Why Trump and Merkel must discuss migration

Each leader went too far on migration policy, forcing the US and Germany into a debate over national identity. Now they can listen to each other on next steps on how to deal with global migrants.

AP Photo
A group of Germans take part in an April 15 workshop, led by Syrian migrants, to learn the traditional Arabic dance Dabke in Berlin, Germany.

One reason so many migrants try to reach Europe or the United States is that both guarantee free and open debate – about issues such as immigration. Democracy is alluring in its demand of citizens to listen to one another out of respect for equality. Such ideals are rare in much of Africa, Central America, and the Middle East, which are the main sources of today’s mass migrations.

On Friday, the topic of migration will be on the table during a “working visit” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House. Both Ms. Merkel and President Trump have defined their political identity on the issue. In 2015, she flung open Germany’s borders to more than 1 million refugees and migrants. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Trump has tried to close America’s borders, mainly to those from the south and from Muslim countries.

Each has been forced to learn they went too far. Merkel admits she made a mistake in welcoming so many migrants so quickly. Now an anti-immigrant party is her lead opposition. For Mr. Trump, resistance from Congress and the courts has made him back down on many promises, such as insisting Mexico pay for a border wall.

In addition, both now recognize a greater need to stem the flow of migrants at its source. Germany is funding aid programs in Africa, while the US has tried to curb the flow of people from Syria with, for instance, missile strikes after the recent use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians.

At a higher level, both the US and Germany (along with much of Europe) are in the midst of reshaping their collective identity via the push and pull of debate over immigration. Which values are at stake in allowing a more pluralistic society? Can new migrants keep their identity but coexist with a nation’s overarching identity? How should a country balance rule of law and sovereignty against a compassion for refugees or a need for workers?

Answering such questions takes more democracy, not less. In a speech this month, French President Emmanuel Macron decried the rise of anti-immigration parties in Europe, or what he called “selfish nationalism.” He said the political divide over values within the European Union is like a “civil war.” He called on EU leaders “to have a democratic, critical debate on what Europe is about” before the next election for a new European Parliament in 2019.

Would-be migrants to Europe or the US are attracted by such calls for a democratic way of resolving differences. In a new book titled “Suicide of the West,” American writer Jonah Goldberg writes, “Nearly all higher forms of social organization expand the definition of ‘us’ to permit large forms of cooperation.” Over centuries of history, smaller identities have been shed for more expansive ones.

The key in such debates is humility to listen as equals for the best solutions. In their respective countries, Merkel and Trump have had to listen to their opponents. Now they can also listen to each other.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why Trump and Merkel must discuss migration
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today