The Truth in Trump’s Vulgarity

Migrants leave their homes for a reason—often fleeing chaos from poor governance.

Sen. Cory Booker at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Jan. 16.
Sen. Cory Booker at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Jan. 16. PHOTO: BILL CLARK/ZUMA PRESS

Mr. Trump denies having used the expletive. Yet the gist of the remark is grounded in fact: A great many migrants to the U.S. are fleeing insufferable conditions, driven by poor governance. People vote with their feet.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 16, New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Booker ranted for 11 minutes at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen because she would not corroborate Mr. Durbin’s claim that the president had used a bad word in the meeting.

Mr. Booker’s histrionics bordered on parody. But the real trouble with all the righteous indignation from him and others about the alleged Trump insult is their cluelessness.

It should be obvious that when there’s no rule of law or property rights or strong civic institutions, daily life often degenerates into chaos. What is more, there is a long history in Mr. Booker’s party of supporting the ambitions of power-hungry, corrupt demagogues and left-wing populism in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s silly to ask why there are not more migrants to the U.S. from Norway, which has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Economically secure nations do not generate large waves of emigration.

The irony of Mr. Booker’s outburst is that most migrants, by pulling up stakes, have shown that they agree with Mr. Trump—whether they admit it or not. They feel so strongly about it that they’ve left loved ones, gambled life savings and set off on precarious journeys to find better lives. The squalor of their homelands is not for them. They think they can do better.

Yet if Mr. Booker doesn’t understand the hell that migrants often leave, Mr. Trump doesn’t understand the value they bring with them. The president doesn’t want the U.S. to take in so many “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” as Emma Lazarus called them in her famed 1883 poem, “The New Colossus.” He prefers a merit-based system that would award points for attributes like education, skills and English-language proficiency.

This is not racism, and providing that Mr. Trump doesn’t sharply cut immigration at the same time, it is not nativism. But it is likely a mistake. The U.S. has been built on the hard work of hungry migrants willing to make sacrifices for a future generation. They are ambitious risk-takers like none other.

It is doubtful they will be stopped. The U.S. has a large number of illegal workers because the labor market absorbs them. Most Americans don’t think it should be a crime to work, so employers ignore the law and hire them. The underground economy swells.

I’ve never met an immigrant delivering fast food on a bicycle in the middle of winter in New York City who wouldn’t rather be home in the village where he was born and raised—if it offered him a future. The most humanitarian thing people like Mr. Booker could do is to support U.S. policies that encourage more Norways and fewer Haitis. That is to say, policies that promote open markets, limited government, low taxes and reliable legal systems.

The secret to this is not something that can be bottled and exported, and nation building has a dismal record. But rich countries like the U.S. might help if they would take a Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

Mr. Booker’s “tears of rage,” which he professed to have felt upon hearing Mr. Trump’s alleged characterization of migrant homelands, is especially rich given the history of his party.

Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a corrupt tyrant. But he shared the wealth with Democrats, going into business with Joseph P. Kennedy II and Clintonista “Mack” McLarty in a telecom scam that I documented in a 2008 column. The partnership happened to coincide with the years when President Clinton protected Mr. Aristide, even as he pillaged Haiti.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd threw a hissy fit when the Venezuelan military tried to force Hugo Chávez from office for his violations of civil liberties in 2002. More recently, the Obama administration insisted on pouring millions of dollars into El Salvador, while the ruling FMLN party, made up of former guerrillas, tore up contracts and threatened its political opponents.

Competition through free trade is one of the best ways to force countries into reform. But Democrats have long resisted open commerce with Latin America, most recently with the Colombia free-trade agreement signed in 2006. Now Mr. Trump has joined them.

Millions have fled these countries. Their migration is a familiar American story. Caring about them includes admitting that they left for a reason.

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Appeared in the January 29, 2018, print edition.


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