Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism


If every American brings a different story to their citizenship, what is it we share, besides a location? If it is a belief in a happy future of "success", what happens if the happy future disappears?  The American motto of "E pluribus unum" deserves a re-think.  I don't know that most of us WANT to be one. Isn't identity (one) somewhat opposite to diversity (many)? So perhaps our American identity is stretched thin by diversity? Multiculturalism is a vibrant palette but not a unifying ideal.  Who are "we", if we can choose our loyalty?  It cannot be that anything and everything is permitted. To be something, we must choose.  The Christians have their Apostles Creed, what is our American Statement of Faith?  We should think about that carefully. As a first principle we should not define ourselves negatively by an opposition to other people or another ideology.  We are not a coherent people because we are not Chinese, French, or Russian or because we hate Communism, Fascism, or Socialism.  What are the principles Americans stand for that distinguish us?

A nation is commonly thought of as the representation of a people. It begins with a people that have a culture and it develops into a civilization.  But America is an intentional Nation.  It is a work in progress rather than a representation of a people. It was founded on the principle of consent of the governed.  The  Lockean idea that one joined a nation and assented to its governance in addition to having a cultural identity.  It grew out out of the Age of Reason and was predicated upon the constant exertions of constructing a representative democracy and an effective government.  It is a future project not necessarily a shared history.

America is thus not "a people".  It is an opportunity.  There is an idea that we somehow epitomize "E pluribus unum" because we all seek to improve ourselves but that strikes me as wishful thinking. Is being American our first and highest loyalty? Even in revolution against Great Britain, we, Americans,  have never been as one mind as a nation.  We are a collection of federated parts.  Our origins were a compact, a contract among disparate colonies: Quakers, Catholics,Dutch traders, planters, Puritans all creating a community to advance their ends.  And we, their successors, are the successful progeny of that collaboration.  Our current identity is built on the successful choices our ancestors made to advance their goals. Did they engage in "oppression" of others? Say native Americans, imported slaves, or fellow colonists that were British Loyalists? They did not LOSE to Fate and so we are winners.  We necessarily celebrate the efforts that have brought us HERE, to this point in time.  Our success was not inevitable.  We may be at a crossroads but we have been staked to one of the better seats at the table of opportunity.  So where to from here?

I would like to suggest an American Vision going forward:  a substantially just, multicultural, eco-sustainable representative democracy.  How we accomplish that requires some negotiation of course. I hear the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation on NPR suggest just, verdant, and  peaceful. Sounds vaguely similar.  I am thoroughly in favor of "peace" and the Christian idea of loving ones' enemies is a very deep strategy, but practically that strategy may have its flaws.  Fighting is sometimes necessary. I don't propose that we all vote on the Vision Statement but I think it important that one have a picture in mind of where to head before entering into political discourse.  So go ahead and envision your "goal".

So who is "us"?  According to current law and constitutional understanding--everybody born in the US is an American even if the parents are not, anybody born to Americans in another country, and anybody naturalized through a legal citizenship process.  Illegal immigrants are not USAians.  I have to say it this way because we norteamericanos have no exclusive claim to the American moniker. Do we have responsibilities to these people?  Yes, as human beings.  Are we required to make them Americans because they desire it mightily and would in fact be better citizens than those of us simply fortunate to be born here?  No.  Can we be generous with citizenship, should we be generous with citizenship? Perhaps.  The crux of the matter seems to be that the people doing well, that are privileged and protected in our society, want to be generous and be seen to be generous about admitting needy "other" peoples. However, the less fortunate and those currently suffering from 30 years of  job outsourcing have born the brunt of adjustment to rapid immigration and see their opportunities shrinking.  The leadership elite in this country seem to have a global perspective that unites them with elites trans-nationally.  They appear to be closer to the successful people in other countries than to their own "deplorable" countrymen.  They are therefore steering the ship of state toward a globalized world undermining the foundations of American national governance.

I have included multiculturalism in my vision but it is reasonable to question whether diversity is a unifying goal for America.  I believe it requires sacrificial leadership to accomplish.  We do not have that. Is the Vision possible? The future I see is one of contraction, not growth and I doubt inclusivity is possible when we are trying to cope with having less.   I am an optimist but not a fool and to get from here to there in a future of decline will be hard.  I have not met many Americans who are willing to accept "hard" or even be capable of performing in it.  We have a self serving leadership that is addressing most of the wrong kinds of questions.  The responsibility for modeling multiculturalism falls to the elite.  If they think that accepting the elite in other cultures is their primary responsibility because it shows their own "acceptance" of differences, then they are mistaken. This is "globalism" and it is an undermining of a specifically American ideal. If the thinking is that they will hob nob with the world's rich and everyone else has to then accept those of their own class who are different,  that is impractical AND we have a problem of identity.  The rich are saying,  I am more connected to the rich in other countries than my own countrymen.  My global interests and loyalties are far more important than my identification with you, my fellow citizens.  What does being an American mean if the leaders do not identify as leaders of their own people?

It is suggested that we think globally and act locally.  Somehow that formulation leaves out the middle--the nation. If we are humanists and  accept the principles of the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then the claims of equality and justice by those who are not American highlights our privilege and argues for a less nationalistic and more humanitarian (read global) identification.  It seems axiomatic to me that human loyalty is hierarchical beginning with family to community to locale to State and Nation and then world.  What are we to make of claims from those we not only don't know but don't recognize as being central to our limited concern?  We can love, but we can't love everybody.  We are conceptually required to delineate our locus of concern, our primary loyalty.
If we put America first we put our people (whoever they are) second.  We can all put our families first practically speaking but what comes next as our primary identification?  Is it race, culture, State, gender, or religion?  I think it matters how we answer, we cannot just assume that what is good for my group is good for America as a whole.  To me that is where sacrifice enters the picture.  Someone has to sacrifice to make America work.

And that leads me to citizenship.  Citizenship requires participation.  It has at least 4 requirements:  voting intelligently, caring about the whole, volunteering our time, and contributing our money (taxes).  We all give of our money and our time to support the group.  Every moment we neglect that responsibility undermines our goal of a substantially just multicultural eco-sustainable representative democracy.  If we all ignore our responsibility to choose engagement--then the leaders will choose for us, in their own interest.  And that is what has happened.  Years of neglect of the processes of democracy and we are looking at an America that is failing.  It has no central ethos.  It hearkens back to an exceptional past but it has no future story of where we are headed.  The national Vision appears to be "show me the money".

So you could put me in the category of having a complaint about our culture and government but not a grievance.  I think we citizens have been lazy and foolish (to criticize equally those who tend to be conservative and those that are more progressive).  Many of us have shirked our responsibilities and we are now in danger of suffering the consequences. The consequences I foresee are going to be grave;  a breakdown in social order, race wars, even more foreign wars of distraction to maintain the empire.  I am unclear as to how a gender war could actually occur but it is possible that multi-genderism has already declared it and it is supported by those with something to gain.

So those of you who would like a Christian nation--I say model it.  To those who categorically reject diversity and multiculturalism and stand for their own people, prepare to negotiate in good faith because the whirlwind can sweep us all away.  And what do the diversity advocates want?  A rainbow coalition of all for all with no barriers and tolerance for Everyone?  But who really wants a mixed up confused nation that is just a place, unclear about its past, future, or priorities?  I am willing to negotiate with all the diverse groups already here BUT I'd like to refrain from making the solution even more difficult by supporting unlimited immigration.  It has been a "problem" for at least 50 years and I want it addressed by leadership sooner rather than later.  If we reflect on the immigration Act of 1965 we see the rough outline of a nation full of its own success and long on hubris.  It would not take long for the successes of the Civil Rights Era struggle to dissolve in war(Vietnam) and riot(Watts,Detroit,Boston,DC, Chicago) and assassination.  Our exceptionalism was quickly shown to be misplaced.  We were unlikely to "civilize" the world when we could not manage even our own affairs.

Prior to 1965 it was "understood" that the most appropriate immigrants were from Europe.  They shared our history(or we shared theirs) because they founded us.  It was an act of unconscious hubris then to suggest that America was so exceptional that anybody from anywhere could become an accepted and productive American.  But surprisingly, it turned out to be true!  Immigrants from everywhere could make it in America and have.  But do they want to embrace another culture (melting pot) or stake out their own terms of participation retaining some of their former cultural identity to "improve" the whole?   Are they fully committed citizens or detached because they feel different?  I cannot answer for  our many more recent ethnic groups,  I imagine they like the freedom to be left alone.  Wherever they came from did not value them.  So if we take a group, say Mexicans in Texas,  What do they want?  A better life than could be had in Mexico surely but perhaps Spanish speaking and Catholic. Do they want America to accommodate them or do they desire to change their cultural identity and become more "American"?  What about sub-continent Indians?  They presumably would like to remain Hindu. Do they wish a freedom to maintain their caste distinctions and their cultural marriage practices?   Do Chinese want to escape their long and glorious history, forget their Mandarin, and become suburban Americans with only marginal connection to China?  Or are new immigrants "dual nationals"? First loyalty to their people and only secondarily America?  Do they truly want to become something new or re-make America in their own image?    Is America greater because it has dual loyalty citizens? Do new cultural practices strengthen America? Those of us who are historical citizens are concerned about the effort to accommodate the world in the American project.

There is a good argument that the cultural differences change and improve America.  New immigrants bring new ideas and new energy to the polis.  But the speed and pace of change is the kicker.  When things change quickly many begin pulling back to retain or conserve the characteristics they find important.  Christians do not like to consider America a fundamentally secular nation.  Blacks want the injustices of their state recognized and addressed.  So I come back to it, what are the principles we share?

The 1965 Immigration Act has changed America. The level of legal immigration was 295,000 per year in 1965 but has risen to more than 1 million per year since the early 2000's.  In 1965 the foreign born population was 9 million of 250 million (3.8%) and in 2015 it is 45 million of 325 million (13.8%). The illegal population is estimated at 12 million (3.4%).  These are the facts.  What are we to make of them?   The leadership of this country has acquiesced in creating a more diverse America without a full assessment of the ramification.  Native Americans both Indian, black, and rural white have been marginalized in this new environment and are struggling. If they are questioning the policy that oppresses them I don't see the elite that represents them protesting it. 

But there is a lot of dissatisfaction.  That is why Trump was elected.  Some say, I want an America like the old America. WASP. You know, the one where I had a certain unchallenged privilege and opportunity. Well that is gone. An interesting statistic: In 1976 whites were 81% of the (18-64) work force but in 2015 they were only 43%. This is an immense change! The cultural milieu I grew up in has disappeared.  Is it any wonder that WASPs are seeking to define their place? Whose country is it?  Conditions in the past favored the majority. New immigrants were encouraged? forced? to adapt to how we did things.  Their ways were fine but they were here now and needed to accommodate, right? We'd like to make conditions for "accommodating" fairer today. What  should I expect for my children and what about the future?  Who gets into medical school and who gets to play pro football? Equality of opportunity is the goal not equality of outcome. We should think very carefully about signing on to a principle of equality of outcome because it seriously undermines another of our primary goals, freedom.   I recall the 70's affirmative action controversies when a white student with better grades was denied entrance to a Texas Law School as they tried to increase the proportion of black students. A very necessary change, black communities need lawyers too and it seems reasonable to me to encourage their admission to law schools.  States have minority citizens who pay taxes and they should have support for their children and their communities.   So we went for a more inclusive culture with affirmative action. And now we seem to be a little bit lost in the weeds with a plethora of different groups that need "recognition".  If we give everyone a voice-they use it for their own ends. Where is the American "center" in all this tolerance?

 Liberals  like myself want a multicultural, ecologically-sustainable, 'fair' society. We want everyone to treat everybody else with fairness, a golden rule culture.    It is difficult to define what exactly this means since I treat my friends and family better.  Can we all treat all others the same?  I don't have any problem with striving for any of these goals:  justice, environmental sustainability, less war, inclusivity.  They seem like "good" goals.  I would prefer to call my political position progressive rather than liberal because just the word seems to inflame so many people as if liberals were insistent busybodies viewing opponents as stupid ill informed deplorables. I am respectful of those that want to conserve the good things in our society.  But do conservatives share in the goal of honoring others different than them?   Their goal is not "multiculturism", it is honoring their own past.  Turns out, that is what worked and got us to where we are today. But it is exclusionary.  Conservatives talk of a "Christianity" that is fundamentally intolerant of  religious differences.
And what about ecological stewardship?  I do not detect that ranks high on the list of conservative concerns, though definitionally it should.


Multiculturalism and Diversity are typically not goals of successful states.  They may be results.  Something like happiness--NOT a pursuit, but a product of a successful life.  Garrett Hardin was quoted as saying, "Multiculturists, in effect, urge that we eat borscht with chopsticks".  I want to argue that Immigration control of some kind is essential to retain the historical idea of America.  Diversity proponents are idealistic but seem to be aiming at cultural dissolution.  What is the structure of the new culture they envision?  And in the context of the failures of economic growth and increasing peak resource limitations, it seems positively Pollyann-ish to put massive cultural assimilation into the mix.

The crux of the E pluribus unum challenge has always been black Americans.  White acceptance and black identity. So the problem is finding and agreeing on the terms of inclusion. Other "white" ethnic groups to America slowly blended but blacks were too noticeable to follow that model.  The Irish were discriminated against for years and then blended, same for the Italians.  The Poles and the Swedes in the Midwest retained some of their heritage but in general slid into the acceptance of the "E pluribus Unum" model.  Black people have not been able to because they were not allowed to and surely somewhat because they didn't want to. They are proud of who they are and should not accept the crumbs of an indifferent society.  They have been here far longer than these other ethnic groups but have been routinely marginalized.   For at least 300 years, white America has had difficulty with black America.  I don't feel this is intractable, it is not, but it is difficult.  A nation is loosely thought of as, A People,  and despite racial heterogeneity, ALL people are MORE THAN 99% genetically similar.  How do we find the Vision that honors that obvious fact?

Melting pot or stew?  I am suggesting stew.  The implications are important and begin with the question, "Who is US?" and what kind of society are we trying to create.  The idea of melting pot has vanished and we can now only make the concept stew work.



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