Parties Must Close Divide
Recently Tucker Carlson of Fox News did a segment in which he engaged in what some have called “fear mongering” about immigrants replacing Americans. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever before agreed with Carlson, but his argument in this case illustrates a lot about today’s divided politics. Carlson’s guest, immigration advocate Luis Miranda, suggests that our American population is aging and not replacing itself. He seemed to suggest this trend is inevitable and that such a replacement should happen “ideally in a legal and orderly fashion,” referring to bringing in replacement citizens through legal immigration rather than illegal immigration. This is a perfectly normal strategy for nations to take when their native birthrate declines. If policies to encourage people to have more children are not working, the major alternative for governments is to bring in new citizens from outside, hopefully productive ones with healthy birthrates. Simply allowing the population to shrink would decrease the tax base, leading to reduced services, and reduce the share of people paying for retirement benefits and medical care of older workers, leading to cuts in those programs and conflict between young and old. Already the number of young workers supporting each retired worker drastically has declined, a leading cause of the budget problems of municipalities, states, and public sector unions with unaffordable pension obligations. The problem with this approach is illustrated by Carlson’s interruption of Miranda: “You say our population is aging. We are not reproducing ourselves. Why do you think that is? Nobody seems to pause and ask why can’t young Americans afford to get married and have children, afford to buy homes and cars and their solution, the elite’s solution, is we’ll just bring in new people. What about the Americans, the young people, the 30-year-old American who can’t afford to have kids? Does anybody care about that person?” We are seeing today, in the polarization of the Democratic and Republican parties, a divide between city-based fully employed and educated “elites” and more rural-based, less educated and under-employed, formerly called “blue-collar” Americans. This is not to say that everyone with a college degree and a good full-time job is “elite.” However, even in their moderate success, they are likely to identify with more liberal and progressive world views and not oppose adding Americans though immigration. In contrast, those who have few prospects, thanks to the decline of traditional rural jobs, often are unemployed or under-employed. Even if these individuals attempt to re-skill through college or vocational training, the tuition and other costs have soared so much that they are saddled with debt that will hold them back from buying a house or car or considering marriage or a family for years or decades. As a college professor in a rural area, I see this all the time in my students. Young working women, especially, cannot consider taking a break to have a child. Unlike many other countries with paid parental leave of up to a year, America has very short parental leaves, only some of which are paid. For these people, adding more Americans through immigration is a slap in the face. It says, “You’re dying, we’re gonna replace you” as Carlson concludes. Trump Republicans clearly are speaking to these individuals; the Democratic Party and the broader Republican Party need to start addressing their problems, or our politics will be even more divided and bitter.