A thoughtful liberal – columnist and author James Traub – sticks his head above the parapet and dares to give his own side some counsel:
The Swedes have a word, “asikstkorridor,” which translates as “opinion corridor” and describes all those things considered incorrect not only to say but to think. One of those taboos, as I discovered when I visited Sweden at the height of the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015, is the idea that refugees from conservative Muslim countries, especially poorly educated young men, may not integrate into Swedish society as well as, say, relatively secular and prosperous Iranians or Bosnians.
President Trump’s offhand comment last month about how dreadful things are in Sweden provoked an outraged reaction from Swedes rightly proud of the country’s longstanding commitment to accepting refugees from all over the world. The incident of violence the president appeared to be describing hadn’t happened. But then it did, in the form of a riot in a suburb of Stockholm heavily populated by immigrants. That’s where the opinion corridor can make you look foolish.
It is too early to know whether the net effect of the 2015 wave of largely Middle Eastern refugees on Sweden, Germany and other European countries will be positive or negative. Certainly Mr. Trump’s habit of blaming refugees for terrorism, used to justify his signing a revised executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries on Monday, flies in the face of the evidence. But so does the reflexive claim that the refugees will fit easily into European society or expand the labor force. Our liberal opinion corridor thus offers the perfect pretext for cynics and xenophobes to parade their prejudice as truth-telling courage.
One can almost hear a thousand keyboards clatter angrily to life as Traub’s soon-to-be-former colleagues rush to denounce him and recategorise him with all the other “racist xenophobes”.
Only it is not only “cynics and xenophobes” who point out the flaws in undermining national borders and welcoming all comers while making no insistence. Many people who are better describes as simply being “realists” also take an evidence-based view towards cultural integration, as well as conservatives, none of whom deserve to have their opinions belittled and slandered by having them described as “prejudice-parading”.
Still, it is encouraging to see someone on the pages of the New York Times recognise that vague platitudes about welcoming immigrants coupled with a furious refusal to consider issues of integration and assimilation are inadequate to the task at hand, at least in European countries which are so often held up by the American Left as paragons of wise policy and moral virtue.
Traub goes on to deliver his audience this unwelcome lesson:
The answer to xenophobia cannot be xenophilia. For mobile, prosperous, worldly people, the cherishing of diversity is a cardinal virtue; we dote on difference. That’s simply not true for many people who can’t choose where to live, or who prefer the familiar coordinates of their life. That was the bitter lesson that British cosmopolites learned from Brexit. If the answer is to insist that the arrival of vast numbers of new people on our doorstep is an unmixed blessing, and that those who believe otherwise are Neanderthals, then we leave the field wide open to Donald J. Trump and Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen.
[..] The situation is different here. Since the United States has no real refugee problem, save one fabricated by Mr. Trump and conservative activists, and no immigrant crime wave, the chief answer has to be on the level of the opinion corridor: Liberal urbanites have to accept that many Americans react to multicultural pieties by finding something else — sometimes their own white identity — to embrace. If there’s a culture war, everyone loses; but history tells us that liberals lose worse.
I believe that liberalism can be preserved only if liberals learn to distinguish between what must be protected at all cost and what must be, not discarded, but reconsidered — the unquestioned virtue of cosmopolitanism, for example, or of free trade. If we are to honor the human rights of refugees, we must find a way to do so that commands political majorities. Otherwise we’ll keep electing leaders who couldn’t care less about those rights.
Well, yes. Peddle in toxic, divisive identity politics for long enough and one can hardly be surprised when less secure, less prosperous members of the supposedly privileged class (i.e. the white working class) begin to do the same, purely as a survival instinct and a matter of defending their perceived interests. If you teach that political involvement and engagement of a citizen should primarily take place according to their distinct identity group(s) and in accordance with their position in the Hierarchy of Oppression, then eventually all groups will come to do this – even those you don’t want to.
Traub is right to ask his ideological fellows to reconsider some of their “unquestioned virtues” in the context of the populist backlash that they have provoked. At present, however, Democrats and others on the Left seem more inclined to hug identity politics even tighter and conduct zero outreach to Trump supporters or agnostics.
Former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock once said, in fighting a different threat which menaced his party (militant socialism rather than identity politics):
Fourthly, I shall tell you again what you know. Because you are from the people, because you are of the people, because you live with the same realities as everybody else lives with, implausible promises don’t win victories. I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers
In our context, the “impossible promise” is the belief that significant numbers of migrants or refugees from culturally very different countries can be taken in and settled in high concentrations with no adverse social consequences to themselves or the host population. It is the stubborn, screamed insistence at a rainbow-coloured “refugees welcome” sign in any way makes up for the lack of adequate planning by governments and consent from the governed.
Expect to see James Traub floating face down in the Potomac in a week or so’s time, with the shafts of many outraged liberal-establishment arrows piercing his back. For he has blasphemed, and the zealots in charge of the anti-Trump, anti-populist resistance have no tolerance for introspection or dissent from within their own tribe.
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