Sunday, July 8, 2018

Commonwealth or Lifeboat.

The problem isn't that America cannot afford newcomers. We can. The problem is that Americans divide people between "us" and "them."  

Can we broaden the social safety net and simultaneously welcome more people to enjoy the safety and opportunity of America? Yes, if we do it right.

American girl

First, let's do a thought experiment. Can America afford to have our people make babies? Do we want "natural increase?"  Both Democrats and Republicans say, yes, of course. 

What could be more natural in a healthy society than for young people to have children and create the next generation of Americans? So imagine there are two women, one living in El Paso, Texas, a good Republican gun-owning Texan, who drives a Chevy and owns a house, and cheers the Dallas Cowboys and the University of Texas Longhorns. She gets pregnant and has a baby who grows up in El Paso, is educated there and then goes to UT and becomes a civil engineer. 

Imagine another women who lives a mile away in the City of Juarez, also a homeowner and Chevy driver and a fan of the Cowboys and Longhorns, who also has a baby. Were the baby eligible to grow up in El Paso, go to El Paso schools, go to UT, and also become a civil engineer, it wouldn't matter one bit whether the child is "natural increase" or an "immigrant." Babies are babies, indistinguishable, especially if they were first cousins of each other because the two women were sisters. If we can afford one new Texan, we can afford the other, and both could be part of the American polity and economy.  

Click: Democratic Doom?
There is an idea in the news ether that Democrats have a dilemma caused by wanting to be Democratic Socialists, with a Scandinavian suite of medical, educational, housing, and other benefits, and simultaneously have a much wider door for welcoming newcomers. The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought it to consciousness. 

The worry: surely we cannot afford both a generous social compact and also welcome immigrants.  It would break the bank!

The New York Times had a widely shared article on the subject, arguing just that. 

The thought experiment on babies shows the problem is political, not economic.

Americans have a notion of the baby born in Juarez as "other."  Soon to be a criminal, a rapist, and eventually, perhaps, a good person, as Trump described it. A "Texan" is thought to be a real American, a contributor. The Juarez baby, if brought across the border, would be an interloper, a taker, a criminal, and layabout and costly to America. The image of the "Texan" who voted Republican is of a white woman, perhaps with big blonde hair, a Baptist, wearing lots of makeup. Her daughter would be a contributor to America. 

Trump tipped his hand in the bi-partisan conference table negotiation, when he said he wanted fewer people from shit hole countries and more Norwegians. We have room for more Americans, if white Americans produce them. We have no room for Americans if they are "others."

It is racial and ethnic, not economic. 

What can Democrats do?

Communicate that Democrats favor mindful, controlled immigration because it is good for Americans, when handled with care, and that the process creates Americans, wherever they are born.

1.  Democrats must communicate that immigration is subject to rules and controls, and they support that control. Democrats are reluctant to do it. 

2. Democrats must communicate that immigrants contribute. This is understood by the business community, but not by the widespread public. Democrats who are anti-business estrange a natural ally.

3. Democrats must be willing to communicate that their first obligation is to Americans, not to immigrants. Democrats in the era of Trump have been reluctant to do that.

4. Democrats can get comfortable with assimilation and acculturation. Currently there is a notion of "cultural appropriation" which is politically suicidal for Democrats, striking the public as political correctness gone crazy.

5. Openly embrace patriotism and patriotic symbols. America is so great that people come here. 


Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, liberal environmentalists thought overpopulation to be a bad thing, and wanted the population of the US and the world to shrink.

Now, liberals seem frantic to populate America with as many beautiful brown babies as possible, and conservatives are challenging each other to have lots of white babies.


You skipped over the first, unspoken question: does America need more Americans?

You might quote statistics about Social Security needing more workers per retiree, but my response is that we need to develop an economic system and social safety net that can function with a stable population.

It's also a fact that we live in a land of scarcity. More kids want to go to Harvard than are accepted, same for UT. If a child from Juarez takes a slot, that's one less slot available for a child born in the US. If we lived in a land of abundance, with an affordable college slot at a top notch school for every child who wishes to attend, people would feel more generous toward newcomers.

Immigrants don't contribute any more or less than born Americans. Everyone goes to work every day to pay the rent and provide for their own families. They volunteer at schools to create a good education for their kids and their peers. They work to create communities they want to live in.

Do elites not care about the needs of working class Americans because low wage workers can be so easily replaced in their jobs by hardworking, uncomplaining immigrants? One can certainly make a case, looking at America today, that's what is going on.

Anonymous said...

You neglected to state the first thing Democrats need to do. Understand the difference between legal (Homeland Security and State Department spend vast sums of money on programs that let folks into the USA when they follow the process) and illegal (folks sneaking across the border or overstaying visas) immigration. You paint conservatives as having an anti-"other" mindset. I submit that you are wrong. Conservatives know that we are a nation of immigrants - and we celebrate immigrants who come to the USA by following the rules.

Anonymous said...

A very surprising and timely article, Peter. Appropriate comment responses, too.

Up Close: Road to the White House said...

Thanks for the comments.

To anonymous number 2, please look closely at the number one recommendation that I made: "1. Democrats must communicate that immigration is subject to rules and controls, and they support that control. Democrats are reluctant to do that." Honestly, I don't think that is skipping over the difference between legal and illegal immigration. I think that is listing it as number one. But I agree that Democrats are reluctant to assert that, which is why i wrote "Democrats are reluctant to do that."

I am giving advice to Democrats, telling them they need to change--change in the direction you suggest.

Peter Sage