Monday, December 30, 2019

Review of Davis and Shear's Border Wars

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Michael D. Shear's Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration (2019) is your basic insider-view book, providing some interesting context to what we essentially already know. I like that sort of book from time to time.

The basic narrative is that Trump immigration policy is driven by the relentless and malevolent vision of Stephen Miller, who retreats into Hannah Arendt-ish arguments about just doing his job. The "just following the law" attitude flows downward, no matter how cruel the policy. Miller's view is that if even one criminal might enter the country, then you need to stop everyone, which is just a different version of Dick Cheney's disastrous one percent doctrine. Political appointees clutching at their positions scramble to make it happen.

Miller is a figure who, unlike just about everyone else in the book, is not forced out, and therefore is a permanent fixture. As such, he blows up every congressional effort to do anything. A typical scenario has congressional figures cook something up, talk to Trump about it, get Trump to agree in principle, then find Trump tweeting something incendiary that Miller told him and it all goes to hell.

Congressional leaders come off as well-meaning, which suggests the authors relied rather heavily in their interviews with them. The cabinet is characterized by infighting and desire not to look bad even while doing bad things--just resign already. Jared Kushner is an idiot who thinks lack of knowledge is a good thing for congressional negotiations. Trump himself is what you'd expect--ignorant and deeply attached to his base. Miller is an ideologue who knows how to destroy things politically but not build them.

The book tries very hard to be even-handed, but that strains credulity (poor Jared Kushner, who was so exhausted but didn't get a vacation!). For example, they commit the common error of seeing Trump as upending "many decades of bipartisan consensus in favor of immigrants and immigration" (p. 8). That makes no sense, given that congressional refusal to pass immigration laws is based on one party being increasingly and openly anti-immigrant. Guess why the DREAM Act had never passed? Trump didn't create the anti-immigrant attitude, he just tapped into it and made it worse. Immigration policy is a machine, and it will continue chewing up and spitting out people until it is radical overhauled.


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