Michael S. Swisher
Michael S. Swisher is chairman of the board of Religion and Society, the foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review.
Bugaboos of the Chattering Class — Nativism
After populism and nationalism (discussed in the two previous columns of this series), nativism ranks prominently as a bugaboo of the chattering class. Webster defines nativism as a “policy of favoring the native inhabitants of a country as against immigrants.” This very poorly describes the actual sentiments the chatterers try to describe by the word, which may range from an outright hostility towards immigrants (which is relatively rare) to the wish to see current immigration laws actually enforced, to a desire for revision of those immigration laws in a way that would be more selective. Such nuanced analysis of the various positions taken by critics of the present state of immigration (which is seriously dysfunctional) does not occur to the chattering class – they prefer to dismiss all such criticism as motivated by xenophobia and racism.
We must note that xenophobia denotes an irrational fear and hatred of foreigners, and that there are circumstances in which such fear is both rational and warranted. Moreover, accusations of racism are now so broadly made that anyone from a bedsheeted Ku-Kluxer to a public speaker who has the temerity to say that “all lives matter” may be subjected to them. Calling someone a “racist” has become little more than verbal abuse.
Similarly, critics and opponents of uncontrolled immigration are often accused of being “blood and soil” nationalists. Since this is a literal translation of the German Blut und Boden, a slogan of nineteenth-century German romantic nationalism later adopted by the Nazis, it is barely less blatant slander than accusing them of outright Nazism. Open-borders advocates lecture them that “this is not who we are” [i.e., good Americans], and cite the Emma Lazarus poem affixed to the plinth of the Statue of Liberty, as if it were part of the U.S. Constitution.
The economically developed world is at present experiencing a massive influx of people from poorer, less developed areas on a scale not seen since the fifth century A.D., when barbarous peoples from northern Europe and the Asian steppes swept down upon the exhausted remnants of the western Roman Empire. As was the case then (when Rome invited its dubious allies, the Ostrogoths, into its territories), the invasion is not necessarily one achieved by force of arms. Indeed, it is occurring with the encouragement of the politically and economically powerful.
Several influential political and economic factions cooperate in the promotion of untrammeled immigration, legal and illegal. They may be distinguished as follows:
First are politically self-serving actors who expect immigrants to skew future elections in their favor. This includes almost the entire Democratic Party in the United States, and similar Left-wing parties in other countries. Once upon a time, such parties opposed loose immigration laws because labor unions, prominent among their supporters, opposed them. One need only recall the liberal Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-TX), who wrote in 1994 that “As a nation of immigrants committed to the rule of law, this country must set limits on who can enter and back up these limits with effective enforcement of our immigration law.” That Jordan’s view has now been discarded by Democrats at the highest levels is evident from the calls leading members of that party have made for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The shift in the Left’s attitude on such issues appears to have begun in Britain during the ministry of Tony Blair. A former Labour Party advisor, Andrew Neather, is on record as having said that the Blair government deliberately encouraged immigration in order to change the demographic make-up of Britain. Neather described the policy as designed to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity.” Labour spokesmen denied this claim, but three years later, former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson (now Lord Mandelson) admitted that, under Blair, “In 2004 when as a Labour government, we were not only welcoming people to come into this country to work, we were sending out search parties for people and encouraging them, in some cases, to take up work in this country.”
That the American Left’s abandonment of the positions of Barbara Jordan in favor of unlimited immigration reflects a similar self-serving intent to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity” may be seen from the straightforward statement of the Left-wing Center for American Progress functionary Jennifer Palmieri, who wrote in a memo dated January 8, 2018:
“In September, President Donald Trump set in motion a process that will strip protections from nearly 800,000 Dreamers, young people who came to the United States more than a decade ago and who are American by every measure except a piece of paper. Ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will lead to the deportation of Dreamers, separating them from their homes, their communities, and their loved ones. . . . The fight to protect Dreamers is not only a moral imperative, it is also a critical component of the Democratic Party’s future electoral success” [emphasis mine]. This admission is startling in its candor.
Second are economically self-serving actors who expect immigrants to increase the supply of unskilled labor and depress the level of wages paid for it. Significant among these is the United States Chamber of Commerce, a staunch proponent of amnesty for illegal aliens, along with various agricultural interests that rely on immigrant labor. In the past, the Chamber has largely supported Republican politicians, and its open-borders stance has the support of numerous Congressional Republicans, as well as that of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former President George W. Bush. Governor Bush once described illegal immigration as an “act of love”; President Bush remarked that:
“There are people willing to do jobs that Americans won’t do. . . . Americans don’t want to pick cotton at 105 degrees (Fahrenheit), but there are people who want to put food on their family’s tables and are willing to do that. We ought to say thank you and welcome them.”
Retiring Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who represents a dairy-farming district, has been notably unhelpful to any measure tightening immigration control, as illustrated by his handling of the Goodlatte bill earlier this summer.
Third in order are politicians, economists, and journalists who make seemingly objective and disinterested arguments for the benefits of large-scale immigration. It is difficult to disentangle these from the positions of the first and second categories mentioned above, since such persons often make such claims in addition to others that are more obviously self-interested. One argument is that a growing population leads to growing wealth, as measured by GDP. Another more sophisticated argument is that because the native-born population is not reproducing at a sufficient pace to replace itself, productivity will fall without a constant influx of immigrants, and in addition, old-age benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which are dependent on payroll taxes, will be unsustainable. The late Sen. John McCain made such an argument; so has the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, with respect to similar benefits in her country.
Fourth are libertarians, by whom free movement of people (laissez-passer) is considered a natural right akin to free movement of goods and money (laissez-faire). Exemplary of this class are the Koch brothers, and the libertarian Cato Institute, of which they are substantial benefactors.
Fifth are those who might be called ancestral nostalgists, for whom immigration of any kind is sentimentally esteemed. A shining example of this class is Dr. David S. Glosser, described as a retired neuropsychologist, formerly of the faculties of the Boston University School of Medicine and the Jefferson Medical College. Dr. Glosser is also the uncle of Stephen Miller, who has been one of the Trump administration’s policy advisors on immigration law.
Dr. Glosser has attacked his nephew as an “immigration hypocrite” on the grounds that his and Mr. Miller’s common ancestor, Wolf-Leib Glosser, was a Russian Jewish immigrant who “set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name” and through subsequent efforts was able to bring other members of his family to this country, and to build a successful chain of retail businesses. Dr. Glosser claims that his nephew “has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country” and writes:
“I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses — the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom.”
Any one of these arguments, by itself, might not persuade enough people to have much political effect, but taken together they pose a formidable obstacle to any effort to bring immigration under control. Despite this discouraging prospect, each of the arguments can be countered, and many of them will be seen to be founded on faulty premises, hyperbole, and “straw man” claims that are not actually advanced by any serious critic of uncontrolled immigration.
The first constituency for pro-amnesty, open-borders policies, the self-serving politicians, need more strenuously to be pointed out as such. The Left loves to posture as if it holds the moral high ground, but in this (and many other cases) it really doesn’t. If redefining the electorate by encouraging immigrants of a type that are expected to support a particular party is to be considered a legitimate partisan tactic, then opposition to such manipulation is equally legitimate.
Meddling with the electorate is an old practice. Considerable controversy surrounded the admission of new states almost from the beginning, because of its potential for upsetting an existing political balance.
During the ante-bellum period, by virtue of a series of compromises, new states were admitted in offsetting pairs — one free and one slave state in tandem. Conflict was inevitable once such compromises could no longer be reached. After the War Between the States, this issue became moot, but the admission of states continued either to be promoted or resisted based on how it would affect the political balance both in Congress and in the Electoral College. This remained the case right up through the admissions of Alaska (Jan. 3, 1959) and Hawaii (Aug. 21, 1959).
Not only the admission of states, but also the extension of the franchise to different groups of people took place in each instance because it served some partisan advantage. High-flown democratic ideals were far from primary in any of them.
The general abolition of property qualifications for the franchise (which prevailed in all thirteen of the original states at the time of American independence) enabled the eventual triumph of “Jacksonian democracy.” Following the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, extending the vote to freed slaves. The value of this was seen at the time less in its egalitarian intent than in that it enabled the Republican Party — the party of Lincoln and Grant — to enjoy a firm hold on Congress and the White House following the War. After the end of Reconstruction, blacks were eventually and effectively disenfranchised, but by then the Republican Party had enjoyed thirty years of national dominance, interrupted only by Grover Cleveland’s two non-contiguous terms. Similarly, the Nineteenth Amendment’s extension of the franchise to women, in close succession to liquor prohibition under the Eighteenth Amendment, was seen by the common supporters of the two amendments as mutual reinforcement — women, through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, had been a strong constituency for prohibition. The Democrats’ abandonment of their traditional Southern support in favor of the civil rights movement much more reflected practical coalition-building than it did moral principle — as illustrated by the peculiar transformation of former Ku-Kluxer Sen. Robert Byrd into a figure revered by liberal Democrats.
Of course this kind of cynical manipulation of the franchise continues — as seen most recently in Virginia, where then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe attempted to restore voting rights to convicted felons en masse, in the expectation that they would largely support Democrats. Now there is a push to allow non-citizens to vote in some municipal elections. Conservatives legitimately oppose any such watering of the electoral stock, and ought to point out just what the Left is doing and why.
The second open-borders constituency, those who like unrestricted immigration because of its wage-lowering effects, needs equally to have its motivations exposed. There are not “jobs Americans won’t do.” Rather, there are wages and terms of employment that Americans won’t accept, and indeed, would be prohibited by law from accepting even if they were willing to do. Illegal aliens participate in a huge “grey market” for labor. The jobs they take may not pay the legal minimum wage, or conform to the requirements of law with respect to wages and hours, workers’ compensation insurance, or safe working conditions. This suits employers who wish to circumvent their costs. On the other hand, not having taxes withheld from their pay serves illegal alien workers. They are still, in many instances, capable of earning many times what they could in their native countries. They are willing to live in squalid conditions, save their money, and send it home by convenient and relatively inexpensive wire transfers. The employment of such persons privatizes the profits that result from it, while socializing the costs in terms of welfare benefits, public education for the children of the illegals, and the burden of this population on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons.
The claim of some farmers that crops would rot in the fields if not for immigrant labor does not hold up under examination. Dependence on stoop labor can be and has been eliminated in a wide variety of industries by mechanization. If the economy of substitution is great enough, capital investment will be forthcoming to develop equipment to mechanize a task. Grain farmers were already doing this by the middle of the nineteenth century, as McCormick’s reaper and various types of threshing machine replaced the scythe and the flail. Horse-drawn implements were replaced by those relying on steam engines, and later by gasoline-powered tractors.
President Bush’s remark that “Americans don’t want to pick cotton at 105 degrees” is either a cynical misrepresentation or an astonishing display of ignorance. Texas, of which he was once governor, is a cotton-growing state. He ought to know that cotton has not been picked by hand for decades; Rust’s mechanical cotton picker was introduced in the 1940s. The work that in the remote past might have required hundreds of field hands can now be done by a single individual sitting in the air-conditioned cab of a large tractor. Tomatoes and other fruits are now routinely harvested by machine. In Europe cows are milked in automated milking parlors. Farmers who today complain that they can’t get along without cheap stoop labor are today’s heirs to the antebellum planters of the old South, who feared that they would be ruined by the abolition of slavery.
The arguments of the third category about the economic benefits of immigration may seem to carry some weight. However, to argue that growing population leads to growing wealth is to make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation. It is true, for example, that the population of Great Britain at the time of its first census in 1801 was 10.5 million, and that by 1901 it had reached 38 million. In the mean time, Britain had undergone an industrial revolution, and its standard of living had risen. But was this caused by its increase in population, or did the increase in population reflect rather the greater capacity of British industry to support it?
And further, do taxes paid by immigrants — illegal and legal — result in a net surplus of revenue over the cost they represent to the public treasury? The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank has published a study on this question. While it goes into considerable detail, it appears in summary that only immigrants having bachelor’s degrees or better are lifetime net taxpayers. The others are lifetime net tax eaters.
Libertarians, who make up the fourth class of open-borders advocates, would do well to heed Milton Friedman, who long ago warned that “It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.”
It may be that libertarians would like to see the welfare state dismantled — but the political will to do this is lacking, and it is not a wise idea to attempt it by causing the welfare state to collapse under the burden of costs imposed by large numbers of unassimilated and perhaps unassimilable foreigners.
They might well, too, contemplate what a foundational libertarian, Ludwig von Mises, wrote in 1927:
“In the absence of any migration barriers whatsoever, vast hordes of immigrants from the comparatively overpopulated areas of Europe would, it is maintained, inundate Australia and America. They would come in such great numbers that it would no longer be possible to count on their assimilation. If in the past immigrants to America soon adopted the English language and American ways and customs, this was in part due to the fact that they did not come over all at once in such great numbers. The small groups of immigrants who distributed themselves over a wide land quickly integrated themselves into the great body of the American people. The individual immigrant was already half assimilated when the next immigrants landed on American soil. One of the most important reasons for this rapid national assimilation was the fact that the immigrants from foreign countries did not come in too great numbers. . . .”
Libertarians today often tend to think of the nation-state as an enemy of freedom. Indeed, the proto-libertarian Albert Jay Nock published a book entitled Our Enemy, the State. Libertarianism champions what Benjamin Constant called “the liberty of the moderns” — in other words:
“. . . the right of everyone to express their opinion, choose a profession and practice it, to dispose of property, and even to abuse it; to come and go without permission, and without having to account for their motives or undertakings.”
To come and go without permission implies open borders. Like Constant, libertarians think of the nation-state as representing “the liberty of the ancients,” in which the people collectively exercised sovereignty, acknowledging no overlord — but at the expense of the personal liberties esteemed by the moderns.
Yet this is a false distinction in the modern world. While the nation-state has often been an enemy to personal liberty, it has also on many occasions been its indispensable defender. It is a mistake to view people, as many libertarians tend to do, purely as economic actors guided by rational expectations. People have different cultures, and think and act differently. All do not prize personal liberty as Western societies do. If we are to retain our liberty we must assure that those admitted within our borders will obey our laws and adopt our ways. If not — “good fences make good neighbors.”
We now come to the last category of open-borders advocates — the ancestral nostalgists. Theirs is in some ways the most difficult position to deal with, because it is based on emotion rather than on self-interested calculation or on badly or incompletely reasoned argument. To people like Stephen Miller’s uncle Dr. Glosser, all we can do is to quote Celia from As You Like It – “Was” is not “is.” Then is not now. Dr. Glosser’s and Mr. Miller’s ancestor, Wolf-Leib Glosser, a Russian Jew fluent in three languages (but not English) who entered the United States legally at Ellis Island in 1903, is not a today’s Mexican or Central American illegal alien, not even literate in the one language he speaks. Mr. Miller has the rationality to make this distinction, and to act in the interest of his country.
Dr. Glosser, by contrast, is mired in the treacle of filiopietistic sentimentality. He feels bound to beliefs and positions today based on those of his ancestors more than a century ago. This has blinded him to the facts and has led him to make several false statements in one sentence:
“The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the ‘America first’ nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees.” 
Presumably here Dr. Glosser is referring to the Immigration Act of 1924, passed 21 years after his ancestor entered the United States. This Act did not “close U.S. borders to Jewish refugees.” It excluded no one on the basis of religion. The 1924 Act set annual quotas for admission based on national origin, not religion. It was not the work of “‘America first’ nativists”; the America First Committee was not founded until 1940. That organization was, furthermore, not a “nativist” group, but rather opposed U.S. entry into World War II. It did this not out of anti-Semitic sentiment but rather because of the widespread sense among Americans that U.S. intervention in World War I had been a waste of American blood and treasure.
The quotas for Germans, Poles, and other immigrants from central Europe went unfilled in all years until 1939, the year the war began. Sadly, it was in that year that the “Voyage of the Damned” took place, in which the MS St. Louis, transporting 937 Jewish refugees from Germany, was turned away at Havana by the Cuban government, and subsequently by the governments of the United States and Canada. It is impossible to blame the authors of the Act for those events which they could not have foreseen; rather the blame lies with that revered liberal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who might have permitted the ship to land in the United States, but who refused to do so on the advice of his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull.
Surely it should be possible to put aside the specious, self-interested, badly-reasoned, and emotional arguments against controlling America’s borders and enforcing its current immigration laws efficiently. To do so is not “nativism” in any meaningful sense of the term. Further, it should be possible to discuss limitations on overall numbers of immigrants to be admitted, and replacing bizarre practices like the “visa lottery” with merit-based qualifications for entry. Are Canada, Australia, and other representative democracies that embody such qualifications in their law “nativist” for so doing?
Finally, we should recognize what makes one an American. There is no meaningful constituency here for “blood and soil.” It is appropriate to recognize a distinction between colonists and settlers on one hand, and later immigrants. Our institutions are undoubtedly based on those brought by our earliest population; they are part of the English tradition of common law and representative government.
Yet American-ness is neither a matter of ancestry nor one of some sort of abstract “propositional nation” principles. Rather it is a character formed by common experience.
Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 proposed what has come to be called “the frontier thesis.” This maintained that the common experience in question arose from the demanding environment of the frontier — of settlement in a wilderness, where one had to “make do or do without,” where in bad weather one had to take what shelter he could, and where these already harsh conditions were punctuated by the attacks of hostile Indians.
It mattered little whether the frontiersman was a seventeenth-century cavalier in Virginia, a seventeenth-century puritan in Massachusetts, an eighteenth-century Scotch-Irish mountaineer in Tennessee or Kentucky, a gold-rush miner in California or the Klondike, or a German or Swedish pioneer in Wisconsin or Minnesota — all these people faced the same challenges, and they forged the American archetype of stubborn independence, inventiveness, and admiration of success coupled with lack of deference to authority.
There is a well-known anecdote that illustrates this frontier attitude. An English lord, having travelled to the American West for a big-game hunt, sought the rancher who was to be his host. On arriving in the town nearest the ranch, he spotted a cowboy who worked at the ranch. The lord approached this man and said: “My good man, can you tell me where I may find your master?” The cowboy replied, “I reckon that man ain’t been born.”
This lack of deference towards those who seem to demand it is, of course, what infuriates our chattering class today. It is — to repeat a common phrase these days — what got Trump elected.
We can’t replicate the frontier experience for today’s immigrants, but what we may take away from it is that assimilation formed Americans in the past and is necessary to form them today. We must assure that immigrants are willing to assimilate, and we must give them time to assimilate, not admitting so many that society cannot easily absorb them. It is not “nativism” to believe that it is a privilege and not a right for a foreign national to enter this country’s borders. Neither is it “nativism” to believe that American citizenship is a precious gift — one that should neither be offered nor received lightly. *
 Act III, sc. 4.
 op.cit., ref. 7