An Open Letter to Steve Bannon, from a Hyphenated American

Dear Steve Bannon and Friends, 

I'm probably wasting my time writing to you. You know that old internet saying, "Don't Feed the Trolls"? Well for the past couple of years I have mostly thought of you and Donald Trump as basically trolls, more interested in scoring political points and tripping up your opposition than in putting forward a coherent ideology of your own.

But then Donald Trump won the freaking election. Now you and he have the ability to shape policy in some profound ways; you have already begun doing it.

It really does not make sense to dismiss you as trolls any longer, since you run the government. So this is an attempt to talk to you and your "alt right" friends seriously for a moment. My hope is that you can convince me that you're not just trolls who have won the lottery through a crazy and terrible fluke. Can you?

I've been watching what you and President Trump have been doing with the various executive orders and trying to understand it. It started with the Wall, and all the over the top language about illegal immigrants that's behind what is obviously a pretty dumb xenophobic symbol. Then last week we had the Refugee Ban and the seven country visa ban, supposedly to fight terrorism, though we all know that's not the real point of it (*cough* #MuslimBan). There are now reports there will be other orders soon -- you want to change the H-1B rules to make it harder for American companies to hire skilled foreign workers. Apparently Trump is also going to go after immigrants who are poor and who have received help from social welfare programs like CHIP.

Is Trump also going to reduce the number of immigration visas overall? (He promised he would in the campaign.) Is he going to go after birthright citizenship? 

Based on things you have said in recent months, I would expect that you are indeed planning to do all of those things. Just to recap, here's what you said on a radio interview with Stephen Miller (who also now works with you under Trump). This is from your SiriusXM radio show, from March 2016:

You saw that, what is it, 61 million? Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, is not illegal immigration? As horrific as that is, and it’s horrific, don’t we have a problem, we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country? When you look and there’s got 61 million, 20 percent of the country, is immigrants — is that not a massive problem? (link)
The 61 million you are referring to there is the number of foreign born people in the United States right now, including citizens as well as permanent residents. Here's what I don't understand: why is that number, 20%, so scary to you? Why do you feel "overwhelmed" by immigrants? What, exactly, is the "problem"? 

The United States has a long history of accepting waves of immigration and quickly assimilating those communities into the American mainstream. The massive wave of European immigration between 1880 and 1920 meant that there were many people speaking Italian, German, and Yiddish in American cities for a few years. But their children all spoke English and identified as Americans.

The exact same thing has been happening with the wave of immigrants who have been entering the United States since 1965 -- when Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened the doors to immigrants that had formerly been banned under the racial national quotas that had been instituted in the early 1920s (i.e., the Asian Exclusion Act).

The newer waves of immigrants may be darker skinned and have names like Patel and Zavarzadeh rather than Pazzaglia and Liebowitz. But over time they do exactly what the earlier waves of immigrants did: they move out of ethnic enclaves in and around big cities to the suburbs. Their kids prefer English to their parents' languages, and develop a taste for burgers and basketball. (This is what happened with my own family, which started its American story in Queens, New York, only to settle down in a Maryland suburb. I live in a suburb of Philadephia.) It doesn't always happen overnight, but it does happen: immigrants blend into the mainstream of American life.

Yes, some of us do prefer to stay connected to the countries and cultures of our parents. I grew up with Burgers and Basketball; I am also a practicing Sikh, who would love it if my kids could speak and read at least some Punjabi (though I'm pretty sure my 10 year old would prefer to just spend his Sunday afternoons shooting hoops on the driveway). And I consider myself "South Asian American," which I know might annoy you.

But remember that the endpoint of every hyphenated ethnic or racial identity category is basically one word and one idea: American. Chinese-American, African-American, Arab-American.... The hyphenation is a marker of process; we are all in the process of becoming American. Admittedly, it might also be a marker of a complexity around American national identity that is going to be permanent. But the idea of Americanness can certainly handle a bit of complexity, can it not? What it means to be American has always been complex. (Just ask Frederick Douglass. Really, ask him. He's on Twitter now.)

Back to the point, though: what exactly is your problem with any of that? Why are you afraid of immigrants? Why are you afraid of complexity? Why are you afraid of me? I don't get it.

Let's talk about another issue you raised in your interview from last March, the issue of immigrant IT workers and temporary workers on H-1B visas.

You have turned over the entire American education system — we have cut out art, we have cut out history, we have cut out music. Why have we done it? STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. We have told every minority kid in this country, you got to excel at that. What happens? They get into graduate schools, they can’t get engineering degrees, they can’t get into graduate schools because there are all these foreign students, when they come out, they can’t get a job. (link)
Here you just seem confused and ill-informed. (I was a little surprised to see that you appear to want to bring back more art, history and music to American public schools. I agree! But maybe that's a conversation for another day.)

The simple truth is that it's not that there are large numbers of white American students who are desperate to become software engineers but are being out-competed by Asian immigrants and international students. In fact, at institutions like mine there simply aren't all that many American-born students (of any ethnicity) applying to those graduate programs; many of the Masters' and Ph.D. programs in STEM fields we have would likely disappear entirely if we stopped admitting foreign students overnight.

One more quote from your interview:
Where are we in the Trump campaign with the H-1B visas? Because we got the oligarchs down there, man, and they have got Karl Rove and literally hundreds of millions of dollars, and they are coming with one reason. And they are coming for unlimited ability to go throughout the world and have people come here and compete with kids coming out of engineering schools and IT jobs. If you are in your 40s and 50s right now, people will tell you, they haven’t had a raise in decades in IT. What was supposed to be a great career turned out not to be a great career. It’s because of these visas.
Again, I just think that best you simply don't know what you are talking about. There really aren't a lot of senior engineers who are out of work because of temporary workers coming in who might do the same work for less pay. Last year, around the time you did this interview, we saw headlines along the lines of "Silicon Valley Unemployment Hits New Low". And people with these skills make very good salaries -- most are in the six figures -- with pretty good raises and bonuses.

So are you just making this stuff up? That kind of thing is fine when you're just trolling on your Satellite Radio show, but it's not going to cut it if you're really going to try and push around Tim Cook or Sergey Brin with a bunch of half-baked policy ideas that would demolish the American advantage in IT overnight.

The large numbers of skilled immigrant workers in the IT industry have been a huge asset to companies like Google, Facebook, and Intel. They have been one of the main reasons these American companies have succeeded the way they have. And I would stipulate that they have been able to do this without taking away jobs from American workers. So basically you are completely wrong about most of this stuff related to Silicon Valley and the tech industry.

In short, everything you have proposed so far will be bad for the United States in the long run. If you really don't have anything more coherent to offer than what you said on that radio show, I would suggest you quit working in the White House and go back to running your Trolltastic website (Breitbart.com) and your Trolltastic satellite radio show. You don't have any business making real policies; they are cruel, they are un-American, and they just don't make any goddamn sense.


A Hyphenated American

1 comment:

Virgil said...

This would be a good place to start if you really want to understand what is happening.


Virgil Bierschwale
An American Citizen, Navy Veteran and software developer since 1988 who can't buy an interview because of what is happening