But those fabrications did not directly affect public policy. They were largely bluster and bravado that fed Trump’s ego and galvanized his supporters.
Now the president has made a statement that is not just blatantly false, it is potentially very damaging. He’s supporting a bill sponsored by two Republican senators that would slash legal immigration to the United States in half. He insists that fewer immigrants would bolster the economy and “restore our competitive edge in the 21st century.”
It cannot be said strongly or often enough: That argument is flat-out wrong. Immigration is a huge net winner for the economy. Shutting out newcomers would not “restore our competitive edge,” it would have exactly the opposite effect.
This is not a matter of speculation or theory; the subject has been studied exhaustively. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reviewed the research last year and concluded “that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.”
Last spring, almost 1,500 economists of all stripes, including six Nobel laureates, wrote to congressional leaders. While admitting they disagreed on many topics, “on some issues there is near universal agreement,” they stressed. “One such issue concerns the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.”
The Washington Post surveyed 18 economists who concluded that reducing immigration “might be Trump’s worst economic idea.” Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics explained: “Limiting immigration to the U.S. is a grave mistake. The only way to meaningfully increase U.S. growth on a sustained basis anytime soon is to increase immigration.”
Fortunately, sensible Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina oppose the proposal. “It would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant workforce,” he told The New York Times.
But even if this bill never becomes law, it reveals a deeply troubling flaw in the president’s approach that infects his entire administration. He ridicules and rejects the advice of experts, from scientists studying climate change to intelligence analysts reporting on Russia, and crafts a fantasy world that fits his own prejudices and political interests.
This worldview was summed up perfectly by Sen. Tom Cotton, a co-sponsor of the immigrant reduction act. When reporters asked about the vast consensus among economists that his legislation would backfire, he smirked: “Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid.”
Of course, experts are not always right; they’re human and they make mistakes. But the only “stupid” position here is the one embraced by the senator and the president. It takes an astounding capacity for self-delusion and self-righteousness to say, “I’m right, and every expert who has ever studied the problem is wrong.”
The evidence marshaled by those experts is overwhelming. As Graham points out, newcomers take jobs that Americans don’t want, and that employers desperately need filled. “Hotels, restaurants, golf courses and farmers will tell you this proposal ... would put their business in peril,” he says. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which hires many foreign workers, would certainly agree.
But that’s only the beginning. Immigrants are job-creating engines, entrepreneurs “who start new businesses that hire American workers,” say the economists in their letter to Congress.
Moreover, the stereotype of immigrants as uneducated crop-pickers is vastly misleading. In fact, say the economists, immigrants “are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.”
Demographics might be the single biggest reason for encouraging immigration. America is aging, baby boomers are retiring and fertility rates are plunging. As a Washington Post editorial puts it, these trend lines all point in one direction:
“It is a simple truth that the United States will need an infusion of immigrant labor to maintain economic growth, let alone expand it. To bar immigrants while the birthrate dips is to emulate Japan, whose own fading economic prospects are a direct result of precisely such conditions and policies.”
But Trump and those supporters who share his contempt for expertise don’t deal in “simple truth.” They deny facts, evidence, science, reality. They talk about “draining the swamp” inhabited by Washington insiders and elites while wallowing in their own swamp, filled with fetid fallacies and phantoms.
And that can only lead to failure.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.