Andrew Sullivan on the possible downfall of Biden

October 2, 2021 • 11:00 am

Andrew Sullivan is no lover of Trump, nor, I think, are many people here. But it behooves us liberals to ensure that he doesn’t make a comeback. I think that unlikely, but others differ. One of them is Andrew Sullivan in his column this week, concentrating on the issue of immigration (click on screenshot, but subscribe if you read frequently). You can read his argument by clicking on the screenshot below.

Before we begin, let me recommend again Sullivan’s new book, Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021. The selections range from very short to quite long, and some of them are really great essays. His arguments for gay marriage, for instance, instrumental in moving the country towards recognizing that institution, are heartfelt and persuasive. He offers an apologia for his support of the Iraq war, trying to explain where he went wrong, and, presciently, predicted Obama’s victory well before the election. His essay “We all live on campus now” was also prescient, and there are various miscellaneous pieces like a good essay on “What’s so bad about hate?” The pieces go up to February of this year with discussions of gender issues and “the whiteness of the classics.” If you don’t like an essay, just read the next one. There’s something here for everyone. It’s also quite personal in places, as when he recounts his bout with HIV and how it changed him.

Anyway, click below to read:

The elephant in the room—the one factor that may be fatal to Biden’s reelection while energizing Trumpists, is, claims Sullivan, immigration. No liberal wants to come out explicitly favoring immigration limits (it’s been discussed very little lately, though 400,000 immigrants are predicted to pass through the southern border of the U.S. this October), as that sounds inhumane. Nevertheless, we have to take into account three issues. As Sullivan says, they’re not all Biden’s fault, for he inherited a badly broken immigration system.

a.) Volume, clearly much greater than ever before. As Sullivan says,

We are in a new era of mass migration, and the US government is demonstrating in real time that it has no idea how to control it. From January through July, well over a million undocumented migrants were intercepted at the border — Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, Romanians, among others — and the pace is accelerating. If those intercepted in the first half of this year formed a city, it would be the tenth largest in the US.

There are some short-term factors behind this: earthquakes, natural disasters, political unrest, Covid, gang warfare, and economic stagnation. But there is also a long-term one: climate change, the impact of which on migration from the south to the north is increasingly felt across the globe. The sudden wave at the border is a 21-year high — after both the Obama and Trump administrations had kept the numbers to around a quarter of that rate most years (excluding a sudden surge in 2019).

A further — and arguably central — reason for the acceleration is a change under Biden in how the US treats these intercepted newcomers.

I think even Progressive Democrats have to admit that this volume of influx is unsustainable, but you won’t hear them mention it. In fact, one could well get the impression from both Progressive and Center-Left Democrats that they favor open borders. We want to be compassionate, but no country can deal with this level of influx. Sullivan says that the tide of immigration, much of it illegal, is one reason why Latino support for Biden is waning, especially in towns near the border.

b.) Once you’re in, legally or not, you’re pretty much in for keeps. We all know that despite the requirement for formal applications to stay in the U.S., and rulings by immigration judges, many immigrants simply vanish into the population, not showing up for their court dates and lying low.  Sullivan:

In the latest crisis, with 15,000 Haitian migrants arriving in Del Rio, around 2,500 were sent back to Haiti (where many hadn’t lived for years), and 12,500 were allowed in. That’s an 83 percent success rate.

So what, you may ask? Don’t those 12,500 have to get their asylum cases approved in order to stay permanently and legally in the US? Theoretically yes. But the wait for a court date can be several years (the average is around two and a half years) given our broken immigration infrastructure, after which it’s inhumane (as well as extremely difficult) to send people back. There’s also currently no way to force anyone to appear at the court, and 50 percent of removal orders — failed applications for asylum resulting in deportation — are issued in absentia, i.e. without the asylum-seeker showing up. The key stat: every year only around two percent of illegal immigrants are deported. You can do the math. That’s why another 60,000 Haitians are on their way.

This is why we badly need immigration reform, which of course will be sidelined for the next few months as Congress squabbles over Biden’s infrastructure and social reform bills. Don’t expect the initiative to come from the Democrats, many of whom equate immigration reform with immorality, nor from the Republicans, who have a lot to gain by doing nothing and letting people gravitate towards Trump as immigrants pour in.

c.) Many immigrants claim refugee status, but are really moving for economic advantage. To get asylum you have to be fleeing danger or persecution in your home country, and all immigrants know this. Many thus confect persecution stories to get in. It’s the savvy thing to do. Everybody in Congress knows this, but it’s ignored. Sullivan:

The other clear fact is that, by any sane definition, these are not people fleeing political or religious persecution, i.e. bona fide asylum cases. Most, including most Haitians, had already relocated to countries like Chile, but chose the US for economic reasons. And that’s great. They can apply legally, and see if they qualify. Instead, they are using the broken border, and fake claims of asylum, to jump the line.

Responding to the claim that, well, Sullivan himself is an immigrant, he notes that he went through the process legally, and it took him 18 years.

I agree with Sullivan here: the Democrats, if they’re to win the midterm elections next year and the 2024 election, would be much better positioned if they had a humane but workable immigration program.  We don’t want Trump re-elected while immigration is still broken and as he promises to build his damn wall.

Overall, Sullivan has a pretty gloomy prognostication about Biden aside from the immigration issue. You may disagree, but here’s his take:

Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.

Yet in a very similar situation, when racial anxiety has already helped bring an unhinged authoritarian to power, and threatens to help him come back, the Democrats seem utterly blind to the danger. You want to take the wind out of the racist “Great Replacement” canard that appears to be gaining traction? You can huff and puff on Twitter, and feel great. Or you can get serious about border control.

The optics are also terrible — and compound a sense that the Biden administration is losing control of events. The scenes of death and mayhem in Kabul merge too easily in the mind with the squalor and disorder in Del Rio. Factor in the faltering vaccine program, and the prevaricating, incomprehensible shit-show of this Congress, and you can see how the image of a doddering incompetent in the White House is beginning to stick. And once that image imprints itself, it’s hard to escape it.

Worse: the immigration debate reflects an elite that simply cannot imagine why most normal citizens think that enforcing a country’s borders is not an exercise in white supremacist violence, but a core function of any basic government.

. . . If mass migration continues to accelerate under this administration, and Biden seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it, Tump could win that election in a romp. And deserve to.

Well, under no circumstances do I think an unhinged, authoritarian demagogue deserves to win, but what Sullivan surely means is that unless the Democrats get savvier, they’ll be hoist with their own petard.


37 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on the possible downfall of Biden

  1. A minor quibble, but a frequent irritation:

    His essay “We all live on campus now” was also prescient.

    His essay was published February 9th, 2018. However, media articles on “wokeness” — then under constantly changing names — started to trickle into mainstream media in 2015, and already that was late. Most of this stuff and its spread, as well as most of the analyses and diagnoses, were floating about the popular internet from blogs to Reddit to “YouTube years earlier. The Tumblr and blog precursors of “wokeness” known as “social justice blogging” were recorded by the internet as memes in the mid-Aughts, i.e. there was vitality already, and that was documented as internet history already about a

    decade ago!.

    I find the discussions about this phenomenon fascinating because it’s such a strange combination of ubiquity-yet-namelessness. It’s simultaneously lauded as visible progress, very vocal, aggressive, and seen as long overdue by many commenters, but simultaneously invisible, can’t be named, doesn’t exist at all (“cancel culture doesn’t exist”) etcetera.

  2. I am not sure it’s a question of becoming more savvy. The Democratic Party seems to be doing exactly what it wants. The attitude seems to be that, with the Presidency, Senate, and House, if not now, when? Especially with those who have bought into the most extreme of the climate predictions, there seems to be no recognition that asking for less (in all regards) would actually get things done. These people are professional politicians. What they are doing is purposeful.

  3. The year 2024 is too far away to make any prediction as to the role immigration will play in the presidential election. It is not inconceivable that by then one or two more major crises may pop up that will place immigration on the back burner.

    But, there is no question that immigration is a thorn in Biden’s side that he will not be able to pull out. He is damned if he does crack down on immigration and damned if he doesn’t. If he cracks down, he would probably lose the support of many progressives in the Democratic Party. If he doesn’t crack down, he will lose the votes of many voters that otherwise would be inclined to vote Democratic. In other words, the immigration crisis represents a golden opportunity for the fascist death cult party.

    Throughout history mass migrations have represented real threats to the areas that the migrants were headed for. The existing residents viewed the outsiders as both economic and cultural threats. Violence usually occurred as the migrants attempted to get in and the current residents tried to keep them out. Nothing more attracts people to authoritarian leaders than when they perceive their economic and cultural existence in jeopardy. Whoever is the Republican candidate is in 2024, whether it be the fascist or someone else, will promise to throw back the barbarians. If elected, he will demand extraordinary powers to “save” America. In other words, the immigration crisis, which will only get worse, has the potential of playing a major role in the ending of democracy in the United States and perhaps other nations as well.

  4. Quoting Sullivan: “Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.”

    Brexit was sold partly on an outright lie, namely that Turkey was about to join the European Union, provoking fears of an influx of Turks.

    But it was also sold on the old xenophobic trope of “all those foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs”. Now that free movement between Britain and Europe has ended, and millions of EU citizens — mainly from the countries of eastern Europe — have left Britain to work elsewhere in Europe, their contribution to British society and the economy is becoming clear: empty shelves in supermarkets and petrol shortages because there are too few truck drivers; fruit and vegetables rotting in the fields because there’s nobody willing to pick them; hospitals and care homes unable to find nurses and carers.

    Britain is slowly waking up to the realisation that we actually needed “all those foreigners”.

  5. Brexit was sold partly on an outright lie, namely that Turkey was about to join the European Union, …

    Given that, at the time, the EU was in formal accession talks with Turkey, it wasn’t really a lie; and note that UK government policy at the time was in favour of Turkey joining. (The prospect of Turkey joining has receded since then, owing to the authoritarian turn of Erdogan, but it was plausible at the time.)

    … because there are too few truck drivers; … Britain is slowly waking up to the realisation that we actually needed “all those foreigners”.

    Meanwhile, the pay and conditions in such roles is climbing rapidly, to the benefit of the British people in those jobs. So the net effect of membership had been to keep pay and conditions relatively poor, since employers could find workers from the less-rich Eastern European countries.

    It’s not the case that only “foreigners” can do those roles and that British people can’t, it just requires UK employers to make those roles attractive — thus producing a “levelling up” effect that benefits lower-paid people. Is that a bad thing?

  6. “… most normal citizens think that enforcing a country’s borders is not an exercise in white supremacist violence, but a core function of any basic government.” In the Nordic countries, the Social Democratic parties have a long tradition of paying attention to their normal citizenry. There are some glimmers of this attitude amongst the SocDems in Sweden, and it is well advanced in Denmark under Soc Dem PM Mette Frederiksen. Wiki reports as follows. “Frederiksen also became increasingly sceptical of liberal mass immigration as she believes it has had negative impacts for much of the population, a more pressing issue since at least 2001 after the 11 September attacks which intensified during the 2015 European migrant crisis. In a recent biography, Frederiksen stated: “For me, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes.” Whether our Democratic Party—in which the Bernie wing professes admiration of the Danes’ Social Democracy—can show comparable attention to its own citizens remains to be seen.

  7. I totally agree with both our host and Sullivan on the danger these immigration problems present to Biden’s political future and preventing Trump regaining power. I have a few thoughts on solving the problem:

    1. I don’t understand why these immigration cases can’t be adjudicated much, much quicker. It is absolutely ridiculous that it takes years. It doesn’t in other countries. Unfortunately, I don’t hear the administration addressing this and I really don’t know why. I suspect we have ancient laws on the books as to how such cases must be handled but these laws need to be changed or an emergency declared that allows a workaround.

    2. I don’t understand why we must let immigrants waiting for their court cases to be decided into the country. If we force them to stay in Mexico, a big camp will result and this will create hardship but Mexico has major responsibility here as the immigrants in question were allowed entry into Mexico or were born there. Of course, if cases didn’t take years to settle, this would be much less of a problem.

    3. Why can’t people apply for asylum from a distance? Presumably some of them have established lives in Mexico that they could continue to live out while their immigration request is processed. This would go a long way toward preventing unsustainably large gatherings at the border. Mexico could help here as well.

    It really bothers me that Biden and the Dems can’t seem to do much better than Trump. From where I sit, admittedly far from the fray, the only thing that has changed is the removal of cruelty as a deliberate deterrent to immigration. It’s progress but they really need to demonstrate that they can govern better than Trump. That’s got to be easy, right?

    1. The only way any of this makes sense to me is if the open borders folks sabotaged the system in order to allow unlimited immigration without the need to pass laws through the normal processes.
      I think most people would no be keen on opening the borders to many millions of benefit shopping third-worlders, so this might be a way around the wishes of the population.

      It is important to note that the current crisis is about people traveling through Mexico, not people originating there. The majority of Haitians that showed up in Del Rio recently had been living for years in Brazil and Chile. It is hard to justify a claim of asylum when one has already settled in a third country.

      The NYT reported that citizens of 160 different countries have been apprehended at the US/Mexico border this year. It is big business. Lots of people are making vast amounts of money on the process. The $7000 or so that the “refugee” has to pay the cartel for the last part of the trip to the US border is just the last of a long series of payoffs and expenses. For someone traveling from east Africa, the payoff to the cartel is not even the largest expense.

      Quick adjudication of those cases would net far fewer entries to the US. Many of the folks know perfectly well that they are not likely to have their applications approved, so they just will not show up for their hearing, if one is even scheduled.

      The whole system is totally dysfunctional. The worst part of it, from my perspective, is that the skilled and hard working prospective immigrants that would benefit us cannot get through a system overwhelmed with illiterate and unskilled people who will be on benefits for generations.

      1. ” many millions of benefit shopping third-worlders,” – this is a Faux Noos trope and a lie. There are effectively NO benefits available to illegals and precious few to legal immigrants. Few protections, either. They live in a hideous, violent underworld you and I would never consider unless we came from, well, Haiti for eg.
        I agree with much of what you say above, though.
        D.A., J.D. (practiced some immigration law)

        1. That’s probably part of why they all claim to be refugees. If granted refuge, they are eligible for all welfare programs. Even illegal immigrants are eligible for WIC, Medicaid in some cases, free K-12 education, and state welfare programs in certain progressive states.

          But the big benefits come after they have a baby, which is frequently no accident. Then they can apply for almost all welfare programs in the baby’s name. You can say “the baby is a US citizen so illegal immigrants still aren’t receiving welfare”, but of course it’s the parents receiving and spending the money. The majority of households headed by non-citizens (including legal immigrants and refugees) are on welfare.

          1. A claim of asylum nets a person a whole spectrum of federal benefits. But as soon as people are released into the US, the NGOs provide all sorts of benefits to the people in their care. It is common to view the NGOs as charities, but it is big business for some of them. Like any business, the goal seems to be to take in as much money per client as possible, and to spend as little per client as possible.
            As an example, earlier this year, a company called “Endeavors” received a federal contract for $87,000,000 to house 1200 illegal immigrants for six months. You and I do not get to see the details of that contract or the many similar ones, but the information publicly available indicates that the included services consist of hotel rooms, money for meals, as well as counseling, and medical screening.
            If you figure those families as consisting of four persons, you would not need to be very frugal to turn a profit on such an operation.
            My wife tells me that undocumented folks have the same access to primary and emergency health services as the rest of us, but don’t get billed.

    2. Yes, i think it is a huge problem that processing takes years. It should be days, or weeks at most.
      It would require a massive effort, but not impossible.
      As an aside, I would offer all would be immigrants a single dose Covid vaccine (no have no shares in J&J)

  8. Birth control is hardly ever mentioned if mentioned at all. Birth control discussion is off the table. What global problem, including immigration , could not be at least addressed if not solved, if we got our numbers down. We are an infestation, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary as follows; “To inhabit or overrun in numbers large enough to be harmful …”

  9. Sullivan’s column, which I read yesterday, would have been much better and to the point if he simply admitted what many already know: That many democrats want de facto open borders.

    Here is DHS chief Mayorkas in a memo dated Sep 30 to head of ICE and other officials:

    “The fact an individual is a removable noncitizen therefore should not alone be the basis of an
    enforcement action against them. We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources
    in a more targeted way. Justice and our country ‘ s well-being require it.

    By exercising our discretionary authority in a targeted way, we can focus our efforts on those who
    pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security and thus threaten America’ s
    well-being. We do not lessen our commitment to enforce immigration law to the best ofour ability.
    This is how we use the resources we have in a way that accomplishes our enforcement mission
    most effectively and justly..” [bottom 2 paragraphs from page 2 of pdf below]

  10. The USA could solve much of its illegal immigration problems if it did these simple things most countries do. Huge fines for hiring illegals. In most countries the fines for hiring illegals will put you out of business, and it is up to the business to make sure they are only hiring citizens. I was shocked at the lack of penalties (slap on the wrist, or more commonly none at all) for hiring illegals in the USA. Deny ALL government services to non-citizens. I’ve heard you can go to school, join the army, get a drivers license, and many other things that in most countries only citizens can do. Speed up the asylum process. Have a good, fair, guest worker program.

    In nice polite Canada if your company hires illegals there is a good chance the fines will put you out of business if you are caught. Non-citizens cannot access pretty much ANY government services. You certainly can’t buy a house, or get a drivers license if you are not in the country legally.

    There are jobs, like picking fruit, and many other farming related jobs, that locals don’t want to do. So there is a guest worker program. You work legally in Canada, you go home at the end of the season, and you come back next year. There has been some abuse of these programs, but they get made more fair as the years go by. If you do work illegally, it has to be for cash.

    Of course, Canada has the USA as a great big buffer from the hundreds of thousands of people that can just walk over a border. Most of our asylum seekers fly in. If you try to walk in during the winter it’s a pretty good way to lose a few digits to frostbite, so that deters people too.

    Canada also takes in a lot more people, per capita, legally each year as new citizens, and the path to citizenship is clear and usually takes under five years. We use a point system that favours, young, educated, English or French speakers. In 2021 we aimed at taking in 400,00 new immigrants. That would be like the USA taking in about 4 million legal immigrants. In 2020 the USA naturalized about 1 million new citizens. It’s hard to say how people the USA legally allows each year as the immigration laws are so complex that that isn’t an easy number to calculate.

    1. Everything Canada does regarding immigration is sensible and rational—and it really is just common sense. It’s ridiculous that the US doesn’t have similar laws.

      “Huge fines for hiring illegals.” That’s the very least the US should do, and it should do it immediately. I’ve never understood why this is not the US policy. Illegal immigration would be massively deterred. No need for a wall.

    2. The lax enforcement of such laws is a method, and the Right Wingers are cynical hypocites here. They don’t truly want to regulate these things, for different reasons. The rightless immigrant workers are cheap, and exploitable. As they operate in grey areas, they can’t defend thelselves well. They are effectively modern slave labour.

      Next problem is that once you need to register people, Right Wingers are triggered by a government that would have a proper ID system. They appear to strongly associate this with tyranny or lack of freedoms, and you can tell: they want to prevent voting, but are vehemently against it when it comes to gun regulation. That is, the conception is not that of something that enables, but as something that is taken away.

      The US is strange. It’s simultaneously an Orwellian surveillance state, including watchful corporate overlords whose reach goes far into what Europeans deem private. Yet at the same time, Americans seem to gave no functional government with proper IDs, and easy and universal ways of identification. They seem to operate with a wonky and haphazard system of driver license and social security numbers, which can be evaded enough to get by. But effectively, you need a proper system to bring immigrants out of the shadows.

  11. When it comes to Biden’s Presidency, I worry more about the greedy Senators Manchin and Sinema, and the saboteurs in the House who are beholden to big Pharma. But the two Senators seem poised to torpedo Biden’s entire agenda and turn him into a lame duck. If that happens, pile on the immigration problem, and Biden is a one-term loser. Or to fulfill McConnell’s wishes, a 1/2 term loser.

  12. The solution is to lease a big piece of land from Mexico, not too far from the international border, and use it for a few decades to keep asylum seekers there until their asylum applications are processed. It’s humane, feasible, and cheaper than a wall. Crazy idea? Compared to what?

    1. That was more or less what TRump arranged with Mexico, minus the lease: Mexico had to keep and feed the migrants while they had their applications processed in the US. It was a sensible arrangement, preventing loss of control and with a deterrent effect, but, like any similar arrangement including the one you propose, it does need effective border control to be enforceable. Effective border control is much easier with a physical barrier (wall/massive fence). Ask Israel. Look at the EU borders in Ceuta and Melilla.

      1. My proposal will make border control easier, because genuine asylum seekers – a very small fraction of the people trying to cross the border – will choose to go to the leased territory, where the Americans will provide food, shelter, and medical attention, and their applications will be processed in a few weeks (not years). That way you’ll know that the rest are not asylum seekers, but invaders.

  13. If it’s beneficial to them, why not? Mexico can make billions, and this solution will be a deterrent to future “fake” asylum seekers (most are economic migrants).

    1. If US had ‘complete’ authority, I’d be surprised if Mexico would surrender that sovereignty, even temporarily. If not, it’s no solution.

  14. I largely agree with Sullivan’s essay. However, he perpetuates the myth that non-asylum seekers can apply legally (“and see if they qualify”). Nobody would qualify, simply because no such mechanism exists for anyone to just apply. Regrettably, the US has no points system, like Canada and Australia. The only legal venue for non-refugees is family sponsorship and work sponsorship, both of which are not an option for the vast majority of would-be immigrants.

    1. AFAIK there is a Green Card lottery (for which you have to “qualify”), and also, for young people, the possibility to apply for studying in the US?

  15. In 2016 Germany received over 740,000 asylum applications, or 0.9% of their population. Scaled to the US population size, that would be almost 3 million. Germany admitted about half of these. Angela Merkel said that Germany is a strong country and “Wir schaffen das”, roughly translated: we’ll manage this. She survived just fine.

    I think the US owes it to Haitians to give them temporary refugee status until the Haitian government reaches a more sane equilibrium. We helped break their government, backing various coups along the way before the recent assassination of the Haitian president.

  16. One thing is very clear: Biden did not win by any significant majority. And part of the reason why he won was due to changes in the election process if you want to head that way. He should be well aware of this and so my opinion is that not only the immigration policy is, but the poorly executed pullout from Afghanistan has alienated moderate voters who voted for Trump last time. 25% of Trump’s voters were actually blue collar Democrats who normally would have voted blue. Many of these people or former military, conservative Christians, and people who are feeling threatened by his big government policies, in a culture which is seen as very dismissive of them. For sure there will be a backlash! Whether or not Trump will one again is almost irrelevant. All errors are courtesy of this unsmart dictation system!

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