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The Occasional Re-Thinking About Immigration

Wednesday’s news included an actual policy proposal, for a change, and for another change we found ourselves siding with President Donald Trump. The issue is a Trump-backed Senate bill that would significantly alter America’s legal immigration policies, so despite our support it’s likely to be controversial.
The Senate bill would halve the million green cards that grant permanent residency rights to immigrants every year, award the remaining number on a “points system” that rewards English proficiency and high levels of education and marketable skills, tightens the rules regarding family members following, as well as restricting immigration from certain countries almost altogether. There are strong arguments to be made for all of it, without any appeal to nativist or xenophobic passions, and for the most part Trump made them well enough during a Wednesday speech.
The un-repealable laws of economics dictate that expanding the labor supply faster than demand for it lowers the price it is paid, and Trump rightly and shrewdly noted that black and hispanic workers are proportionally even more affected by than white and Asian workers. We’ll leave it to our privately-schooled readers to calculate what small percentage a mere one million green cards annually makes on a population of 325 million Americans, but even our publicly-educated selves know that after 50 years of it there are now some 50 million foreign-born residents in the country, and you don’t have to be a Trump enthusiast to worry how it affects the broader culture, which Trump wisely didn’t go on about it.
We’ve never shared the left’s opinion that the white working class is a bunch of a knuckle-dragging racists who’ve been itching since the Civil Rights Acts of ’65 for some Republican demagogue’s dog-whistle to start lynching all the darker folk, but neither have we ever accepted their assurances that you can annually bring millions of non-English-speaking and low-skilled and rootless people from very different cultures into the Trump precincts without some unpleasant social disruptions. Our weekly commerce includes very pleasant interactions with a family of Laotian immigrants who sell the cheapest beer in town, Mexican immigrants who bake the city’s best and most reasonably-price doughnuts, some Chinese immigrants who sell drive-through Kung Pao Chicken at a price so low we’re almost embarrassed to pay it, and our social circle of friends includes a charming Bolivian playboy and a delightfully bawdy English wench who are now fellow American citizens, but immigration has been an undeniably mixed bag of results.
Economics is almost as complicated as culture, however, and the bill’s opponents also make some credible arguments. For better or worse America as we know it today began with a wave of European immigrants who wound up disrupting not only the lives of the natives but also the European powers they rebelled against, and the country’s economic and cultural fortunes were greatly enhanced by massive immigration waves prior to the Civil War and the First World War, and that the third wave which began just prior to the Vietnam War has for the most part proved a similar boon. By now foreigners are as American as apple pie, and the left is trotting out that tear-jerking Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty and all the old black-and-white-movie success stories about plucky immigrants, and we’ll have to see how Trump counters all that corny Americana without appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions.
One of the most un-repealable laws of economics is that things change, though, so those past success stories about immigration require some reexamination. The first wave of mass legal immigration came at a time when the American economy was shifting from an agrarian to an industrial model and needed to fill a rapidly-expanding economy’s demand for unskilled labor, and needed to find soldiers to fight the agrarian and slave-holding states of the rebellious south in a bloody Civil War. The second wave came just as the country was approaching both economic and cultural preeminence among the industrialized powers, and could make use of all the unskilled labor and genius physicists and future black-and-white movie moguls and other creative types who were pouring in. The third wave has persisted through the past 50 years of ups and downs in the economy, probably having something to do with both swings, and it’s made undeniable contributions the country’s culture and our weekly commerce, but has also caused some social undeniable social disruptions.
At this point the country is quite rapidly shifting from an industrial model to some sort of high-tech and talking-robot post-industrial economy and a starkly post-modern kind of culture, so it seems reasonable to re-think the nation’s legal immigration policies accordingly. The Senate bill favors the Albert Einsteins and Nikolai Teslas and Andrew Carnegies whose exceedingly high skills did so much to enrich America during the previous waves of mass immigration, restricts the entrance of the workers in the lower-skilled ranks that have not seen any economic gains for most of the past 50 years, and offers benefits to such a diverse group of people that it really doesn’t require any appeals to nativist or xenophobic passions.
There’s no telling what great and transformative ideas the Senate bill might wind up excluding from the American culture, of course, but at this point the country could probably survive a brief respite in its economic and cultural evolution. The first two waves of mass legal immigration were followed by a pause to to get all the economic and social disruptions settled, and there’s a case to be made we could use another one after the past 50 years of the third. The left celebrates those first two waves even as they grouse that it was almost entirely white folks from European countries with certain ethnic and religious and cultural similarities to native-born Americans, and they rightly note that the Asian minorities who trickled in on the second wave and poured in on the third have mostly proved model citizens, but things change.
In the first and second and even third waves the immigrants were cut off from their ancestral cultures, forced to assimilate to some functional degree with the broader culture, but the current wave remains connected by wire-exchange and the internet and the permission of the cultural left to the cultural values of their homeland. By now some of those immigrants are coming from cultures where most people are openly hostile to the values of America and the broader West, and you don’t have to be at all nativist or xenophobic to worry about that. All in all, the Senate bill has some strong arguments.
We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Trump and the rest of the Republicans lose that argument, though. Even the Rust Belt’s Democrats and the ones from the most nativist and xenophobic black districts won’t sign on, and the business lobby with its preference for an ever-expanding labor supply still holds enough sway in the Republican party to peel off at least a few congressional votes, and we can easily imagine Trump resorting to some dog-whistled appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions that puts it beyond the pale of polite discussion. Trump’s lately claiming credit for  such a booming economy that a low-skilled labor shortage seems imminent, too, which further complicates the discussion.
The left will also rightly note that the Senate bill leaves intact the low-skilled visa program that Trump’s still-wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort relies on for maid and janitorial services, and that Trump has long relied on immigrants to build his buildings and be his wife, and that he can’t credibly claim to be not all nativistic or xenophobic. That doesn’t reflect on the Senate’s bill and is no way to make policy decisions, of course, but here we are.

— Bud Norman

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Keeping Up With the Fashions

Being a movie star seems awfully hard work, if only because of the effort involved in keeping up with the latest fashions. We don’t mean the latest in haute couture, as there are no doubt well-paid consultants to deal with all that, but rather the even more exhausting chore of keeping up with the even faster-changing trends in liberalism. Consider the case of screen actress Patricia Arquette, who offered up the obligatory political rant at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony and then found out in the trades that her opinions as well as her hair style are embarrassingly out-of-date.
Arquette seized the opportunity of her award for best supporting actress to cry out for equal pay for women, which seems a safe cause, having already been enshrined in federal law for the past several decades, but she managed to offend the more sensitive sensibilities by asking “all the gay men, and people of color, to fight for us now.” This strikes us as a meticulously inclusive invitation, and a solid if slightly hackneyed statement of solidarity with the right sorts of people, but that shows how much we know about the latest in liberalism. A writer at Buzzfeed scoffed that “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” and the “reproductive rights” web site HR Reality Check lamented that Arquette “erased gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities,” and the United Kingdom’s Independent ran a round-up of outraged “tweets” that was summarized as “Many pointed out the irony of a wealthy white woman begging people who are worse off in society to help her out.”
Not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing ourselves, and realizing that an acceptance speech’s mention of all the endlessly extrapolating intersecting iterations of political identity groups would take so long that the band would start playing and Bob Hope himself would arise out of the grave to drag a mere best supporting actress off the stage, we can only sympathize with Arquette. She did get some fawning coverage from the likes of The Christian Science Monitor, which is apparently also un-hip to the whole intersectionality thing, and her reputation for Hollywood bravery will be burnished by the criticism she received from the conservatives at Fox News and elsewhere, who rightly pointed out that her “77 cents” figure is pure nonsense and that the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton senatorial office had wage discrepancies between their male and female employees more glaring that, but those unkind “tweets” must surely sting. We are unfamiliar with Arquette’s work but understand that she is the granddaughter of Cliff Arquette, who created the lovable “Charley Weaver” character, and the sister of Rosanna Arquette, who has contributed many memorable nude scenes to the America cinema, so we’d like to assume the best about her intentions.
Even such an impeccably up-to-date liberal as the actor Sean Penn managed to stir up a bit of indignation from the left by greeting an Academy Award winner from Mexico with a joke about green cards. We are familiar with Penn’s work, which is occasionally quite good but all too often in the service of preachy liberal melodrama, but he’s better known for his outspoken political views. He’s sort of the Paul Muni of the present day, and if you’re not one of those hard-core old-time film buffs who still remember Paul Muni that only makes our point. Penn’s liberal credentials include palling around with Latin American dictators, and he used to show up at such George W. Bush-made disasters as Hurricane Katrina to paddle canoes through waters so treacherous only the most brave paparazzi would follow, and he probably assumed that entitled him to some friendly joshing with the Academy Award winner from Mexico, who is reputedly Penn’s friend, and reportedly not at all offended by the joke, but he should have seen the criticisms coming. The joke wasn’t very funny, and Penn is a famously humorless fellow who once chastised another Academy Award presenter for making jokes about an actor named Jude Law, whose work we are also unfamiliar with, but the bigger problem seems to be that the old liberal tradition of making ironically racist jokes to prove that one isn’t racist has been lost. This is a shame, as we know lots of racist jokes and are ever eager to prove ourselves not racist, and we can be just an ironic as any liberal, but Penn should have seen it coming.
Race was the big theme of this year’s pre-Oscar hype, after all, what with so many of the nominees being people of non-color, or non-people of color, or whatever the currently correct locution for white people might be. Having seen absolutely none of this year’s contending movies we have no idea if the nominations and awards reflect racial prejudice or aesthetic discernment, yet we’re still weary of the topic. America still hasn’t achieved a perfection of racial justice, and will likely fail to do so as long as Americans remain humans, but surely there’s been enough progress to have an Academy Awards show not devoted to the topic.
The most intriguing brouhaha to come out of the Academy Awards started the day after, when a former beauty queen turned local news station morning show hostess was having a televised chat with her co-host about Lady Gaga’s performance of a medley of songs from “Sound of Music.” Effusing about the usually lurid chanteuse’s well-reviewed ability with such wholesome material, the young hostess blurted out that “It’s hard to really hear her voice with all that ‘jigaboo’ music that she does, or whatever you want to call it.” This rather jaw-dropping language naturally provoked numerous protests, even if she was on a Fox affiliate, with an audience presumably comprised entirely of racists well-accustomed to such language, and she immediately “tweeted” an apology with the explanation that she had no idea the word “jigaboo” carried any offensive racial connotation.
It is an unusually pleasing sign of the times that her explanation is entirely plausible. This seemingly ambitious young woman spoke the term without apparent embarrassment or defiance in front a black co-host, who was hired despite the Fox affiliation, and seemed slightly befuddled by the word as she spoke it a second time. More importantly, “jigaboo,” like a number of other once-familiar racial slurs, is by now virtually extinct from the American language, to the extent that the darned spell-check system on our computer keeps wanting to change it to “gigabyte,” and we can easily believe that a 20-something woman of sufficiently good rearing to win a beauty pageant and landed a local affiliate morning’s show has somewhere heard the term but not in any context that she was able to discern its meaning. The term is hardly apt for Lady Gaga’s usual material, which we would describe as techno-caucasian, and probably hasn’t been used to describe any musician since Al Jolson was singing “Swanee,” and even at a Klan rally the word would probably sound as dated “copacetic” or “twenty-three-skidoo.” There’s still a stubbornly persistent use of the “n-word,” mostly among people of color, or certain colors, although they substitute an “a” for the “er” and thus render it into an acceptable political statement, but otherwise racial slurs have become so uncommon that a reader would not know what we were talking about if we tried to clean up the “j-word.”
Even right-wing bastards such as ourselves refrain from such foul language, except when the news forces our hand, but at least we’re old enough and right-wing enough to have the advantage of knowing all the terms that we’re not using. Another advantage of conservatism is that it does not require keeping up with the latest fashions.  Conservatism is a consistent philosophy based on a timeless understanding of human nature,  will always be out of style, and none of us are likely to ever be standing on stage of the Academy Awards ceremony accepting a gold statuette. Liberalism has its career advantages, we suppose, but our bemusement is ample compensation.

— Bud Norman