An Open Letter to My (Unintentionally, But Pretty Much Totally) Xenophobic Friend Carrie
It was so lovely to hear from you after all these years! Thank you so much for sending me that Facebook message, which contained no text from you whatsoever, but instead, simply offered me a link to that riveting video of an out-of-context clip from Bill Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union address, with the caption “Bill Clinton said this in 1995 and got a standing ovation; Trump says it in 2016 AND HE’S A RACIST?“. Such a great video! And such a clever caption. I really enjoyed watching the video and walking down Memory Lane, reminiscing about a simpler time — the mid 1990’s — when floral dresses were a thing, terrorism was barely a thing, and a Clinton was in the White House. (I know — weird, right?) And the caption, which implies that Trump is not a racist? Ugh, to die for! Truly witty and insightful.
Now, I have A LOT to say about this video — and the implied (but let’s be honest, pretty obvious) anti-immigration message contained in the caption that accompanied it — so I hope you will bear with me and read all the way until the end of this letter. (But I suspect you may not, because who has the time? You probably have to go play tennis at your private club, or bake some cookies, or prepare for your next European vacation. Because, let’s face it, those suitcases aren’t going to pack themselves!)
Here’s the thing — and this may come as a surprise to you, given the fact that I am a bleeding-heart liberal, who actually got up off my ass and went door to door in support of Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania in the days leading up to Election Night 2016 — or as I like to call it, “Noctis Horribilis”: I actually 100% DISAGREE with what Bill Clinton is saying in that video.
First of all, I don’t even think Bill believed what he was saying at the time, but I know FO SHO that, today, he would completely repudiate what he said then. Here’s what I think happened. Picture it: Sicily (aka Washington D.C.), early 1995. A young, then-first term President Bill Clinton is trying to appeal to white, working-class, Republican-leaning voters one year before he will be running for re-election, with his approval ratings a little shaky, and with a Republican-controlled House and Senate. (Remember good old Newt Gingrich and his good old “Contract with America” of 1994? Talk about making America “GREAT” again! Except for the part where Newt had to resign following his admission of ethics violations — for which he paid a fine of $300,000 — and the widespread rumors about his infidelity to his second wife, later proven to be true. But ANY-hoo! I digress!). Bottom line: in 1995, Bill Clinton believed (probably correctly) that moving to the right was the only way he could get re-elected. (And for some reason, politicians are always trying to get re-elected; it’s like their obsessed with power! The worst, right?) Hence Bill’s anti-immigration tirade and shiny, new anti-immigration policy of 1995.
But let’s be clear: as far as I am concerned, what he is saying in this 1995 State of the Union address about immigration is pure politics. In fact, I’d call it pandering. (Which, by the way — I looked it up — has NOTHING to do with pandas. It just means “to do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable.” Shout-out to Merriam Webster! Keep up the good work, fellas!) And yes, I believe that pandering to people’s xenophobia is wrong, regardless of whether it’s a liberal or a conservative doing it. (I know — shocking, right?!)
Second of all, let me address the substance of what Bill Clinton says in that 1995 speech. Because factually speaking, he’s just plain wrong: the notion that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs that Americans would otherwise want to do is absolute nonsense. Do you really believe that the unemployed white (male) working class voters to whom Bill Clinton is pandering in this video — the same voters (in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida) to whom Trump (successfully — and masterfully!) pandered this year — want to move to another state to pick berries in a hot field or (God forbid!) to a big city to wash dishes, or fold laundry, or take care of an elderly person in their home, or drive a taxi late at night, or mop kitchen and bathroom floors, or deliver Chinese food? I don’t think so. If they wanted to do that, they would have done it by now. So let’s get real — “illegal” immigrants (i.e. undocumented workers) serve a very important function in our economy: they take on jobs — often difficult, unpleasant, physically and mentally draining jobs that nobody else wants, but which are important nonetheless — for very little money. And if Trump actually succeeds in deporting the millions of undocumented workers currently living and working in the US, it will significantly hurt the US economy, because there won’t be anyone to replace them for picking the berries, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, caring for the elderly in their homes, driving the late-night taxis, mopping the floors, and delivering the Chinese food. Oops! (But don’t take my word for it; there’s also recent analysis to this effect by the practically communist Business Insider Magazine.)
Now, my dearest Carrie, let’s put ALL that economics “mumbo jumbo” aside — because, honestly? Who CARES how the economy actually works! That’s a subject for self-serving, socialistic elites, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to talk about in their fancy elitist “salons”, while they drink Ceylon tea and eat blueberry crumpets. (GROSS, amirite?!) Economics is so complicated and boring!
Instead, let’s talk about something simpler and way more interesting, and that is: why the anti-immigrant caption of your video is so misplaced. It’s because there is (to coin a phrase) a “YUGE” difference between 1995 and today. (I cannot stress this difference too bigly!) You see, Carrie, 20+ years ago, it was much, MUCH easier and less costly to immigrate legally to the United States. Why, you ask? Because the US immigration laws, and specifically the quotas on visas and qualification categories of work visas and permanent residency (I know — lots of big words — STAY WITH ME HERE!), have not kept up with the increase in migration to the US, the changes in the US (and global) economy, and the growing size of the US population.
Now whose fault is that? Well, you could blame George W. Bush (who failed to reform immigration law, despite what I believe were pretty good intentions, during both of his administrations), or you could blame Barack Obama (who also failed miserably — most recently, in 2013). But me personally? I’m a maverick who actually believes that the U.S. President is not always responsible for every failure of every attempted legislative reform. (I know! I’m crazy that way.) Sometimes, it’s the legislature’s fault. (Again — I know! Truth talk!) And you see, Carrie, in the case of immigration reform specifically, I blame Republican legislators who, over the past 20 years or so, particularly during the periods when they have controlled both houses of Congress (as they will continue to do next year), have blocked immigration reform time and time and time again! Because they can. Because they’re tough! Because they want America to be great! And also, I suspect, because they’re just a little bit xenophobic — kind of like, you Carrie! Not full-on, balls-to-the-wall, “Crazy Drunk Uncle from rural Alabama” racist; just a little bit, you know, “Why are there suddenly so many Mexicans and Asians in my neighbourhood/suburb/gated community this year?” xenophobic! #NBD
And let’s not even mention the drastic increase in the costs of legal fees for immigration lawyers over the past 10 or 20 years, which makes it nearly impossible for most immigrants to afford a lawyer, because — guess what? — most immigrants don’t have tens of thousands of dollars burning a hole in their pockets! (I know, how rude of them to think they could immigrate to the Land of Opportunity — whose Statue of Liberty literally says “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.” — without having tens of thousands of dollars before they arrive! Ugh! The worst.) And yet, without the assistance of a competent immigration lawyer these days, most immigrants have almost a zero chance of obtaining a visa because the application process has become so complicated — even if they are marrying an American citizen for legitimate reasons, aka love/romance/wanting to start a family, get a job, and pay taxes. (Shout-out to my buddy Dave who recently moved back to Canada because IMMIGRATION LAWYER EXPENSIVE.)
Look, we all agree that “skipping the line” is wrong; but when the line is inhumanely long and costly and complicated to stand in — or there is no line at all — people, if they are desperate enough in their home countries, will inevitably cut corners to improve their lives and the lives of their families. That’s why “illegal” immigration occurs.
Let me give you an analogy: let’s say, in 1995, a bottle of shampoo cost $4. OF COURSE you should pay the $4 to get your shampoo and not simply grab it and leave the store! That is shoplifting, and it’s wrong. However, does it make sense to annually spend BILLIONS of dollars of taxpayer money (yes, you read that correctly!) investigating and prosecuting the people who shoplift shampoo? Maybe, but I can think of at least 10 other ways to better spend those billions of taxpayer dollars, all of which will be way more productive. (For starters, how about just shifting all that money to capturing terrorists? Or providing better care for our returning vets? Or rebuilding our public schools? Or researching a cure for cancer? You know, hippy-dippy stuff like that.)
I’m not saying everyone who shoplifts should get off Scott free; I am saying we should spend a limited amount of money on prosecuting the absolute worst shoplifters, make an example of those individuals who have been caught (to scare others), and then JUST MOVE ON WITH OUR LIVES. Because at the end of the day, shoplifting (much like being an undocumented worker, who has committed no other crime besides entering and staying in the country without proper documents) is the least of our worries when it comes to unlawful activity within the US.
Are you still with me, Carrie? OK great!
So with all that in mind, here’s a little reality check. Remember my analogy about shampoo? (Just to refresh your memory, in the analogy, in 1995, shampoo cost $4 a bottle, and it was pretty plentiful. Think Pantene Pro V or TRESemmé — it’s a good shampoo, but you know, it’s not gonna break the bank.) Now here’s the problem: today, in 2016, for the purposes of this analogy, that same bottle of shampoo costs $10,000! And wait, there’s more! You see, Carrie, today, there’s almost no shampoo available anywhere! So if you weren’t lucky enough to be born in the US, you may have to wait years and years for your bottle of shampoo to arrive. And then, one day, you realize — there’s a box full of shampoo bottles just sitting there — just there, right over the border (if you live in Mexico or Canada)! Or maybe, it’s sitting in some American city far from where you live, but where you happen to have a relative or a friend who told you about the box of shampoo bottles, so if you can just physically get your ass over to that American city (say, by buying a plane ticket, and then claiming you’re a visitor when you arrive), then you just might be able to snag one of those bottles of shampoo and disappear.
Would you do it?
OK, maybe you wouldn’t, Carrie. Good for you. You’re an upstanding citizen. With integrity. And a strong moral compass. And SUPER greasy hair.
But what if, instead of shampoo, it was medicine that could save your child’s or grandchild’s life — THEN would you do it? Would you grab that $10,000 bottle of medicine and run like a bat out of H, E, double-hockey-sticks? Or would you just be sublimely patient, working for years to save up that $10,000 (which, if you’re from say, Central or South America, or South Asia, etc., will feel more like $80,000 to you), waiting and hoping that, someday, you’ll finally receive that bottle of medicine — but, in the meantime, risking the death of your child or grandchild while you wait?
You see, Carrie, that is the question you need to ask yourself before you get on the Trump anti-immigration train. Because that train is leaving the station, my dear, and I don’t much like where it’s heading. (If I’m not mistaken, it rhymes with “Gergen-Gelsen”.)
Of course, there is a simple solution to all of this: reform immigration laws to make it easier and less costly for law-abiding, non-terrorist foreign nationals to obtain a visa or permanent residency in the US. This would save taxpayers BILLIONS of dollars every year in deportation enforcement costs — money that could be used for keeping actual criminals and terrorists out of the country — and for doing so many other important things. (See my hippy-dippy suggestions above re: curing cancer, etc.). And you can even suggest a few of your own! Maybe you care about the environment? Or health care? Or student debt? Or just having more private tennis clubs and European vacations — whatever! We can figure it out, Carrie — we’ll have BILLIONS of extra dollars to spend!
Doesn’t that sound great? It’s what elitist academic types, who live in fancy ivory towers, call a “win-win” situation! With the stroke of a (Congressional) pen, we can help honest, law-abiding newcomers get to America more easily, so they can work hard and build a better life for themselves and their families; and those of us who are already here, paying our taxes and working hard, get to save BILLIONS of dollars! Plus, all those hard-working, law-abiding newcomers will be buying stuff, injecting billions of dollars of income into the US economy, creating untold new profits for American products and service providers, who will then need to expand production and hire more workers leading to a virtuous circle of economic growth and prosperity thanks to the “multiplier effect”. (I know — another complicated economics concept! MY HEAD HURTS!) And all it takes is a legislative amendment. “So what are we waiting for?” you ask. (I nod my head in agreement.) “Let’s get ‘er done!” you say. “After all, we have a new President, right? And he’s a ‘genius’ business man. Surely he can get Congress to increase immigration, right?”
Ha ha! Carrie! That’s a funny joke. You see, Trump and his Republican friends want JUST the opposite: they want to make it even more difficult for people to immigrate to the US legally. In fact, Trump ran an explicitly (and, dare I say it, obsessively) anti-immigration campaign for over a year — and I think he meant it! What he and his supporters have said they want, over and over — and over and over and over and over (and over) — is to make America “great” again; but let’s be frank — that’s really just code for “Make America WHITE Again”. That’s why Trump and his supporters like to use Mexican-Americans, Muslim Americans, and other (non-white) immigrants as scapegoats for the economic troubles that have been occurring over the past 10 or 15 years !
Now, ironically, #IMHO, those economic problems are mostly due to income inequality, which is the direct result of the irrational and irresponsible Bush tax cuts (and the Reagan tax cuts before them), which have enabled the wealthiest of Americans to get EVEN wealthier, while everyone else’s wages have stagnated. And here’s the kicker: all of that will only get worse under Trump — because HELLO! MORE TAX CUTS!
And let’s not even talk about the enormous profit motive that certain large Republican-leaning corporate donors have to increase public spending on deportation, which simply fuels the growth in detentions, because those large corporate donors operate (wait for it!)… BILLION-DOLLAR DETENTION CENTERS! (Shout out to the Netflix original documentary “13th”! #nightmaresfordays #1984 #wearebeyondf***ed)
Oh, and one last thing: it would appear that our new First Lady, the beautiful (and quite eloquent) Melania (“It’s just the locker talk, Anderson”) Trump — presents a problematic little immigration issue of her own. You see, when Melania (née Knauss) first arrived in the United States in the summer of 1996 — all legs and boobs and ambition, God bless her! — she claimed to be a visitor. Yup! Just a visitor. And hey, listen, visiting the US for a few months is totes fine — as long as you are just visiting, and never, ever (and this is the important part) working in the U.S., i.e. providing labor in exchange for money. (And I realize you have never actually had a job outside of the home, so you may not be familiar with the concept, but yeah — being employed is this disgusting/boring/gauche thing that millions and millions of people, including myself, have to do so they can afford housing and food. Crazy, right? But just go with me on this.)
Here’s the problem: we were led to believe, in September 2016, that Melania, who came from a modest, middle-class family in Slovenia and started modeling when she was 16 years old, arrived in the US in 1996 — as a 26-year-old visitor, remember — just to hang out? For months? You know, not working — just relaxing all day, errday? What was she doing then? Maybe getting mani-pedis, eating out, shopping, catching tons of Broadway shows, and just all around enjoying NYC? (Which, by the way, was SUPES fun in the mid 90’s — before Giuliani RUINED it! #amirite.)
Hmmm. I don’t know. Seems a bit… Hard to believe, right? It certainly does. In fact, my guess is — and the Associated Press has confirmed that—in the those first couple months after arriving in the US in 1996, Melania was actually (wait for it!)… MODELLING! Obvs! That’s what models do, Carrie! And let’s face it, Melania is (was?) an amazing model! In fact, according to the Associated Press, she earned over $20,000 in her first couple months in America — BEFORE she got her first work visa in the fall of 1996. (Which, as you know from my paragraph above, was a much simpler time, when immigrating to the U.S. was a lot easier and cheaper — luckily for Melania! It also happens to be just one year after that Bill Clinton speech in the video you sent me! #OMG #circleoflife #thelionkingisagreatBroadwayshow #itsstillplaying #goseeit)
Wait, where was I?… Oh yeah! Right. Melania.
So if Ms. Trump did in fact earn any money (let alone 20 GRAND!) in the summer and early fall of 1996 for her exquisite modelling services before she obtained her first work visa — which is exactly what the Associated Press has confirmed — then guess what? That would mean our new First Lady was (wait for it!)… AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT.
Can you imagine? That, my dearest Carrie, would be the ultimate hypocrisy, wouldn’t you agree?
And yet, nobody — or at least no Trump supporter that I know of — seems to be talking about this, and even if they are, they don’t seem to care that Melania may have been (was almost definitely) an illegal immigrant. Why? I’ll tell you why: because she is pretty and WHITE. That, my dear, dear Carrie, is disturbing and appalling. And yes, to quote Hillary Clinton, it’s DEPLORABLE.
But all of that is just my opinion. You may have a different opinion to mine. Maybe, even after reading all of this, you still think “illegal immigrants” — or worse yet, ALL immigrants — are the problem. But if that is indeed what you think, let me just say this: blaming immigrants and Muslims (and gays, and women, etc.) for everything going wrong in America today is not unlike what Hitler (yup, I just went there!) and his supporters did with regard to Jews (and gays, and communists, etc.) in 1930’s Germany. (Now, THAT’S a sobering thought, ain’t it?)
But hey, that’s the beauty of democracy! We are all entitled to our own opinions, and each of us gets to freely express those opinions, and then vote for our preferred candidate.
Thank you for reading all the way until the end, Carrie! Let’s schedule a fun lil’ tennis game — and maybe some tea and crumpets — soon, k?
Your dear friend, now and always,