Dear Steve Bannon,
I might be wasting my time writing to you. You know that old internet saying, Don’t Feed the Trolls? Well for the past couple of years I have thought of you and Donald Trump as basically trolls, more interested in scoring political points and tripping up your opposition than in putting forward a coherent ideology of your own. But then Donald Trump won the election. Now you and he have the ability to shape policy in some profound ways; you have already begun doing it. We can’t just dismiss you as a troll any longer.
I’ve been watching what you and President Trump have been doing with the various executive orders and trying to understand it. It started with the Wall, and all the over-the-top language about illegal immigrants that’s behind what is obviously a pretty dumb xenophobic symbol. Then on January 27 we had the Travel Ban, supposedly to fight terrorism, though we all know that’s not the real point of it — as the President himself has indicated, it’s pretty clearly intended as a first stab at a broader and more expansive Muslim ban. As of this writing, the Travel Ban has been halted and is currently being evaluated in the courts.
There are now reports there will be other orders soon — you want to change the H-1B rules to make it harder for American companies to hire skilled foreign workers. Apparently the administration is also going to go after immigrants who are poor and who have received help from social welfare programs like CHIP. And just this week, we heard about a bill introduced by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas that would dramatically reduce legal immigration across the board. Are you all also going to go after birthright citizenship?
“Are you all also going to go after birthright citizenship?”
Based on things you have said in recent months, I would expect that you are indeed planning to do all of those things. Just to recap, here’s what you said on a radio interview with Stephen Miller, who also now works with you under Trump. This is from your SiriusXM radio show, from March 2016:
You saw that, what is it, 61 million? Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, is not illegal immigration? As horrific as that is, and it’s horrific, don’t we have a problem, we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country? When you look and there’s got 61 million, 20 percent of the country, is immigrants — is that not a massive problem? (link)
The 61 million you are referring to there is the number of foreign born people in the United States right now, including citizens as well as permanent residents. Here’s what I don’t understand: why is that number, 20 percent, so scary to you? Why do you feel “overwhelmed” by immigrants? What, exactly, is the “problem”?
The United States has a long history of accepting waves of immigration and quickly assimilating those communities into the American mainstream. The massive wave of European immigration between 1880 and 1920 meant that there were many people speaking Italian, German, and Yiddish in American cities for a few years. But their children all spoke English and identified as Americans.
The exact same thing has been happening with the wave of immigrants who have been entering the United States since 1965 — when Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, opening the doors to immigrants who had formerly been banned under the racial national quotas that had been instituted in the early 1920s (i.e., the Asian Exclusion Act).
The newer waves of immigrants may be darker skinned and have names like Patel and Zavarzadeh rather than Pazzaglia and Liebowitz. But over time they do exactly what the earlier waves of immigrants did: they move out of ethnic enclaves in and around big cities to the suburbs. Their kids prefer English to their parents’ languages, and develop a taste for burgers and basketball. This is what happened with my own family, which started its American story in Queens, New York, only to settle down in a Maryland suburb. I live in a suburb of Philadephia. It doesn’t always happen overnight, but it does happen: immigrants blend into the mainstream of American life.
“But remember that the endpoint of every hyphenated ethnic or racial identity category is basically one word and one idea: American.”
Yes, some of us do prefer to stay connected to the countries and cultures of our parents. I grew up with burgers and basketball; I am also a practicing Sikh, who would love it if my kids could speak and read at least some Punjabi. And I consider myself “South Asian American,” which I know might annoy you.
But remember that the endpoint of every hyphenated ethnic or racial identity category is basically one word and one idea: American. Chinese-American, African-American, Arab-American…. The hyphenation is a marker of process; we are all in the process of becoming American. Admittedly, it might also be a marker of a complexity around American national identity that is going to be permanent. But the idea of Americanness can certainly handle a bit of complexity, can it not? What it means to be American has always been complex. (Just ask Frederick Douglass. Really, ask him. He’s on Twitter now.)
Back to the point, though: what exactly is your problem with any of that? Why are you afraid of immigrants? Why are you afraid of complexity? Why are you afraid of me? I don’t get it.
“Why are you afraid of immigrants? Why are you afraid of complexity? Why are you afraid of me?”
In the interview mentioned above, you also went after H-1B visas and the large number of immigrants in tech companies. You argued that there are too many immigrants coming into the U.S. (mainly from Asian countries), which is making it hard for American students to be admitted into graduate programs in STEM fields (not true); you also indicated that you believe this immigrant labor force is putting American software engineers out of work. But this isn’t true. Last year, around the time you did this interview, we saw headlines along the lines of “Silicon Valley Unemployment Hits New Low”. And people with these skills make very good salaries — most are in the six figures — with pretty good raises and bonuses.
The large numbers of skilled immigrant workers in the IT industry have been a huge asset to companies like Google, Facebook, and Intel. They have been one of the main reasons these American companies have succeeded the way they have. And I would stipulate that they have been able to do this without taking away jobs from American workers.
In short, everything you have proposed so far will be bad for the United States in the long run. If you really don’t have anything more coherent to offer than what you said on that radio show, I would suggest you quit working in the White House and go back to running your Trolltastic website (Breitbart.com) and your Trolltastic satellite radio show. You don’t have any business making real policies; they are cruel, they are un-American, and they just don’t make any sense.
A Hyphenated American
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