Ever wonder why the United States is the richest and the most powerful nation on Earth?
It doesn’t have the largest population if that’s the factor. Or abundant natural resources. It doesn’t colonize other countries. Nor does it have a perfectly functioning system of governance. Its crime rate is not as low as other advanced nations. Not even close. Its welfare system is embarrassing for a rich nation, and the economic inequality is only widening.
Despite all these shortcomings, the U.S. is the world’s largest economic powerhouse. Its military is the strongest in the world, outspending its 10 close competitors — all of them combined. World’s most successful corporations are in the U.S. World’s best universities, and scientists are in the U.S. World’s best movies are made in the U.S. World’s best innovators are in the U.S. What is its secret sauce?
The secret sauce of the American success was to keep its doors wide open for centuries for the world’s best and the brightest. Not only did the U.S. admit skilled people, it welcomed the brightest who also yearned to be free. Most immigrants who made America great had come from countries that President Donald Trump would call a “shithole.” Would Albert Einstein leave Germany if Hitler wasn’t the leader? Would George Soros think of immigrating to America? Or Hans Morgenthau? Or Henry Kissinger?
America is not an attractive country for highly-skilled people from Norway. Why would a well-paid doctor in Germany, who has endless benefits, leave his or her country and come to America? America is an attractive country for people who want but can’t unleash their potential. America is a land that provides opportunities to those who want to succeed but can’t in their countries. Eliminate that, and no skilled person would ever want to come to America.
Only few people would think, until Trump hijacked the stage, that America is better off without immigrants. Now millions of people are convinced that immigrants are stealing American jobs. This current wave of anti-immigration sentiment has its origins in the devastating financial meltdown a decade ago. Back then, millions of people lost their jobs. And many others still fear of losing it. Economic insecurity gripped America’s blue collar workers.
Then came Trump, exploiting anger and insecurity of workers by blaming the immigrants for threatening their jobs. Trump fashioned himself as a savior, a leader who can stem the tide of invasive immigrants, who bring crimes and steal jobs. His “America First” meant no trade deals abroad and no foreign workers at home. For Trump, the secret sauce that made America great was toxic enough to make it sick.
Few days after he became the president, he said the U.S. is the dumping ground for the world. His promise to make America white found a receptive audience among many disadvantaged segments of the society. It wasn’t racism, they would argue. It’s jobs. Fewer immigrants meant more jobs for Americans.
As soon as he became the president, he immediately imposed travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, restricted H1B guest worker visas for skilled workers and halved refugee admissions, started rounding up undocumented immigrants, lifted protection for 800,000 dreamers, and ended temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Central America. He vowed to end chain migration and diversity visa lottery. President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has already taken a toll on America’s diversity. It effectively ensured that America is a dangerous place for immigrants, legal or otherwise.
Trump’s proposal of merit-based immigration rings like music to ears. But it also proves that he is ignorant of why people choose America to immigrate. Those who look for better, more comfortable lives usually prefer Europe or Canada for their extensive welfare benefits. Those who choose America do so for opportunities it offers. People come to America to innovate, to build, and to contribute. That is and has always been America’s secret sauce.
Good news is, President Trump is bound by a term limit. His war against America’s secret sauce will come to an end. But his rhetoric has already left an enduring scar on America. He started, on false terms and fabrications, a damaging debate about the value immigrants add to this nation. He made it easier to mask racially-tinged accusations to be voiced under the pretext of creating jobs.
America’s long-term success depends on this secret sauce. The degree to which it will hurt U.S. future depends on how much we are going to allow this administration to make America white again.