By Ben Tanosborn
Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Nigel Farage and myriad other populist, right-wing leaders sprouting over much of the Western World, are being tagged by the political ruling class as an ill-conceived, hate-fest phenomenon; and often portrayed as the mutant offspring of fascism. Such interpretation, however, might be only serving as ear plugs against the loud, real voices of people who fear a real threat to their economic wellbeing or their cultural identity.
This mischaracterization could end up being the undoing of the now-ruling political class, not just in some European nations but also in the US. And, when there is no trip switch to prevent emotional blindness as fear holds hands with anger, an egomaniac such as Trump could easily become the hopeful savior to many, instead of the predatory con man his deeds point him to be.
Nowadays, perhaps dating back a generation or longer, we have come to redefine the very meaning of the term refugee. Where in the past refugees were assumed to be fleeing turmoil – war, political oppression, religious persecution, or even some major natural disaster – in most cases restricted to a locale, region or nation; such clarity is no longer evident. To a great extent, today’s refugees are either refugees-of-convenience, solely seeking a better economic life; or hybrid-refugees, where economics plays a major role, if parasitic to turmoil, in their decision to flee their native lands.
The present refugee situation in Europe, accentuated by the reality of terrorism, brings to the surface the undercurrents of the immigrant-refugee problem which has been simmering for two generations, and has now reached the boiling point. In general, we could say that Europe has had mixed success Europeanizing a flood of immigrants, almost exclusively Muslim, with deep-rooted cultural and spiritual traditions. [Muslims in Europe represent 6 percent of the population versus 1 percent in the US.] Although with different ingredients and a presumed more welcoming melting pot, a similar problem has been simmering in the US; a problem brought to a boil by the joint corporate-political adoption of globalization, and its Farragut-style motto of “damn the middle class, big profits ahead.”
Contamination of terms, blamable in part to the media, has created much confusion in how transient people are catalogued: migrants, immigrants, refugees, or economic squatters… all too often interchangeably. Traditional refugees seeking both protection and shelter still do exist, but they represent a small share of the self-declared refugee population queuing entry to Europe, where documentation is a necessity to work; or to the US, where documentation enforcement to work has had no better chance of success than the metrication Jimmy Carter envisioned in the 1970’s. [“Metric” was tabbed by much of the conservative-right in the 1970’s as Communist with the same fervor as they now deny climate change or see man as a six millennia ago creation.]
Take our case in the US where 3 to 5 percent of the population is in the country lacking appropriate documentation, economic refugees tagged as “illegals.” And we could add another 1 to 2 percent as documented-offspring with undocumented family ties.
In the past, the US had the economic capacity and social experience to absorb and post-facto legalize a high percentage of these economic refugees… with only a slight impact, economic or cultural, on the general population. The formal adoption of globalization, however, has drastically and terminally changed all that. For several generations, migrant labor, documented or not, had filled just about all jobs in agriculture and the bottom tier of low paid service tasks. Americans happily welcomed Latin migrants, mostly Mexican, documented or not, to fill these jobs. However, during the past three decades, as globalization marched towards its apogee, that axiomatic contention that “illegals” are just solely doing those jobs that Americans do not want to do is quickly turning into a myth.
Globalization has resulted in the loss of millions of well-paid manufacturing jobs, we are well aware of it; but undocumented labor flooding the country also has had a significant impact on both wages and the loss of jobs, or opportunity for jobs, by American-born. Of course, there are no statistics to prove such contention, but I, like many others, have evidenced first hand such claims during my business career, particularly in the building trades. It’s no secret in the construction industry that smaller and mid-size contractors in most trades prefer hiring, even training, Mexicans with “counterfeit documentation” over their legal countrymen. Why? No; not because of lower wages since contractors comply with standard hourly scales, but because of overall performance (output), not just in quantity but quality as well. And that make the contractors more competitive and profitable.
Trump’s clownish proposal to build a wall bordering Mexico to secure legal entry into the US is an affront to the intelligence of the American electorate that only a bully-charlatan would make. The reason there are millions of undocumented workers in the country is a reflection of Americans’ greed, and not the foreign workers’ criminality. Truth be said, many businesses as well as individuals prefer to keep things as they are as long as there is economic gain for them, never mind that eventually we will all be asked to pay the piper. Immigration reform in the US is an easily solvable national problem, but one that politicians of the Tweedledee-Tweedledum variety are unwilling to tackle because of personal (or party) selfishness.
Conservative Republicans and Conservatives-a-little-less Democrats, having failed to tackle Immigration Reform prior to the 2016 presidential election, might have written their own epitaphs, paving the way for someone like Donald Trump to come to the Inaugural Ball wearing a Republican mask.
As ridiculous as Trump’s Southern Wall might appear to the average mind, it is no more ridiculous, or unwise, than the present lack of an enforceable immigration policy… just like all other developed nations have. Control of the borders could become the critical issue deciding the 2016 presidential election… and Donald J. Trump is counting on it.