Friday, November 21, 2014

Barack Obama’s Assault on America. By Robert W. Merry.

Barack Obama’s Assault on America. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, November 22, 2014.


There is a solution to the country’s immigration crisis that makes sense. But, to be sound and durable, it must be arrived at through the country’s traditional democratic procedures and processes.

I present these musing under the rubric, “Requiem for the American Republic.” I do so with a profound sadness at the destruction wreaked upon our civic system through the decades-long phenomenon of uncontrolled immigration. In presenting his new policy of granting illegal immigrants legal status through executive action, President Obama said he did so in part because of “who we are as Americans.” Who we are is a nation of laws. Our government has ignored the law for a generation or more in allowing law-breaking immigrants to enter the country. Now the president doubles down on that assault on American law by promulgating an unconstitutional executive order.

Inevitably, those who are unconcerned about the flow of illegal immigrants—either through humanitarian impulses or because they see a political realignment in the making (or both)—can’t perceive why anybody would view the president’s action as the least bit malign.

But this is a brazen assault on the separation of powers doctrine of our Constitution. When the president says his action is “just like [what] law enforcement does every day,” he heralds the arrival in distilled form of Orwell’s “Newspeak.”  Newspeak is a corrosive force, as Orwell made clear, because it contributes to the slow erosion of verities, such as the fundamental elements of the American Creed.

In allowing this flow of illegal immigrants into our country through misfeasance and nonfeasance for the past thirty years (since the last amnesty), our political leaders have driven a wedge through the nation. We now have over 11 million such people in our midst, struggling to make their way through society while grappling with pressures and adversities imposed by their illegal status. This situation is untenable, of course. The president is correct when he says, “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”

But that isn’t the issue. The issue is whether any effort to craft a reasonable pathway to legal status or citizenship for America’s illegal immigrants will also include provisions designed to protect our borders into the future. Most Americans know that a nation that can’t control its borders is a nation whose very definition is under assault. That’s the trade-off: protect the borders first, then deal with the 11.5 million illegals.

Obama argues that all this fuss could have been avoided if the Republican-controlled House had embraced the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate during the current Congress. But many House members, all duly elected by constituencies back home and answerable to those voters, felt that the bill didn’t sufficiently embrace the trade-off. Not enough border security in exchange for the pathway to legal status.

But there’s another factor here that seldom gets serious attention, in part because left-leaning participants in the debate have sought to delegitimize their opponents’ arguments on it. President Obama hinted at this factor when he said, “I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel they’ve gotten a raw deal for over a decade.”

Leave aside the economic factors enumerated (the threat to jobs or the feeling of middle-class families that they have gotten a raw deal) and focus for a moment on the concern that uncontrolled immigration could “change the very fabric of who we are.” The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington explored this phenomenon in his 2004 study, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. He said America’s identity, over its history, had been composed at various times of  four elements—ethnic, racial, cultural and political. Over the decades, the ethnic and racial components of the nation’s identity have been cast aside. The country no longer defined itself in these terms. That left the cultural and political components.

America’s traditional culture has been what Huntington calls “Anglo-Protestant.” He explains this by posing a question:
One has only to ask: Would America be the America it is today if it in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been settled not by British Protestants, but by French, Spanish or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico or Brazil.
In 1789, John Jay identified six central elements of what Americans had in common—ancestry, language, religion, principles of government, manners and customs and war experience. Of these, common ancestry was the first to go, as more and more immigrants came from countries other than Britain. Over the decades, there was an erosion in some of the others. For example, the religious component in Jay’s day would have been Protestantism; that later was broadened to Christianity. But generally, these cultural norms persisted throughout much of the twentieth century. As Will Kymlicka wrote in 1995, prior to the 1960s, immigrants “were expected to shed their distinctive heritage and assimilate entirely to existing cultural norms.”

That began to change toward the end of the twentieth century, and the single largest factor was immigration. Hence, it isn’t surprising that there should be an underlying concern on the part of many Americans about the impact of immigration—particularly uncontrolled illegal immigration—on the cultural norms of the country. Such concerns are dismissed as illegitimate by many pro-immigration forces in the country.

If the cultural component erodes entirely, as it seems to be doing, then America’s single remaining element of common identity will be the American Creed—principles of governance such as liberty, equality, democracy, individualism, human rights, the rule of law and private property. Huntington raises the question whether mere creed is sufficient to hold a nation together over extended periods of time.

In any event, the fate of America’s cultural identity is not a matter of mere frivolous concern, as many liberals argue. It is fundamental, which is why it unleashes strong emotions in many parts of the country. And these emotions are heightened by the phenomenon of more recent immigrants being increasingly reluctant to shed their own distinctive elements of heritage and increasingly inclined to shun the concept of assimilation.

All of this makes the immigration issue one of the most emotional and threatening issues to appear on the American scene in many decades. Given that, it isn’t an issue with which to be trifled. It is too serious, too delicate, too closely tied to the American identity.

And yet that is what President Obama has done. He has trivialized this most emotional of issues facing the American polity by circumventing the structures of American democracy in favor of a unilateral solution, or partial solution. In doing so, he not only has assaulted the American cultural identity, as others have been doing for some time, but he also has assaulted the country’s identity of creed—the delicately balanced structures of governance designed to preserve the hallowed principles of liberty, rule of law, justice and fair opportunity.

Of course, there is a solution to the country’s immigration crisis that is humane, balanced and protective of the country’s fundamental elements of identity. But, to be sound and durable, it must be arrived at through the country’s traditional democratic procedures and processes. Obama’s assault on those procedures and processes, if they stand, will hasten the decline of the American republic.

Obama’s Big Immigration Miscalculation. By Walter Russell Mead.

Obama’s Big Miscalculation. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, November 21, 2014.


President Obama’s new initiative is unlikely to succeed politically—in part because Democrats are overconfident that rising Hispanic immigration will deliver them a permanent, left-leaning majority.

Frank Fukuyama, no howling partisan, has tagged President Obama’s decision to circumvent Congress on immigration as a “bad call,” and while the President’s limited offer of a three-year temporary work authorization for people in the country illegally was not the worst or the most radical step he could have taken, Frank is right. This was the wrong step at the wrong time. At the very minimum, the President should have given the new Congress ninety days to act before going it alone. Failing to do so isn’t just a slap in the face of his Republican opponents; it is a slap in the face of the voters who no longer trust the President and his party on the big issues of national life.

If the new Congress proved unable or unwilling to act, the President’s step would have had at least an element of political legitimacy to it. As it is, this half-hearted, hobbled amnesty will likely join President Obama’s flawed health care law as a toxic legacy that will haunt the Democratic Party for years to come. Just as the President’s poor reputation was a millstone around the neck of many Democratic candidates in 2014, future Democratic candidates are going to run away from Obama’s memory, and their opponents will work to tag them with the heavy burden of a presidency that most Americans will want to forget. As a political brand, the name “Barack Obama” now risks drifting into Jimmy Carter territory and becoming  a label that blights the prospects of the Democratic party and its candidates for years.

Moreover, as with the health care law, the President’s immigration policy doesn’t solve the underlying problems it addresses and makes the task of real reform more difficult. As often happens with our careful and deliberative President, he’s balanced so many concerns so nicely and split so many hairs so finely that the final product doesn’t get much done.

That said, I cannot help but sympathize with the President’s intentions. Through a combination of bad policy (such as the Reagan amnesty), poor enforcement of our border controls, and the existence of a large underground economy, millions of foreigners have been living, working, marrying, and having children among us for decades outside of the law. As a human problem, this demands a response. The development of a class of illegal alien workers who lack the full and equal protection of the law is an affront to the ideal of human equality and undermines the well-being of the legal workers who have to compete with underpaid illegals in the marketplace. The children of such people who are born in the United States have committed no crime and both common decency and our own laws demand that such people receive education, health care, and the basic services that government provides. President Obama did not create the tangled morass of the failed American system of managing and regulating immigration, and both as President of the United States and as a human being under the judgment of a just God he has unavoidable obligations to seek a humane solution to the problems we face. The solution he chose may be a poor one, and it exposes both the nation and future immigrants to more trouble, but the situation is real and no perfect solution to a problem this messy exists.

The President, like many Democrats, has reached his position on immigration out of political calculation as well as humanitarian concern. For many liberal Democrats (as well as for some of their Republican opponents) two key beliefs about immigration shape their political strategies. The first is that Latinos are the new blacks: a permanent racial minority or subgroup in the American political system that will always feel separate from the country’s white population and, like African-Americans, will vote Democratic. On this assumption, the Democratic approach to Hispanic Americans should be clear: the more the merrier. That is a particularly popular view on the more leftish side of the Democratic coalition, where there’s a deep and instinctive fear and loathing of Jacksonian America (those “bitterly clinging” to their guns, their Bibles, and their individualistic economic and social beliefs). The great shining hope of the American left is that a demographic transition through immigration and birthrates will finally make all those tiresome white people largely irrelevant in a new, post-American America that will forget all that exceptionalism nonsense and ditch “Anglo-Saxon” cultural and economic ideas ranging from evangelical religion to libertarian social theory.

Hispanic immigration in this view is merely the largest and most promising of a broader program of planned social engineering through immigration law: “globalizing” the American population by raising the number of immigrants and ensuring that, unlike 19th-century U.S. immigration, late 20th and 21st century immigrants come from non-European societies.

The second key belief about immigration driving the vision of much of the American left today is that immigration is unstoppable. The borders cannot be controlled, and even if they could be, they won’t be. The more immigrants there are in the United States, the more they influence the vote. And the more immigrants influence the vote, the more support for immigration there will be in our politics. There is thus little fear of a backlash; if, Democratic lefties reason, Republicans are so angry about the President’s steps to ease conditions for illegal immigrants that they push for tougher immigration laws, the GOP will merely accelerate its demographic death spiral into irrelevance.

For Democratic lefties, these are comfortable ideas that reinforce an idea of inevitable historic progress toward the kind of America they would like to see—a country that in its values and institutions would look more and more like the rest of the world and less and less like some kind of exceptional maverick. Both ideas could well prove to be true, but if American historical experience is any guide, both will turn out to be false. The current wave of immigrants will follow an ethnic rather than a racial path toward growing assimilation into American society and culture, and if and as immigration passes a certain threshold level, opposition to further immigration will rise—even and in some cases especially among recent migrants—and at some point the political system will mandate dramatic cuts in the rate of new migrants.

The great wave of European immigrants that came between 1880 and 1924 was once seen both by liberals and conservatives as something very like the wave of Hispanic immigrants we’ve had in the last generation. Unlike earlier waves of immigrants from countries like Germany, England, Scotland, and (even) Ireland, the turn of the century immigrants came predominantly from countries like Russia, Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Syria. (Many Arab-Americans came to the United States during this era.) With Jews, Poles, Sicilians, Hungarians, Russians, and Czechs pouring into American ports, there was a sense among many descendants of earlier waves that the new arrivals were both racially and culturally alien. “Swarthy” immigrants from countries like Greece, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire were not considered “white” by many native-born Americans. Eastern Jews from the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were feared as alien, unassimilables. Well into the 1930s and 1940s, the American hard left believed that the new immigrants would lead American society away from the antiquated individualism of earlier generations into the brave new world of socialist collectivism they saw rising in the future.

Those hopes fizzled out. The European immigrants may have voted for the New Deal, but many went for Eisenhower in the 1950s and Nixon in 1968, and their children and grandchildren became the “Reagan Democrats” of the 1980s. The United States did not become a socialist or even a social democratic utopia, and the descendants of the immigrants blended into the American people at large.

It seems more likely than not that Hispanic immigrants and their kids will follow a similar path. In many ways Latinos face less prejudice than Jews or Italians did in the 1880s, and have more opportunities to integrate into American society at large than those earlier generations of immigrants did.
The evidence if anything suggests that Hispanic immigrants are more open to the cultural influences of American political and social ideas than were earlier waves. While very few Italian, Jewish or Greek immigrants, for example, converted to evangelical Protestantism, 24% of hispanic adults in America are now former Catholics. Hispanics are a large and varied group, but by and large they are learning English, starting businesses, joining Protestant churches and voting Republican at levels that suggest that they are anything but a permanently alienated racial underclass in formation.

Past history also suggests that liberal Democrats may be misreading the politics of immigration. In American history, opposition to immigration (including opposition among relatively recent arrivals) tends to rise in response to large waves of immigrants. The Know Nothing movement (nativist, anti-Irish, anti-Catholic) rose in response to the surge in Irish immigration at the time of the Potato Famine. The KKK revival of the 1920s as an anti-immigrant rather than just an anti-black movement came in response to the post 1880 immigrant tsunami.

More to the point, the successful anti-immigration movements (first aimed at Chinese and Japanese immigrants and then, in 1923–24, at dramatically reducing immigration of all kinds) came as the foreign born surged as a percentage of all adults. Instead of sparking the formation of a powerful lobby that kept the gates of immigration permanently open wide, the migration surges of the late 19th and early 20th century led to a forty-year immigration hiatus. Not until the late 1960s did the country begin to reopen the door to significant flows of new immigrants.

Far from being a losing political issue for its advocates, immigration restriction was one of the most popular political initiatives of its day. The anti-immigration Republican Party swept from one landslide to another until the Great Depression, and polls showed intense and widespread popular opposition to more immigration all through the 1930s and 1940s. Many of those who opposed new immigrants were the sons and daughters of immigrants themselves; with U.S. wages and job opportunities under pressure during the Depression, workers did not want competition from desperate migrants willing to undercut U.S. wage levels.

Again, history would suggest that instead of playing catch-up with Democrats on immigration, Republicans would do better to reach out to new immigrants on economic grounds. Fighting the green/NIMBY nexus, for example, that makes single family home construction prohibitively expensive in states like California, locking new immigrants out of both jobs and homes, might be a smarter strategy than shouting “Me too!” on immigration reform.

Today’s public concern about the rate of immigration, including but not limited to illegal immigration, is coming after a long period of rapid immigration, and it comes when working class Americans are increasingly worried about wages and jobs. It may pass away, like the Know Nothings, or it may build into the kind of national political consensus that kept immigration to a trickle for much of the 20th century. But whatever happens, the Democratic confidence that an ever rising tide of Hispanic immigration will create a permanently left-leaning America is likely misplaced. As a piece of political engineering, President Obama’s immigration initiative is unlikely to succeed.

The President, however, is absolutely right that our current immigration system is broken with too many domestic workers facing low wages and reduced job opportunities, too many employers unable to attract the skilled labor they seek, and too many immigrants condemned to a shadow life on the fringes of legality. Better border enforcement, smarter policy, and a more focused concern for the well-being of working Americans are the keys to a more sustainable immigration regime than what we now have. If Republicans are smart they won’t let themselves be goaded into a frenzy of opposition and reaction by the President’s actions; they will advance a smarter agenda on their own.

Either way, most recent immigrants, like most of their predecessors, have come to this country because they believe that, flawed as they may be, our institutions and our way of life offer more hope and more opportunity than the countries they have left. The best way to support our new neighbors and help them become valuable, contributing members of American society is to prove them right.

From an Era of Refugee Millions, Only Palestinians Remain. By Andrew Roberts.

From an Era of Refugee Millions, Only Palestinians Remain. By Andrew Roberts. Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2014.


The 1940s and ’50s saw huge forced moves of population groups—people who put down roots and started over.

On Tuesday, as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza celebrated the murder in a Jerusalem synagogue of five Israelis, the Spanish Parliament happened to be passing a nonbinding motion urging its government to “encourage the recognition of Palestine as a state.” Last month, Sweden became the first European Union member to officially recognize Palestine as a state, and parliamentarians in England and France have similar legislation in the works.

As anti-Israel sentiment grows in Europe—and in the U.S., where the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement has taken hold on many college campuses—calls for an immediate resolution to the Palestinian “refugee” problem abound. To hear some in the anti-Israel movement today, one might imagine that the Palestinian exodus was a unique occurrence in modern history, that no other people have ever been moved off what they considered to be their ancestral lands.

The truth is that such movements—including that of the Palestinians—happened so often in the mid-1940s to early 1950s that it is surprising that the plural of the word exodus—exodi?—is not used in reference to this period.

For all sorts of reasons, ethnic groups were either forcibly or voluntarily moved during that troubled period, and usually in far worse circumstances and for far longer distances than the Palestinians. There were no fewer than 20 different groups—including the Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus of the Punjab, the Crimean Tatars, the Japanese and Korean Kuril and Sakhalin Islanders, the Soviet Chechens, Ingush and Balkars—many in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who were displaced and taken to different regions.

Yet all of these refugee groups, except one, chose to try to make the best of their new environments. Most have succeeded, and some, such as the refugees who reached America in that decade, have done so triumphantly. The sole exception has been the Palestinians, who made the choice to embrace fanatical irredentism and launch two intifadas—and perhaps now a third—resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

After Germany lost World War II in 1945, more than three million of its people were forced to leave their homes in the Sudetenland, Silesia and regions east of the Oder and Neisse rivers—lands that their forefathers had tilled for centuries. These refugees embarked on a 300-mile journey westward under conditions of extreme deprivation and danger with only what they could carry in suitcases.

One can’t be expected to sympathize too much with people who had enthusiastically supported Adolf Hitler, but among them were children who were not responsible for the sins of their fathers. Having reached the new borders of East and West Germany, as delineated by the victorious Allies, they settled and made no irredentist claims to Poland and Czechoslovakia, the countries they had left. Today those once penniless refugee children include some of the most successful people in Germany, a country they helped make a prosperous, model democracy.

Across the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, the paranoiac evil of Joseph Stalin ensured that entire peoples, sometimes numbering in the millions, were moved from one side of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. to the other. Some, like the Cossacks who had fought for Hitler, were massacred wholesale when they fell into the hands of Stalin or his satellite henchmen, such as Yugoslavia’s Marshal Josip Tito.

Millions of other people, as part of Communist schemes unrelated to the war, were “relocated” to Siberia, the Crimea or Central Asia, often many hundreds of miles from their ancestral lands and under the harshest conditions short of genocide. In all, forced internal migrations of the Tatars, Volga Germans, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskheta Turks and other ethnic groupings numbering some six million led to the deaths, according to the Soviets’ own figures, of up to 1.5 million, including 46% of the Crimean Tatars. Yet there are no appreciable irredentist movements among these former Soviet citizens today. They made the best of a new reality rather than carrying on a decades-long and ultimately hopeless struggle to return.

Similarly, the late 1940s saw massive population transfers in the Punjab and Northwest Frontier territories of India when the British brought their empire there to a close in 1947. Some 16 million people crossed between the new states of Pakistan and India, leading to the deaths of between one-half and three-quarters of a million people in the communal massacres that ensued.

Yet while there are severe border disputes still between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, practically no one from the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities is today agitating for restitution of the lands their forefathers farmed or owned in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier or elsewhere. There is distrust, but modern Indians and Pakistanis have moved on. The same is true of other parts of the world, such as Burma and South Africa, which also saw ethnic upheaval in the late-1940s.

Sadly, it has been the Arab states’ cynical and self-interested policy for nearly seven decades to keep the Palestinians boiling with indignation. No one can doubt that for those who have continued to live in camps intended for long-ago refugees, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, when thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled, was indeed a catastrophe. But many other peoples have learned to deal with equal or worse by moving onward and upward; calling them refugees several generations after their forebears’ upheaval would be unthinkable. The lessons of history are rarely enunciated more clearly.