I have not kept up with Mark Steyn much lately. In the past, he had always struck me as a talented wordsmith with strong opinions. Lately, when I do check in with him, he has sometimes seemed to have absorbed one of the less attractive characteristics of Trumpism: provocateurism for the sake of attention. Steyn is now getting a lot of abuse for comments he made on Tucker Carlson’s show last night (see for example Joe Cunningham here), and indeed some criticism is deserved. But I thought Steyn had a point or two in there. So consider this, not as me signing on to Steyn’s rants, but as a partial, Devil’s advocate sort of defense of some of the underlying truths in Steyn’s presentation.
There seem to be two things Steyn said that are upsetting people. Here’s the first:
He said, Chris Cuomo went on to say that the real problem is white supremacists in America. They’re the real monsters. Not these nice hardworking illegal immigrants. That may be well and true. I mean, for the purposes of argument let’s just say he is right, it’s irrelevant. The white supremacists are American citizens. The illegal immigrants are people who shouldn’t be here. And the organizing principle of nation-states is that they organize on behalf of their citizens, whether their citizens are cheerleaders or white supremacists or whatever. You’re stuck with them. And this preference that Nancy Pelosi and Chris Cuomo and increasing people have for actually importing a class of citizen that they prefer to the ones they’re stuck with is actually very revealing.
Many react to this as though Steyn is cheerleading for white supremacists over illegal aliens. I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of his remarks. To me, it sounds like Steyn is responding to the argument: “how can you worry about these illegals when white nationalists are worse”? Steyn says that the answer to that is: “what does that have to do with immigration law? We can’t deport white nationalists for being jerks. They’re citizens.”
That said, I think Steyn is wrong to say that the quality of illegal immigrants is entirely irrelevant. Many try to argue that our country is in fact being degraded by the low quality of immigrant we’re taking in. This particular argument is indeed refuted to some degree by an argument that there are some people here in America who are worse.
But to the extent that Steyn is saying that we’re stuck with our own citizens, good and bad — and that does seem to be a great deal of what he is saying, in context — he’s exactly right.
Here’s the next comment that is upsetting people:
Nancy Pelosi has explicitly said that we should thank the parents of these so-called “Dreamers,” these DACA people for, bringing them here illegally.
And in fact, to go back to what your Swedish guest was saying, you know, whatever the economic benefits, which are minimal and are not evenly distributed, the cultural transformation, which is what’s happening in Sweden, other parts of Europe, and it’s what’s happening in Arizona too — that’s forever.
In Arizona, a majority of the grade school children now are Hispanic. That means Arizona’s future is as an Hispanic society. That means, in effect, the border has moved north, and the cultural transformation outweighs any economic benefits that that lady was talking about.
I’m not going to sign onto Steyn’s language here. He’s more worried about getting Trumpy “damn right!” responses from bigots than in making a serious argument.
That said, I’d argue, again as Devil’s advocate, that cultural transformations do take place when rather sudden and rather massive influxes of immigrants from a different culture come in to the country. While I do not like Trump’s “sh*thole countries” remark, neither am I keen on having tens of thousands of Syrian refugees enter all at once, or millions of illegals from Mexico enter over the course of a very few years. While there is something of a shared culture between Mexico and the U.S. in the Southwest, there are parts of Los Angeles that feel indistinguishable from Mexico, and I think that has changed in the last 20 years or so.
To the extent that illegals do not learn the language, integrate, and so forth, they are not really living out the American ideal. Many do, or at least their children do, so this is not necessarily as dire a concern as the nationalists make it out to be. But it’s an issue, to me.
Some reject my argument about the size and suddenness of the recent Mexican immigration, comparing the current influx of Mexicans to the influx of Irish and Italians in the 1800s and 1900s. There are some parallels, but some important differences too. First and most obviously, the Irish and Italians came here legally.
There’s a difference between the ideal of someone coming to this country through the normal process into a country that can still absorb new immigrants in great numbers, and what we have now: millions of people coming in illegally across the southern border when many of our areas are already overcrowded. I’m guessing Irish and Italians did disrupt things for a while but it settled down, just like the disruptions caused by this influx will eventually settle down — if the influx stops. There will be more integration if there does not continue to be a giant infusion of new illegals every year.
Overall, Steyn’s comments will be portrayed as “hooray for white supremacists” and as total racist garbage. He’s left himself open to that characterization with the way he expressed his thoughts. How you say something does matter.
But I agree with Steyn that 1) we are stuck with our citizens, good and bad; 2) our citizens’ interests (good and bad!) come first; and 3) sudden influxes of illegal immigrants from a different culture are not the ideal way to build the tapestry that is our nation. The parts of the tapestry, ultimately, should fit together. The way to do that is gradually, with people who are screened to make sure they add to (and do not subtract from) our society, so they can become part of an integrated and (with their presence) more diverse, interesting, and beneficial whole.
That is the American ideal.