Donald Trump is on the cusp of taking the oath of office, and consequently the American people (meaning in this context all of the people of the Americas) are on the cusp of the abyss, waiting for the long freefall into the deep crevasse of a dystopian hell.
Overreacting? Well, not if you watched, as I did, the Master of Mendacity’s first circus act on January 11, which was oddly billed as a press conference.
This bizarre display of hubris (there will be plenty more to come) was foisted upon serious journalists who couldn’t get their questions answered, and presided over by the soon-to-be Carnival Barker-in-Chief, didn’t bother me. In fact, it was entertaining, in the sick way that watching a plane crash at an air show is entertaining – you can’t believe the horror but you can’t look away either.
It didn’t bother me that I was watching the personal reality show of a sexist, racist bigot, homophobe and borderline moron (he even used the “you’re fired” line from his previous reality show, and called CNN “fake news” for good measure).
It didn’t bother me that I was watching a freely-elected failed real estate broker with a bad comb-over who speaks in meaningless Orwellian slogans and can’t seem to form a grammatically correct (or even intelligible) sentence, and who makes George W. Bush and Dan Quayle look like polymaths by comparison.
It does not even bother me that this man has never demonstrated even the slightest interest in public service over the course of his lifetime, much less any executive experience.
No, I won’t go into the laundry list of things that make this sardonic, supercilious shell of a hectoring man-boy a despicable person and the worst choice for president in the history of the American republic. I’ve already done that, as have many others.
What does bother me, though, is his apparent gnat-like attention span and inability to grasp something as basic as the principle of good governance, despite being surrounded in Washington D.C. by an ocean of public policy cognoscenti.
In keeping with his severe megalomaniacal personality disorder, he prefers the company of consiglieres, sycophants, shills and apparatchiks, who apparently don’t mind – and perhaps even encourage – his recursive truculent preening.
His policies are those of the neighborhood drunk at the corner bar – asinine uneducated musings unsupported by anything even resembling a fact. As a single example of how dangerous his fake policies can be, we need only examine Trump’s border and immigration position(s). (The parenthetical “s” is necessary because policy consistency is not something in Trump’s limited vocabulary.)
To paraphrase: build a big beautiful wall, okay maybe not a complete wall, fences will be okay in some places, and make Mexico pay for it, but we’ll pay for it first and then negotiate with the Mexicans later; no I never said a fence, it will be a wall; and deport 11 million undocumented Mexicans and their families even if some of their children are U.S. citizens, but then again maybe we can’t do that, maybe we can be more flexible, ad infinitum.
I’ve already weighed in on the feckless absurdity of Trump’s wall, so let’s just look at Trump’s deportation plan. In doing so, we’ll have to pretend that The Donald is as good as his word (it takes some imagination). Also, that the substantive and procedural due process guaranteed by our constitution doesn’t exist. Also, that it would be logistically feasible and financially affordable. Also that . . . well, never mind, you get the idea.
With that rather long (but necessary) throat-clearing out of the way, I come to the 2004 mockumentary “A Day Without a Mexican” by Sergio Arau, which mockumented the societal and economic collapse of California when all Mexicans disappeared, leading to, among other things, food shortages and gang violence over black-market produce sales. It won best screenplay at the Cartagena Film Festival not because was particularly well produced, but because its satire was so close to the truth.
Economists largely agree. Leaving aside the human costs, a study last year by the center-right American Action Forum concluded that the economic costs to the United States of mass deportations would be devastating: the administrative costs would run from $400 billion to $600 billion and overall, removing all undocumented immigrants would cause private sector output to decline by between $381.5 billion and $632.5 billion. This translates to a 2.29% to 4.7% reduction in total annual output from the private sector.
It gets worse. Agricultural economists at Cornell concluded in a study completed just last month that deporting all undocumented workers would shrink the economy by 3% to 6%, and because roughly half of all agricultural workers are undocumented, wine prices would skyrocket, 3,500 dairy farms would close, the price of milk would increase by 90% and overall food prices would increase by 5% to 6%.
And as I have previously written, undocumented immigrants are a net benefit to our economy, as the Conservative Action Forum has admitted.
Are there answers other than walls and mass deportations, or to put it another way, economic self-immolation? Yes. They were called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. They weren’t perfect bills, but they were very good, pragmatic bills, providing for immigration reform and real guest worker programs.
They died in Congress because Republican pollsters discovered that good public policy is bad politics. Republicans in both the House and the Senate realized that fear was a much easier sell to their ignorant constituents than principles of economic demography, history, and easily verifiable facts.
And of course the open secret on Capitol Hill and Wall Street is that many wealthy Republicans like the status quo because undocumented workers don’t have rights, like a minimum wage. They (country club Republicans) have been having their cake and eating it too with their political cris de coeur against undocumented workers and immigration reform, while at the same time enjoying the fruits of their illegal, underpaid labor.
There are really only two possible outcomes on this issue. Donald Trump will deport 11 million people as he promised, which would cause a massive economic and humanitarian crisis. Or Donald Trump will markedly increase deportations, but far short of his goals, claiming that his tiny orange hands are tied by an uncooperative Congress and legal (e.g. “constitutional”) hurdles.
He too, will have his cake and eat it too. None of his supporters will blame him because of course not keeping his promise was not his fault, and they will give him all due credit for trying.
That is what happens when you elect a populist. He will tell you what you want to hear knowing that he can never deliver on his promises, and also knowing that he will never be blamed for not delivering on his promises. Trumpistas will drink the shit milkshake of Trumpism, thinking they like it.
Who will suffer? Everyone. Latinos will be worse off, average U.S. citizens will be worse off, Latin Americans will be worse off, everyone who voted for Trump will be worse off; in sum, everyone will be living in a darker, less tolerant, less prosperous world.
I began this op-ed with the analogy of Donald Trump’s recent press conference being a circus act. It was of course by any reasonable account just that, but I also used the word circus because of its Latin significance with respect to the fall of the Roman Empire. Panem et circenses – bread and circuses.
What Trump offers is palliative: it comforts but does not cure, and like bread and games, it is an emotional distraction, and appeases emotional needs, ignoring real problems, elevating the immediate self-interested wants of a minority of the electorate above the wider concerns of civic society and duty.
I have previously compared Trump to Mussolini, but I now find that comparison somewhat wanting. Better to compare him to Caligula, the self-absorbed Roman emperor obsessed with sex, money, anger, bread and circuses.
Glen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua, a specialist in law and public policy and a frequent contributor to Mexico News Daily. Some of his other non-academic work can be viewed at glenolives.com.