I’ve long been wary of even using anecdotes in my writing – much less suggesting that they tell us anything useful about trends and developments worth writing about. But my conversation last night with a Somali-born cab driver in Washington, D.C. so strikingly reflected so many of my concerns about immigration and assimilation in America that I can’t help but describe it.
As regulars on this blog know, I’ve long been concerned with the nation’s recent failure to assimilate adequately huge cohorts of immigrants it’s welcomed from countries with dramatically different political, social, and cultural values and practices. As often noted by restrictionists on the political right in particular, many of these newcomers are arriving from societies that either don’t acknowledge or that actively reject the goals of diversity, tolerance, and gender equality that inevitably form much of the framework of the democracy we all cherish.
Today, I won’t be arguing about how these values should or shouldn’t be balanced against other important bases of a free society, but simply relaying the details of last night’s discussion of these matters with my cabbie. Because unless his views are unique in the recent immigrant community, they strongly back the claim that current immigration policies have greatly increased the number of inhabitants of this country who either know nothing of its major organizing principles, or don’t believe them. This fellow’s opinions also indicate that proposals to admit even more immigrants from regions like Latin America and the Middle East, or to legalize those here illegally and thus inevitably attract even bigger numbers, will further magnify the problem.
My ride started uneventfully enough as we pulled out of Union Station in D.C. and I looked forward to getting home after a long day doing business in New York. But soon after I recommended the best route to my neighborhood and he ended a brief phone call, he announced suddenly, “Well, because of this fellow Trump, I’ve decided I’m going home” – which turns out to be Somalia. “Trump just said he doesn’t like Somalia.” I’m sure he was referring to the president’s inclusion of Somalia in his travel ban proposals, but I didn’t want to get into a debate about that (i.e., Somalia’s longstanding lack of a government strong enough to enable satisfactory vetting). And I didn’t want to come right out and ask him if his presence here is legal (in which case, he would have no legitimate fears of any Trump-ian immigration policies). So I just replied that “If your status is OK, then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
We made some non-political small talk for the next few minutes and then out of the blue, he asked me, “What about this man together with man?” After a few moments, I realized that he was talking about same sex marriage. I told him that Americans apparently have decided that such marriages are acceptable – and that this conclusion held for women as well. He expressed surprise that “This just faded from the news” and I responded that it seems to have become very quickly and very widely accepted – save for some regions (like the South) and for many traditionally minded Americans elsewhere. The cab driver repeated his surprise that “All of a sudden, nobody talks about this any more” and I added that the change had indeed been both rapid and dramatic in recent years. Even former President Obama, I observed, had opposed same sex marriage ten years ago.
I added that what’s been more controversial has been the issue of whether Americans’ biological gender or gender identity should determine which restrooms they can access. His reaction was complete disbelief, and I confirmed that the situation is novel and puzzling even to many who broadly accept equal gay and lesbian rights. But I ventured that this debate, too, will likely be decided in favor of chosen gender identity, largely because so many large businesses believe that public opinion has sided with change.
We spent much of the rest of the conversation discussing where he should go if he decides to leave the country. His preference seems to be returning to Somalia, but I suggested that places like Canada and Australia are safer, more promising economically, and overall more welcoming to immigrants than the United States seems at present (after repeating that no one with “the right status” needs to leave the country).
Again, this is only an anecdote. Last night’s cab driver is only a single individual. I didn’t explore other such issues with him (or he with me). As suggested above, obviously many native-born Americans hold socially conservative positions that are as strong or even stronger. More important, I’m sure there are immigrants from these regions that either came here believing in these American-style values.
But the cab driver clearly had been here for quite a few years. It’s reasonable to suppose that his views on, for example, women’s role in society and in families is just as increasingly out of the mainstream as on same sex issues – and perhaps even more dangerously backward. It’s also certain that no systematic effort has been made to introduce him to more inclusive and egalitarian thinking. And it’s just as certain that the numbers of those utterly unfamiliar with or repelled by a critical mass of the civic religion that’s evolved in America – and that continues to evolve – will keep mushrooming unless the blithely come-one-come-all immigration and (non-) assimilation policies of recent decades are reversed.
The greatest irony, of course, is that the more America’s social and cultural identity is reshaped by these newcomers, the further it will move from the kinds of tolerance so dear to so much of the left wing of the Open Borders crowd. How much longer before they recognize that (1) everyone indeed is capable of becoming an American in the only sense that reflects the best of this nation’s history – and that’s still broadly enough supported to justify optimism about its fate; but that (2) to achieve this form of (fundamentally tolerant) assimilation, it’s still necessary to try.