Saturday, July 2, 2016

Egan's 4th of July Column

Timothy Egan provides some needed 4th of July perspective in The New York Times.

But on this upcoming Independence Day, at a time when Trump’s response to our better angels is to go small, mean and tribal, an American ideal is in peril. Not open borders, which is something the United States hasn’t had since 1875, but open minds.

In committing economic suicide, Britain is trying to close the door and hide from the world. It felt good, no doubt, to tell those overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels to bugger off. We’ll stick with our bangers and mash without any interference from Europe! But the Brexit vote was also a drunken swing at those “others” remaking the image of a lost England. To hear the haters tell it, “Polish vermin” and brown-skinned hordes have overwhelmed the little island nation.

Trump wants us to follow the Brits into a corner of isolation — by race, religion and trade. His philosophy, the rant of a besotted boob making things up in public, is anti-American at its core. In rejecting our former colonial masters, we threw off monarchy, the class system and a state religion. We opened our doors to all nations, all religions, all opinions.

The New World can certainly learn much from the Old World. But the sun never sets on a stupid idea. And this vote to stop the spinning globe and get off at 1952 is among the stupidest. Britain is cracking up now because it followed the crackpots. The United States could make the same mistake — rejecting free trade, and rejecting a welcome mat for free people.

In place of Lady Liberty, Trump would build a wall, trigger a huge recession and apply a religious test to entry. He would do this, he says, because “we are losing everything in this country” and “we don’t know who these people are” — that is, these people coming to our shores.

But in fact, we do know a great deal about the 42 million immigrants here, legal and illegal. A majority of them came before 2000. Almost 30 percent of those over the age of 25 have college degrees — roughly equal to the population as a whole. India, China, Mexico, the Philippines and Canada are the top countries of origin.

Among the new Americans are a deranged few who kill for religion. These Islamic fanatics should be rooted out, isolated and of course kept away from assault rifles. But Trump has tried to equate immigration in general, and free trade, with fear of both homegrown terror and the new global economy. He’s counting on the same contagion of stupidity that infected Britain to carry him.

No amount of Make America Great sloganeering will bring back the old industrial base. Pittsburgh is banking on immigrants, and a brain economy tied to global trade and education, to rebound. The city’s official Welcoming Pittsburgh campaign specifically targets the very people Trump has demonized. And it seems to be working, a bright spot in landscape of decline. Of late, Hispanic migration to western Pennsylvania is double the national average.
These new residents will wave flags on the Fourth of July, eat too much charred food, and hear something amid the bombs bursting in air of what makes America truly great. It’s grounded in hope, instead of hate.

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