by Will Racke
The stable of right-of-center opinion writers at The New York Times is not known for its viewpoint diversity.
David Brooks, Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss regularly offer predictable critiques of Trumpist populism, mixed in with Manhattan- and Beltway-approved opinions on divisive social issues.
Brooks and Stephens, in particular, have achieved a remarkable synergy in their writing on immigration, perhaps the single most contentious issue in the age of President Donald Trump. A unifying theme running through several of their pieces on Trump’s nationalist immigration agenda is that native-born Americans are inferior — economically and morally — to immigrants.
The most recent example of this perspective is a Brooks’ column published Monday, titled “The East Germans of the 21st Century.” In it, Brooks wrestles with the idea that throttling back on historically high immigration levels could be good for the national interest.
Using divided Cold War Germany as an analogy, the noted thought leader concludes that it cannot. In the days of the Iron Curtain, there were literally two Germanys: a West that embraced the dynamism and diversity of capitalism, and an East that was ruled by stifling and retrograde communism. West Germany prospered, while East Germany declined.
As Brooks sees it, the U.S. is similarly divided, but along the lines of demography, not ideology. The places that have accepted immigrants — New York, Silicon Valley, and other liberal metros — have become wealthy and productive, while those that have not — Appalachia, rural New England, the upper Midwest — are dysfunctional and drug-addicted.
The reason that immigration restrictionism has gained purchase in these same down-and-out regions — Trump country — is that Americans there resent being surpassed by more virtuous newcomers.
“You’d react negatively, too, if confronted with people who are better versions of what you wish you were yourself,” Brooks writes.
Notably, Brooks does not consider that the arrow of causality runs the other way. That is, immigrants might be concentrating in places that are already prosperous while avoiding regions that have fallen on hard times.
Nor does he acknowledge that some of the most diverse, immigrant-heavy states in America are also the poorest and most unequal. For example, California has the most foreign-born residents and also the highest poverty rate, when adjusted for cost of living. Florida, the state with the second-highest percentage of immigrants, has the second-highest percentage of poor people.
Americans who observe that correlation and think reducing immigration might be a reasonable response simply fail to appreciate the “faithfulness and self-discipline” of immigrants, Brooks argues. Their views amount to “defensive animosity” to immigrants who “out-hustle and out-build” them.
Brooks’ like-minded colleague Bret Stephens has made similar arguments about the virtues of mass immigration and the superiority of immigrants. Though Stephens is a relative newcomer to the NYT opinion section — he was hired away from the Wall Street Journal in April — he has already written several columns about immigration policy.
Just a few months into his tenure, Stephens wrote the provocatively titled column “Only Mass Deportation Can Save America,” an encomium to mass immigration that contrasted striving newcomers with the “complacent, entitled and shockingly ignorant” Americans whose families have deep roots in this country.
Stephens said he was only joking about deporting millions of native-born Americans to make room for new and better replacements. But he went on to reveal his sincere belief that the U.S. “is a country that belongs first to its newcomers,” and that Americans who don’t share his sympathy for mass immigration “should get out.”
More recently, Stephens revived the immigrant-as-moral-paragon theme in another satirically titled column, “A Modest Immigration Proposal: Ban Jews.” Stephens uses a well-worn historical counterfactual — what if America had banned Jewish immigration around the turn of the 20th century? — to attack Americans who think immigration levels are too high.
In Stephens’ view, Americans who argue for less immigration today are morally no better than nativists who didn’t want to let Eastern European Jews immigrate in the 19th century. Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, and other “eternal bigots” want to deprive America of the blessings of Salvadoran and Haitian immigration, just as past restrictionists would have deprived America of the “enterprise, genius, imagination and philanthropy” of Jewish immigrants, Stephens writes.
As the NYT’s most prominent neoconservatives, Stephens and Brooks share a similar outlook on a range of issues, from democracy promotion abroad to a general disdain for Trump’s “America First” nationalism. They also seem to be in lockstep in their antipathy toward native-born Americans who are skeptical of mass immigration.
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