Thursday, August 16, 2007
In praise of immigrants
"Kitchen worker on break," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
Coming up from the subway in Union Square this morning I grabbed my free Metro New York , as is my habit, & glanced at the headline. "Terror from within" was spelled out in big black & red screamer type. Below was a grim photo of a cop in a military helmet holding an automatic rifle. The subhead was: "NYPD: 'Unremarkable immigrants can become terrorists.' " (The story is here. The Times version is here.)
Call me paranoid, but this is hardly news. And, though the New York report primarily discusses Muslims new to the U.S., it conflates seamlessly with the ugly strain of anti-Latino nativism that recently doomed immigration reforms in the Congress. Last week on the campaign trail Rudy Giuliani -- formerly mayor of a proud city of immigrants -- tried to distract voters from Iraq & other debacles by talking tough about "aliens" who sneak across the border. Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush administration did everything but pound their all-American chests announcing a new crackdown on undocumented workers & those who hire them.
These and other pols clearly smell a red meat campaign issue. I wish it would work to just say to them,"Get real." The idea that immigrants -- with or without papers -- are here for the welfare or are bent on stealing something from our society -- is just crazy. Immigrants are here to work. That is especially true of the illegals, who do the scut work Americans don't want to do themselves.
The guy who handed me my Metro New York this morning may have been illegal. Some of the men who drive for the car services my family takes are illegal. The people who cook the food I eat in restaurants are illegal. The guys rehabbing buildings in my neighborhood are illegal. The women who clean the houses & push the strollers there are illegal. Not all, of course, or even most, but anybody who rides the subways in from the boroughs like I do every day knows what I'm talking about. Who are they trying to kid?
"Fruit stand worker in winter," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
Get real. Illegal or not, immigrants are arguably the best workers in America. They are loyal, dependable, honest & competent -- as anyone who employs them will tell you. And, like the waves of immigrants who came before them, they in fact really do embody the "family values" Republicans like Giuliani (whose family is a mess) love to prattle about.
So how is this nasty scapegoating getting sold? You may not be shocked to know that Karl Rove wrote the manual. Locate the fear & with the complicity of a greedy media, magnify it, he taught. Convince the demoralized & distracted public your party is the only one strong enough to make the fear go away. Vilify as a traitor anyone who disagrees. So speaketh Bush's "Boy Genius."
It should be noted that Rove, though perfectly willing to demonize Muslims, took care to lay off Latinos during his tenure because he saw them as a potential new constituency for Republicans. It's a measure of how power has shifted in the party that this political judgment is now being ignored ( Rove quit last week). Still, it's his playbook.
Rove's strategy worked perfectly to get us mired in the blood & despair of Iraq & at home the endless War on Terror. As it happens, Herman Goering, who also had considerable success with the same strategy, explained it perfectly in 1939: "Naturally the common people don't want war... That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along ...That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
Lately, the War on Terror isn't working so well for the get-tough crowd. It's necessary to gin up a new dimension to this so-called War (how can you keep focusing hatred on bin Laden when you've known exactly where he is for 5 years but can't manage to do anything but growl threats & shake your fist at him?). It's necessary to muster the troops against a new Evil Other.
"Flower shop worker on watch," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
American citizens have two ways to go, it seems to me. Either we can once again believe Karl Rove & his historical mentor Herman Goering. Or we can believe the evidence of our own eyes.