Streetwise Professor

June 18, 2018

Never Interrupt Your Enemy When He Is Making a Mistake–Immigration Edition

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 1:56 pm

In his biography of Joseph Chamberlain, British politician Enoch Powell (who would eventually illustrate his aphorism) said: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of all human affairs”.  The next political life to end in failure may be that of Angela Merkel, who is facing a revolt from her CDU’s long time coalition partner the CSU.  CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, an adamant foe of Merkel’s immigration policy, had proposed a policy which included denying entry into Germany of individuals who had already registered for asylum in other countries–as they are obliged to do under EU law.  Merkel threatened to veto Seehofer’s initiative, and he said he would proceed regardless, forcing Merkel to fold, or to sack him, which would no doubt bring down her government.  Merkel begged for time to negotiate with Greece and Italy and other “front line” states.  Seehofer gave her two weeks.   Since the other countries don’t seem to be in much of a negotiating mood, there is a very good chance that in 14 days matters will come to a head and Merkel could well be forced to exit.

Insofar as negotiating is concerned, I am in Italy now, and if you are following the news you will know that new the Italian government is taking a hard line on immigration.  It has already turned away one ship of refugees, and has told NGOs that it will turn away two more already at sea.  The Italians are fed up with immigration, and German diktats on the subject (and on other matters too), and certainly cannot be seen to knuckle under to Merkel in their first weeks in office.

For her part, Merkel is doing her best to prove Churchill right about Germans being either at your throat, or at your feet:

The German chancellor turned to neighbors, including Austria, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, for help as a fierce dispute over immigration threatens to topple her three-party coalition.

Immigration may be the proximate cause of Merkel’s demise, but ultimately it is a matter of hubris that comes with long tenure in office.  Such hubris is one of the main causes of the near inevitable failure that Powell wrote about.  It leads to riding roughshod over even–and perhaps especially–political allies who dare question, and those trampled underfoot nurse their grievances and look for their opportunity to exact revenge.  Hubris also tends to make politicians so convinced of their own rectitude and brilliance that they become deaf and blind to the legitimate criticisms of others.  These things have brought down far more consequential and admirable figures than Merkel: Margaret Thatcher comes to mind.

Ironically, it was a stand on immigration–the exact opposite of Merkel’s, in fact–that brought Powell’s career to an end (with his incendiary “Rivers of Blood” speech).  In Europe and the US, it is now the most divisive issue on the political agenda, pitting the establishment elites against the hoi polloi.  In his inimitable fashion, Trump took the opportunity presented by Merkel’s distress to put the boot in, tweeting “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!”

Translation: So, you want to f*** with me at the G-7 Angela? You ran for another term as chancellor to thwart me? Let’s see how that works out for you, shall we?  Who’s going to outlast whom? Want to bet on it?

There is an old Latin expression (attributed to Caesar by Plutarch): “De gustibus non est disputandum.” Tastes (or preferences) are not disputable, and everyone has the right to their own.  In democratic polities, this would imply that the hoi polloi has the right to its preferences on matters like immigration, and those should be respected–especially if those advocating such views prevail at the polls.  But today’s establishment will have none of that.  The preferences of large numbers of Americans and Europeans (and arguably a comfortable majority thereof) are subjected to intense dispute, hostility, scorn, and abuse by the establishment.

This is amply illustrated by today’s freak out by the better thans regarding the separation of children of from adults (who may or may not be their parents) caught entering the country illegally.  Put aside the fact that this is not a new policy dreamed up by Trump in a tweetstorm–the Obama administration did it as well (not as if that would make it right, if it isn’t, but to illustrate the hypocrisy of those shrieking about the issue today).  Put aside the fact that holding children with adults makes them much more vulnerable to abuse.  Put aside the fact that families who apply for asylum at an authorized port of entry are not separated–only those who request asylum as a fallback strategy after being caught trying to enter the country illegally.  Let’s just consider the politics.

Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic seem to think that heaping abuse–including routinely accusing those who implement or support the policy of being Nazis (with ex-NSA director Michael Hayden being among those disgracing themselves with such accusations)–will somehow advance their political cause.  Their stupidity and utter imperviousness to evidence and experience  is really quite astounding.  It is exactly this sort of behavior that got them Brexit, and Trump, and the AfD in Germany, and a populist victory in Italy, and populist governments in eastern Europe.  Yet they seemingly think that insulting people even more viciously and even more loudly will work THIS time.

In fact, it is playing right into their enemies’ hands–Trump’s in particular.  Want to galvanize a Trump turnout in the midterms?  Shriek about immigration and how anyone who wants to impose restrictions on it is a Nazi.

So be my guest–go right ahead.  Knock yourself out with the Nazi thing. I certainly won’t object.  Because as Napoleon said: never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.


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  1. I think that there is a specific nuance in German immigration that is often missed in commentary:

    I know it’s a stereotype, but my experience with Germans (of which you find many in my part of France) is that they are almost unfailingly logical in their approach to life. They see the future demographics of their country and they can surmise that this will (probably) not be very good for their economy. Because of this, a very large proportion of society has gone along with the recent influx of immigrants, while a similar proportion (mostly, but not exclusively, in the south) was opposed.

    Nothing surprising so far.

    The nuance that I suspect (but cannot prove) is that logic would dictate that a high-value-added, high-skill economy like Germany’s needs a selective immigration policy more like Canada’s or Australia’s. Trying to fill a skills shortage with huge and uncontrolled (at least at times) migration isn’t terribly logical, since little verification of the new arrivals is even possible, let alone performed. And I think it is this (rather than upset at the idea of immigration itself) that has started to push Germans to protest ALL forms of immigration…

    If there’s any German residents on here, I’d be really interested to hear their opinion.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 19, 2018 @ 5:52 am

  2. Hiberno Frog is mostly right but the issue is more complicated.

    Indigenous low skilled poor will want high skill immigrants, as this will compress salaries for professionals they might need.
    Indigenous high skilled rich will want low skill immigrants, as this makes plumbers, nannies, etc cheaper to hire.

    The system is thus set up for conflict but there are other moral issues as well.
    Assuming they earned rather than bought their qualifications, does the West have the right to scoop up expensively educated professionals from the South?
    Do such professionals have a moral duty to their homeland or the right of self determination?
    And, even more contentiously, should we encourage even genuine asylum seekers to stay in a country that persecutes them, as this is the only way, long term, that justice can prevail in such shit holes?

    Comment by used to be in france — June 19, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

  3. Your sentence “It leads to riding roughshod over even–and perhaps especially–political allies who dare question, and those trampled underfoot nurse their grievances and look for their opportunity to exact revenge.” reminds me of an ahphorism I read years ago, “in politics friends come and go, enemies accumulate”.

    Comment by Ian from Oz — June 20, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

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