“Our Country is Full”; Revisiting the meaning of “Red Storm Rising”*

“Our Country is Full” – President Donald Trump (April 5, 2019)

What does it mean for a country to be “full”?

In a November 2018 prepared statement, President Trump had made it clear said declared that his agenda was only about illegal immigration: “Illegal immigration hurts American workers, burdens American taxpayers and undermines public safety, and places enormous strains on local schools, hospitals and communities in general, taking precious resources away from the poorest Americans who need them most.” Those assertions about illegals were not what the President meant. Even if the statement had contained well-grounded facts instead of politically-motivated emotionally-charged claims, no one, neither Democrats nor anyone else, advocates admitting illegal immigrants to the U.S. There clearly is disagreement about how best to keep out undesirables – for example, whether building a wall on America’s southern border would be the best way –, but no one believes that it would be a good idea to admit undesirables.

President Trump in his statement used the term “illegal” when referring to immigrants, but his actions have left no doubt that his policy is about excluding immigrants of all shapes and sizes. The Trump administration has attempted to ban immigrants from eight Muslim countries, canceled DACA, separated refugee children from their parents, restricted H-1B approvals for skilled workers, proposed cutting benefits for legal immigrants, and purged senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security because their efforts to impede immigration weren’t draconian effective enough. These are not steps directed at ending illegal immigration. They are intended to close America to all immigration. And the President’s simple statement that “Our country is full” is a wonderfully clear political rallying cry that expresses that intention. It also frames the basis for national discourse. It echoes often racially-charged appeals used in other countries and raised in other eras. It therefore resonates with those who believe, some for emotional reasons, others for self-interested reasons, and yet others based on unproven assertions, that immigration is a bad thing. It’s not.

Let’s take a look at each of the possible components of a “full” country.

Did President Trump mean that there isn’t sufficient housing to accommodate more people? Clearly not so. America has no housing shortage. On the contrary, housing demand and housing construction are integral parts of America’s economy and important to its growth story. Immigration would be a net positive for that growth. There have been a number of proposals that would encourage economically-beneficial immigration, for example to issue green cards to individuals who purchase a house using at least $X00,000 in cash (which might have been a neat solution to the housing crisis of 2009). This may be an appropriate time in the economic cycle to consider those proposals.

Perhaps he meant that America has inadequate land? Not so. America is the 146th most densely populated country on Earth.

Are there too few employment opportunities for immigrants? Also not so. In fact, the economic data supports the opposite conclusion. The U.S. currently has an employment shortage in a wide range of trades and businesses and there is specific demand for immigrant workers in dangerous, undesirable and low-paying jobs that native-born Americans shun, including farm work, caregiving, meat-packing and construction. With a U.S. birthrate of 1.85 per woman, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1, and with an expanding population an indispensable ingredient for U.S. GDP growth, economic reality dictates that immigration is necessary to generate that growth. The national rate of population growth is at its lowest since 1937, a comparison that resonates negatively with The Lonely Realist historians and economists (regarding 1937, see The Lonely Realist of March 11, 2019).

Will immigrants take native-born Americans’ jobs? Of course they will, at least in some job categories. Although economic data is not definitive and conclusions depend on timing and the affected industries and their locations, the reality is that a dynamic, growing economy creates winners and losers … and, in the U.S., immigration has had an important role in that process. Capitalism labels this as a necessary part of “creative destruction.” U.S. history is chockfull of examples of immigration driving innovation, economic growth and job-creation. With a declining native-born population, immigration may be of more economic benefit today than at any time in the past 80 years.

Did Trump mean that legal immigrants take more out of the U.S. economy than they contribute? If that was his message, it’s not true. Legal immigrants contribute more in tax revenue than they take in government benefits.

Is the concern that legal immigrants commit more crime than native born Americans? That too is not true as various studies have concluded. (Of course, a higher percentage of illegal immigrants are criminals in jail because when they’re caught, which a great many are, they’ve committed the crime of being in the U.S. illegally.)

Was Trump’s point neither economic nor employment-related nor crime-related? Was he saying that immigration of all sorts is bad for America because it will dilute its character as a primarily white, Christian country? If so, it is true that America has become more racially diverse over the last 70 years. The percentage of white Americans has declined from 89{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} in 1950 to 72{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} in 2010, a trend that is likely to continue whether or not the Trump administration is successful in limiting immigration from Latin American, Arab and Asian countries. Such a policy, if adopted, has an obvious political motivation since immigrants today are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican (although this was not the case until very recently – immigrants share conservative values and, in their voting, most often have supported candidates of the religious right). Racially-charged immigration rhetoric is not new to American politics. It plays to the Trump base. However, it ignores economics and history. It’s worth noting that Germany in the 1930s had a similar policy. So did South Africa. Myanmar currently is countenancing a program of ethnic cleansing. History may not be repeating itself, but is does appear to be rhyming.

The principle that has guided the U.S. since its founding has been to seek diversity, not racial, religious, ethnic or cultural purity. America has the largest number of immigrants in the world with 47 million. Immigrants comprise almost 20{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of the U.S. population, a percentage more or less in line with historical averages. Unlike other nations, the U.S. has a long history of excelling at assimilation (recall President Kennedy’s 1958 book, A Nation of Immigrants). Immigrants have found a welcome in America when other countries have closed their doors. That’s been America’s national policy. It’s what made America unique. Many point to it as the reason for America’s exceptionalism. That’s the reason why it was the subject of Ronald Reagan’s final speech as President on January 19, 1989: “You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American…. Yes, the torch of Lady Liberty symbolizes our freedom and represents our heritage, the compact with our parents, our grandparents, and our ancestors. It is that lady who gives us our great and special place in the world.” The Statue of Liberty has served as a beacon for immigrants, especially for those fleeing repression. Until now, that is. Until now, the words of Emma Lazarus have been inspirational, and not only for refugees: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” President Reagan: “If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.” It is this conviction in American values and their application through America’s Rule of Law that have made America great. It would be worthwhile keeping that in mind when considering how to make America great again.

Revisiting the meaning of “Red Storm Rising”

A reader expressed the view that China’s strategy for global dominance is scary. That was not the message intended by “Red Storm Rising” (The Lonely Realist, April 12, 2019). What is scary is America’s unpreparedness for China’s likely accession as global hegemon. The absence of a carefully thought-out response creates the possibility that the U.S. and China are Destined for War. As Graham Allison points out in his book, the burden lies largely on the declining power – here, America – to find a successful way to transition to a different, unexpected yet unavoidable, world order. Ignoring reality compounds the problem and creates the potential for an undesirable, emotionally-charged trap.

Finally (from a good friend)

I met a magical fairy yesterday who said she would grant me one wish.

“I wish to live forever,” I said.

“Sorry,” said the fairy, “That is the only wish that I’m not allowed to grant.”

“Fine,” I said, “then I want to die the day after Congress is filled with honest, hard-working, bipartisan men and women who act only in the people’s best interests!”

“You crafty little bastard,” replied the fairy.


*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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