Opinion

Restoring the Melting Pot

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Posted: Apr 24, 2019 12:01 AM
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Restoring the Melting Pot

Source: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

President Trump and his opponents have made immigration the leading issue in politics, but both sides ignore the damage it is doing to American culture.  The main danger is not that migrants will commit crime or terrorism or go on welfare.  It is that they will undermine the dynamic way of life that has made America successful.

The United States is the world’s most individualist nation.  That is, most Americans see life as a quest where they seek to realize personal goals and values out in the world.  We take this mindset as universal, but according to research on world cultures, it is found only in Western countries.  In the rest of the world, most people adjust to their environment rather than seeking change.

From its origins, the West displayed an impatient, assertive way of life where many people took initiative to get ahead and improve things without waiting for permission.  That was the principal reason why Europe, then Britain, and finally the United States became unusually rich and powerful, and so came to lead the world.

America was founded mostly by ambitious Europeans who came to the New World in order to realize their dreams.  Some later immigrant groups were controversial when they first arrived, such as the Irish and Jews, but they also came mostly from Europe and so confirmed an individualist culture.  Some non-European groups, notably blacks, greatly enriched American culture, but without challenging the dominant mindset.

But after 1965, the immigration rules were changed to permit much more inflow from Latin America and Asia.  That makes current migrants much less compatible with our individualist traditions than the immigrants of a century ago or before.  On average, they are far more cautious and troubled.  For most of them, life is about survival, not achievement.  Many of them come to America simply to escape horrific conditions in their home countries, not to choose a free life, with its own challenges.

Of course, some newcomers are pre-selected by leading firms and universities to come here, so they do well.  But on average, recent migrants are much less skilled relative to the native-born than their predecessors.  Hispanics, in particular, suffer serious social problems and have much more difficulty getting through school and attaining the middle class than earlier immigrants.  On average, Asians do much better in school but are less innovative and assertive than the native-born and so are less likely to become leaders.

Commentary on immigration concentrates almost entirely on its practical costs and ignores its cultural effects.  But in current numbers, recent migrants are making America a less dynamic society.  More and more of America aims just to get through life.  While our leaders remain able and energetic, striving in lower-income society has greatly cooled compared to the past.  Growing passivity is contrary to the American past and a threat to our world leadership.

All discussion of cultural difference has been suppressed because the establishment regards it as racist.  World culture scholars deny this.  Any racial or ethnic group can assume any way of life depending on how it is socialized.  Most African-Americans descend from Africa, a strongly non-Western culture.  Yet since civil rights, many have taken on an individualist lifestyle and thus attained the middle class.  It is a model for all the non-Western groups.

To restore the melting pot means to embrace multiculturalism but also to promote individualism as a temperament that all Americans share.  Above all, that requires cutting the rate of immigration by half, so that assimilation has a better chance to succeed.  It also means improving the schools so that children from non-Western backgrounds learn early to avoid social problems while focusing on the goals they seek.  That is the American way.  Only on that basis can a multicultural America continue to lead the world.