ActivePaper Archive Trump might change American culture — but migration won’t - Houston Chronicle, 7/15/2018


Trump might change American culture — but migration won’t


Donald Trump’s character flaws are his own, of course, and they’re not shared by many of the Americans who voted for him. But the president really does have many flaws, and they were on display this past week.

After leaving the NATO summit in Belgium, the president made his first official state visit to the United Kingdom, where leaders like British Prime Minister Theresa May were in the midst of fraught negotiations over whether, and how, to leave the European Union.

Trump promptly gave an interview to the Sun, a tabloid, in which he accused May of bungling “Brexit” so badly that she had possibly scuttled Britain’s chances for a free-trade agreement with the United States.

He subsequently dismissed the Sun’s report as “fake news,” although the paper had an audio recording of the comments he’d made. Then, at a news conference Friday, Trump offered his thoughts on the ongoing worldwide immigration debate.

“I think it’s very much hurt Germany. I think it’s very much hurt other parts of Europe.” he said.

Immigration, Trump added, is “changing the culture” in European countries — and that same thing could happen to the U.S.

“It’s a very sad situation. It’s very unfortunate. But I do not think its good for Europe. And I don’t think it’s good for our country. We’re far superior to anything that’s happened before, but we have very bad immigration laws,” he explained.

These aren’t the most inflammatory comments Trump has made about immigrants. But that’s one of the reasons I found them disturbing. Germany may be experiencing cultural change as the result of large-scale migration, but the U.S. is not Germany and is insulated from the risk of broad cultural change that the president fears.

The explanation has to do with geography and history. The U.S., unlike Europe, is in the Western Hemisphere. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans separate us from most of the world’s migrant-sending countries. The U.S. has, at times, experienced large-scale migration, but it’s never been uncontrolled; it’s relatively easy to control the flow of arrivals to a country that is largely bordered by Canada and a pair of exceptionally large moats.

The southern border, of course, is harder to secure. According to the Pew Research Center, there were roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2016, amajority of whom were from Mexico or Central America. And our immigrant population, overall, is large. The 2010 Census found that roughly 40 million people living in the U.S. were foreign-born; that’s about 13 percent of the population overall.

90 percent native-born

America’s foreign-born population is heterogeneous, though. Roughly 2 million people in this country, for example, were of Chinese origin, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That makes them the nation’s third-largest immigrant group. And Chinese immigrants have influenced American culture in various ways; the same is true, for better or worse, of all such groups.

Still, let’s keep things in perspective here. It helps. There are roughly 330 million people in the U.S., almost 90 percent of whom are native-born. It would be effectively impossible for any group of immigrants to radically overhaul the national culture writ large, even if they were determined to do so. And the largest immigrant group in the U.S. is from a country that is culturally similar to our own.

According to Jorge G. Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, Mexican culture is notably individualistic. That’s why Mexicans are passionate about property rights as well as soccer — and why, despite their passion for that sport, the national team has never made it past the World Cup quarter finals.

“Mexicans, as they came into existence as a collective entity and as a nation, sought individual, family, community, or local solutions to collective political, or national dilemmas,” writes Castañeda in his book “Manana Forever?” about the historical roots of modern Mexico’s culture.

My fellow Texans, does that remind you of anyone you know?

To Trump’s point, there’s no question that large-scale immigration can change a country’s culture. And such changes might be suboptimal from a native’s point of view. Culture is, after all, a collection of beliefs, ideas and values. Whether a given nation’s culture is preferable to others is a subjective question, but it’s not an absurd one.

Trump’s scapegoat

Similarly, although no culture is set in stone, it’s not inherently bigoted to have concerns about the ways in which one’s own culture might change or reservations about the things that might cause it to do so.

That’s one of the reasons I opposed Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination, actually. I know the U.S. is a deeply imperfect country, with a seriously checkered past. But history also shows that we try, at least intermittently, to do the right thing.

The same cannot be said of Trump. He is simply not committed to common decency, a core American value and the source of our occasional virtue. He lacks kindness and courage, to boot. As president, he may be changing our national culture in some ways; I hope not. And I hope Americans, on both sides of the aisle, can resist Trump’s efforts to scapegoat immigrants for doing so.