You can’t compromise with bullshit

For the second straight week, I start with a Paul Krugman column. This time it’s “Return of the Blood Libel” from Thursday. The key observation concerns the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, the one that has obsessed the country for the least two weeks.

What’s almost equally remarkable about this plunge into barbarism is that it’s not a response to any actual problem. The mass influx of murderers and rapists that Trump talks about, the wave of crime committed by immigrants here (and, in his mind, refugees in Germany), are things that simply aren’t happening. They’re just sick fantasies being used to justify real atrocities.

This observation isn’t new, and Krugman isn’t the first to point it out. Trump started his campaign by talking about Mexican rapists. His acceptance speech at the Republican Convention warned that “illegal immigrant families … are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.” His inaugural address painted a picture of “American carnage” which he promised “stops right here and stops right now”. Yesterday he tweeted: “Strong Borders, No Crime!”, as if America had no indigenous criminals, but suffered only from rampaging gangsters that cross our borders.

And from the beginning, it’s all been bullshit. Violent crime is on a long-term downward trend in America, and very little of the remaining murder and mayhem is carried out by undocumented immigrants. If the US isn’t safe enough for you yet, neither the Muslim Ban nor the mistreatment of refugees from Central America going to make you safer. And if you ignore the nationwide stats and focus on a border town like Brownsville, Texas? “We’re doing fine,” says the mayor.

[Commenters have been confused by the “per 100,000 population”, so I’ll clarify. The question is: Is that per 100K of the state’s entire population, or per 100K of the named group? If it were the former, then the apparent pro-immigrant point is lost; there are more native-born people than immigrants, so of course they commit more crimes. But if you click through to the WaPo article I got the chart from, and then keep clicking until you get to their source, you wind up at a report from the Cato Institute, where the charts are labelled less ambiguously: “per 100,000 in each subpopulation”. So the chart is saying that immigrants commit fewer crimes per capita than native-born Americans.]

Lots of writers have making comparisons to the Nazis as they see the mindless cruelty of the family-separation policy, or the concentration camps that will be needed to hold all those waiting for immigration hearings, if they have to be held. (They don’t have to be held.) But Krugman points back to an even earlier era of anti-Semitism: the centuries of random riots and organized pogroms incited by the Blood Libel — the myth that secret Jewish Passover rituals required the sacrifice of Christian children. All it took was for a child to go missing at the wrong time, and mobs would descend on the local Jewish ghetto, seeking revenge for an imaginary horror.

Picture for a moment the helplessness you would feel if you were either a Jew or a sympathetic Christian hoping to prevent the upcoming Passover from ending in tragedy. You can’t get the Jews to stop sacrificing Christian children, because they were never doing that in the first place. The underlying cause of the looming riot is in a mythological realm you can’t access.

Same thing here. Both Presidents Bush and Obama imagined that they might be able to compromise with anti-immigration hardliners by strengthening enforcement. And so over the last 20 years we’ve had more and more fence built, more and more agents manning the border, more and more deportations. And what they’ve gotten in exchange is exactly nothing, because the border that matters, the one that murderers and rapists and drug mules are streaming across at will, isn’t in the real world at all. When the problem that motivates someone is imaginary, there’s nothing anybody else can do about it.

Some people, Andrew Sullivan for example, appear not to have learned this lesson. Just one more real-world effort, they think, and Trump’s irrationally fearful supporters will be satisfied:

So give him his fucking wall. He won the election. He is owed this. It may never be completed; it may not work, as hoped. But it is now the only way to reassure a critical mass of Americans that mass immigration is under control, and the only way to make any progress under this president. And until the white working and middle classes are reassured, we will get nowhere.

But why will they be reassured by a wall that doesn’t get completed and won’t work? Why will they be reassured by anything that happens in the real world? Won’t there still be examples of whites who get killed by undocumented immigrants? Won’t there still be unemployed whites who blame Hispanics with jobs? Won’t demagogues still tell them that subhuman vermin are streaming by the millions across our open borders? Build the wall, open concentration camps, start shooting illegal immigrants on sight — what changes?

You can’t compromise with bullshit. It isn’t just that it’s not smart; it simply doesn’t work.

This is an across-the-board problem with the Trump administration. Take Canada, for example. How is it going to shrink its trade surplus with the US when it doesn’t have a trade surplus with the US? What could possibly be done to end discrimination against Christians in America when there is no discrimination against Christians in America? How do we end the War on Coal when there is no War on Coal?

When claims are based on nothing, they can go on being based on nothing, no matter what you do to mollify the people who make those claims.

You can sympathize with people, even if they vote against you. And when they point to actual problems in the real world, you can offer them solutions, or at least concessions.

But the Jews of Prague and Warsaw had nothing to offer Christian parents who worried about their children being sacrificed and their blood baked into matzah. Their fear was quite real, but their problem lived in a mythic realm beyond any Jew’s influence.

Similarly, there is nothing we can offer those who worry about “American carnage” or the persecution of Christians or unfair Canadian trade.

Real-world solutions can’t touch imaginary problems. You can’t compromise with bullshit.

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  • weeklysift  On June 25, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Sorry, I left out one of the most obvious mythological problems: Men claiming to be transgender so they can go into women’s bathrooms and assault women. Can we possibly do enough to push this fantasy out of right-wing minds?

    • Anonymous  On June 25, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      Late-term abortions being common and carried out for frivolous reasons. Planned Parenthood staff making a fortune selling baby parts for profit.

    • Anonymous  On June 26, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      The war on cops.

  • Rebecca Stith  On June 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    This analysis is truly excellent. I see so many across the political spectrum buying into the “problem” of undocumented persons flooding our country, driving up crime rates, and stealing US citizens’ jobs. I have tried to point out that overall border crossings are way down from a few years ago even with the recent increase in families fleeing violence in several Central American countries, that crime is lower among documented and undocumented immigrants than people born here, and that undocumented persons are not taking jobs that native-born Americans want. My comments usually get trolled or ignored.

    Thank you for pointing out the impossibility of “fixing” a problem that does not exist.


    • jh  On June 27, 2018 at 11:39 am

      It’s “feels over reals”. No amount of numbers or data will appease this group. As long as they feel that something is true, it is true.

      At this point, all I can say is “So you support putting toddlers into internment camps?” Because putting in stats such as immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born, net immigration is down, many of the jobs “that are stolen” are jobs Americans don’t want to do such as farm jobs, the danger and violence that they are fleeing that is in part because of our American policies, the ultimate ineffectiveness of a giant wall are useless when it’s emotions driven by fear.

      What the conservative wants is to go back to “leave it to beaver”. A fantasy world that never existed except in their delusional minds. They’ll dress it up with “it’s about the law” or “God placed Trump in power”, but the heart of darkness is that they just don’t like brown folks. Somehow, I doubt they would be up in arms if a horde of Canadians started drifting down south. They are in complete denial about how much they harm other people while supporting republicans.

  • Jeff Miller  On June 25, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    It reminds me of the bit in the “Friends” series finale when they’re trying to stop a plane from taking off afte the doors have shut. As I remember it, a rumor gets started that there’s a problem with the plans “left phalange”. Nervous passengers demand an explanation from the flight crew, but the crew’s explanation that “There are no phalanges” only put the passengers into more of a panic and makes takeoff impossible.

    Attempts to compromise with bullshit are similar to the flight crew’s ultimate solution to wait 15 minutes and then assure everyone, “We fixed the problem with the phalanges.” I tend to do same thing with my five year old son when we’re in the car and he asks the incoherent question, “Dad, how fast are we going–can we go Level 5 fast?” I usually just tell him, “Yep, we’re going Level 5.” Compromising with bullshit is a really tempting option. Great post.

  • Steven Bittenson  On June 25, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Doug,

    I’m intentionally writing to you directly rather than commenting on line. I generally don’t like public conversations, and I would prefer not having this comment published. Thank you for your respect in this regard. There’s also no need for you to reply to me.

    I generally enjoy reading and agree with much of the content of your Weekly Sift posts. They also make for make for great family discussions. This week, though I’m not arguing with the general thrust of the piece, I do have an issue with the bar chart in “You can’t compromise with bullshit”.

    This bar chart is apparently included to illustrate/convince that immigrants in Texas, legal and undocumented alike, comprise relatively low crime groups. I suggest that this use of the chart is unfairly biased in favor of the immigrant groups as encountered by the “average” resident, and without further comment this representation can mislead some of your readership.

    Unless I’m not reading the labeling of the chart correctly, the statistics are reported on the basis of identified crimes per 100,000 total population in Texas, as opposed to per 100,000 of each group presented. I’d be delighted to learn that I have this wrong, so please do let me know if this is the case.

    According to the American immigration Council:

    • weeklysift  On June 25, 2018 at 10:17 pm

      If you chase the links back to the original report from the Cato Institute, charts with the same data are labeled “per 100,000 residents in each sub-population”. So no, the chart is not biased in favor of immigrants.

      I’ll leave your comment and this response up for a couple of days to make sure you see it.

      • Nathan Harvey  On June 26, 2018 at 3:27 pm

        I had noticed the possible chart issue too, and had planned on searching for the original to make sure after reading, but hit this comment. Now I was pretty sure that the chart was just worded incorrectly, as I’ve seen a number of such studies that were specifically on proportion, but the wording is definitely confusing.

        I would add a comment in the text of your article or as a reference to make clear that the wording is wrong (or photoshop correct the image with note). Many of us do read and reread your older blog posts, and anyone doing so here should have that confusion cleared even after this comment is removed. I was helped with this knowledge.

      • knb  On June 27, 2018 at 7:05 am

        I agree with Nathan. It should be noted in the text. If Steven has the question, other people probably also have the question.

      • weeklysift  On June 28, 2018 at 7:46 am

        I inserted an explanation in the text.

        Steven: I know I said I’d delete your comment after you had a chance to read my response, but then all the enlightening conversation that followed from it would get deleted too. Would it be OK with you if I left it up?

  • Dangerous Meredith  On June 25, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    Excellent blog.


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