A Political Upside to Making the Children Whole?

Earlier this week, I argued that once Democrats recapture the House, Senate and White House, one of the party’s agenda items must be the financial compensation of immigrant families separated by Donald Trump for the severe and permanent harm inflicted upon them, in a manner similar to the financial compensation given to victims of World War II-era internment. I noted that such an effort would be fraught with political peril, but would be the morally right thing to do. However, my observation about the political dangerousness of such an effort might have been little more than an embrace of conventional wisdom.

In fact, there would be political benefit for Democrats to pursue legislation compensating immigrant families for the suffering Donald Trump inflicted upon them. Consider the following:

  • The pursuit of such legislation would serve as effective branding, cementing, in the public mind, the Democratic Party’s commitment to social justice, racial justice, rights for immigrants and basic fairness. Such legislation would kill dead the contention in certain progressive circles that the Democratic Party is too “corporatist,” too “establishment,” and unmeritorious of progressive support.
  • The pursuit of such legislation would galvanize the nascent religious left, serving as the sort of lightning-rod issue that abortion and opposition to civil rights served for the religious right. Progressive evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and Muslims would work tirelessly to ensure the passage of such legislation.
  • The pursuit of such legislation would put pressure on Republicans in a Democratic-controlled House who represent diversifying districts to choose between ideology and integrity. If they vote against this legislation, they’ll inflame their constituents and put themselves at risk of losing their seats in the next general election; if they vote in favor of such legislation, they may incur the wrath of conservatives in the district—and a primary challenge, to boot. If that primary challenge results in a new wingnut Republican nominee for the seat, that nominee would likely get slaughtered by a Democrat in a general election.
  • Most importantly, the pursuit of such legislation would move the proverbial Overton window to the left, changing the American political conversation and making room for public discussion of other measures to provide justice to those wounded by past discriminatory government action—including public discussion of how to make whole those whose relatives were held down by chattel slavery and Jim Crow.

Sure, if a future Democratic House and Senate introduced a “Make the Children Whole Act” compensating immigrant families for the harm inflicted upon them by Trump, the right would lose what’s left of its collective mind. Hosts on the Fox News Channel and editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal would verbally riot, accusing Democrats of “buying votes,” “redistributing wealth,” “race-baiting” and “giving handouts to illegal aliens.” So what? They’ll criticize Democrats for alleged deference to the undocumented whether such legislation is introduced or not. So why not do the morally right thing?

Will certain voters have a problem with such legislation? Of course. However, other voters will be thrilled by the sight of Democrats standing up, unafraid and unapologetic, for basic morality and simple justice—and respond accordingly in subsequent midterms and Presidential elections.

A “Make the Children Whole Act” would be the textbook definition of doing well by doing good. The only question is: once Democrats recapture the legislative and executive branches, will they do the morally (and politically) right thing?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.