Like Pavlov’s dogs, the left has, oh-so-predictably, gone into a collective conniption fit about the s-word (popularly known as s***hole) used by President Trump to describe some of the world’s most impoverished nations.
They have once again taken Trump’s bait – whether he intended it as such or not – and used this as yet another opportunity to call the President every name in the book (racist, fascist, xenophobe – you know the drill) thus signalling afresh their unparalleled moral virtue. But most importantly, they have also replayed in rinse-and-repeat fashion their refusal to drill down below surface level in understanding the essence of Trump’s appeal and his, uh, inelegant language.
Simple question/Simple Answers
So let’s help out our one-dimensional friends on the left by posing a simple question: how many average Americans sitting around their kitchen tables (i.e. non-elites) do you think actually favor bringing in more immigrants from places like Haiti, El Salvador and the poorest countries in Africa? As a follow-up, how many Americans believe these immigrants are prepared to be productive and make positive contributions to American society writ large? How many Americans believe it would be fine to have these refugees – mostly impoverished with few if any skills – come to a nation already burdened with millions of illegal immigrants and land in the welfare system?
Once again, Donald Trump has blurted out something that most people believe privately but refuse to admit. Forget public polls on the issue – how many people will tell a pollster their true feelings on this subject? Consider how many voters refused to reveal their support of the explosively controversial Trump in the last presidential election.
But let’s drill down one more level, where we get to the real heart of the problem with both legal and illegal immigration. It is something that used to be the quintessential American slogan E Pluribus Unum, meaning “out of many, one.”
This is what made America what it is, a melting pot where individuals would arrive and join a unique common culture without forfeiting pride in their old countries. E Pluribus Unum was never questioned as a national ethos…until the left sought to exploit racial and ethnic identity for political purposes.
Because of this fundamental change – characterizing people not as individuals but as members of one or more demographic groups – we have become a bitterly divided people. And the upshot is that so many Americans no longer favor mass immigration – it was a principal reason for Trump’s election – because we can no longer count on new arrivals to assimilate into the broader culture. This is what the left has wrought.
Immigrants have undeniably played a large part in shaping our heritage. In days gone by, particularly during the waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people from all over the world sailed to our shores and formed communities with their own ethnic identities. But they never forgot the reasons why they came here, the unparalleled individual freedom and opportunity that endowed them with a deep love for this nation and all for which it stands. And they identified themselves first and foremost as Americans. Not Italian-Americans, or Irish-Americans, or Asian-Americans, but Americans.
Americans felt secure in the assumption that these new Americans must really love this nation if they were willing to abandon their lives in the old country to be a part of it.
We no longer have such security. We no longer even attempt to convince immigrants to follow the example of previous generations by assimilating without losing their distinct heritage. We instead encourage them to break off into their own subcultures. The same thing has happened on an even larger scale in Europe, with the millions of Muslim refugees encouraged to segregate themselves, disconnected from the national culture.
Yes, it is now all about group membership. Perhaps Al Gore was actually on to something when he flip-flopped the meaning of E Pluribus Unum to “out of one, many” during the 2000 presidential campaign.
The problem for so many years was the success of this identity-based politics. In 2012, the left’s strategy of targeting voters by group identity was a spectacular success. It was the key to re-electing a not-very-popular Barack Obama. But are Democrats now convinced by the failure of Hillary Clinton to duplicate that feat in 2016 that this strategy should continue unabated?
Putting aside issues like a path to citizenship and how to track illegal immigrants more effectively, here is what we ultimately need to decide: Do we choose to be a nation comprised of individuals, or groups? Do we want to identify ourselves as unique individuals united first and foremost by our common identity as Americans, or by our race, ethnicity or gender? Are we still a melting pot, or have we become a mosaic? A composite or component nation?
This is not primarily the immigrants’ fault, but ours (thanks to the left). Would you categorically rule out doing the same thing as these illegals if you were desperate, or just seeking a better life for your family? For so many years, we refused to establish even a vague and informal requirement for immigrants to become a part of our common culture – until Trump came along, promising to be steadfast in enforcing immigration law.
Indeed, the insidious influence of political correctness – in all its manifestations – has partitioned this once-composite nation into component parts: African-Americans. Hispanic-Americans. Asian-Americans. We have become a hyphenated nation. Trump is the first President to attack this problem head-on.
The left and right agree that we have to take hold of the immigration problem, but their solutions are radically different. We need to figure out what to do with those who are already here illegally, how to secure the borders going forward, keep more high-skilled immigrants here, and implement a secure and workable system based on 21st-century technology.
You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Trump can’t change the immigrant situation he inherited. We may ultimately be forced to submit to the idea that we should grant legal status to illegal immigrants – including the 800,000 “Dreamers” – willing to pay the same price for legal status as those who are currently doing so while being unforgiving with those who refuse to do so.
But passing a new set of laws – now called comprehensive immigration reform – without viable remedies, and a willingness to enforce those remedies, will either have little effect or make the problem worse, as it did when we granted a blanket amnesty to more than three million illegal immigrants in 1986.
But all of that matters far less than the metaphysical question of whether we are willing – and able – to recapture the spirit of E Pluribus Unum. The answer will reveal the very character of the nation circa 2018.