The United States was founded through immigration and has continued to be a destination for many people. The issue of immigration has been a partisan issue for decades because of what political parties believe is not only best for the country but for the individuals who make up the country. Just during the 21st Century, there have been several events that have caused concern for many Americans concerning immigration. With 9/11, issues of domestic security arrose; with the 2008 financial crisis, financial security was in shambles; and the increased number of terrorist attacks around the world has created fear amongst U.S. citizens. Though many people embrace and except change, there are those who fear it; in the United States many citizens are unhappy with how their lives are and blame immigration.
The Washington Post just published an article about Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf who tipped off immigrants about a suspected ICE raid. Mayor Schaaff learned that the Northern California ICE was planning to raid immigrant communities before it took place and publicly tipped off those who might have been affected. Though her move proved to be controversial, she stood by her decision because she felt it was her moral and ethical duty. In opposition, ICE Deputy Director eluded to her decision as being irresponsible. Schaaf’s willingness to protect and defend Oakland’s “sanctuary city” policy of protecting immigrants took a leading position in her decision. In an interview, Schaaf seemed to explain that her decision stemmed from her disapproval of Trump’s administration and says she is part of the “resistance” against Trump’s policies. Criticism of her decision come from the right and other law enforcement; the disapproval arose from the potential danger ICE agents were put in but could be assumed that those who want to crack down on undocumented immigrants were thrown for a loop. Immigration has been at the forefront of legislation in recent years, but has been one of the focus points of Trump’s rise to power. We must try to figure out why people voted for him, what the appeal was, and under what circumstances the country was in that gave him the advantage to win.
Our course reading has focused on what populism is, its relationship with democracy, and how it can be a threat to democracy. We read Jan-Werner Muller’s What is Populism book which provided us with great insight into how to answer these questions. One of the discussions we had was how to populists come to power and thus, whether or not Trump was a populist. Populism is a continuous attempt to polarize the country and vie for the support of a certain type. According to Muller, populists claim to be the sole voice of the people which would then mean all other opinions are illegitimate. Most recently, with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that was implemented under the Obama Administration, the partisan issue has become more polarizing. In a recent CNN poll, 8 in 10 back DACA and hold Trump and the GOP responsible for not extending the program. Not only is DACA a the center of immigration conversations, as mentioned earlier, there are people who are afraid of accepting others.
Back in 2015, NPR published an article highlighting how immigration policy has divided the country more than ever. Though the issue of immigration has been around for quite some time, Trump’s election brought immigration to the forefront of our minds. Throughout his campaign up to present day, Trump has incited racism, sexism, and bigotry, which has created the base of his support. One of the fundamental promises President Trump made during his presidential campaign was to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States. Another key part of populism, that Muller expresses, is that there is an association with moods and anger; those who vote for populists are “frustrated” and populists are “angry.” There are angry people in the United States who found comfort and promise in Trump. Muller explained that populists frame situations to be in crisis to they can govern legitamately; demonstrating power and legitimacy pleases supporters and only strengthens their platform. Trump’s election platform and current use of rhetoric and attracts the frustrated, the angry, and the lost because he catered to certain populations in America; people who felt Obama had not helped them or, in fact, made their lives “worse” believed Trump would better them and their families. Trump played on their emotions and made promises that put them at ease during a time where feelings of uncertainly were prevalent in certain communities.
Mayor Schaaf’s decision to tip of immigrant communities shows a dichotomy between the Trump administration and those who fully oppose his actions. Many politicians and Americans fear populism and its implications. Though what must be understood is that Trump’s administration can fully make these decisions and has fully has the right to do so. Schaaf’s decision is only one example of resistance against the Trump administration. Even though Trump only shows some characteristics of a populist, Schaaf’s decision was in direct response to her feelings toward Trump and his administration. It also reaffirms pluralism which reiterates the values in a democracy. Voicing opinions is not only necessary for a successful democracy, but it forces a conversation which hopefully leads to communication and change. Muller writes that democracy requires a commitment to finding “fair terms of living together as free, equal, but also irreducible diverse citizens.” Even if Trump is not a populist, Schaaf is standing up for democracy.
Populism has distinct characteristics that differentiates it from a democracy but there is a lot of gray area where we see democratic leaders have populist tendencies. Donald Trump exercises some of the characteristics of a populist but through our class readings and understanding it is not possible to fully categorize him as one. In class, we discussed how in other countries that have populist leaders, it tends to be a gateway to democracy because it has the ability to uncover problems and areas that need change. We have all heard of hitting rock bottom before realizing there is a problem; let’s hope the United States collectively realizes what our President is doing and forcefully pushes back. Mayor Schaaf’s choice to tip off immigrant communities is an example of pluralism, the fight for equal opportunity, and the prevention of democratic erosion. Trump’s stance on immigration
**Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Creative Commons Zero Lincese.**