Coulter’s Challenge

Ann Coulter and Donald Trump Walk Into … : I wasn’t entirely happy when I learned my friend Ann Coulter’s new book was going to be 100% about immigration.  Not because I feared she’d hurt the cause of immigration control — a defensive battle our side has been winning, so far, despite a concerted push by the entire Democratic party, half the Republican party, half (secretly) of the politicians who claim to represent the other half of the Republican party, virtually the entire press (including Fox), virtually all of business, and virtually all big money political donors (including the Kochs!).  It’s just that I’d found my own comfortable, sincere dogma on the subject, and I  worried that she’d upset it, which is what she tends to do.

My party line, in clip and save form, was:

1) The immigrants we get, including illegal Mexicans, are mainly hard-working potential citizens, like waves of immigrants before them; 

2) The problem, as Mark Krikorian argues, is that we’ve changed, and the world has changed. We don’t need unskilled labor like we used to. Our native unskilled workers are having trouble earning a living.

3) The main reason to limit immigration flow, then, is to protect wages of Americans who do basic work. We desperately need a tight labor market. We won’t get it as long as millions of people from abroad respond to any tightening by flooding our work force.

4) The most important thing, then, is getting control of that number by securing the border — stopping illegal immigration. Once that’s done we can argue about what the legal number should be (and what should be done about current illegals).

5) But if wages are rising,  it could be a reasonably big number! See point 1; 

6) There are second-order worries about cultural assimilation, especially the huge flow from Mexico, a nation a day’s drive away many of whose citizens (polls show) don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of our Southern border.

7) One solution is to let in more people from other, non-Mexican cultures — Koreans, Chinese, Africans, Indians, etc.  We want diversity! Ha ha. That joke never gets old.

All in all a nice, relatively safe, liberal restrictionism. Works for me.  Sure enough, Coulter isn’t buying it. She goes further. Much further. Perhaps too far! Her book would be incendiary if Donald Trump hadn’t come along and made her look like Desmond Tutu. Now maybe we can consider her six big points coolly and calmly. Probably not, of course. But here they are :

1) Cultures differ, and culture matters: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said Daniel P. Moynihan in his finest try for Bartlett’s.** Does anyone really doubt this? If businessmen can make millions babbling about corporate “culture” — If Reddit can have a culture — why can’t we talk about the cultures from which immigrants come? Maybe they assimilate over time, maybe they don’t. But we can’t assume that everyone and all cultures automatically assimilate at some sort of fixed pace. Thought experiment: What if the entire population of Central America, India, Bangladesh, Russia and Western China –some 1.8 billion people — miraculously moves to the U.S. in a month. Screen them for criminals and terrorists. Don’t change any U.S. laws to accomodate them. Construct plenty of housing and schools and roads in advance. In two years the country wouldn’t look anything like the country we know now, of course.  Do you think it would it retain the things we now value about America? That it would be a better place? Good. I don’t either. Now we are just haggling over the size and pace of the inflow.

Here’s how Coulter puts it (after noting that immigration advocates say that “If you oppose how we’re changing the country, you’re against Lupe, the maid”):

Never in human history has a country simply decided to turn itself into another country like this. No offense to Mexico. Love the food! But Japan doesn’t say, “Let’s become Sweden!” FInland doesn’t say, “Let’s be Scotland!” I don’t want to live in Japan. I don’t want to live in Scotland. I wanted to live in America. So did Lupe. Why don’t American elites?

2) Some cultures are “better” at becoming American than others: The fatal mistake, in Coulter’s eyes, was Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration act, which “snuffed out the generous quotas from countries that had traditionally populated America–England, Ireland and Germany”–and added “family reunification” policies, allowing recent immigrants to bring in their relatives [not just their nuclear families], and those relatives to bring in their relatives, until entire Somali villages have relocated to Minneapolis.”

The results are often deeply disturbing. Consider the Hmong, who initially came here in large numbers after the Vietnam War:

Only someone in the news business could be expected to notice, but a rape epidemic has been sweeping through all the Hmong hot spots in America: Fresno, California; St. Paul, Minnesota; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Boulder, Colorado,; and Detroit, Michigan. …

In one case

the American judge sentenced the rapist to only 120 days in jail after his lawyer said that, in Hmong culture, if a woman doesn’t fight her rapist with sufficient ferocity, the rapist and victim are considered married. (Note to Hmong: You might want to put this on your profile.)

We’re “still taking in thousands of Hmong ‘refugees’ every year,” Coulter says, so that now “there are an estimated 273,000 Hmong” living here.

Was America short on Hmong?

Seems a fair point! It’s not crazy to want to pick and choose the most compatible cultures. And there’s a big problem with “dumping the poorest of the poor, cultures that are vastly different from our own, on a lot of middle-class communities.”

3) Crime, in particular is an issue: Coulter was driven to focus on immigration, she says, out of frustration when she discovered that the government makes it virtually impossible to find good statistics on the amount of crime committed by immigrants:

Every time you think the government has finally produced a real number of immigrants convicted of crimes in America, there’s a catch. Legal immigrants will be excluded, convicted criminals whose country of birth is unknown are left out, Hispanic criminals will be classified as white …

Like Trump, Coulter thinks the actual amount of immigrant crime is “staggering.” Unlike Trump, she doesn’t claim the Mexican government is intentionally sending us bad actors. She argues culture, not conspiracy (or genetics). The habits we don’t like — a non-progressive view of women, for example — are characteristic of many “peasant” cultures. Mexico just has the closest.

Are Coulter (and Trump) right about immigrant crime? Coulter certainly presents a lot of horrifying anecdotal evidence — more than enough, actually. She has great fun mocking the mainstream press for actively suppressing anything suggestive of an immigration link. (She fisks an absurd New York Times account of the shocking gang rape of three young girls by two dozen men — an account that never does tell readers the rapists and victims were Hmong, though it does make a point of reporting that “everyone” agrees “what  happened here could have happened anywhere, perhaps in a fraternity house or in a basement in a predominantly white suburb …”) There’s non-anecdotal  evidence too — highly suggestive, not conclusive (like a 2006 DHS estimate of 605,000 foreign born criminals arrested by state and local law enforcement in a single year). More has come out in the wake of Trump’s rant. Steven Camarota  and Jessica Vaughan of Center for Immigration Studies argue we dont really know who’s right about immigrant crime, thanks in part to the flaws in the data that frustrated Coulter. (See also Ben Shapiro’s summary).

Now that the taboo has been broken, this seems like an area for a good academic fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when the dust settles, we discover that Latino immigrants, at least, fall somewhere between whites and blacks, crime-wise, as Latinos do on so many other scales. That’s what the C.I.S.’s data suggests.

I certainly advise against being fooled by academic studies showing Latinos commit fewer crimes than native Americans “similarly situated” –i.e., who are just as young and poor. Most Americans aren’t young and poor. If young and poor Latinos commit more crimes than the typical American (not the “similarly situated” American) that’s a huge cost of letting in lots of young and poor immigrants!  Why not pick immigrants who are likely to commit very few crimes?

4) Legal immigration matters: When I first heard the restrictionists at the Center for Immigration Studies lump illegal and legal immigration together, I thought they were weird. After all, border-controllers spend a lot of time fending off the charge that they’re “anti-immgrant.” The usual response: “That’s not true! I’m not against immigration! I’m against illegal immigration,” etc. And if you want to get control of the situation — well, that almost by definition means targeting illegal immigration (while allowing whatever immigration you decide to permit).

Yet if you worry about the effects of uncontrolled immigration on wages and culture, you have to admit that legal immigration, if large enough, could have exactly the same wage-depressing and culture-dissolving effect. Scott Walker got in huge trouble a few weeks ago when he dared to suggest setting the level of legal immigration low enough to allow U.S. workers to find good jobs. Had he joined Numbers U.S.A? No. He was just carrying the logic of supply and demand to its conclusion. Ted Cruz’s competing position — he’s for cracking down on illegals but for actually raising the number of legals — began to looked confused. If the “legal immigration can hurt” argument sticks, it will be a big shift, at least for the modern era. (For most of American history, of course, the level and composition of legal immigration has been the subject of lively debate.)

5) Diversity sucks! According to Coulter, my idea of a Los Angeles in which Korean immigrants live with Latino immigrants to produce a vibrant synergistic whole is insane. Diversity is “a train wreck.” Her big gun in this argument is the inconvenient work of a beloved liberal professor, Robert Putnam:

Contrary to his expectations–and desire –Putnam’s study showed that the greater the ethnic diversity, the less people trusted their neighbors, their local leaders, and even the news. People in diverse communities gave less to charity, voted less, had fewer friends, were more unhappy …It was not, Putnam said, that people in diverse conummnities trusted people of their own ethnicity more, and other races less. They didn’t trust anyone. …

Yikes. It may be that as various large social forces — divorce, electronic communication, mobility, prosperity itself  — conspire to make us a nation of Instagramming loners, we need the easy interfacing offfered by a homogeneous ethnic community more, not less.

I still resist that idea, since it can easily devolve into a cult of forced ethnic authenticity (e.g. blacks should stop ‘acting white,’ I’m not really Jewish, if you’re of mixed descent you’ve gotta pick one and go with it! etc.).  What about hybrid vigor, and the great things Americans have produced by muddling and mixing cultures? It’s hard to argue that the combination of African-American music and white hillbilly music hasn’t been one of the great luck-outs of mankind. Coulter accepts that “African Americans are every bit as much a part” of America as Anglo-Saxons, but says that makes America “bi-racial, not diverse.” Why won’t other cultural collisions produce achievements as felicitous as Chuck Berry’s? Maybe they will. But if I could come up with a good example I would have stuck it here.

6) We need a moratorium on immigration: You don’t need to accept any of Coulter’s heresies — cultures are unequal, diversity is bad, maybe today’s immigrants really are more problematic than previous waves — to oppose the smug consensus CW favoring “comprehensive” immigration reform. It’s enough to recognize that a) too much immigration bids down pay at the bottom, and that b) we’ll never control immigration if we try to do an amnesty before the border is secure (because the border security arrangements will promptly be undermined, as happened after the  last amnesty).

But politically, it’s not easy to succeed if you are just trying to block the other side’s initiatives — especially if they only have to win once to permanently change the playing field for future battles. Opponents of premature amnesty badly need to go on the offensive, to convince American employers’ that , given the voter anger laid bare by Trump, they’ll be lucky to keep getting the 1-2 million legal immigrants a year they’re getting now.

Coulter goes on offense. She wants a 10 year “total immigration moratorium,” on the grounds that any loopholes will be abused and expanded by the immigration bureaucracy. “Just shut it down.” It’s not a permanent ban — just a pause, a “time-out” while we assimilate the people we’ve already accepted and wait for labor markets to tighten. But if the moratorium idea gains traction — and I don’t see why it shouldn’t, it makes more sense than term limits– it would be a shock to the elites at least as big as Trump’s ongoing surge.

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I used to worry that someone who can get on TV would raise the issues Coulter raises —  worry that if you claim there’s any kind of big differential when it comes to cultural assimilabilty, for example, you just piss people off and open the door to discrimination. If you wring your hands about Mexicans who don’t acknowledge the Southern border, you’re apt to produce a lot of angry, ethnically self-conscious Mexican-Americans who might decide, hey, now that you mention it, you did steal our land.

But we seem beyond those worries now. Ethnic identity politics has arrived and put down roots.  Continuing the taboos seems to mainly let groups like La Raza etc. suppress unpleasant truths — like that some immigrant groups really don’t look at the border the same way we do. A majority (52% ) of Mexicans, in a respected Pew poll, agreed that “Mexicans have a right to be in the U.S.,” while fully 66% thought the “U.S. government has no right to limit immigration.”  (That’s a poll of all Mexicans, in Mexico, not just of immigrants or likely immigrants.) Meanwhile, opponents have to hold their tongues, which makes them angrier.

It may be better to just have it out. I once heard the late Jody Powell say that the only honest conversation about race was in the bar car of the Southern Crescent after midnight —  I guess when people were trapped in one place and drunk enough not to worry so much about saying what they really thought. Let’s have that kind of conversation on immigration. The Coulter types can say the country was built on Anglo-Saxon culture. Mexicans can say ‘but we have a great culture. Why do you denigrate our culture?’ “Well, why are you the ones who want to come here?” “We were here first, actually.” “What you mean ‘we?’ You weren’t here first. You mean some of your ethnic ancestors you’ve never met.” “Their land was stolen.” “And Cortez? I suppose he paid Montezuma in cash?”

It’s harder to play the victim when the other side isn’t too scared (or sober) to argue back. I’d say an acceptable compromise on immigration (which would be some variation of  “Enforcement First,” not an amnesty-first “comprehensive” reform) becomes more likely, not less, once all these touchy, long-stifled issues are ventilated.  Coulter’s passionate*** and seemingly fear-free book is actually a relatively benign way to walk into the bar and start the polemical brawl.


** — The second half of Moynihan’s great quote: “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

*** — Coulter is often accused of acting, of being in effect a performance artist. ¡Adios America! ain’t that.