In her July 11 op-ed “The Elites Feed Anti-Immigrant Bias,”
Joan C. Williams
states that elites express “empathy for immigrants, viewed as vulnerable people separated from their families or fleeing persecution.” Such empathy for immigrants, in part, contributes to elites’ feelings of social honor. Elites champion the “scapegoated” immigrants.
Besides the honor elites derive from defending immigrants, however, they also derive a lot of savings from immigrants who trim their trees, nanny their children, landscape their yards and build their houses, all at rock-bottom prices. Many of these same elites then disparage blue-color Americans who won’t take backbreaking jobs for $8 an hour. In my 20 years as a home builder and remodeler in Austin, Texas, I’ve seen that plenty of Americans will step up to do that kind of work when paid a decent, living wage. Working-class Americans aren’t lazy or xenophobic, but they are deeply underbid by immigrants.
None of this is a criticism of immigrants, who I have found to be generally hard working and who seek only to get ahead in this world. But in general the low wages elites pay immigrants are a huge driver of the wage stagnation and income inequality they so often claim to resent. No wonder working-class Americans are angry.
Intentionally or not, Ms. Williams misses an important distinction when she refers to “immigrants” in her discussion of blue-collar attitudes. That important distinction is between people who are here legally and people that are here illegally. Having grown up in a blue-collar community, I can attest that part of the ethical code in the blue-collar culture is a sense of pride in America and American laws. People who are here illegally flouted those laws, while legal immigrants did not. The “anti-immigrant” blue-collar sentiment tapped into by President Trump is almost exclusively about people who have come here illegally. Overlooking that critical distinction between “anti-immigrant” and “anti illegal immigrant” seems to be part of the elites attempt to diminish blue-collar culture and its legitimate complaint.
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Progressive elites agonizing over the conundrum of the white working class never gets old. After
progressives seem to have splintered into different camps with regard to their take on the white working class. Ms. Williams, a prominent feminist legal scholar, urges her fellow elites to understand, empathize with and educate this class of Americans. Ms. Williams is convinced they can be drawn into the Democratic tent as another identity group if liberal elites would take a few simple steps. These include showing respect for national pride, explaining how President Trump’s anti-immigrant and tariff policies hurt the working class economically, and ensuring that hardworking Americans qualify for and can secure good jobs.
Another progressive approach is to write off the white working class as a group of irredeemable bigots who are unwelcome in polite liberal society. In any case, they argue, the class will soon shrink as demographic trends work against whites. I fear this approach may carry the day among progressive elites in today’s political climate.
The Woodlands, Texas