In the Election Aftermath, Media Observations on the Need for a Civil Discussion of Immigration

By Jerry Kammer, November 10, 2016

I opposed Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, but welcomed his success in making immigration policy a centerpiece of the campaign despite efforts by leaders of both major parties to avoid it. It is good to see that this discussion has been an important theme in the aftermath of an election that may be remembered as the most stunning in American history. Here are some of the comments I have come across. Immigration is not explicitly mentioned in all of them, but I think it is part of the subtext.

Journalist Tina Brown, on MSNBC, found a commonality between the election of Trump and the passage of the Brexit resolution to leave the European Union: "It was exactly the same with Brexit. I remember being in the U.K. a lot and hearing almost like a secret conversation, which was this anxiety about immigration. If you raise conversation in any way publicly you were a racist. You know, you were a xenophobe. And if you can't have a conversation, it boils underneath and it explodes. It's very dangerous."

Frank Bruni, New York Times columnist, on MSNBC with Tina Brown: "When people are silenced, when they feel like simply saying, 'I don't agree with Obamacare,' or 'I don't agree with transgender bathrooms' — if they feel like saying that, it immediately gets them branded, whether it's on social media or by people talking in the studio. This gets them branded a bigot, a deplorable. They're going to seethe, and they're going to find some sort of outlet for that seething. And the outlet is Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States."

A caller to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR disputed the notion that Trump owed his election to uneducated white workers: "Just because they didn't go to school past maybe a two-year college doesn't mean that they're uneducated. It doesn't mean that they don't have a moral compass or that they don't want their government to abide by the rule of law. And I know from personal experience with my family that even though the way that Trump said things was just horrible, they really felt that he was touching on a vein which was, you know, things are not going the way that Americans expect, like following immigration laws and policies."

Whit Ayres, Republican strategist and pollster, also on the Diane Rehm Show "It is a serious mistake to assume that all Trump voters believe all the hateful things he said. I think they might very well have other reasons for voting for him. Might some be motivated by sexism or racism? No one can deny that. But I think it's a real mistake to paint all Trump supporters as racist or sexist."

Seth Meyers, host of NBC's Late Night: "I felt a lot of emotions last night. ... some sadness, some anger, some fear. But I'm also aware that those are the same emotions a lot of Trump supporters felt, emotions that led them to make their choice. And it would be wrong for me to think my emotions are somehow more authentic than their emotions. We are always better as a society when we have empathy for one another, so I would just say — I would like to say to those Trump voters, 'Congratulations. I sincerely hope he addresses your concerns. I sincerely hope that if you felt forgotten he won't forget you now.'"

Of course, much of the commentary has expressed outrage and fury, especially from members of the media elite. For example, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, wrote: "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism."

I'll have more about the Manhattan myopia next time.