When you’re a politician, and you talk for a living, change positions often, and bend to expediency, there is a natural progression.
First, you lose your bearing. Then you lose your relevance. Finally, you lose your marbles.
Thanks to the immigration debate, Lindsey Graham has arrived at stage 3.
What seems to have pushed him over the edge was the public dialogue over President Trump’s border wall. Having opposed, even mocked, much of what the real estate mogul said about immigration and border security back when the two men locked horns over the 2016 Republican nomination, Graham has since learned to stop worrying and love The Donald—along with championing the idea of a big, beautiful wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump recently said that a wall has become a “metaphor” for border security.
Take it from someone who has written about immigration for 30 years from three different border states, expressing support for a wall is a “signal” that someone doesn’t understand the subject matter.
Most border experts agree that a giant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is just as likely to lead to more immigration as it is less of it. Here’s how: Walls have a way of becoming cages. If the millions of illegal immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America who are already in the United States can’t return to Mexico to see their families because going back and forth across the border would be difficult or prohibitively expensive, they are likely to just pay the one-time fee for a smuggler to bring their family across the border. And be done.
Besides, every time we build a wall or fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, the smuggling cartels celebrate because they get to raise their prices. A decade ago, it cost about $1,000 for a single person to get across. Today, it’s about $4,000. It’s hard to beat an adversary when you keep making him stronger through your mistakes.
So Graham is wrong about the wall, but he has the right to be wrong. What he doesn’t have the right to do is trivialize the ugly fact that many people who support the wall also oppose immigration—both legal and illegal—and do so because they fear that the country is becoming Latinized.
Not long ago, when he was an apprentice to his best friend in the Senate, John McCain, Graham seemed to understand that.
Speaking to the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza on May 4, 2007, the lawmaker from South Carolina laid out the path to comprehensive immigration reform and tore into the racists.
“We're going to solve this problem,” Graham told the crowd. “We're not going to run down people. We're going to tell the bigots to shut up.”
But that was 12 years ago, and that was the Old Lindsey Graham. The New Lindsey Graham is a hot mess on immigration and a big disappointment to many of the same reform advocates who once considered him a good friend and a reliable ally.
And now he’s the one who needs to shut up.
Whereas the Old Lindsey wasn’t afraid to call out racists and declare that he would not let them stand in the way of immigration reform, the New Lindsey seems to think it’s unfair to even call someone a racist for wanting to restrict immigration or looking down on immigrants.
Earlier this month, Graham appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation and got snarky with those who worry that racism is fueling a lot of the public panic over immigration. The way he sees it, the folks on the left are the ones who are preventing any progress on immigration reform.
“(Republicans are) not going to put any offers on the table as long as people in charge of these negotiations accuse all of us who want a wall of being a racist,” he said. “Why would you negotiate with someone who calls you a racist?”
Gee, I don’t know. Why would the anti-immigration forces have negotiated, back in 2007, with a senator who called them bigots?
Not that Graham doesn’t have a constituency that he’s playing to with his “don’t-call-me-racist” shtick. He does. White men make strong whine— especially in the Trump era.
This demographic is chock-full of victims who feel that they lost a factory job because of a trade deal, that their kid couldn’t get into the Ivy League because of “reverse discrimination,” and that they now have to fear accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women in the “Me Too” era.
They feel assaulted by identity politics, censored by political correctness, overrun by open borders, discriminated against by racial preferences, and put off by every other left-wing scheme that they’re sure exists for one reason only—to strip them of power and send them to the back of the bus.
Those are Graham’s peeps now. These are the folks that he is defending.
Stop playing games, Senator. Either you’re ready to acknowledge the role that race and ethnicity play—and historically, have always played—in America’s efforts to keep out certain groups of people because we consider them dangerous, diseased, or defective, or you’re not.
And you shouldn’t be afraid to use the word “racist” now and then. The word doesn’t bite.
What else would you call it when Donald Trump Jr. compares immigrants on the border to animals in a zoo, as he did in an Instagram post he eventually deleted: “You know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo? Because walls work.”
Is that racism? You bet it is. And, as a son of the South, you know what they say: If the sheet fits, wear it.