Bloom Briefing 36: Shutdown Over; Immigration Dealings; Gerrymandering Investigated

The 36th edition of The Bloom Briefing focuses on the end to the shutdown and immigration. Be sure to check the additional reading section for links to FiveThirtyEight’s amazing work on gerrymandering.

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End of the Shutdown

There seem to be two basic perspectives from the left on the deal struck to end the shutdown.

The first is that Democrats negotiated well, and extended CHIP funding for 6 years without removing DACA as an issue before the next round of budget negotiations in a few weeks. This effectively bought 3 weeks of time without a government shutdown to negotiate an immigration deal (as promised by Mitch McConnell) and avert a more prolonged shutdown. If no DACA deal can be struck, then Democrats can reasonably shut it down again from a stronger position.

The second is that this was outright capitulation. Democrats didn’t have the gumption to stick to the task, betraying Dreamers after promising there would be no budget deal without action on DACA. They managed to completely capitulate while sending mixed signals about who was responsible for the shutdown (was it Democrats shutting down government to protect Dreamers or Republicans shutting it down because they’re in power?) and alienating a base they had gotten geared up for a fight. And they made this choice relying on the word of Mitch McConnell after he had made this same promise (and broken it) to Jeff Flake only a short time previously.

I lean more towards the second of these interpretations, but I leave the door open to be proved wrong. Skepticism without judgment for the time being. I mostly feel that no deal that Democrats can possibly work out with Republicans that protects Dreamers would come without absurd restrictions to the current immigration system and/or unnecessary funding for the physical or metaphorical wall. Will Democrats toe the line and demand a clean DACA bill before negotiating anything else? Consider me skeptical.


Among the reasons I don’t believe an acceptable bill on DACA will be passed is the presence of Stephen Miller at the negotiating table. Miller, a senior aide to Trump, has a long history of far-right views, particularly on the subject of immigration. In the New York Times today, Ross Douthat published an odd and offensive defense of Stephen Miller and his role in the immigration negotiations. Douthat, a self-proclaimed proponent of the immigration status quo, thinks there are many good reasons to be in favor of a reduction of immigration:

“The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic – but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras.”

Douthat claims that this point of view represents the perspective of about one-third of Americans, and acknowledges that plenty of them may hold this perspective for reasons of bigotry. But while Douthat’s most charitable creation of a restrictionist’s perspective may not have the overt bigotry undergirding run-of-the-mill restrictionist ideology, latent soft-racist ideas are contained therein.

Let’s take the cluster of ideas here related to culture. Douthat claims that immigration and increased diversity “sow distrust.” What a curious phrase, devoid of any agency. Diversity happens and so does distrust. In this syntax, there’s no one doing the distrusting; it just happens. What Douthat means is that white people don’t trust immigrants. Immigrants come and the native population distrusts them. That hardly seems like the immigrants’ fault or even really a product of immigration itself. It’s a product of the closed-mindedness of the native population more than anything else.

Douthat also makes vague allusions to a lack of assimilation. Readers of the online version will note that the word assimilation is hyper-linked, implying some reliance upon data showing a lack of assimilation and the various problems created by said lack of assimilation. Instead, the hyperlink takes the reader to a 2013 op-ed by Douthat in which he cites data about the earning power of third-generation Mexican-Americans.

The thrust of this earlier piece reads like something from the 19th century, with a bunch of heavy-handed moralizing about the moral degeneracy of the poor. Douthat’s focus here is on the “cultural problems” of the “rainbow underclass,” and why the immigration deal then under consideration (that would have granted amnesty to 11 million undocumented workers, not just Dreamers, provided more guest worker visas, and beefed up border security) was bad because it would have added more unassimilated people to this already-maligned group.

When assessing the breadth of Douthat’s work, it’s actually hard to tell that he isn’t a restrictionist at heart. When one repeatedly makes claims that the restrictionist position ought be taken more seriously, perhaps one should simply be taken at face value. In fact, Douthat seems sympathetic to the Trump-Miller proposal to allow protections for Dreamers in exchange for limiting future immigration by moving to a skills-based “merit” entry system.

The question remains: is there a non-racist reason for wanting to limit immigration. Helpfully, last fall, Matthew Yglesias pulled together a nearly comprehensive and extremely well-sourced list of the various reasons why conservative arguments about immigration are unfounded.

  • Immigration is good, not bad, for the economy

  • Immigration is good, not bad, for the federal budget

  • Immigrants commit crimes at lower, not higher, rates

  • Cultural arguments about immigration’s effects are ill-founded

  • Immigrants enrich, rather than fracture, culture

  • Immigrants have more, not fewer, skills and education

  • The benefits to immigrants themselves should be considered

Read and consider the evidence. Immigration is great. Those wanting to limit it often make bad arguments. These arguments are often based on a latent kind of unwitting racism that assumes bad things about people who look different. Sometimes, as with Stephen Miller, they are based on a very overt kind of racism.

When well-educated people suggest that immigration is somehow connected to crime, that it is somehow connected to social discord, that it is somehow connected to economic decline and distress, they are not merely being intellectually lazy; they are employing racist tropes of crime-laden, disease-ridden foreigners come to take good (read: white) Americans’ jobs. Ross Douthat, a regular columnist for the New York Times, is defending the very worst of the restrictionists. It is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

Additional Reading:

If you read anything this week, make it FiveThirtyEight’s special feature on gerrymandering, led by Dave Wasserman. The first part, an essay, details the project. The second, an interactive set of maps, let’s you experiment and compare the effects of drawing districts with different sets of criteria. The third is an explanation of how they drew the maps.

In case you missed it, news broke this week that Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller in June, but White House Counsel Don McGahn said he would resign before executing the order, and Trump relented. At the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has written about how the case for obstruction of justice against Trump just keeps getting stronger.

If you can get past the framing as “against identity politics” (it’s not, really), Briahna Joy Gray’s New York Magazine piece is a thoughtful take on a middle way forward for the left.