Immigration and the American Dream

A Better Angels Symposium

Editor’s Introduction by LUKE PHILLIPS

When we first came up with the idea of a monthly symposium between Better Angels and The American Moderate, we all had high hopes — but we didn’t quite know what to expect. The goal was to bring together writers from left and right to engage issues of the day in a manner that was thoughtful, respectful, and empathetic.

Better Angels’s guidelines and “rules of engagement” are written explicitly to govern our interactions when talking to each other, in groups, face-to-face, reacting throughout the course of a conversation to ideas different from our own. The world of the polemical writer is very different. It tends to be solitary- one does not look at his or her opponents in the eye while writing a tract against them. It tends to focus on the construction of one’s own worldview, rather than the interlocking synthesis of multiple worldviews. It is far easier to write with careless assumptions than it is to converse with them, for no one will correct you until you’ve published your piece.

In short, the guidelines of Better Angels just didn’t seem to apply to a symposium full of opinion essays. Nonetheless, we decided to try it out. And for my money, we succeeded far beyond anything we envisioned when we first dreamt this enterprise up.

The seven brief essays Better Angels will publish over the next few days represent a small group of diverse writers attempting to translate the work and tone and spirit of a Better Angels workshop into the written word. Most of us have never met face to face, and know each other only through the networks of Better Angels and The American Moderate. But we are all Americans, we are all policy intellectuals or political thinkers to some degree or another, and we are all in some way committed to the ideals of civic discourse, intellectual honesty, and national healing Better Angels and The American Moderate promote.

A week before we began planning this symposium, public opinion in America was divided over a major event- President Donald Trump’s rescindment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA.) The ensuing public debate shed more heat than light, as the usual factions rallied for their causes and launched polemical assaults against each other in print. This is all normal and healthy in a free democracy, but as with every American political controversy nowadays, things began to polarize too quickly for comfort.

We pulled together the contributors to this symposium to bring the same springs of opinion to the table, but channel them through a more productive and respectful apparatus of discourse. We hoped to show that Americans, intellectually and culturally and politically as heterogeneous as you can get and still be one people, could discuss controversial issues of great weight amongst themselves civilly, and even find sufficient commonalities to transcend their very real differences and begin to walk a path towards synthetic unity. The purpose of the initiative would be to demonstrate a free citizenry’s ability to transcend sharp, insurmountable political differences, in the name of a higher union and a better future.

We’ll leave it to the reader to judge how well we did that.

In the essays that follow, we have treated the question of DACA broadly, in the bigger context of the state of American immigration as a whole. Some of our writers have culled through historical statistics and economic data to examine the impacts and results of the current immigration situation. Others have examined the cultural and moral questions associated with it. Still others have speculated on prospective paths forward, in the name of new and higher objectives. We make no claim to representing the entire range of American political opinion on this issue, but we hope the diversity of opinions represented here, and the basic steps forward they collectively point to, is some hope for those who despair over the prospect of making any ecumenical advances towards a national consensus on the question of immigration.

We hope they are helpful. In the meantime, we’ll be planning on doing a Better Angels Symposium once a month — stay tuned for the next one.

Luke Phillips is an Editor at The American Moderate and the Director of the Symposium

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