With the major hurricanes done for the moment and a debt crisis averted by Trump’s deal with the Democrats, Congress must turn to the issues in front of it. Tax reform code is at the top of the list, although I’m not holding my breath. Behind that is the DACA program, or the “Dreamers,” where young people brought here outside of our immigration legislation have special dispensation to pursue their education here.
Immigration, like infrastructure, is one of those issues where bipartisan agreement (or at least under-the-table collusion) has resulted in inaction. Business interests would like a labour force with an interest in work, so they pressure the Republicans, and leftists would like an electorate that votes for them, so they pressure the Democrats. Both of these use the appeal that, if these people are sent back to their ancestral homelands, their dreams will end. And that’s an easy sell with Americans; we’d all like to think that we’re the only place in the world where dreams and goals in life come true.
But that’s really not the case.
My lack of enthusiasm for this issue is purely personal, and goes back to a time in my life where I was making my own decisions about life aspirations. That in turn should be set against the backdrop of the time, and that scene wasn’t pretty.
Growing up I was presented with two options about what this country was all about. In one corner was my father, who was a super-patriot. In his mind our country could do no wrong and it was not permitted to question anything it did. That may seem odd in a country that fancies itself on freedom, but professing freedom while taking it away is more common than you might think.
On the other end were the hippy-dippy people who professed to seek a deeper meaning in life but in the end could only find it in getting laid, high or drunk. This didn’t strike me at the time as particularly American, but in a way it is. There’s been a strong streak in the country that we came here to run the woods free and act the way we wanted to, and that was part of the ooze that bubbled to the surface in the 1960’s. There was also the “hick moving to town” theme; growing up in Palm Beach left me with no sympathy for this. History taught me that a country this sybaritic wasn’t going to make it, and I wasn’t too keen on sticking around for the end.
The disaster of Watergate ripped our political system apart; that only created despair. It became obvious to me that only foreign intervention would fix this broken culture, which lead to this. But with the atheistic Soviet Union being the most likely option, the reality of that wasn’t too appetising. Maybe, I said to myself, what I need to do is get out of here.
The opportunity to do just that presented itself in the spring of 1976 at the Offshore Technology Conference, when I stopped by the booth of Motherwell Bridge, a Scottish engineering and construction firm. I talking to one of their representatives, mentioned that I was graduating that year and would be looking for a job. He expressed an interest in speaking to me about a position with them. I told him I’d be in the UK two months from then, and would call him then.
That was all well and good, so when I got to the UK and Scotland was in the plans, I rung him up. Unfortunately I butted into that European habit of going on holiday during the summer; he was gone to sunnier climes and I was out of a job interview. (The UK was experiencing a major drought that year; he really didn’t have to go anywhere for sunny weather.)
I could have gone to a “Plan B” to emigrate in the fall by strategically choosing my job interviews. But by then I had lived in Texas three years and both seen and experienced a part of this country that was truly good and highly productive. So the man who started to emigrate ended up with a security clearance at Texas Instruments.
It’s always tempting to play “what if” with a situation like this; certainly life would have been different on the other side of the pond. One of my commenters pointed out that average income in the UK is considerably below that of the US. But that meant nothing to me at the time; I took a “pay cut” to work for TI as opposed to working in the oil industry (which, after a bit, I ended up doing .) One thing it would have done is, if I tired of Old Blighty, becoming an expat is easier for just about anyone than it is for an American, thanks to our possessive tax legislation.
The good part of this country–which surfaces in things such as the response to Hurricane Harvey–has been under relentless attack from a wide array of groups with elite support, including the New Urbanists, the various “diversity” groups, and indeed the “Blue state” mentality. That it has survived as well as it has is amazing, a testament to the viability of the lifestyle itself as much as the tenacity of its practicioners. But the outcome is still in the balance.
As far as DACA is concerned, I hope that Congress can come to a resolution on this. It’s always good to attract people who will actually work and make things happen. But we need to be real about this: if more dreams could be fulfilled in places like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, we’d be better off as a country. We would have more stable southern neighbours and an additional market for our goods and services. And that’s not as far-fetched as it might seem: at this stage it’s easier to start a small business in Mexico than in the US, thanks to our ridiculous legal and regulatory system.
Americans on both sides of the divide love to gush forth rhetoric about how this is the only place where people’s dreams can be fulfilled. The country would be better off, however, if, instead of mellifluous rhetoric, we’d spend as much effort making this country inviting for dreamers as we do talking about it.