Poll Exposes Elite-Public Clash On Immigration
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In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist atrocities by 19 legal immigrants to this country, childishly naive observers such as I actually believed that at last the American ruling class would get the message—that it's not a terribly good idea to let millions of immigrants traipse into your country without at least knowing who they are, why they're here, where they're going to be, and what they plan to do.

Alas, a large bucket of cold reality has been splashed into my face, and I now know better.

This particular bucket of reality consists of a poll conducted last summer by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations about several different subjects, including immigration and the extent to which it is seen as a threat to the country. Such polls are common, and they almost always show that large majorities of Americans favor reducing immigration. So does this one.

But what's unusual about this poll is that it divides up the responses according to whether the answers were given by "the public"[PDF] (ordinary people like you and me) or the "leaders"[PDF]—that is, the people to whom I refer as the "ruling class," which consists of the following categories: members of Congress and their top staffers, top-level executives of federal government agencies, corporate CEO's, union presidents,religious leaders, college presidents and faculty, presidents of think tanks and foundations, and editors, columnists, and television commentators.

That's a reasonably fair slice of the national elite, even if it doesn't quite include Madonna and Ice-T.

What's revealing in the poll is that there is a significant—in fact, oceanic—division between what the leaders of the country think and what the public thinks about how much of a threat immigration represents.

Asked how big a threat are large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States over the next 10 years, the public responded that they represent a "critical" threat by some 60 percent. A mere 14 percent of the leaders, on the other hand, that mass immigration is a critical threat.

More specifically, the poll asked leaders and the public how much of a threat such immigration was—a "critical," an "important but not critical," or "not important" threat. Of the leaders, 45 percent said it was "important but not critical," while only 31 percent of the public thought that. Only 8 percent of the public thought mass immigration was not important at all, as opposed to 41 percent of the leaders who thought so.

Adding the categories, then, the poll finds that 91 percent of the American public believe mass immigration is a critical or important threat to the country in the next decade.

Probably nothing in public life in recent years shows so clearly the vast differences between how elites and the public at large view mass immigration. It goes far to explain why nothing is ever done to control immigration: The people with power and influence don't regard immigration as a threat.

And indeed, why should they? The main problems that mass immigration brings are not those of terrorism but rather crime, job loss, educational chaos, cultural erosion and language barriers. Those are problems that middle class or working class people have to face every day, not those of the ruling class.

Elites, simply because they can afford to isolate themselves from the impact of these kinds of threats, don't feel them and don't see them even when they look at them. They can move to high-security, crime-free neighborhoods and dump their kids in well-protected private schools.

To them, the main impact of mass immigration is that it creates lots of cute little ethnic restaurants and cute little ethnic nannies that allow the up-scale young parents of the ruling class to dine regularly onNepalese and Ethiopian cuisine.

As for the ethics of mass immigration, the ruling class has long since convinced itself that "we're a nation of immigrants," "the first universal nation," a "proposition country" or a "credal society" that has a duty to let in anyone who wants to come here, and that anyone who opposes mass immigration is a bigot, a nativist, axenophobe.

The elite has managed to coin an entire vocabulary to demonize and discredit anyone who disagrees with its preferences and interests on immigration.

The poll shows that there is a vast gulf between the elite and the public at large on immigration, but more than anything it also shows that if the American majority that favors reducing mass immigration because they see it as a "critical threat" to themselves and their nation really wants to meet that threat, then they must first remove from power the entire class of "leaders" who are unable to perceive the dangers of immigration even when its dangerous consequences literally blow them out of their own skyscrapers.


October 24, 2002

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