Sturm: Immigration reform: What would America’s supermen think?
The summer blockbuster “Man of Steel” reveals why Superman is an American icon, like the courageous revolutionaries who declared American independence. They couldn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, but our founders’ steel-like resolve forged an against-all-odds victory over a Kryptonically powerful British military in pursuit of radical ideas — human liberty and self-government.
Breaking with history’s repressive norms, they declared the uniquely American idea that everyone is born free and equally entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to prevent future Lex Luthors from tyrannizing the people, they established a constitutional system whose powers are limited, separated and checked. The government can’t act without the people’s consent; nor can the people act except through elected representatives. Like Superman, American government would safeguard individual rights and liberties while defending truth, justice and our American way.
Anticipating America’s unprecedented freedoms, prosperity and global influence, James Madison said, “The happy union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.” Even during the Civil War’s darkest moments, Abraham Lincoln believed America would “once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.”
Though Americans share Lincoln’s reverence for our inspiring heritage, many have begun to Think Again about whether our “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” indeed might “perish from the earth.” When surveyed by Rasmussen, only 40 percent agreed that America is “the last best hope of mankind,” down from 51 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, two-thirds majorities believe that a too-powerful government is a bigger threat than a weaker one and consider our government to be a special-interest group that looks out primarily for itself.
As Americans have endured a decade of economic and wage stagnation and persistently high unemployment, the Washington, D.C., area booms with seven of America’s 10 wealthiest counties — like the capital of “Hunger Games,” whose powerful and entitled aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.
Our 226-year-old Constitution is exhausted kryptonite to a government that’s abusing its expansive powers. Today, the blob-like public sector consumes nearly half of America’s economic output as it browbeats citizens and jeopardizes the American way.
In a comic-strip-worthy plot line, diabolical lawmakers conspire behind smokescreens of compassion and idealistic rhetoric, trading political favors for donations. Forsaking the public interest, they pass legislation laden with special-interest benefits while granting ever-increasing discretion and power to the unaccountable fourth branch — the administrative state — whose reach into citizens’ lives is greater than the three legitimate branches combined.
This summer’s episode features the immigration-reform drama — compelling for lawmakers, though not Americans for whom economic problems overwhelmingly trump immigration concerns 53 to 6 percent, according to Gallup. It’s another gripping “you have to pass the secretly negotiated 1,190-page bill to find out what’s in it” spellbinder that flew through the world’s most deliberative body faster than a speeding bullet, but not without inserting senatorial kickbacks and booby-trap-like loopholes.
In the “massive legislation” era, comprehensive means incomprehensible — if not unread — while votes are based on talking points and favored provisions, not thorough analysis. This bill’s central talking point echoes the 1986 immigration-reform rationale — one-time legalization of 11 million to 13 million undocumented immigrants and improved enforcement and security “will make illegal immigration a thing of the past.” It won 68 senators’ votes, even after the Congressional Budget Office concluded that it would reduce illegal immigration by only 25 percent.
There’s public support for limited amnesty — assuming controlled immigration flows — and skills-based immigration, like Canada’s. Yet the CBO expects this bill will cause an influx of an additional 25 million predominantly low-skilled immigrants by 2023 (4.8 million illegal and 20.4 million legal), increasing income and employment pressures on America’s most vulnerable demographic — lower-educated workers (including legal immigrants) already devastated by globalization’s effects: falling wages, long-term unemployment and intergenerational poverty.
Why do senators ignore America’s greatest socioeconomic problem by voting to absorb unprecedented levels of less-educated workers, thereby jeopardizing the economic security and dignity of lower-income Americans? Money.
Not the 0.2 percent bump in per-capita GDP the CBO projects by 2033, but $84 million from the bill’s supporters (33 times more than opponents) who apparently believe that Americans don’t work cheaply enough, even after 15 years of declining wages.
Feeling betrayed by a political class that’s eroded their hope, it’s no surprise that many doubt America is still mankind’s best hope. But on the 237th anniversary of our independence, hopefulness springs in remembering America’s supermen and the providential ideas they bequeathed us, as Abraham Lincoln restated: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”
Think Again — without Superman, defending truth, justice and the American way is our charge.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.