Monday, August 13, 2007

The measure of loyalty

[Even Dr. Seuss -- real name Theodore Geisel -- got in on the Japanese-bashing in 1942, penning this cartoon that reflected the larger national sensibility about their loyalty. Seuss later apologized for his wartime caricatures of Asians.]

-- by Dave

The other day Rick Perlstein had a question for David Frum after the latter wrote the following about the future of the Republican Party, as drawn by a survey of young Americans:
Read the report in full, however, and you come across an interesting nugget on page 6: White young people continue to favor Republicans by a thin but real margin of 2 points. The Democrats owe their advantage among youth to a huge lead among young African-Americans (78 points) -- and a very large lead (43 points) among Hispanics.

If Republicans face an inhospitable future after 2008, we will hear much of the dreadful legacy of George W. Bush on social issues, the war, the environment, etc. But Greenberg's own work makes clear that these issues matter relatively little.... No, the legacy that will damage his party is the legacy of immigration non-enforcement. This has imported a large new community of people who are both economically struggling (and thus open to Democratic arguments) but who lack deep attachment to the American nation (and who are thus immune to the most potent of Republican appeals). It is these voters who will sway elections in future. And thanks to this president's immigration policies, there are going to be a lot more of them than there might otherwise have been.

So Rick, quite naturally, had to ask this:
Is he saying that Mexicans who go through a period of naturalization of nearly a decade ("Currently, the median number of years of U.S. residence between legal immigration and naturalization is around eight years") [UPDATE: or, as digby points out, who were born here] "lack deep attachment to the American nation"? I invite Frum, with whom I've had friendly exchanges in the past, to answer me this question: how is your argument different from that of the 1920s nativists, including the Ku Klux Klan, who argued that my Jewish ancestors who became naturalized citizens–as well as Catholics from Eastern Europe—likewise couldn't possibly develop a deep attachment to the American nation.

Well, Frum did answer (though it's worth noting that in answering Perlstein, he neglects to link to him):
Of all the brilliant quips of PJ O'Rourke's brilliant career, my favorite has always been:

"Just as some things are too strange for fiction, others are too true for journalism."

The line keeps coming to mind as I read the outraged lefty-blogosphere responses to my July 30 post on young voters.

I did not suggest, obviously, that only white people count as Americans. Indeed, I cannot imagine how anybody could possibly construe my words in so far-fetched a way.

I should have thought my words plain enough to be understood by all. But let's expand them a little bit in direct answer to Rick's question.

I did not say or imply that the children and grandchildren of Mexican migrants "couldn't possibly develop a deep attachment to the American nation." I trust and hope that they can and will. But it would be blind and unwise to ignore the evidence that these hopes are coming to fruition far more slowly than one would wish.

Well, it might be useful to point out that characterizing the current wave of immigrants as people "who lack deep attachment to the American nation (and who are thus immune to the most potent of Republican appeals)" is something quite different than saying that "these hopes are coming to fruition far more slowly than one would wish." The former is a stark characterization of Latino voters as being of dubious loyalty; the latter is simply wishing they'd get along with it and be more loyal.

The question of loyalty and Americanness, of course, has been the primary charge raised by Nativists in this country since the day they began agitating against immigrants, dating back to the 1850s, when they accused Catholics (and Irish and Italian Catholics especially) of being "Papists" more loyal to the Church than to America; to the 1870s, when they accused Chinese of being more loyal to the Emperor than to America, leading to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; to the early 1900s, when they did the same to the Japanese, resulting in the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 (this is the law that first created "illegal immigrants" in this country, and remains a significant part of the foundation of our current immigration law).

The latter was especially illustrative of the Nativists' certainty that the Japanese could never become fully American because their innate loyalties would always lie with Japan. A prime example is the career of Sen. James Phelan of California, who spearheaded many of the anti-Japanese campaigns in that state. I describe him in Chapter 1 of my book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community:
A banker and native son, born in San Francisco in 1861, Phelan was elected mayor in 1896 as a Democrat and his tenure was largely undistinguished. But in 1900, he caught national attention when the city’s Board of Health “discovered” an ostensible victim of bubonic plague in the Chinatown district. Phelan declared a quarantine and blamed conditions among the Japanese and Chinese. The “plague scare” was widely reported in the nation’s press, and Phelan had to scramble as local businessmen descended on him to protest that the scare was ruining their trade. The mayor quickly backed down and blamed the health board’s overzealousness. In fact, the only problem a health board inspector had been able to observe among the Japanese was that he found three Japanese men in a single tub in a local bathhouse; evidently, the inspectors were unaware that this style of washing was common in the men’s homeland.

Phelan also was the featured speaker at a mass rally against the Japanese, organized on May 7, 1900, in San Francisco largely by local unions. He sounded a note that would continue to ring for nearly half a century:

The Japanese are starting the same tide of immigration which we thought we had checked twenty years ago. . . . The Chinese and the Japanese are not bona fide citizens. They are not the stuff of which American citizens can be made. . . . Personally we have nothing against the Japanese, but as they will not assimilate with us and their social life is so different from ours, let them keep at a respectful distance.

I also describe the popularity of eugenics in the period, particularly the bestselling works of two supposed experts in the field:
Among the most popular of the time were Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant, who boasted credentials from Harvard and Yale universities, respectively. They approached the matter of race ostensibly from anthropological and biological perspectives, but in fact did little more than clothe white supremacism in pseudo-scientific language. Wrote Grant, in his 1916 tome The Passing of the Great Race:

We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century, and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America "an asylum for the oppressed," are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control, and we continue to follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all "distinctions of race, creed, or color," the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo.

And as Stoddard would later write in The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy -- a 1922 work complete with admiring introduction from Grant -- the real threat was not blacks in the South, but Asians: “There is no immediate danger of the world being swamped by black blood. But there is a very imminent danger that the white stocks may be swamped by Asiatic blood.”

Likewise, in Washington state, the bloody shirt of the supposed disloyalty of Japanese immigrants -- who were forbidden by law from naturalizing anyway -- was waved about for several decades, notably by a wealthy publisher named Miller Freeman, whose activities I describe in some detail in Strawberry Days. An excerpt:
Despite his contentions that he had no prejudice against the Japanese, this racial separatism was a cornerstone of Freeman's argument as he presented it in the pages of the Star. He voiced it largely by sprinkling his writing and speeches with popular aphorisms: "The Japanese cannot be assimilated. Once a Japanese, always a Japanese. Our mixed marriages -- failures all -- prove this." "East is East, and West is West, and ne'er the twain shall meet." "Oil and water do not mix."

And his conclusion became a political benchmark: "It is my personal view, as a citizen, that the time has arrived for plain speech on this question. I am for a white man's Pacific coast. I am for the Japanese on their own side of the fence. I not only favor stopping all further immigration, but believe this government should approach Japan with the view to working out a gradual system of deportation of old Japanese now here."

As you can see, the rhetoric regarding the Japanese gradually escalated, beginning with attacks on their loyalty and fitness as Americans, moving on to charges that they were stealing work from whites, and finally culminating in demands for their removal.

It's worth remembering that this rhetoric in fact eventually reached real fruition in the form of the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, fueled largely by the widespread certainty that even citizen children of the Japanese were likely to be disloyal. Recall some of the rhetoric of the time from the highest echelons of power:
A Jap is a Jap. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; theoretically he is still a Japanese, and you can't change him. You can't change him by giving him a piece of paper.

-- Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, chief of the Western Command, in congressional testimony

The Japanese are among our worst enemies. They are cowardly and immoral. They are different from Americans in every conceivable way, and no Japanese who ever lived anywhere should have a right to claim American citizenship. A Jap is a Jap anywhere you find him, and his taking an oath of allegiance to this country would not help, even if he should be permitted to do so. They do not believe in God and have no respect for an oath. They have been plotting for years against the Americas and their democracies.

-- Sen. Tom Stewart, D-Tennessee, on the Senate floor

It took the blood sacrifice of several thousand Nisei soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to persuade the nation, finally, that Japanese could and would make perfectly loyal Americans. Now the idea that they could never fit into American society seems laughable and strange.

Not so, it seems, with the latest wave of immigration, primarily Hispanics not just from Mexico but from throughout the Latin Americas. As with earlier waves, the early arrivals are having difficulty learning the language (being often poorly educated to begin with, as were the Issei) and resort to insular communities not just for comfort and ease of language, but as a defense against lingering bigotry. Nonetheless, we seem not to have learned from our previous experience that these things are always overcome with time; the old questions about their loyalty linger in the air like a poisonous vapor.

It is difficult to read Frum's original post and not hear the echoes of these old voices -- as well as Hitler's attacking the Jews for their supposed disloyalty to the Fatherland, or the Ku Klux Klan attacking blacks as unfit for civil society -- and it was to this, I assume, that Perlstein was reacting. It is worth noting that in his followup, Frum pays lip service to the "hope that they can and will" (develop a deep loyalty to American values), which is at least an improvement from the eugenicists and anti-Asian Nativists of the early 20th century, who were certain these immigrants could never Americanize.

Nonetheless, he cannot refrain from adding:
But it would be blind and unwise to ignore the evidence that these hopes are coming to fruition far more slowly than one would wish.

Well, this was a common complaint inveighed against Asians too, and that too evaporated over time. No doubt the sheer mass of this wave immigration -- at 12 million illegal immigrants, it's the largest in American history -- is contributing to the insularity of Latino communities and the ability of new immigrants to get by without learning English. Their continuing status as "showdow citizens," and the continuing intransigence of the Nativist wing of the Republican Party on amnesty, also contributes mightily, along with overt anti-Latino hostility from organized groups like the Minutemen. This slowness of assimilation is a legitimate concern in many regards, and warrants a thoughtful discussion about how to overcome it.

But you won't be able to have that discussion if one of the starting points is an assumption that these new immigrants' loyalty is suspect. And what are Frum's criteria for making that judgment -- as he clearly does in both posts? In his second post he offers some basis, as it were, for this assertion:
See for example this set of polls by

* Mexican immigrants are significantly less likely than other immigrants to cite "freedom" as something they value in the United States - or as a reason for their desire to migrate.

* They are significantly less likely than other immigrants to agree that immigrants should learn English or to favor English as the language of instruction in public schools.

* Mexican migrants are much less likely to seek citizenship than other immigrants.

What Frum neglects to mention is that "work" is the main reason Mexican immigrants give for why they come to the United States -- and in that regard, they differ very little from previous massive waves of immigrants, for whom "freedom" was a secondary consideration as well. Nonetheless, this did not affect their loyalty or their ability to become fully American. Neither, for that matter, did their reluctance to learn English.

As for the third criterion, well ... if these people do not become citizens, then they can't vote, can they? So the question of their supposed loyalty to American values is moot, isn't it? This point is a pure non-sequitur.

We probably get a better idea of what Frum means by "loyalty" by noting that he qualifies the issue originally within the context of people who might vote Republican, namely, those "who lack deep attachment to the American nation (and who are thus immune to the most potent of Republican appeals)". He expands on this a bit in the response to Perlstein:
To ruffle the lefty blogosphere some more - let me here anticipate an argument I develop at length in my next book, which will be released by Doubleday in December. ...

People who feel in some way disaffected from or alienated from the American mainstream are the people most likely to vote Democratic.

Democratic voters are substantially less likely than Republicans to describe themselves as "very patriotic." Democratic voters express less confidence than Republicans in America's ability to solve problems as a nation. Democratic voters feel less personally optimistic. Democratic voters, of all colors, are more likely to blame others for their troubles. For what it's worth, Democratic votes are less likely to fly an American flag.

Mind you, Frum's data, as it were, sounds dubious at best. But even if it's accurate in every regard, it reminds me of one of Al Franken's favorite schticks about conservatives -- namely, that their approach to America is like a dependent five-year-old's conception of his parents, always right about everything, and anyone who thinks differently is an enemy; liberals, in contrast, tend to have a relationship with America closer to that of a mature adult, willing to admit complexity and to recognize that criticism is not a measure of one's love or loyalty.

Frum is clearly suggesting that because Democrats tend not to have a blind, fawning admiration of the wonderfulness that is America -- because they recognize its faults, including a longstanding bigotry toward newcomers, and work to overcome them -- that they are somehow less loyal. I would argue the opposite: That a desire to admit our faults, to overcome them, and in doing so to make ourselves a better nation, is a higher loyalty to the true American ideal.

If Republicans are going to have electoral difficulties over the coming years, especially among young voters, I believe it's because many more of these young people have that higher loyalty, and find little appealing in the juvenile approach to patriotism of which the right is so enamored. As long as the Republican appeal is built around panegyrics extolling the virtues of America Right or Wrong, they're going to be falling short. Young people, I think, understand that listening to the Professor Panglosses of the right, assuring us that everything from the Iraq war to immigration is going to be all right if we just clap louder, is a dead-end street.

That doesn't make them less loyal. It just makes them more realistic. Which in turn makes them more capable.

One of the things fresh waves of immigrants do bring -- we know from experience -- is new blood, a fresh energy, a creativity and work ethic that drives the economy forward and makes us better as a nation. One of the real ways these new immigrants, especially the younger generation, can make a difference now is by waking us up from our slumbers, and helping us shed the old assumptions about them built on ancient and poisonous bigotry.

If conservatives like David Frum were smart, they would listen instead of attacking their Americanness. But they aren't, so they won't. One hopes that Democrats, at least, can do better.

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