In his 1831 book celebrating America, Alexis de Tocqueville warned, "In democratic societies, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovations, ... (which) are always costly."
After a spate of traumatic tragedies that impact the gun and immigration debates, feverish politicians are rushing to innovate complex legislation without thoroughly and publicly examining the underlying problems and before "we the people" consent to their solutions. Lawmakers should Think Again, considering that only 4 percent of Americans currently "mention guns or immigration as the most important problems facing the nation," according to Gallup. Americans' top concerns are the economy, jobs and dissatisfaction with the way government works.
If irony is the hygiene of the mind, much about the Boston Marathon massacre is clarifying, though boggling. Intent on massacring Bostonians on Patriots Day, the immigrant brothers Tsarnaev received state welfare benefits funded by the taxpayers they killed and maimed. Then they murdered a police officer en route to hijacking a car with a "Coexist" bumper sticker. Perhaps inspired by "Coexist" sentimentality, the fugitive sociopaths allowed the car's owner to live "because he wasn't American," assuring their capture and non-coexistence in the American community they shunned.
Sadly, despite new laws since 9/11 and $50 billion spent annually on robust security precautions, there is little a free and open society can do to prevent Boston-style bombings or public mass shootings by lawbreakers. While there are crime-prevention measures that could deter public attacks, civil libertarians and constitutionalists claim that they encroach on Americans' constitutionally protected natural rights to self-defense, due process and free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes measures that infringe on the First Amendment rights of makers of violent video games and background checks that could lead to the institutionalization of the mentally impaired and the infringement of their privacy rights; psychiatrists resist reporting patients fearing it would deter treatment-seekers; and the National Rifle Association opposes measures that inhibit the rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens - often victims of gun or domestic violence - to protect their person, family and property. They believe the best response to a criminal trying to kill civilians is a civilian equipped to deter him.
These are complex and challenging issues entailing important security-versus-liberty trade-offs. Americans need and deserve thoughtful and informed deliberations to derive consensus-driven solutions, not hyperpartisan demagoguery that casts opponents as uncaring and evil. If politicians truly want to prevent the next Newtown, why do they push legislation that, by their own admission, fails this test - unless they want to sow discord for political gain? If public safety were their paramount concern, why couldn't they legislate enhanced school-security measures, like those enacted in airplanes after 9/11?
The irony is that while politicians insist on expanded law enforcement capabilities to protect society from gun-wielding lawbreakers, they resist enforcing immigration laws, as if we're not a sovereign nation of laws and legal immigrants - many with relatives who suffered tragic fates after being denied entry.
Imagine treating gun-law violators, insider-traders or thieves with the same kid gloves with which we treat those who violate our immigration laws. Would we care that they live in the shadows, fearful that their lawlessness might be exposed? Would we permit city sanctuaries that protect lawbreakers from law enforcement, or would we insist that private employers be law enforcers?
The truth is that our immigration system is broken. Those we most want - the millions of law-abiders and entrepreneurial American dreamers who, like our forefathers, want to come to America to adopt our way of life - must wait years to earn an American visa. Meanwhile, according to official U.S. immigration data since 1970, significantly larger percentages of immigrants possess lower skill levels, live in poverty and rely on public assistance, as compared with non-immigrant Americans. Consequently, low-skilled Americans suffer $402 billion in wage losses annually, according to Harvard economist George Borjas, while taxpayers bear the cost of welfare benefits.
These statistics belie the fact that, as the most multiethnic nation on earth, America possesses unique cultural and economic strengths that underlie our unity and prosperity. Unfortunately, for the past 50 years, we've migrated away from the secret sauce that accounts for our success - "e pluribus unum" (out of many, one) - toward a "separate but equal" hyphenated Americanism. As the Tsarnaev brothers demonstrate, it's not in America's interest to import foreigners who remain foreign and lost outsiders.
Tocqueville said, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults." If we're to avoid the Balkanization that triggers disaffection and ethic strife elsewhere and preserve the vitality that's historically attracted new Americans, we must resume acculturating immigrants to American values so they can integrate into American society.
Think Again: For this definition of "coexist" to prevail in America, our politicians must coexist better.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.