely. Applying the Left’s contemporary standards, only a decade ago the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were supporters of an oppressive, white nationalist agenda – as, in fact, was Hillary Clinton, who once voted to strengthen and expand border fencing between the US and Mexico. This is how far the Left has come on the subject of immigration, in a very short space of time.

More:

But it’s certainly true that Democrats in 2017, in general, tend to criticize the use of immigration enforcement, and tend to side with those accused of violating immigration law, as a broad matter of principle beyond opposing the particular actions of the administration.

This goes beyond simply representing members of their own communities (and potential electoral constituencies). The activist defense of immigrants caught crossing the border, especially the Central American children and families that now make up a large share of people entering the US without papers, has led Democrats to take a much firmer stance in defending them as humanitarian victims who deserve the chance to seek and receive asylum in the US.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to get a Democratic politician to name a single category of illegal immigrant whom they do not consider worthy of amnesty and eventual citizenship. Accusations of racism and oppression come easily to them, yet they are suddenly struck dumb when asked what kind of border security or immigration enforcement measures they would actually support.

And sometimes this leads the Democrats to new heights of extremism:

More broadly, Democrats are no longer as willing to attack “illegal immigration” as a fundamental problem anymore.

That rhetoric, too, came in part from DREAMers, who didn’t like being talked about as victims of their parents’ crimes who came to the US “through no fault of their own.” Instead they’ve portrayed their parents as “the original DREAMers” — a line that Nancy Pelosi followed in September when she said that DACA recipients’ parents “did a great thing” in bringing their children to the US.

Violating US immigration law is now “a great thing”, in the words of the Democratic Party Minority Leader. It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the rule of law, as many on the Left have done for some time regarding immigration. But it is quite another thing altogether to praise that lawbreaking and hold it up as a paragon of civic virtue. This position totally undermines any remaining protestations that the Left are interested in any kind of immigration enforcement, and shows that their idea of “immigration reform” basically means unconditional amnesty with not even a token gesture for conservatives.

Lind’s article is worth reading in full, since she delves into some of the structural reasons why immigration activist voices now carry so much more weight within the Democratic Party, particularly the trade union shift from opposing illegal immigration to protect their dwindling memberships to supporting illegal immigration to boost their enrolment. But whatever the cause, the degree to which Democrats have lurched to the Left on immigration is alarming, and of concern to anybody who would like to see comprehensive reform in which amnesty is given only in exchange for a serious boost to future enforcement.

Andrew Sullivan thinks that the Left are marching off a cliff with their newfound extremism on immigration, and says as much in his weekly column for New York Magazine:

This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats’ current position seems to be that the Dreamer parents who broke the law are near heroes, indistinguishable from the children they brought with them; and their rhetoric is very hard to distinguish, certainly for most swing voters, from a belief in open borders. In fact, the Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and noncitizens is somehow racist. You could see this at the last convention, when an entire evening was dedicated to Latinos, illegal and legal, as if the rule of law were largely irrelevant. Hence the euphemism “undocumented” rather than “illegal.” So the stage was built, lit, and set for Trump.

He still tragically owns that stage. What Merkel did for the AfD, the Democrats are in danger of doing for the Trump wing of the GOP. The most powerful thing Trump said in the campaign, I’d argue, was: “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.” And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw. They still formally favor enforcement of immigration laws, but rhetorically, they keep signaling the opposite.

I was also astounded when the Democrats chose to devote a large section of their 2016 party convention to sharing their stage with confessed and unrepentant illegal immigrants. Though I cannot claim to have predicted Donald Trump’s election victory, in hindsight it is clear that moments like this just killed whatever enthusiasm existed for Hillary Clinton in the key swing states which she went on to narrowly lose.

When you refuse to condemn any form of illegal immigration, make the concerns of illegal immigrants one of your main priorities (often over and above born and naturalised citizens) and actively praise their lawbreaking, you have adopted an open borders position. You just don’t possess the courage to come out and say so, for fear of the political consequences. Apparently the Democrats are quite happy to ignore the concerns of Middle America, but are not yet quite ready to publicly give them the middle finger.

It is not unreasonable for people to ask politicians and political parties who embrace illegal immigration exactly what (if any) immigration controls they would actually accept. In fact, the only reason that Democrats are not routinely put on the spot and shamed into answering this question is because a spineless, complicit Washington DC media tacitly agrees with the new extremist position (or at least is too scared of being called “racist” by social justice activists to do their job).

To be clear: the idea of deporting all (or even most) people currently living illegally in the United States is unworkable as it is cruel – many people in this position did what anyone else would have done, given their situations and the immense pull factors of demand for labour and sporadic enforcement. Moreover, many illegal immigrants have lived most of their lives in America and are effectively Americans in pectore. Many are probably model citizens. Some would likely become the best of America.

But if the rule of law means anything at all, violating US immigration law while others endured stress, incurred expense and lost time following the legal process cannot be rewarded unconditionally. Illegal immigrants should be lifted out of the shadows and freed from a fearful half-life which does nobody any good, but only after following a similar process to legal immigrants. And there must be proper border enforcement in return, so we do not end up back in the same situation in two decade’s time. Immediately upon amnesty being granted to otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants, the Left must give up their defence of sanctuary cities which make a mockery of the law. Donald Trump’s wall is overly expensive, impractical and largely pointless, but existing fencing should be fortified and new technologies deployed to stop illegal crossings. In other words, there must be a meaningful quid pro quo.

Neither side in American politics has acquitted itself very honourably when it comes to immigration reform, but at present it is the Left who are rapidly lurching toward a more extremist position, led by their activists on a collision course with a more sceptical public.

And going into the next electoral cycle, all the shrieking about Trump’s “racist” wall will not disguise the fact that the Left have something far more radical in mind.

 

Immigration Reform

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