It is not easy, but now necessary, to start examining Trump’s joyful, spontaneous combination of ignorance and malice. Lawyers, of course, can be made to say anything. But they can’t prove the 14th Amendment means something other than what it says. In the debates surrounding the amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Republican sponsors of these transformational measures affirmed that citizenship covered “children begotten of Chinese parents” as well as the children of “Gypsies” — the hated immigrants of their time.
Radical Republicans embraced the principle of jus soli — the grant of citizenship to those born on our soil — for a reason. They wanted to constrain future political majorities from stealing the rights of children of any background. It is one of the most radical and wonderful things about the United States. If a desperate, impoverished, undocumented Guatemalan woman has a baby in Dallas today, that baby, when it comes to citizenship and the right to run for president, is Donald Trump’s exact equal. And Trump can get two-thirds of the House and Senate, and three-quarters of state legislatures, to change it — or he can lump it.
When it comes to Trump, some conservatives have adopted the strategy of saying “There are some good points here, but . . . ” and “He is tapping into some real anxiety, but . . . ” It is an approach that effectively legitimizes Trump’s disturbing enterprise. He is not making a series of arguments about the role of immigration in depressing wages or increasing unemployment. He is choosing an enemy in order to organize and direct public anger. There is a difference between striking a populist chord and feeding cultural resentment with racial overtones.