Amidst the hurly-burly of politics these days, it can be hard to notice when your side has won a victory. Yet that’s what’s just happened for conservatives on immigration: they’ve won. Okay, it’s not a final victory, nor even a crushing victory, but, even so, it’s a win.
We know this because Hillary Clinton, arguably still the biggest name in Democratic politics, has just said that conservatives were right. She has conceded the essence of the rightist—and, by the way, centrist—critique of the open-borders approach to immigration.
On November 22, Clinton said in an interview with The Guardian, “I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame.” Continuing in that vein, she damned German Chancellor Angela Merkel with faint praise: “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message—‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’—because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.” In other words, when Merkel opened the German border in 2015, she was being nice, but misguided. Of course, Clinton is no doubt aware that the global backlash against Merkelism was felt in America, too, contributing to her own defeat in 2016.
To be sure, Clinton is no convert to Trumpism. Indeed, lest anyone think she was, she also told The Guardian that the president has “a strong streak of racism…the whole package of bigotry.”
Yet of course, the fact that Clinton doesn’t like Trump is not news. What is news is that she has shifted her stance on immigration in a Trumpian direction—or, if one prefers, to the familiar rule-of-law position embraced even by the Bernie Sanders left until recently.
Yet the immediate reaction to Clinton’s words was cautious incredulity. As The New York Times put it later that day, “Mrs. Clinton’s remarks to The Guardian drew criticism and a dose of surprise from an array of scholars, immigration advocates and pundits on both the left and the right, some of whom were so perplexed by the comments that they wondered aloud whether Mrs. Clinton had perhaps misspoken.” After all, as the Times observed, “Mrs. Clinton, many said, has a long history of supporting refugees—a track record seemingly at odds with her recent remarks. Her immigration platform in the 2016 presidential election boasted that ‘we embrace immigrants, not denigrate them.’”
Yet in the days since, Clinton not only reiterated her position, but went a step further, making it clear that she was talking about the U.S. as well. In a tweet on November 23, she said, “On both sides of the Atlantic, we need reform. Not open borders.”
Once Clinton’s words sank in, the reaction on the left was fierce. For starters, an editorialist in the same Guardian slammed her with the headline: “Hillary Clinton’s chilling pragmatism gives the far right a free pass” And Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) tweeted, “Deeply misguided and unfortunate comment from someone who must know better.” Jayapal was approvingly retweeted by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, the new darling of avant-garde progressivism.
Meanwhile, on the right, immigration hardliner Ann Coulter bemusedly tweeted, “Maybe we should have voted for her. Might have gotten a wall.” Coulter, of course, is a maximalist; Trump, tough on the border as he is, has fallen short of her exacting standards.
It’s also worth noting that other leaders on the moderate left have also endorsed tougher border restrictions. In the same November 22 Guardian article that quoted Clinton, former British prime minister Tony Blair declared, “You’ve got to deal with the legitimate grievances and answer them, which is why today in Europe you cannot possibly stand for election unless you’ve got a strong position on immigration because people are worried about it.” He added, “You’ve got to answer those problems. If you don’t answer them then…you leave a large space into which the populists can march.” And former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi agreed, too, with this right-tacking realism.
In fact, in yet another Guardian interview, former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry went further: “Europe is already crushed under this transformation that is taking place due to migration.”
Indeed, Kerry went even further than that; he directly linked the open borders issue to the demography of Africa, albeit choosing to argue through the prism of climate change. As he said, “Imagine what happens if water dries up and you cannot produce food in northern Africa. Imagine what happens if Nigeria hits its alleged 500 million people by the middle of the century…you are going to have hordes of people in the northern part of the Mediterranean knocking on the door. I am telling you. If you don’t believe me, just go read the literature.” When Kerry says, “read the literature,” we can assume he is referring to scientific or geopolitical papers, as opposed to the dystopic fictional literature on mass migration.
Undeniably, a new hard-nosed pessimism about population flows is creeping into the discussion, even among the Davos Men. In September, tycoon-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates said, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, that African population growth was “the elephant in the room.”
Meanwhile, some on the right are welcoming the shift in Western attitudes. Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, elected last year on a strong border-security platform, observed recently, “There are a lot of things that have changed. A lot of people who said [the Merkel Migration of 2015] is beneficial for Europe, it is necessary for our demography, do not say it any more.”
An upcoming flashpoint is the United Nation’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, which will be considered at an upcoming UN conference in Marrakech, Morocco, on December 10 to 11. The Compact, an international amnesty lawyer’s dream, emerged from the UN General Assembly in 2016, with the hearty endorsement of the Obama administration, the German government, and, of course, George Soros.
Yet now, just two years later, the climate for the Compact has cooled. The Trump administration has announced that it will not sign the document, joined by Israel, Australia, and a half-dozen European countries. Indeed, the assessment of Hungarian foreign affairs minister Péter Szijjártó was, shall we say, blunt: “The goal of the UN Global Compact for Migration is to legalize illegal immigration.” (The globocrats deny that—but then, they always do.)
Of course, the hottest immigration issue in the U.S. these days is the fate of the caravan at our border with Mexico. It’s impossible to know what will happen there, and there’s plenty of potential for the narrative to boomerang every which way. Moreover, the fate of Trump’s wall, or of any sort of legislative change on U.S. immigration policy, is also highly uncertain.
Yet still, as we have seen, the threaded issues of nationalism, national security, and national sovereignty are bigger than any one incident—or any one nation. That is, the desire of countries to determine their own destiny, out from under some utopian international regime, has been awakened, and is unlikely to go back to sleep any time soon. (Even in Canada, arch-globalist Justin Trudeau sits at a mere 36 percent in the polls, just a point ahead of his conservative rival.)
In the meantime, here in the U.S., conservatives—as distinct, of course, from libertarians—are now able to say, “Even Hillary Clinton and John Kerry agree on the need for border enforcement.”
And in political terms, that’s not a small victory.
James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.