Megan McArdle found herself coming back to the phrase “bag o’ crazy” when she tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals:
To be fair, he does have some practical positions. Some of them will be controversial, like criminal penalties for people who overstay temporary visas. Some of them are theoretically feasible, but wildly expensive, such as tripling the size of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and stepping up detentions and deportations.
Then there are the less practical ideas, which are — well, there’s a reason I got stuck on “bag o’ crazy.”
Most notably, Trump is promising to end birthright citizenship and get Mexico to pay for building a giant wall across our nearly 2,000-mile border. He also adds bizarre promises like a temporary halt on issuing any green cards at all until the domestic labor market recovers and a “refugee program for American children” aimed at getting foster kids into better homes.
This is not a serious policy document. Ending birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional amendment, which would never pass Congress, much less the three-quarters of the state legislatures required to ratify it. The difficulty of this task is exceeded only in the difficulty of getting Mexico to pay for a 2,000-mile wall that Mexicans have no interest in.
But critiquing Trump on the basis of his policy fantasies sort of misses the point. The precise reason that people like him is that his campaign is completely unmoored from underlying realities.
Every election season, candidates release white papers outlining what they will do when they take office. Those policy papers inevitably have a bunch of magic asterisks where the candidate has substituted heroic assumption for plausible numbers. These heroic assumptions do the bold and necessary work of hiding the costs of their rosy promises from voters. For example, Obama’s promise that his health care plan would save the average family a bunch of money, and also, never include a legal mandate forcing them to buy health insurance.
While those policy documents always have a certain … let’s call it a “muscular optimism” — they’re ultimately at least weakly tethered to the plausible. Viable Republican presidential candidates do not promise that on their first day in office, they will repeal Roe v. Wade. Democrats do not claim that they will provide universal preschool education for a net cost of $5. That’s just unrealistic.
But a broad swath of American voters are hungry for those sweet little lies. Or big lies. These voters don’t want some guy who crafts a policy agenda that could actually be enacted, some triangulated plan that could get past the American system’s checks and balances. In Dave Weigel’s terrific piece on a Trump rally in Flint, Michigan, two quotes, from two different people, stand out:
“Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”
“I compare Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan. He lets people know what he’s going to do, not what to ask for.”
This is, of course, a completely inaccurate picture of how government works. But they’re sick of how the government works.