Looking for Trumpism in all the Wrong Places
By Matt McDonald | February 5, 2017, 16:38 EST
Let’s play a little game.
I’m going to give you quotations from published statements that have appeared since President Donald Trump signed the travel-ban executive order on Friday, January 27.
You tell me what the author is arguing.
1. “Many Americans are focused on the need to strengthen our country and assure the safety of our people from terrorism. This is a grave responsibility for our leaders. … Reasonable evaluation and qualification of those seeking entry to the United States is necessary and appropriate …”
2. “Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts know too well the pain of international terrorism. The United States must remain vigilant, and we must continually work to improve the systems we use to stop people who seek to harm us from entering the country …”
3. “Americans are more likely to look favorably on immigration if they sense there’s a logical system guiding it. Back in 1955, historian John Higham wrote what is considered the seminal book on nativism, Strangers in the Land. He penned a new epilogue for the book when it was reissued in 2002. In it, Higham said he wished he hadn’t painted nativists with such a broad brush. While many had clearly been motivated by xenophobia and racism, others had been making valid points about the system’s need for reasonable controls. Even a nation of immigrants shouldn’t let in more arr9ivals than it has the capacity to assimilate.”
If you said that these passages were from defenders of Trump, you’d be wrong.
In fact, each of the authors does not appear fond of Trump (to put it mildly).
(They are, in order: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, in an op-ed in The Boston Globe; Charlie Baker, governor of Massachusetts, in a letter to John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security; and Neil Swidey, in a story in The Boston Globe Magazine.)
Now, these quotations are cherry-picked, of course. These are give-the-devil-his-due passages. Elsewhere the authors make their main points. They come from different places but all three would agree that Trump’s immigration policy is unwise (to understate the matter).
But what is Trump’s immigration policy?
The truth is, we know little about it, because the executive order is mostly about temporary measures.
Take the seven-Muslim-nation ban, for instance. It refers to four unstable war-torn countries with governments that have little control over their residents (Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria) and three countries where the government sponsors terrorism (Iran, Sudan, Yemen).
For six of these, the travel ban is only for 90 days, which is supposed to give time for the federal government to put in place a process to try to make sure that immigrants from these places aren’t coming here to do us harm.
For Syria, the ban is indefinite. But again, the impetus seems to be trying to come up with a way to vet potential immigrants.
If Trump were really trying to ban permanently all Muslims, or even all people from these countries, why take this approach? A 90-day delay comes with a built-in deadline, and with an expectation that at the end of 90 days the temporary ban will end and be replaced by something that isn’t an outright ban.
What about all the protesters claiming the United States is abandoning refugees?
Again, we don’t know what Trump’s policy on refugees is going to be. But we have a clue, which is largely being overlooked.
The ban on refugees is for 120 days. (Again, the emphasis is safety. The point of the temporary ban is to give the government time to improve the vetting process.)
The order reduces the country’s previous ceiling for refugees to 50,000 a year, which is less than half of what the previous administration allowed.
But missing in much of the commentary is the following simple point: Having a ceiling of 50,000 implies that Trump expects to continue receiving refugees into the country.
So how is America closing the door to refugees?
The third quotation above is the most interesting. It comes from Swidey’s article about an anti-immigration Harvard-educated Boston lawyer of 100 years ago who didn’t like southern European races and believed in eugenics to try to encourage “better” races and discourage “inferior” ones. Swidey tries to link this fellow to Trump, which takes considerable straining.
But let’s focus on the give-the-devil-his-due part.
It implies that limits on immigration are not only rational but necessary. It even uses the word “assimilation.”
(Aside: Why is it that when a conservative uses the word “assimilation” it’s racist and exclusionary, but when a liberal uses it it’s sophisticated and thoughtful?)
Why does assimilation matter?
The foreign-born population of the United States is now more than 13 percent of the country.
That is the highest it is has been since the late 1800s and the early 1900s, when it hovered between 13 and 15 percent, according to the Brookings Institution.
Around 1920, U.S. lawmakers started seriously restricting immigration, in part because they were worried that America was coming apart at the seams. The foreign-born population started falling until it reached a low of 4.7 percent in 1970.
What happened during those 50 years?
Assimilation. People who came here had children and grandchildren who had a chance to learn the American way of life and identify with it.
They didn’t have to give up their religion or their music or their food or their memory in order to become Americans. But become Americans they did.
Whatever Trump’s immigration policy ends up looking like, it ought to encourage people who are interested in embracing our way of life, discourage people who aren’t, and give time for e pluribus unum to remain unum.
Matt McDonald is publisher and editor-in-chief of New Boston Post. To see a much different perspective, check out a column from Martin J. Walsh, the mayor of Boston, also running in New Boston Post.