Monday, January 15, 2018

Is The President Really a Racist?

Senator Dick Durbin and President Trump 
There appears to be some controversy about whether the President actually uttered the words attributed to him last week. Words the media were quick to jump on. Myself included. If the report by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is true, then I stand by my assessment. His words about immigration to the US by people from underdeveloped nations were racist.

If, on the other hand one believes some of the Republican senators who attended the same meeting, then he apparently did not say anything like those words – and did not even use the profanity Senator Durbin said he did.

There was one Republican senator at that meeting who seemed to indicate that the President did say something inappropriate. He did not say exactly what it was other than the fact that he protested it at the time. 

There is no way of knowing what was actually said. Or what was meant by it. For his part, the President denies he said it - although he admitted he did have some very harsh words on the subject immigration policy.

Who should we believe? The reports issued by partisan politicians need to be taken in the spirit of who gave them. To say that one politician is more credible than another is in and of itself partisan. I’m not even saying that anyone lied. Sometimes people hear what they want to hear… or interpret things they hear from their own biased perspective.

What is true however is that whatever the President said, no one walked out of that meeting suddenly in righteous protest. A remark like that should have caused them all go walk out in unison! Even the senior senator from Illinois (Durbin) continued to stay at the meeting after he heard the alleged statement. That he seemed so righteously indignant about belies the fact that he waited 24 hour to tell us about it.

The truth is that I never saw the President as a racist until this event. It actually surprised me. He has no history of racism at all. Reports about some of his real estate holdings in the past having had racially restrictive polices notwithstanding.  Unfortunately restrictive covenants were quite common back in those days in certain hotels… many of them restricting Jews too. And yet I’m pretty sure that the President is not an antisemite. That he may have looked the other way and not done anything about it is a black mark on his record. But not unusual in those days and it doesn’t necessarily make him a racist today. That he has made comments last year that appeared racist is just a function of his inarticulate ways. As I discussed at the time.

After reflecting on this a bit over the weekend, I have backed off on my view that his comment was necessarily racist. I am no longer sure it was. If one looks at the context of the discussion when the alleged comment was made, one can reconstruct what might have really happened in the Oval Office that day. The discussion was about US policy on immigration.

The current policy is called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Better known as‘the Lottery Program’. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990 which makes available 50,000 visas annually to be issued by the State Department.  It’s purpose was to increase diversity among our population by selecting people from formerly low immigrant countries. About 20 million apply for the lottery each year.

What the President and many politicians have tried to do is end this policy. And replace it with a merit based policy similar to that of Canada. Which looks at things like education and skills. In other words it looks at how much an applicant can contribute. The current policy ignores merit. 

I completely understand why a Canadian type system would be preferable. The more an immigrant can contribute to society, the more we should prefer them. A merit based system does that.

This does not mean that we should disallow unskilled or uneducated laborers into the country. Of course we should. They are the ones doing the unskilled labor that needs to be done  but few Americans are  willing to do. Keeping the process random skews immigration in favor of those with the least to contribute.

If a country has a low ratio of ‘merit’ applicants and another a high ratio, it is understandable for a government to choose more people from countries with the higher ratio. Looking at all the commentary over the past few days, I think this is as plausible explanation of what he said - as it is to say what he said was racist. If that was the context, then the desire to change the current lottery program into a merit based program similar to Canada’s is not racist at all. It would not have anything to do with the color of one’s skin.

Once can debate the merits of changing the policy, but if this is a description of what was actually discussed then saying he is a racist based on it is incorrect. Unless you are a Trump hater. Then it’s axiomatic that he is.