I learned during what many today consider the benighted 1950s about a concept termed the Melting Pot. This was taught in what we called social studies back then, which included a healthy dose of American and Indiana history.
The principle of the Melting Pot is that we are a nation of immigrants. Everyone came here from somewhere else including the Indians who are now termed by the politically correct as Native Americans, as if they sprung up out of the ground in situ. A reading of the migrational history of the Miami tribe, sometime inhabitants and masters of the sub-continental divide which is now called Fort Wayne, puts lie to that nonsense. And we have little knowledge of the inhabitants who preceded the Algonquian-speaking tribes that the European-American settlers found in place in the forests of the upper Midwest.
But back to the Melting Pot. The reality of our nation is that each immigrant group adds something to our culture and takes much out. The nature of American culture changes slowly over time as most immigrants adopt the culture in place to accommodate acceptance and acclimation into their new homeland. The result is a defined, observable culture unique to our nation.
The economics of immigration is complicated enough to give both sides something to use anecdotally. Many immigrants, coming to America for economic reasons, take jobs among the lowest paid. They still see themselves better off than back where they came from and, better yet, see their children and grandchildren moving up the socio-economic ladder in their new homeland. That’s the American Dream cousin to the Melting Pot.
Others are recruited here for their expertise. We have a real need for certain skill sets that we don’t adequately develop in this country. Think engineering, medicine and computer science. How would the covid pandemic have been contained without all those first-generation doctors and scientists?
To use another politically incorrect phrase, this is American exceptionalism.
Everybody agrees the current immigration system is broken but that is about the extent of agreement. Some want the borders secured first and all illegals deported. Others focus on the millions already here who either entered illegally or on a temporary basis but have run out time while waiting in years-long queues for permanent residency. These, they demand, should be given full citizenship rights in a sweeping amnesty. Neither solution is workable or sustainable, offering only short term political gain.
Is there any hope for compromise? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. We move from one crisis to the next escalated one with plenty of photo ops for politicians but no serious attempt at finding a reasonable and workable solution. How much worse does the crisis have to get?
Perhaps the greatest threat to the Melting Pot concept is this whole business of diversity. Having worked in higher education, I was inundated with exhortations about needing diversity although narrowly defined. I suggested once that we are all more alike than different and perhaps we should “celebrate” our unity. You can imagine how that went down with many of my higher-ed colleagues. I was sent to the ideological woodshed.
Diversity has diabolically morphed into something called identity politics, an outright rejection of the Melting Pot in favor of an “us against them” mentality. How can this possibly unite Americans when its purpose is to divide, to create enemies, to motivate by envy?
The Melting Pot seeks to unite while the social justice warriors seek to divide. The Melting Pot seeks to preserve our shared American ethos and incrementally improving it with each new immigrant wave, while the cancel culture crowd wants no shared ethos but demands multiple mini-nations at ideological war with each other. The Melting Pot seeks to build on the good found in us as a people, while the unawake “woke” mob wants only to destroy that which has been built over the past several hundred years.
Maybe we ought to ask established legal immigrants why they came to America and ignore the stereotypes created for cable news. After all, many came to America to escape the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden, war-ravaged lands they left, either under duress or to seek opportunity. Is it because America is the best nation on earth, holding out to others opportunities available to them nowhere else? Is it because ours is a nation founded on freedom and democracy where citizens can live safely under the rule of law? Hint: These are rhetorical questions.
Combine the Melting Pot reality with the American Dream philosophy and it is easy to see why so many are clamoring at our borders. We owe it to ourselves and to these “masses yearning to breathe free” to get this fixed. Now.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected]