July 8, 2018

The Reaganite birth of the "nation of immigrants" propaganda campaign

Part 1 reviewed the New Deal / Great Society period's lack of presidential Independence Day speeches that incorporate immigration into our national creation myth.

Part 2 examined how, as the New Deal was being dismantled, the new "nation of immigrants" myth rationalized and sanctified the shift among the elites from tolerating expensive labor to demanding cheap labor, especially in labor-intensive sectors.

In this third post, we'll look at the record of presidential Independence Day speeches once the New Deal / Great Society framework was being rejected. Suddenly, their speeches go over the top in re-writing the message of "a nation of immigrants, from start to finish" into America's creation myth.

This will cover the disjunctive phase of the New Deal, starting in 1976, and go through the two terms of Reagan, who was the central figure in both spreading the "nation of immigrants" propaganda campaign and calling for boatloads more immigrants. And he got his wish, now that the zeitgeist had gone over to cheap labor, unlike the New Deal's requirement of expensive labor.

A final post will look at the followers of Reagan in the neoliberal era.

* * *

Ford held off on the "nation of immigrants" myth until July of 1976, when he was being challenged by Jimmy Carter, who was running on an anti-New Deal platform. In his main national address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, he only mentioned immigration in passing. He said that in the fight against despotism abroad, FDR and America were "reinforced by millions and millions of immigrants who had joined the American adventure".

But he also spoke aboard a Navy ship in New York Harbor, where he played up Ellis Island. Completing the open borders trifecta, he spoke at Monticello's naturalization ceremony, where he really laid it on thick. The whole long speech is on the "nation of immigrants" myth. Some excerpts:

Just as Jefferson did in designing Monticello, [the founding patriots] wanted to build in this beautiful land a home for equal freedom and opportunity, a haven of safety and happiness, not for themselves alone, but for all who would come to us through centuries...

There was already talk about further immigration, proposing it should be selective and restrictive, but this was swept aside by the greatest mass movement of people in all human history...

Such transfusions of traditions and cultures, as well as of blood, have made America unique among nations and Americans a new kind of people. There is little the world has that is not native to the United States today...

That [American] heritage is rooted now, not in England alone -- as indebted as we are for the Magna Carta and the common law -- not in Europe alone, or in Africa alone, or Asia, or on the islands of the sea. The American adventure draws from the best of all of mankind's long sojourn here on Earth and now reaches out into the solar system.

In 1980 Carter, the anti-New Deal Democrat competing against an even fiercer anti-New Deal Republican, went a step further and lumped everyone who came here after the Indians into the same category of immigrants. There are no longer pioneering founders and later bandwagon jumper-on-ers, only "immigrants" -- some arriving earlier, some arriving later, but all playing the exact same role of assimilating into America. Where did the "America" that we're assimilating into, come from -- who knows? From his July 4th address to a town meeting in California:

And we remember in times of pressure that this is a country of immigrants, it's a country of refugees, who have come here for religious freedom or for personal freedom or for a better chance in life. And unless there are some native Indians here, every family represented came here earlier as immigrants, maybe 2 years ago, maybe 200 years ago. But we've never been weakened because we opened our arms to receive those who have been persecuted and in danger. This is a difficult thing for us to assimilate when we get here and enjoy all the advantages of full American citizenship and wealth and freedom, to say, "Let's keep it the way it is." I'm glad that folks didn't feel that way when my folks got ready to come over here a long time ago.

In California there was naturally an agri-cuck in the Q&A demanding cheap foreign labor for his farm. He had the gall to chastise the president for the INS chasing away some of his illegal laborers. His only concern was that other immigrants, from Vietnam, go on welfare and won't provide his farm with slave labor. Carter agrees to that framing -- bad immigration is welfare, good immigration is endless cheap labor -- and only disagrees about the Vietnamese, saying they belong to the cheap labor group.

Carter made similar remarks at a California fundraiser, since rich people want cheap labor more than societal cohesion, although not in his address to the NAACP. Reminder: black people don't care about immigrants, and feel that the line about immigrants who "bust their ass" is a dog-whistle from the greedy white man about replacing the lazy black man with the ass-busting brown man.

Reagan, the trailblazer of dismantling the New Deal, was also the trailblazer for re-writing our national creation myth into "a nation of immigrants". Even before he became president, on Labor Day of 1980 he held a campaign rally near New York Harbor, where he sang praises to the Ellis Islanders and their provision of cheap labor that made America so rich, all while acting humble instead of uppity.

Reminder: they didn't call them "Paddy wagons" for no reason. Italian anarchists literally blew up Wall Street, killing dozens of innocent pedestrians, in 1920. An anchor baby to Polish parents assassinated President McKinley, and an Italian immigrant nearly assassinated FDR. The Rosenbergs and other children to Jewish immigrants sold our nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. But none of that history of hostile anti-assimilation makes it into Reagan's treacle -- his whole purpose is to glorify foreigners who will work for nothing and just keep their head down and their mouth shut (dog-whistle: unlike the unions and the blacks).

Anyone who apologizes for Reagan's 1986 amnesty of illegal immigrants, suggesting that he didn't really know what he was getting into, or was misled by bad-faith Democrats, is either clueless or lying. He had been re-writing our national creation myth and sanctifying cheap-labor immigration since he was first campaigning for president.

His first "nation of immigrants" speech for July 4th was his radio address in 1982:

Thanks to the faith and fortitude of our ancestors, freedom has flowered on our shores and has brought a legacy of liberty and opportunity to wave after wave of immigrants from every quarter of the globe.

In his national address for July 4th, 1983, he goes even farther out on a limb for immigrants who are recent arrivals, and from non-European countries. Evidently, they are as good or better than us natives -- no moochers, no low-status bums -- probably because they bust their ass more than we do:

We're a melting pot. And our body and spirit have never been stronger or richer, thanks to hundreds of thousands of new heroes -- the brave men, women, and children who risked death to escape their communist prisons in Asia and Cuba. They arrived less than 10 years ago. Most were not able to speak a word of English. But with their courage and faith, they brought unbounded determination to work, produce, succeed, and excel. Now, more and more of them are becoming leaders in their communities -- small businessowners, hard-working taxpayers, even valedictorians in their high school graduating class. We can be proud and thankful that they're joining us today in parades and ball games and backyard barbecues as young members of an old family.

Although his national address on July 4th of 1984 did not rehearse the narrative in such great detail, he still managed to squeeze in the topic of recent immigrants getting their citizenship:

And in a courthouse somewhere, some of the newest Americans, the most recent immigrants to our country, will take the oath of citizenship.

Maybe today, someone will put his hand on the shoulder of one of those new citizens and say, "Welcome," and not just as a courtesy, but to say welcome to a great land, a place of unlimited possibilities. Welcome to the American family.

Reagan's worst year by far was 1986, when he was preparing to sign a massive amnesty for illegal immigrants. To preempt criticism of this flagrantly anti-American policy, he went into overdrive sanctifying mass immigration, including a major push around Independence Day.

On July 2, he issued Presidential Proclamation 5510 -- National Immigrants Day. It is filled with the standard exaltation of the flood of cheap labor from immigrants who bust their ass.

But here's a new line -- that it took courage, rather than greed, for them to abandon their friends, families, cultures, and civilizations back home, in their quest for more money in America. It shows how opposed Reaganism is to social or cultural conservatism: they valorize massive social-cultural disruption, among both the sending and receiving nations of immigration, just because it'll boost corporate profits in the adoptive economy.

For more than three centuries, a human tide of men, women, and children have become new Americans. They have brought to us strength and moral fiber developed in civilizations centuries old, but fired anew by the dream of a better life in America. They have brought to us in this young country the treasure of a hundred ancient cultures. Their dreams gave them the courage to strike out for themselves, to leave behind familiar scenes, to part with friends and relatives, and to start a new life in a new land. The record of their success in every field of human endeavor is one of our proudest boasts. They have helped to make us the great Nation we are today.

He emphasized this idea again in his national address on July 4th itself:

Last night when we rededicated Miss Liberty and relit her torch, we reflected on all the millions who came here in search of the dream of freedom inaugurated in Independence Hall. We reflected, too, on their courage in coming great distances and settling in a foreign land and then passing on to their children and their children's children the hope symbolized in this statue here just behind us: the hope that is America. It is a hope that someday every people and every nation of the world will know the blessings of liberty.

The ambitious immigrants will not be passing on the social network of friends, neighbors, kin, or most of the key elements of their national or regional culture back home. But hey, at least the immigrants' kids might make a little more money in America than back in the old country.

The re-dedication he refers to was the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. It had been restored from 1984-'86, as part of the campaign to bring back Ellis Island levels of immigration, and the Gilded Age crushing of the working class broadly. From his July 3rd remarks on lighting the torch:

While we applaud those immigrants who stand out, whose contributions are easily discerned, we know that America's heroes are also those whose names are remembered by only a few. Many of them passed through this harbor, went by this lady, looked up at her torch, which we light tonight in their honor.

They were the men and women who labored all their lives so that their children would be well fed, clothed, and educated, the families that went through great hardship yet kept their honor, their dignity, and their faith in God. They passed on to their children those values, values that define civilization and are the prerequisites of human progress. They worked in our factories, on ships and railroads, in stores, and on road construction crews. They were teachers, lumberjacks, seamstresses, and journalists. They came from every land.

What was it that tied these profoundly different people together? What was it that made them not a gathering of individuals, but a nation? That bond that held them together, as it holds us together tonight, that bond that has stood every test and travail, is found deep in our national consciousness: an abiding love of liberty. For love of liberty, our forebears -- colonists, few in number and with little to defend themselves -- fought a war for independence with what was then the world's most powerful empire. For love of liberty, those who came before us tamed a vast wilderness and braved hardships which, at times, were beyond the limits of human endurance. For love of liberty, a bloody and heart-wrenching civil war was fought. And for love of liberty, Americans championed and still champion, even in times of peril, the cause of human freedom in far-off lands.

He doesn't bother trying to establish that their home countries were gripped by tyranny, or that they were fleeing religious persecution, since everyone knows that never happened with the Ellis Islanders. They abandoned their home countries just to make more money in the more prosperous American economy. That's what Reagan spends all his time underscoring -- they busted their ass, kept their head down, and in return they got paid better than back home. The disruption to the old country, and the new, was worth it.

In separate remarks from that night, he equates the opportunistic Ellis Islanders with the original settlers, like Carter did, while once again praising people for severing all social and cultural ties just so they can join the bigger-paycheck cult in an alien land:

And which of us does not think of other grandfathers and grandmothers, from so many places around the globe, for whom this statue was the first glimpse of America? ...

And that is why tonight we celebrate this mother of exiles who lifts her light beside the golden door...

Well, the truth is, she's everybody's gal. We sometimes forget that even those who came here first to settle the new land were also strangers...

Call it mysticism if you will, I have always believed there was some divine providence that placed this great land here between the two great oceans, to be found by a special kind of people from every corner of the world, who had a special love for freedom and a special courage that enabled them to leave their own land, leave their friends and their countrymen, and come to this new and strange land to build a New World of peace and freedom and hope.

He reiterated these themes in both a message and a radio address around Independence Day.

So, just in case anyone was confused about who did the most to re-write our national creation myth, on the high holy day of civic nationalism, now you know it was Reagan. And you know in what context it was done -- opening up the floodgates of immigration like it's the laissez-faire Dickensian era all over again -- a policy totally unthinkable, and unworkable, back during the New Deal, with its emphasis on pro-social regulations and labor that was expensive rather than cheap.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."