SAN DIEGO – I must be a bad American. At the very least, I’m a tad heartless and running a quart low on empathy. After all, until Donald Trump came along, I just had no idea that so many of my fellow Americans had it so tough.
That’s one of the takeaways from President Trump’s economic message, which has gone from a frown to a smile and then back to a frown.
First, Trump got elected by convincing Americans that they were in bad shape and that - due to trade deals, lost jobs, falling wages, excessive immigration and other afflictions – they were hurting and hopeless. Then, after one year in office, the president pivoted and used the State of the Union address to list the ways in which Americans are better off now than they were before he took office. Yet in the same speech, when he laid out his plans for the years ahead, Trump reverted back to his earlier gloomy mood as he talked about how government should come to the rescue because “Americans are dreamers, too.”
This is how bad it has gotten in this country: Native-born U.S. citizens seem to envy illegal immigrants for having lives that appear much easier than theirs. In fact, the grass is so much greener on the immigrants’ side of the fence that Americans want in on the action and a share of the attention. And, to get it, they won’t hesitate to co-opt a cool nickname.
We’ve taken a curious turn all right. For years, the undocumented aspired to be like Americans. Now, Americans want to be like the undocumented.
It’s easy to see how everyone got confused. Consider the false and malicious narratives that politicians advance about those who don’t have their paperwork in order. Supposedly, these people don’t have to follow the rules, either when they come into the country unlawfully or once they get here if they seek “sanctuary.” They either don’t work, collect welfare and get tons of freebies – or they take jobs from U.S. workers, don’t pay taxes and steal what they need because, like all foreigners, they’re prone to commit crimes.
Democrats paint illegal immigrants as helpless children who are totally dependent on liberals and government for a shot at the American Dream. Republicans portray them as parasites and predators who take what they need from the allegedly better educated and more skilled native-born.
Either way, we are told, illegal immigrants are living on Easy Street while native-born Americans drag themselves to work every day like suckers.
Poor us. It really is quite a gantlet that Americans have to run from birth to death.
Sure, we get a free education. But we’re stuck in mediocre public schools without the luxury of a voucher that would allow us to transfer our kids to an elite private school at taxpayer expense.
Sure, for those interested in higher education, there are affordable options and financial aid available. But we can’t always get into the college of our choice – especially if we must overcome “reverse discrimination” because we’re white.
Sure, there are jobs aplenty and “Help Wanted” signs as far as the eye can see. But we have to compete for our employment – including against illegal immigrants.
And sure, we live in a constitutional republic where the people come first, and that’s something that a lot people around the globe would fight – and die - for. But we get upset now and then with elected officials and frustrated with our government.
Is this really as bad as it gets, folks? Because, I have to say, compared with what people in other parts of the world have to go through every day just to have essentials such as water, food and shelter, the challenges that Americans face seem like champagne problems.
Besides, this country offers the power of redemption and renewal. Unlike many other places, you can be born in poverty, but that doesn’t mean that poverty is born in you. If you can’t find a job, you can move. If you lose a job, you can start a business. If your business fails, you can start another.
Let’s face it. Americans are spoiled, and we take a lot of things for granted. At the top of the list are freedom and opportunity. We ought to be less resentful, and more grateful.
Trump should say so, instead of constantly pushing the narrative that Americans are victims and that only he can ease their suffering. That’s not empathizing. It’s enabling.
Maybe the president is not up to the task. But we can dream.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.