One of Donald Trump’s political skills is giving widely condemned speeches.
His post-Orlando jeremiad fit the pattern, but the speech was a little like Wagner’s music as described in the famous Mark Twain line: Not as bad as it sounds. There is something so inherently inflammatory in Trump’s delivery that he could read the Gettysburg Address and some listeners would wonder how he could possibly say such a thing.
The kernel of Trump’s speech was rather obvious: “The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here. That is a fact, and it’s a fact we need to talk about.”
The reaction of much of the opinion elite was nearly instantaneous: Whatever we do, let’s not talk about that fact.
Countless articles have been written on how much better we are at assimilating Muslim immigrants than Europe is, usually with back-patting over our openness and fluidity as a society in contrast to the self-defeating insularity of a country like France.
This may be true, but the assumption that we have the magic formula is under stress now that we’ve repeatedly suffered mass killings by second-generation immigrants.
The Islamic State model of inspiring “lone wolves” already here is dependent on loosely assimilated American Muslims susceptible to its hateful appeals. Disturbingly, it is finding takers.
In six months, terrorists have killed more than 60 people on our shores; two of the perpetrators were the sons of immigrants, and one an immigrant herself.
One of the reasons we have avoided the problems of a France may be sheer numbers. France has 50 percent more Muslim immigrants than we do, even though it is a much smaller country. Only 1 percent of the U.S. population is Muslim; 7.5 percent of the French population is.
The Somali community in Minneapolis, seeded with refugees and then replenished with chain migration, has proved a rich recruiting ground for Islamist extremists. This suggests that when we have our own enclaves of poor Muslim immigrants, the experience isn’t a happy one.
On the current trajectory, we will take in 1 million Muslim immigrants or more over the next decade. It can’t be out of bounds to ask whether that’s a good idea.
Or it shouldn’t be. The immigration debate is so encrusted with unexamined pieties that any suggestion that we reduce the number or the composition of the current immigrant flow is taken as an attempt to kneecap the Statue of Liberty.
At bottom, the Trump doctrine on immigration is that our policy should serve our values and interests, and the status quo fails on both counts. That said, his proposed Muslim ban is a mistake. It communicates a hostility to all Muslims and, besides, is unworkable.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies outlines a more sensible course. He suggests a return to a Cold War-era ideological test for new arrivals, geared to the struggle against radical Islam. It would ask potential immigrants questions such as whether they support killing religious converts or homosexuals. Anyone answering “yes” would be excluded. Applicants could lie, but at least the exercise would send a signal about what constitutes a lowest common denominator of American civic life.
Responsibility for Omar Mateen’s heinous act is all his own, but it is certainly relevant that his Dear Old Dad supports the Taliban and hates gays. He is exactly the kind of immigrant you would hope to deny the priceless privilege of coming here.
Krikorian also proposes to reduce legal immigration. If we eliminated the visa lottery, tightened the criteria for family unification and accepted fewer refugees, we would diminish the number of low-skilled immigrants who have trouble thriving here, and at the margins, the number of new Muslim entrants.
Donald Trump does the cause of immigration restriction a disservice by rendering it in caricature. But the questions he raises won’t go away, and they shouldn’t.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.