If you want to understand why politics is devolving into a demagogic spectacle that is endangering liberal democratic government throughout so much of the world — from the U.S. to Brazil, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and beyond — you could do worse than study the way the story of the migrant caravan has unfolded in American political culture over the past week.
The caravan itself — the way it’s being portrayed in the media and manipulated by the president and his party, and the response to all of it on the part of the Democrats — encapsulates everything that’s going wrong with politics in 2018. Let’s take a look at three of the guilty parties here.
1. The charlatan-demagogue in the White House
Roughly 7,000 people (most of them Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence in their home country) are walking north through Mexico toward the southern American border over 1,000 miles away. This, says President Trump, constitutes a national emergency. Never mind that the caravan adds up to just 0.7 percent of the roughly 1 million people who will immigrate to the United States this year — or that there is zero evidence for Trump’s race-baiting claims that “unknown Middle Easterners” are “mixed in” with the caravan.
What makes these 7,000 noteworthy is that they are traveling as a group (in part to protect themselves on the dangerous and grueling journey) and images of their movement are plastered across televisions, computer monitors, and the front pages of newspapers throughout the U.S., accompanied by blatantly false and alarmist assertions on the part of the president and his propaganda ministers in the right-wing media.
Not only do these migrants amount to a miniscule number in the context of present immigration rates. They are also microscopic compared to the ocean-going “caravan” of 5.3 million Italians, 2 million Central European Catholics and Jews, 1.5 million Scandinavians, and millions of others who traveled to the United States on ships and made a home for themselves in the United States between the 1880s and 1920s, at a time when the population of the country was a third of what it is now.
None of this means that American immigration policy can’t or shouldn’t be changed, adjusted up or down, if Congress can only get its act together. Such changes are perfectly legitimate. But…