Dave?
Photo: Carolyn Kaster (AP Photo)

We must repel the barbarian horde, according to The Atlantic.

Without immigration restrictions, there are no national borders. Without national borders, there are no nation-states. Without nation-states, there are no electorates. Without electorates, there is no democracy. If liberals insist that only fascists will enforce borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals refuse to do.

It comes toward the end of the piece, but that’s the thesis statement of former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum’s big essay today. Never mind that its superficial logic—Voters will elect fascists to preserve democracy—doesn’t make a damn bit of sense; the basic ideas here are very, very old, and terms like “nation-states” and “electorates” and “democracy” are standing in for a whole host of much ruder ones. The idea is this: The values of a theoretically free, pluralistic society are negotiable. The fixed thing, the concern that supersedes all others, is the existential importance of keeping foreigners out. If the former must be abandoned to secure the latter, so be it.

Frum, polite as ever, takes care to abstract this order of operations to “voters,” rather than attributing it to himself, lest his target readership of white, broadly liberal-ish milquetoast social elites envision him declining to affect the appropriate Face Of Tremendous Compassion at, for example, news reports of immigrant children being rounded up into dog kennels in the name of enforcing borders. In this way he’s able to frame his argument as a warning to those readers, who might otherwise support a lenient or even welcoming position toward immigrants—and thus, in a roundabout way, provoke “voters” into supporting out-and-out fascism.

And so, like, here are some examples of dangerous stuff America mustn’t do, as David Frum sees it:

Julián Castro, the secretary of housing and urban development under Obama, has endorsed a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Senator Kamala Harris pledged not to vote to reopen the federal government in January unless the financing bill confirmed protection for Dreamers, young people who grew up in the United States without legal status. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have called for abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Gillibrand denounced the agency as a “deportation force”—as if it were possible to enforce immigration laws without deportation.

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Truly radical and shocking stuff, there. Why, ICE has been around for over 16 years! You can’t just get rid of America’s superfluous, redundant, unaccountable white-nationalist terrorism squad—it’s been knit into the national fabric almost as long as American Idol.

Please note that none of these scary proposals amount to or advocate an abandonment of border enforcement. Personally I don’t give a shit about that, because immigration is good and society should welcome it, but it’s worth observing Frum’s dishonesty on the matter. His rhetorical construct is a binary choice, between fascism and a society “without immigration restrictions”—and thus, as he warns, one without borders, nation-states, electorates, or democracy—but he can’t find any actual national political figures offering or threatening the latter choice. Nevertheless!

Demagogues don’t rise by talking about irrelevant issues. Demagogues rise by talking about issues that matter to people, and that more conventional leaders appear unwilling or unable to address: unemployment in the 1930s, crime in the 1960s, mass immigration now. Voters get to decide what the country’s problems are. Political elites have to devise solutions to those problems. If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.

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Stopping the rise of fascism is of primary importance, you see. It is for this reason that sensible moderate people, lovers of American democracy, elites both inside and outside of government, must do the things the fascists will promise to do. So that the fascists will lose their leverage.

One problem you might see, here, is that the net effect of fascistizing the country for the purpose of defeating the fascists is not meaningfully different from fascistizing the country for the sake of living in a fascist society. But the distinction between out-and-out fascists and David Frum’s class of cringing, performatively reasonable establishment conservatives has always been, and only ever will be, a matter of personal tastes and tolerances, a dweebish preference for tweed over leather, for genteel condescension at a safe remove from the bloodshed and domination that uphold it. Adopting fascism merely as a set of policies, for the sake of not also adopting it as a set of sartorial standards, suits David Frum just fine. As for what it will mean for everybody else, well ... don’t say he didn’t warn you!

Another problem, of course, is that David Frum is an elitist by both profession and temperament and has been cloistered among America’s tiniest percentiles of rich, blood-drenched scumbags literally for longer than I’ve been alive. He has no fucking clue what “voters” want or will do, beyond what he can glean from election results cherrypicked to support his argument that border enforcement trumps all other political values—and that Donald Trump’s ascension expresses specifically this, rather than a broader systemic breakdown that allowed a minority white-identity party to claim an election it otherwise definitively lost. That’s why last autumn’s kayfabe panic over the migrant caravan gets credulous treatment in his analysis, but the immediately subsequent ass-kicking the nativist Republican party took in the midterm elections, at the hands of the comparably immigration-tolerant Democrats, scores nary a mention.

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Which is to restate the obvious: David Frum is not speaking for, cannot speak for, “voters.” He is speaking for himself, and for some fellow members of his small and absurdly overrepresented social class. What he is saying is Rich establishment conservatives like me would rather go fascist than tolerate brown people. He is talking himself into supporting Trump in the 2020 election. He wants you to know that, when it happens, it will be because immigrants gave him no choice. It must be nice to be able to do that in the pages of The Atlantic.