Cosmopolitan: Battle for the American Identity

Guardian, Acrylic on Carved Wood Panel, 2011 THE MCCOLL CENTER FOR VISUAL ART

The Trump Administration and its supporters have tried to begin a culture war over all types of immigration, labeling those critical of proposed hardline policies or controversial statements as “cosmopolitans,” out of step with the “real Americans.” Unfortunately for taxpayers, these Presidential comments ignore both the wealth of economic evidence that suggests that immigrants are necessary to ensure the solvency of many social programs as the population ages, and the lack of evidence that immigration negatively affects native-born American workers’ employment opportunities or wages.

The summer of 2017 will be remembered in political history for a whole host of reasons. The revolving door of top officials at the White House. The short, yet eventful tenure of Anthony Scaramucci. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s increasingly serious investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign regarding potential collusion with Russian government agents. The death of Heather Heyer in a domestic terrorist attack, as well as two Virginia State Troopers following an alt-right white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, VA, and President Trump’s tepid teleprompter condemnation and ensuing contradictory statements and fights with the media. However, one comment that came from the White House that will likely go overlooked due to the sheer volume of news it produces daily occurred on August 2nd in a heated exchange between CNN’s White House Correspondent Jim Acosta and Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller.

Acosta had asked Miller a question critical of the Trump Administration’s proposed overhaul of the US immigration system, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). The current system, based mostly on familial ties to US residents and a lottery, would be replaced with a point-based system that includes bonuses for speaking English, holding advanced degrees, and making substantial investments in US companies. Specifically, Acosta asked if the proposed bill flew in the face of America’s relative openness to immigrants and if, now, only residents of the UK and Australia would be allowed to enter.  Miller took the opportunity to strike back at Acosta, claiming he was shocked at his “cosmopolitan bias” that he would be so aloof to think that the UK and Australia were the only two countries that produced foreign-born English speakers.

Miller’s comment shed light on a phenomenon occurring within America and something that underscored Trump’s winning campaign: the decoupling of America’s shared values. Exploring this example through the vilification of immigrants by the White House and some conservative news outlets, this issue is a wedge being driven between immigrants and the cosmopolitans that accept them, and those who wish to preserve “real” American culture.

Most know cosmopolitan as a magazine and a cocktail, but an insult? Merriam-Webster defines “cosmopolitan” to mean “having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing,” while the Cambridge Dictionary explains it as “someone who has experience of many different parts of the world.” Both definitions completely fly in the face of the charge that Acosta does not know that English-speakers exist outside of the UK and Australia.  Although not explicitly defined as such, cosmopolitans are often associated with metropolitan areas as they are the political, financial, and artistic centers where these people interact with dignitaries, business leaders, and cultural icons. This further damages Miller’s point, as, according to the Census Bureau data for 2011-2015, immigrants comprise about 15% of the population in urban areas of the USA as opposed to only 2.3% of rural populations. If anything, being in a city would make you more likely to interact with an immigrant. To use it as an insult in this situation makes no sense. Yet Miller used this opportunity to enforce the narrative that cosmopolitanism is an inherently negative quality. Why?

From his pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was held in contempt of court for racially profiling Hispanic-American citizens, to his statements on the campaign trail that Judge Curiel, born in Indiana, was biased in the Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage, Trump has made a conscious effort to paint even legal Hispanic immigrants or first-generation Hispanic-American citizens as the “other” instead of simply other members of the American public. In addition, Trump’s false claim that he saw Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, to recent segments on conservative outlets like Fox News attacking Roma immigrants with shoddy claims, non-Hispanic immigrants are vilified as well by Trump and his supporters in the media. The modern Republican Party or the GOP is a far cry from the 1980 primary where George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan debated who had more compassionate solutions to illegal immigration.

Perhaps the most telling facets of this policy stance are the economic effects of immigration that President Trump and his aides are choosing to disregard by traveling down this path. Economists have not been able to find any evidence that immigrants “crowd-out” Americans in the labor force. Instead, it is more likely that immigrants do jobs (backbreaking labor like construction and maintenance work) that most native-born Americans would not be interested in doing. Moreover, immigrants represent a great way to increase the working population, and thus the tax base, limiting the national debt as Social Security and Medicare budgets grow as the country ages and fertility rates drop among native-born Americans. Immigrants, excluding children, refugees, and U.S. military veterans, already cannot receive welfare by law until they spend at least five years in America. To combat what was once a cornerstone Republican talking point, the skyrocketing national debt, one could expect that a conventional Republican president would increase immigration to keep the tax base in step with an aging population that is draining the coffers of Social Security and Medicare.

This is not the case. Unfortunately, America has chosen to ignore evidence that our country, because of our aging population, may very well need immigrants more than immigrants need America. That is, of course, if we wish to avoid a debt crisis and still provide the same social services to our children and grandchildren.  Instead, President Trump, Stephen Miller, and others have attempted to incite a culture war, pitting “cosmopolitans,” those accepting of a multicultural America, against “real Americans.” Miller is most clear in a column he wrote while a student at Duke, where he explained that if Americans “continue to worship at the alter [sic] of multiculturalism, (…) we may come to see that we are participating in the sacrifice of the one culture which binds us all,” and that “America without her culture is like a body without a soul—yet many of today’s youth see America as nothing but a meeting point for the cultures of other nations.”

To continue down the path of the current administration would be extraordinarily cruel and unnecessarily harmful. Creating a cosmopolitan vs. “real American” false dichotomy, alienating millions of law-abiding naturalized immigrants or legal resident immigrants for political gain, is an exceptionally brutal way to drive the country apart at the expense of immigrants that only wish to come to America for a better life. Furthermore, many do thankless jobs, and their hard-working tax dollars are sorely needed. It is unfortunate that the White House and some Senators have preferred to stoke the flames of nativism for political popularity than to do what is in the best interest of the country.