Belmont Club

The Border Crisis

11/27/2017 (Ralf Hirschberger/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

On both sides of the Atlantic, borders have become a big issue in the guise of the  equivalent question of whether a country can restrict the entry of migrants to numbers the electorate regards as sustainable.

In the U.S., the family impact of arresting illegal aliens has intensified political hostility nearly to the point of physical conflict. The New York Times sadly notes  that Trump supporters no longer even listen to the media’s frequent denunciations of the incumbent president. How can they stand him? “This includes portions of the wealthy college-educated people in swing counties … and the endless stream of tough cable news coverage and bad headlines about Mr. Trump only galvanizes them further.”

Both sides have dug in along some gigantic political Western Front. The Times argued it was Trump’s failure to follow the unofficial policy that immigration law was best humanely ignored, or at least — as Kevin Jennings, former assistant deputy secretary of Education under President Obama, argued in the L.A. Times — “transcended,” that caused the crisis. Jennings wrote that “coming here ‘illegally’ did not even exist as a concept” until a hundred years ago.

With opinion so divided, it is not surprising that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “was booted from a Virginia restaurant because she works for President Donald Trump, the latest administration official to experience a brusque reception in a public setting.”  Nor will she likely be the last. Mother Jones tweeted: “Trump officials can no longer eat out in peace.”

In Europe things are, if anything, worse.

A growing coalition of parties demanding control over national boundaries was threatening the future of the European Union itself — or at least the chancellorship of Angela Merkel. “European Union leaders gather in Brussels on Sunday in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration, an issue that has been splitting them for years and now poses a fresh threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Yet the biggest aspect of the crisis, even though it is underreported, is in countries close to where 22.5 million have fled imploding societies — the biggest such tide of displacement since WWII. The numbers are staggering: Turkey has 3.5 million Syrian refugees, tiny Lebanon a million; 1.5 million Afghans are camped in Pakistan; more than a million Sudanese are cooling their heels in Uganda. In South America, one million Venezuelans fleeing Bolivarian socialism have lodged in Colombia. In Central America, multitudes of “families and unaccompanied children” daily flee their own crime-ridden societies for the U.S.:

Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence.

From 2011 to 2016, the number of people from the Northern Triangle who have sought refuge in surrounding countries has increased by 2,249 percent. The majority fleeing are women and children. In 2016, 388,000 people fled the region – more continued to flee in 2017. The rapid growth of those forced from their homes is quickly outstripping available resources, leaving many vulnerable children, women and men without physical and legal protection.

The migration crisis is an indictment of the global world order.

It also underscores its biggest weakness: a grandly named system ironically incapable of either preventing the collapse of its constituents or managing the displacement of tens of millions.

That powerlessness was manifested in Europe’s inability to do anything but passively await the human tide launched by ISIS against its porous borders. “Of NATO’s EU allies, only Greece, Estonia and the U.K. hit the target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.” Tellingly, Spain, on Europe’s front line, spent less than 1%. Germany’s contribution to the fight against ISIS was eloquent in its paltriness. DW noted “many primary weapons systems in the Bundeswehr are not available.” The numbers reported ready were:

Eurofighter jet airplanes: 39 of 128
Tornado jet airplanes: 26 of 93
CH-53 transport helicopters: 16 of 72
NH-90 transport helicopters: 13 of 58
Tiger helicopters: 12 of 62
A400M transport planes: 3 of 15
Leopard 2 tanks: 105 of 224
Navy frigates: 5 of 13

A recent accusation that Angela Merkel was trying to “buy” an asylum deal from French president Emmanuel Macron underscored the pathos of it. The growing realization that the global order could neither stop nor mitigate the migrant flows fueled electoral challenges to liberal policy all over the world literally filling a vacuum. “President Tayyip Erdogan and his main rival in Sunday’s presidential election have both pledged to send millions of Syrian refugees home, responding to growing unease among voters about the number of migrants in Turkey.” In South America, a “right wing populist” bent on tax cuts, repudiating his predecessor’s peace deal with a Marxist guerrilla group, and solving the refugee crisis has been elected president of Colombia.

The fact that borders have become an issue at all after decades of assurance the circle could be squared is perhaps the most significant fact of all. For years the bipartisan consensus was to politely pretend it could all be worked out. As the New York Times wrote:

[F]or more than a decade … seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek. Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane — and too politically perilous — to embrace as policy.

So great was elite prestige that fiction was sustained until suddenly it couldn’t any longer. The realization, when it came, was brutal.

The rapidity with which the status quo of “open borders” has been overtaken by the “populist crisis” suggests that, like the financial crisis of 2008, a bubble has burst. It went broke gradually then all of a sudden. The globalization and multiculturalism that were supposed to have delivered prosperity and security have not paid off. This failure has started a run on political capital of elites which has yet to stop.

Trump and the European populists are picking up political assets at a bargain. Glenn Reynolds observed:

[T]he press has three main kinds of power. One is to motivate the left. Another is to swing the middle. And the third is to demoralize the right. It’s pretty much lost the last of these, and I suspect the second one is fading too.

A status quo that used to be able to buy on the margin has let its account fall below the minimum level, and perhaps for the first time has nothing more it can deposit.  The media is shrill in the way a customer whose credit is bad must shout at the waiter to get service. But it was grand while it lasted — the idea we could live without borders, without defense, or even without civilization. Money for nothing and your checks for free. The music played for so long that even now no one can even imagine it could stop. How many will really prefer reality to illusion?

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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty but also experience wrenching change. Professions of all kinds – from lawyers to truck drivers – will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, MIT’s Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity.

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For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

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The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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