Progressive naysayers will want to denounce immediately President Donald Trump’s call for an immigration approach that “instills the spirit of America into any human heart.” They should resist the temptation. If they truly love inclusion as much as they say they do, clearly this is the right path.
That is not to say that every part of the Americanizing portion in the new immigration policy the president outlined from the Rose Garden on Thursday was airtight. But by adding patriotic assimilation to the policy mix of the new approach, the president took an important first step in the right direction.
Trump was returning to a hallowed American tradition that goes back to the Founders, was kept alive by Abraham Lincoln, fed by Progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and was personified by Ronald Reagan. All of them advocated assimilation among immigrants and took pride in America’s unique ability to achieve it.
So when Trump opened his remarks by saying, “Out of many people, from many places, we have forged a nation under God,” he was not “breaking norms” as his critics so often charge him with, but returning the country to the norm that has existed for centuries.
Only in the past two or three decades have far leftist critical race theorists and street activists attempted to plant the notion that assimilation was anything but desirable or even beautiful.
Where the policy misses the mark somewhat is by making a civics test a requirement for an immigration visa. “To promote integration, assimilation, and national unity, future immigrants will be required to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission,” the president said.
These are generally not bad things in themselves, but by making a demonstration of an active interest in patriotic assimilation one of the requirements of immigration, the plan left itself open to system-gaming and, worse, could fail entirely to advance the agenda of Americanization.
Anyone can study George Washington’s Farewell Address or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall. They may even mean it, and intend to immigrate to America with hopes of joining the mainstream, becoming American and succeeding in life.
Doubtless, this is what now happens with the majority. Nobody in his right mind immigrates anywhere in the hope of becoming an aggrieved, “marginalized” victim. Our grievance studies professors may have laid the foundation of a victimhood culture in America, but in most of the rest of the world, being a victim is a degraded status.
The problem is that once they come in, having passed a civics test or not, immigrants (and the native born as well) would still come under pressure to respond to the incentives to balkanize that our system currently continuously provides.
That includes everything from the constant messages our children receive K-12 about diversity being “our strength,” the constant pressure in university to withdraw to the imaginary oppressed group into which the system has consigned you, ending in a segregated graduation ceremony, and their continuation in the corporate world.
A recent report at The College Fix found that 71% of colleges surveyed “have some version of an ethnically separate graduation.”
There is also, then, the very real advantages that people at all stages of their lives receive from “ticking the box” and producing a victimhood narrative. These include racial preferences in university admissions, government contracts, housing, etc.
It is farcical that, alone among the millions that have come to America in previous immigrant waves, today’s immigrants can be declared victims as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil. That endows them to the fruits of compensatory justice upon entry.
It is that entire system that must be dismantled before we go back to a policy that “strengthens our culture, our tradition, and our values” that the president envisioned. There are steps—from ending the incentives of racial preferences to returning to cultural instruction in schools—that should be worked into the immigration plan.
Cultural knowledge promotes an egalitarian society and reduces economic inequality. The children of the rich already come equipped with it.
This 2016 paper, “Patriotic Assimilation is an Indispensable Condition in a Land of Immigrants,” helps explain the background and proposed next steps.
In a late 1988 speech, Reagan remarked, “You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk. Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.”
Trump is right to try to give us this gift again.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal