Donald Drumpf — that wrinkled scion of wealth, secondhand beneficiary of the American Dream, overgrown frat boy topped with a thin mop of bleached tennis ball fuzz — may be the most dangerous man in America.
Not because he could become our next president: he won’t. His current high polling numbers are misleading, generated by name recognition as high as the Drumpf Tower and disgusted, indignant, constant media coverage. Drumpf enjoys a 57 percent unfavorable rating, according to a July Gallup poll, while only three percent of respondents had never heard of him. That unfavorable rating far exceeds his peers’ in the Republican field, including his two closest competitors for the nomination, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight calculated Drumpf’s odds of attaining the Republican nomination at about two percent, comparing him with such previous early striders as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. All of those candidates enjoyed at least a month of widespread support; none of them ever ran in the general election for President of the United States.
Rather, Donald Drumpf has become important and dangerous in American politics because of his effect on the other candidates. Due to his alarming, if ultimately inconsequential, success early in the Republican primary, his competition is following him farther to the right.
Had the Republican Party begun at a more centrist foundation, a shift to the right might not be so threatening. However, today’s Republican Party had become more extreme even before the 2016 race. Republicans nationwide aim to restrict the right to vote; the Tea Party enjoys a strong and growing voting presence; GOP politicians use strict Biblical interpretations to justify legal discrimination, such as the former ban on same-sex marriages, despite the supposed separation of church and state.
Donald Drumpf is in equal parts a manifestation, an exploiter and a missionary of that extremism. He has adapted the radical elements of the Republican party’s platform to suit his own needs and fit his warped belief system. Nowhere has his toxic, egotistic disrespect of others been more apparent than in his treatment of immigrants. He received backlash from most corners of the country for his comments on Mexican immigrants in his unscripted June 16 presidential candidacy announcement. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,” he said during the announcement. “They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
At the time, Drumpf’s opponents spoke out against his remarks — Marco Rubio called Drumpf’s comments “offensive, inaccurate and divisive,” for one — and businesses such as NBC and Univision severed ties with him. However, since June, Drumpf has expanded his ideas about immigration — and throughout the Republican presidential field, those ideas have gained more traction.
In his immigration policy proposal, Drumpf championed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, severely limiting legal immigration and eliminating illegal immigration and illegal immigrants entirely. His specific ideas include deporting all illegal immigrants who have a criminal record; banning illegal immigrants from accessing welfare; and ending birthright citizenship.
Some of Drumpf’s ideas actually have place in current law, such as targeting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and forbidding illegal immigrants’ use of American welfare. As such, these elements of his immigration proposal are dramatic promises that neither he nor anyone else knows how to keep. However, one of his ideas is not just more extreme than the rest, but also un-American: the end of birthright citizenship.
As the Fourteenth Amendment declares, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” America has followed this policy of birthright citizenship since 1868. Some scholars — by far a minority — interpret part of the amendment, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” to not require birthright citizenship. Edward J. Erler, in an August 9 article for the National Review, argues that like Native Americans, illegal immigrants are subject to the jurisdiction of another government — for instance, the Cherokee Nation or Mexico. However, if taken to its logical conclusion, that argument would mean the United States cannot convict or deport those illegal immigrants. Moreover, in considering the Fourteenth Amendment’s intent, we must consider how our predecessors understood it. For nearly 150 years, the American government has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to support birthright citizenship, and have acted accordingly. If consistency and precedent play roles in our legal system, the United States Constitution makes America follow birthright citizenship.
We should pride ourselves on that. Today, there are few things on which America can claim superiority. The United States ranked 14th out of 40 countries in a 2015 Pearson education ranking; 19th in national satisfaction, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s 2015 study; 44th in health care efficiency, out of 51 countries in a 2014 Bloomberg ranking; 101st out of 162 countries in the 2014 Global Peace Index; and 23rd for gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2013. Only two rankings give the United States definitive victories: those of GDP and countries’ prisoners. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, as of January 31, 2015, America held 2,228,424 prisoners. The next-closest, China, has more than 500,000 fewer prisoners.
Few existing indicators of social welfare or human rights paint the United States as a world leader. As Will McAvoy ranted in the pilot of The Newsroom, America is not the greatest country in the world. Perhaps it was once, but we have lost that distinction. However, one area in which we have surpassed our worldwide peers has been basing citizenship on birth rather than blood.
In 2012, the Law Library of Congress conducted a study that found France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom do not follow birthright citizenship. Rather, to different degrees, they practice “blood citizenship.” With a few exceptions, only children born to parents from their respective nations — for instance, Frenchmen in France, or Italians in Italy — automatically attain citizenship in that country. Otherwise, children have the citizenship of their parents’ birth country, even if they have never set foot on that land and never will.
Adolf Hitler used a particularly radical interpretation of blood citizenship as justification to commit genocide of Jews, Roma and blacks across Europe, as well as to conquer European nations with German-speaking or German-descended citizens. No interpretations of that concept are so extreme or deadly today, yet they still divide nations and hurt certain populations.
In France, children with unknown parents born on French territory automatically become French citizens; however, if one of their parents is found and is not French, those children lose their French citizenship. Tensions between immigrants and Frenchmen in suburbs of big cities such as Paris and Lyon — which often escalate to violence — have existed for decades. They are taken as a natural, if unfortunate part of life in France — as French as the Eiffel Tower, or even a tarte tatin. In recent decades, anti-immigrant attitudes in France have become more intense, as epitomized by the growing success of the National Front party. The right-wing National Front, which has evolved from a blatantly racist, anti-Semitic organization into a tamer nationalist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic one made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Brandishing the slogan “The French Come First,” in May 2014, the party earned 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections, leading all other parties.
Since the Federal Republic of Germany’s foundation after World War Two, Germany has moved away from strict blood citizenship. Amendments to the nation’s nationality law made since 1949 have made it steadily broader, weakening its emphasis on parents’ nationality over time. According to the most recent nationality law, passed in 1999, children born from January 1, 2000 onwards to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth only if at least one parent has a permanent residence permit and has lived in Germany for at least eight years. Those children must them affirm their German citizenship by age 23 — which involves renouncing all other foreign citizenships, besides those that cannot be lost and those from the European Union — or their citizenship will expire. Experts attribute the difference between citizenship as a main reason Germans of Turkish descent — the largest minority in Germany — face so much strife as a population. Studies show they have integrated poorly into German society, contributing to the 30 percent unemployment rate they suffered as of 2013. In a 2006 ALLBUS poll, 24 percent of respondents stated they would be upset if a Turk married one of their family members; only 4 percent stated the same for an Italian. According to a 2008 Allensbach survey, 76 percent of respondents believed Turkish immigrants “have a totally different culture,” while 73 percent said they “think totally differently than we do about a lot of things.”
Germany’s current nationality law must still cross bridges before it becomes birthright citizenship. However, Germany has spent more than 60 years approaching the policy America models — while Donald Drumpf wants to change that law, taking leaps backward in time. Although not used as radically as Hitler once wielded it, blood citizenship still contributes to hostile attitudes towards immigrants, legal and otherwise, as well as promoting nationalism that may exclude certain races and ethnicities. The United States is not devoid of those issues — some of Donald Drumpf’s supporters are genuine, after all, and although we have an African-American president, discrimination and prejudice towards black Americans and other minorities still roil our country. Yet for more than a century, the United States has enjoyed its reputation as the melting pot of the world. Despite all our problems, we have entertained fewer issues with immigrants than our Western peers because we offer such an open path to American life. We are a nation founded by immigrants, built on immigrants’ backs, watered by immigrants’ sweat. The first colonists in America were illegal immigrants: we did not have Native Americans’ permission to steal and pillage their land and resources. We came here in droves anyway. The America we know is comprised almost entirely of illegal immigrants, if we discount birthright citizenship. In a way, the controversy over illegal immigrants now serves as our comeuppance.
Another reason to maintain birthright citizenship reveals inconsistencies within the beliefs of Republicans who favor changing America’s citizenship laws. On a moral level, we should not punish children for the faults of their parents. Infants cannot help where they are born: they communicate with their parents only through kicks, gurgles and cries. Adults may come to America illegally, but the children born to them in America do not. The only place newborns leave is their womb.
By that logic, any person who opposes abortion should support birthright citizenship. Candidates such as Scott Walker, who declared that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest — reasoning that children should not be punished for how their lives began — should decry Drumpf’s proposal to remove present and future Americans’ citizenship. Yet Walker has echoed Donald Drumpf’s call to end birthright citizenship, and fellow Republican candidates Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham have made statements in agreement as well. John Kasich has not supported that proposal during his presidential campaign so far, but he reiterated his longtime opposition to birthright citizenship during his run for Ohio’s governorship in 2010.
Donald Drumpf may have only a two percent chance of becoming the Republicans’ presidential nominee, and has an even slimmer chance of ever sitting in the Oval Office. However, his misleading surge in the polls thus far has forced his peers to adopt his radicalism. This despite clear evidence that doing so will harm the Republican party: extreme anti-immigrant policies could turn the Latino vote to the Democrats, a key reason Mitt Romney lost in 2012.
More importantly, for several of America’s most prominent politicians to adopt such hard-line, un-American policies speaks poorly of America’s future. If we revoke birthright citizenship, we will lose a quality that the United States should cherish. If we cast millions of Americans out of our ranks, we will prove ourselves as foolish as Donald Drumpf’s toupée. The American Dream rests on the concept that determination, hard work, pluck and loyalty make an American — not, despite what Drumpf seems to think, having the right parents. Drumpf takes for granted the security and wealth his parents gave him — but lucky for us, not every American is Donald Drumpf. In our constitutional acceptance of foreign cultures and peoples, we find one good reason to call America the greatest country in the world.