July 6, 2018

"A nation of immigrants" is Reaganite / neoliberal propaganda, absent during New Deal / Great Society

I didn't want to spoil the mood on July 4th itself, but now that it's over, it's time to take a cold hard look at the origin and purpose of the propaganda we hear more and more of on Independence Day -- that the founding of our nation was built on immigration, and so more immigration we must have today.

As a side note, nobody falls for the not-at-all subtle equivocation of using "immigrants" to refer both to the settlers who built this nation from the ground up while at war with the Indians and the British, and the much later waves who saw what a prosperous and peaceful society had been created and wanted to enjoy its fruits without having contributed to its cultivation.

Everybody understands that "immigrants" really means the ones who came after a society had been built -- we don't refer to the Iroquois Federation as "a nation of immigrants" just because they originally came from outside the Americas, in Asia, as though to suggest they had no greater claim to eastern America than the European settlers did. They built up a whole society out of nothing before we got here, so they were no longer immigrants. When we built up a whole society that displaced theirs, we were no longer immigrants.

At any rate, you might think that this "nation of immigrants" canard belongs to the liberals, what with their reliance on non-whites and immigrants for electoral success. You'd think the conservatives would emphasize the ethnic Us vs. Them distinction more strongly, as well as the reverence for tradition -- and only some ethnic groups contributed to the traditions of Americana.

That may be true, yet on a partisan level, it has been the Republicans rather than the Democrats who have pushed this propaganda the most forcefully, and mostly during the transition away from the New Deal period and into the Reaganite period. The Democrats who do push this narrative are not driving the trend but jumping on the Republican bandwagon during a period of GOP dominance in the Reagan era.

We might try to resolve this paradox by pointing out that the Reaganites are not conservative on social or cultural issues, only on economic issues, and that they are more libertarian -- socially liberal, economically conservative. But then you'd expect the Democrats of the New Deal and Great Society period to have floated this narrative, since they too were socially and culturally liberal. Yet they did not, because they were economically liberal -- and wide open borders means more competition in the labor market, which drives down wages, screwing over the working class and handing over free money to lazy employers.

It is this unique combination that has unleashed the "nation of immigrants" propaganda, as well as its policy of open borders -- culturally liberal, to admit alien cultures for more than just a visit, and economically conservative, to seek any means possible for driving down wages so that lazy and greedy employers don't have to earn their higher profit margins (e.g., by "building a better mousetrap").

Anyone who supports economic populism must never deploy this propaganda, especially the culturally liberal populists who are more susceptible to its multi-culti feel-goodiness. Their heroes of the New Deal and Great Society never used it -- not that they bashed immigrants, but they avoided playing into the hands of exploitative employers, who would've been only too happy for the populist left to preach the false gospel of wage-crushing open borders.

Strategically, if voters wanted a Democrat who supports open borders, they'd go with the neoliberals who have a wonderful track record. Populist primary challengers on the left must run on a platform that distinguishes them from the neoliberal Establishment, and open borders ain't it.

The rest of this post will look at the New Deal / Great Society period, while a second post will cover the neoliberal / Reaganite period.

* * *

To review the history, I looked at what previous presidents said during the Independence Day period (the first week of July, since they sometimes gave remarks a little before or after July 4th itself). I used UCSB's American Presidency Project.

Beginning with the founder of the New Deal period, FDR gave no July 4th speeches during any of his four terms that mentioned our nation's founding in the context of later waves of immigration, let alone to motivate current policies on immigration. In fact, he spoke at Monticello for his 1936 speech, where naturalization ceremonies take place -- and yet his remarks made no reference to America being a "nation of immigrants," or that "we all used to be immigrants," etc. His messages referred to the Founding Fathers and the Civil War, or WWII for current events, but not immigration.

In 1947, Truman gave a speech a few days after July 4th in which he urged the government to admit European refugees in the wake of WWII. He does refer to the diverse groups of people that America has assimilated, but he is only using this to motivate a policy of letting in handfuls of European refugees, which he explicitly says will be OK because they're so ethnically similar to existing Americans:

In the light of the vast numbers of people of all countries that we have usefully assimilated into our national life, it is clear that we could readily absorb the relatively small number of these displaced persons who would be admitted. We should not forget that our Nation was founded by immigrants many of whom fled oppression and persecution. We have thrived on the energy and diversity of many peoples. It is a source of our strength that we number among our people all the major religions, races and national origins.

Most of the individuals in the displaced persons centers already have strong roots in this country--by kinship, religion or national origin. Their occupational background clearly indicates that they can quickly become useful members of our American communities. Their kinsmen, already in the United States, have been vital factors in farm and workshop for generations. They have made lasting contributions to our arts and sciences and political life. They have been numbered among our honored dead on every battlefield of war.

The conclusion that he's only referring to open borders in the past, not the present, is made clearer in his remarks on July 4th itself, in the context of international cooperation in the post-WWII world (my emphasis):

It is now the duty of all nations to converge their policies toward common goals of peace. Of course, we cannot expect all nations, with different histories, institutions, and economic conditions, to agree at once upon common ideals and policies. But it is not too much to expect that all nations should create, each within its own borders, the requisites for the growth of worldwide harmony.

Eisenhower never referred to immigration in any of his July 4th speeches.

Kennedy did not either, even though his political clan was an Ellis Island Irish family.

Johnson ignored the topic as well, despite hailing from the border state of Texas.

Nixon, like Truman, did refer to our history of immigration, although -- also like Truman -- not to motivate a policy of bringing back mass immigration. As far as he lets on, immigration was a thing of the past. In a speech from 1972:

More than any other nation of any area, America has truly been the home of the free and the haven of the weak and oppressed from other parts of the world. And the catalyst of American values has transformed the weak and the oppressed into part of a strong and a just people.

In a related speech on preparing for the Bicentennial, he goes into greater detail on our history of immigration and assimilation, although again it is not to argue for more immigration. The context is seeking post-WWII cooperation among nations, and wanting international visitors -- not immigrants -- to see what their co-ethnics have done for this society, on the occasion of its Bicentennial (and then they go back):

First, because America is and always has been a nation of nations. Patriots from France and Prussia and Poland helped us win our Revolution. Strong men and women of every color and creed from every continent helped to build our farms, our industry, our cities.

The blood of all peoples runs in our veins, the cultures of all peoples contribute to our culture, and, to a certain extent, the hopes of all peoples are bound up with our own hopes for the continuing success of the American experiment.

Our Bicentennial Era is a time for America to say to the nations of the world: "You helped to make us what we are. Come and see what wonders your countrymen have worked in this new country of ours. Come and let us say thank you. Come and join in our celebration of a proud past. Come and share our dreams of a brighter future."

Generally speaking, the only mention of foreigners or foreign countries during the New Deal and Great Society period was to present the communist and fascist countries as a dictatorial foil to the American nation celebrating its independence and tradition of liberty. Or in a positive tone, to refer to those suffering under not-so-free governments for whom the ideas and actions embodied in the Declaration of Independence could act as a role model -- at a distance.

This was a period of growing prosperity and narrowing inequality, all the way back to the Great Depression, which was more of a decapitation of the undeservedly rich -- who had borrowed massive sums to gamble on the stock market during the Roaring Twenties -- than an evisceration of the working class. Trying to sanctify immigration by incorporating it into our national creation myth, and the story of its evolution, would only have reminded people of the Dickensian working and living conditions that mass immigration leads inexorably towards -- totally opposed to the zeitgeist of The Wonder Years.

It would not be until the New Deal and Great Society came under attack, in the wake of the mid-1970s recession, that presidents would start to use the occasion of Independence Day to sanctify immigration, in order to call for literal boatloads more of it. The elites were going to pursue a program of cheap labor, and that required all the neo-Dickensian immigrants that the bureaucracy could possibly process. Just proclaiming that the days of prosperity are over, would not make a good rationalization. Instead, cheap labor had to be protected by cultural sanctification, against which any argument would be an unforgivable taboo.


  1. It actually comes from JFK:


    "A Nation of Immigrants (ISBN 978-0-06-144754-9) is a 1958 book on American immigration by then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.


    The book was originally written by Kennedy in 1958, while he was still a senator.[1] It was written as part of the Anti-Defamation League's series entitled the One Nation Library.[2] Subsequently, after gaining the presidency, he called on Congress to undertake a full reevaluation of immigration law; and he began to revise the book for further publication. In August 1963, excerpts of the 1958 pamphlet were published in the New York Times Magazine.[3] He was assassinated before completing the revision, but the book was nevertheless posthumously published in 1964 with an introduction by his brother, then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.[4] In 2008, the book was re-issued by the Anti-Defamation League.[5]
    The book contains a short history of immigration to the in Colonial America onwards, an analysis of the importance of immigration in the country's history, and proposals to liberalize immigration law."

  2. One pamphlet is not a trend or broad pattern, especially when it does not result in a policy change. And especially when the themes don't appear at all in JFK's Independence Day speech, the obvious occasion to solidify it as a narrative, and exhort for policy changes on its behalf.


    That speech was given at Independence Hall in Philadelphia -- if the goal were to sanctify immigration throughout our nation's history, he would've chosen Ellis Island as the location.

    Reagan heavily and repeatedly pushed the "nation of immigrants" narrative, it was part of a larger and longer trend, it did accompany sweeping policy changes, and on two separate occasions he made the speech at Ellis Island, including once on Independence Day (1986, year of the amnesty).

  3. You would make the same mistake by tracing Reaganism to 1964 on account of Goldwater's candidacy. In 1964, those ideas went nowhere -- just because they were present in trace amounts does not mean they characterize the zeitgeist.

    It was still clearly the New Deal / Great Society period in '64, and not until '76 would Goldwater's and Reagan's ideas become strong contenders. That's when Carter ran against the New Deal and won, and when Reagan finished a close 2nd in the GOP primary, after being on the fringes of the party's elites in '64.

  4. The Fountainhead and The Road to Serfdom are from 1943-'44 -- but they were counter-cultural during their collectivist and state intervention-friendly zeitgeist. Not until the late '70s with the free market fundamentalist revolution did anybody outside of a fringe cult read or worship those books.

    No different for "a nation of immigrants" in the late '50s and early '60s.

  5. JFK died a few years after the book, which characterized the US as a nation of immigrants and called for liberalizing immigration law. RFK wrote to the New York Times in the year following JFK's death criticizing the national origins system of immigration, and in 1965 Ted Kennedy pushed for the passage of the 1965 Immigration Law which abolished the national origins system and liberalized immigration. LBJ signed the '65 bill into law at the Statue of Liberty. He gave a speech at the signing describing it as "one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration" and described the national origins system as "un-American" and the US as a "nation of strangers":


  6. It did not liberalize immigration, else the numbers would have shot up between 1960 and 1970 -- which they did not. The open borders effect is only visible by the 1980 Census -- total number, number compared to native population, foreign-born as % of population, etc.

    You're confusing theatrical or ceremonial with instrumental. The Kennedy clan may have wanted to make it easier for their Irish kinsmen to immigrate here, and even gotten legislation passed stating such. But that doesn't translate into higher immigration, if it's understood to be a sentimental rather than utilitarian law.

    Neither JFK nor LBJ referred to immigration at all in their Independence Day speeches -- again, the occasion, if any, to re-invent the national creation myth. July 4th is the high holy day for civic nationalism. No change on that occasion, no change in the prevailing narrative.

    And as already pointed out, the "nation of immigrants" idea did not grow from that purported seed. We're looking for the origin and growth of a narrative -- and a story that fades out after a few years is not the source of anything.

    There must be continuous growth and momentum, which we only observe during the late '70s for the "nation of immigrants" narrative. Likewise for free market fundamentalism.

    You wouldn't usefully point to JFK slashing taxes, or further back the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, or Ayn Rand publishing The Fountainhead in '43, and say, "See, there's the seeds of the anti-New Deal movement that would blossom in the late '70s". Well then they weren't the seeds -- seeds grow continuously.

    Rather, you'd say it was an abortive attempt to reverse the prevailing trend, and despite notching a tiny win, it left the zeitgeist mainly intact.

  7. In evolutionary terms, you're pointing to standing variation that is not selected by the environment. It's like being the one really tall person in a population of short people. If height is not relevant to fitness, they're just an exception or outlier.

    But at a later time, if the environment does change to favor tallness, then suddenly more and more of the population will be tall, and it won't be odd anymore -- it'll be the norm.

    The zeitgeist is like a set of environmental conditions -- describing an ecosystem or a climate. We can tell when the climate changes by observing selection acting upon the things that live in it.

    We observe no such change in the political climate regarding open borders (or libertarianism generally) during the New Deal. The handful of open borders folks are not becoming more and more common, having more and more success / influence / etc., out-reproducing the low-immigration folks.

    We observe that growth in the high-immigration policy, and the "nation of immigrants" narrative that rationalizes it, only during the late '70s. So that's when the climate began changing -- when the New Deal and Great Society were beginning to be undone during its final disjunctive phase, not during its Midcentury heyday.

  8. The same non-effect is observed for the 1924 law as for the 1965 law. Immigration had already peaked circa 1910 -- total numbers, foreign-born as share of population, etc. -- and the steep decline was already evident by 1920.

    The law in '24 was more of a symbolic or ceremonial endorsement of the instrumental change that had already taken place, by whatever mix of causes. This is why we say the Great Compression began sometime before 1920, since narrowing inequality and lower immigration go together.

    A symbolic, ceremonial endorsement of something that has not yet happened, like the 1965 law, will not necessarily produce the real-world change being hoped for by the law -- only if the climate is selecting for it, otherwise not. And in that case, not.

    Be sure to distinguish between the theatrical and instrumental side of things, or you will easily fool yourself into what is cause vs. effect, or what did or did not even happen.

  9. The larger issue is blaming the New Deal for Reaganism's problems, a topic I'm going to have to sadly devote more posts to.

    Once the GOP was no longer the opposition party that it had been under the New Deal / Great Society period, it had license to do whatever it wanted to re-shape society, including reversing trends begun under the New Deal.

    Stronger labor unions? Gone.

    High tax rates? Gone.

    Regulated prices in various industries? Gone.

    Manufacturing kept in the US rather than off-shored to cheap labor colonies? Gone.

    Gone, gone, gone, if they wanted.

    And, as it turns out, a population that was less and less foreign over time -- the prevailing trend of the New Deal, then reversed when it was dismantled, to give a more and more foreign population.

    Even if you wanted to ignore the numbers, and trace the origin back to JFK expressing his personal wishes -- so what? Reagan himself, the Reaganites who joined him, and the whole Reaganite system, was bound to respect the personal desires of JFK of all people? Get the fuck outta here.

    It's not just a matter of did they have agency, or were they bound by larger forces -- they were the dominant party, no longer the opposition party. Dominant parties change things if they want to.

    Where the Reaganites kept things the same as under the New Deal, it was by choice, to aid their material interests -- like continuing the Cold War and militarist intervention generally. The Reaganites stole the South away from the New Deal Dems, and with it, the highest concentration of military bases and military elites as a share of the local elite class.

    The Reaganites liked militarism, and kept it going by choice -- not because a future dominant coalition is bound by all historical precedents. That's the point of changing the guard between historical periods -- we're done with that, we're going to do something different. If it contradicts what came just before us, tough shit for them -- we're the dominant coalition now.

    Nixon was the last solid New Deal / Great Society president, with Ford more of a placeholder, and Carter the disjunctive final leader of his period who was squarely against its prevailing trends, whether he was able to single-handedly unwind them or not. He was not, and Reagan and the Reaganites got elected to do what Carter had envisioned but could not deliver on.

    Same will be true when we go from the Reagan era to the Bernie era -- we'll look back at Trump who ran against much of his era's orthodoxy, didn't manage to change much, but did pre-figure what the following dominant coalition would begin to accomplish for real.

  10. Those who blame the New Deal for Reaganism's failures have cognitive dissonance from being social-cultural conservatives who jumped on the Reaganite bandwagon on the assumption that it was conservative on social-cultural topics.

    It turns out they're socially-culturally liberal, but economically conservative.

    OK, so the social cons will accept defeat by their own party on those issues -- but at least they're economically conservative, and they like what their party delivers on that front, if not the social front.

    Then it turns out that their party treats immigration as an economic rather than cultural issue (where they'd be liberal anyway), and have been responsible for anti-Americanizing the population over the past 30-40 years.

    To have avoided that demographic shift, the social cons would have had to support economic liberalism or populism, rather than the yuppie, individualist, austerity-based conservatism that they asked for and got in reality.

    Now they see the social-cultural consequences of economic changes -- and that maybe it was not worth it to grab more money for me me me, if that economic system also produced a sky-high foreign population for the exact same reasons -- to lower prices (especially to employers and rich people) and boost profits.

    Once you catch a glimpse of what Reaganism hath wrought demographically, socially, and culturally, you either plunge your head even deeper into the sand than ever before -- turning the "blame the Sixties" rhetoric up to 11 -- or you admit you were totally wrong, and try to make up for it while you can by supporting a new New Deal, and forgiving the Great Society for whatever you falsely accused it of.

    Now is the time for their come to populist Jesus moment, for their disavowal of the false idols of yuppie-ism.

  11. Should we have an Idiot's Guide to Conservatism to point out just how recent and ill-conceived many "conservative" viewpoints are?

    The Reaganite faction is constantly spinning and rationalizing. Would it be helpful to make a dossier of common myths that have developed over the past 40 years? Such as:

    1) Dog hagiography. In the 1920's-1970's, dangerous dogs and ordinances pertaining to such were mostly not an issue because most people weren't narcissistic and elitist enough to brandish a man eating dog. Not until the obvious increase in corruption and stratification in the 1980's is there an uptick an lethal dog ownership and media/political attention invested in passing ordinances to prevent toddlers from being mauled.

    2) Gun mania. Ownership of pistols, rifles, and shotguns peaked around 1980 (GSS owngun), reflecting Silent and Boomer awareness of how out of control younger Boomers were. Gen X-ers and Millennials are less likely to own handguns, much less heavier weaponry. Ownership of automatic rifles has always been a niche thing, though Silents and Boomers produced a fair number of enthusiasts, but again as their numbers and relevance diminish so too does interest in guns of all kinds, much less assault weapons.

    These two issues stand out as being warped by Reaganite sociopathy. How many GOP voters realize that defending dangerous practices (such as needless gun ownership and dangerous dog ownership) would never have flown in the 1950's?

    You've already tackled open borders, of course (and how autistic must one be to not grasp that the Reaganite GOP in the 70's and 80's, in the libertarian West, began to dump large numbers of South Asians and Central Americans into California and Texas? There was no "liberal" conspiracy to turn these states less white and more Democratic. In any event the Deep South and inland Southwest prove that it's not necessary to have whites be over 80% of the pop. for the GOP to succeed.)

  12. 3) The Democrats do "nothing" to help people. So yeah, it's the Democrats fault that good jobs are scarce, wages have been declining for 40 years (coinciding exactly with the rise of the Reaganites), tax policy is a joke, health care is so bad that it probably violates some Geneva convention, and mental health treatment is a shadow of what it was in the 1940's-1960's (not until the 70's did Silents and Boomers have enough clout to "destigmatize" mental illness, and open the door for way too many nutcases to be wandering around).

    4) Mass incarceration. The GOP spins as a way to keep everyone safe. In reality, it's a nihilistic exercise in forsaking thousands of people and refusing to address the material and psychological conditions that create criminals. It's also Darwinist in the extreme, as we see rationalizations about criminals having "warrior genes", and we also see demands for "personal responsibility" so as to let society and especially elites off the hook. Again, back in the 1950's it did not strike anyone as "wholesome" to reflexively condemn sinners and completely absolve elites and institutions of responsibility.

    5) Crime and general degeneracy. Dysfunctional behavior expressed as aggression toward others and sexual exploitation of others surged in the mid-late 70's, which coincides with all Boomer cohorts being of an old enough age to commit crime/be sexually active, but also coincides with the surge in Me Me Me nihilism of the Carter era, which has informed Boomer "values" ever since though of course as Boomers have aged they simply don't have the same capacity for physical destruction as they once did. The Reaganites would have you believe that it's the fault of "liberals", yet the ethos of communal values which peaked in the 1940's-1960's coincided with Democrats and liberals being powerful and respected. As usual, not until the 1970's did the rising Me Generation began to attack notions of socially shared responsibility that helped to promote wholesome norms. Legally sanctioned gambling, excessively sugary food, stronger drugs, defunding of measures to help the vulnerable, mass murders, etc. all began to increase in the late 70's and by the late 80's were the order of the day. Bizarrely enough, many of the declines in behavioral restraint (most common in Boomers) is passed off as "conservative", since after all people were more "free" to live life as they wished. Reaganites might disapprove of heroin, pedophilia, rape, and bestiality, yet they're too autistic and self-involved to make the connection between the emphasis on "freedom" and the growth in the worst kinds of behavior.

  13. N-Gram wise, "personal responsibility" surges in the 1970's, perhaps as that was when LOLbertarian type stuff began to be emphasized by Me Gen elites and strivers.

    I know too that the "twinkie defense" urban legend was created bya young 1970's reporter, who swore that he heard Dan White blame junk food for a bout of rage. In reality, White said that his depression had changed his eating habits, not the other way around. By why let the facts get in the way of a growing trend to demand that society should do as little as possible to understand and support people who've sinned or are just plain down on their luck. And of course rushing to moral judgement and condemnation is not at all in keeping with the modesty and stoicism that aging Losts and young GIs encouraged in the 1920's-1950's. With the rise in Silents and Boomers in the 60's and esp. 70's, people began to feel as if it was cruel and unnecessary to ask people to keep their emotions in check and not rush to judgement.

    On David Kaiser's blog, the inability of Boomers to discern the point at which their feelings stop and reality begins is something he often talks about. He also has memories of watching movies with college kids in the late 60's and 70's, and how characters who bragged about "fighting and fucking" (as Jack Nicholson does in One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest) were vocally cheered. The current mania over a "post-truth" society is the end result of Boomers actively debauching discourse and standards for over 40 years. Boomers are free to ignore reality when it doesn't fit their agenda or ego. Kaiser also talks about the stupefying Middle East wars as mostly being the fault of neurotic Silents and "make it up as they go along" Boomers. The combination of the two generation's worst traits has wrecked our ability to get anything done.

  14. "As a result of negative publicity from the White case and others, the term diminished capacity was abolished in 1982 by Proposition 8 and the California legislature and was replaced by the term diminished actuality, referring not to the capacity to have a specific intent, but to whether the defendant actually had the required intent to commit the crime with which he or she was charged.[6] "Additionally, California's statutory definitions of premeditation and malice required for murder were eliminated by the state's legislature, with the return to common law definitions. By this time, the "Twinkie defense" had become such a common term that one lawmaker had waved a Twinkie in the air while making his point during a debate.[1]"

    It seems as if Dan White's acquittal was big catalyst in the "Tough on crime" movement. As conservative as that may sound, keep in mind that rage over the case also played into shallow Leftist ID politics (White was a clean cut policeman who was deemed to have got off because a working class white jury found him to be more sympathetic than the homosexual politician victim). It's since merged that Harvey Milk was a rather shabby figure (with Steve Sailer suggesting that he ran a gay porn photo developing business). Not that it means he deserved to die, but then again you'd think that conservative elites in the late 70's would've been less likely to shed a tear for a fag Frisco politician being gunned down.

    As striving and degeneracy worsened in the late 70's, it seems as if actual or putative cases of bad guys getting off became the catalyst for having no interest in ever hearing the suspect's side of the story. Certainly, black and white judgemental Boomers seldom ever dig beneath their superficial first impressions, preferring to go with their "gut" instead of concerning themselves with certain minor details that would better explain the complexities of things. But "complexity" is the one thing that Boomers hate more than anything else.

    "in 1977 he won a seat as a city supervisor. His election was made possible by a key component of a shift in San Francisco politics.

    Milk served almost eleven months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for San Francisco. "

    How should us normies feel about this guy getting blown away? His type helped create the AIDs epidemic, which of course caused far more horrors than just this one particular murder.


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