Top 5 Great Power Realist Reasons Trump is Wrong on Immigration

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Many of the reactions to Stephen Miller’s announcement of Trump’s proposed immigration policies have pulled at the heart strings. People on social media have been remembering their own grandparents, who came to the US without knowing English and without higher degrees but made something of themselves. It turns out that Donald Trump’s own mother grew up speaking Gaelic in a Scottish village and knew little English before she came to the US. I can’t imagine that Trump’s German grandfather knew English before arriving, either, and it is not as if he had a degree or anything. Miller’s grandparents came in the same way in 1902.

But arguments from the heart will not be persuasive to the Trump voters or most of the Republican Party.

Here I’d like to set aside those considerations, of fair play and appeals to emotion and make a different set of arguments about the plan presented. What would it mean for American power in the world?

1. Sen. Tom Cotton, who spent years as a notorious illegal alien in Iraq, said that the US admits about 1 million legal immigrants a year, phrasing it as “an Arkansas every three years.” This argument is, like most of Cotton’s rhetoric, full of fallacies. First of all, the magnitude of the immigration is not important in and of itself. Arkansas is population-wise a small state mainly because it does not have a very good economy. It is 49th in the country for median household income. Its work force is only 3% agricultural, but whatever else they are doing does not appear to pay very well and maybe doesn’t generate a big demand for workers. Arkansas largely lacks what economists call absorptive capacity, States that do have a good economy might be able to absorb that many immigrants, indeed need that many immigrants to continue to grow. Again remember that they are less expensive than babies. Someone else has already paid for their basic education. They arrive ready to work and pay taxes and social security, and to serve in the military. Whether it is good or bad to bring in a million immigrants a year or a population increase from that source of 0.31% annually (not counting their natural increase once here) can’t be decided by mentioning the absolute number.

2. The fertility rate in the United States is collapsing and we may be on the verge of a demographic crisis.. Women in their teens and early twenties, i.e.Generation Z or Centennials, stopped having children at the rate of the predecessors. If they have postponed childbirth, then the alarm may be a blip. But if this development is a sea change, and Trump stops immigration, then the US will gradually shrink, as Japan is expected to. In 2007 we had 4.4 million live births. Last year it was 3.98 mn. And remember you have to subtract the death rate. These are complicated calculations since immigrants tend to come as adults. I don’t think Cotton has carried them out.

So actually we may need those 1 million immigrants every year to avoid shrinking and losing our status as a Great Power. Or as we will see, we might need them to compete with populous emerging Great Powers.

3. Shrinking would be bad, very bad, from the point of view of geopolitics. I know it could have benefits environmentally, but Cotton does not care about that anyway. Let us argue to someone who cares about American power. How big a population a country has tells you how big an army it can raise. It tells you how many workers it can put to work if it has the factories or laboratories or fields to employ them.

The rising powers in the world are China and India, both with over a billion in population. As they catch up technologically to the US and that advantage falls by the wayside, the sheer size of army they can deploy becomes crucial. The US at a dinky 320 million is only not at a disadvantage now because of that technological advantage.

4. Consider the fate of Japan, which will shrink from 130 million to 90 million over the next few decades. Who will pay into social security? How seriously can the world take a country dominated by little old retired people? Who will serve in the 100,000 strong Japanese Self-Defense Force? How innovative will Japanese science and engineering be under these circumstances? Who will work in factories and make Toyotas? You’ll say they can site the factories in Vietnam, but why shouldn’t Vietnam over time just make its own car? And who will buy Japanese-made goods at home? How to have an economy with only a geriatric consumer base? I once jokingly advised a friend to invest in whatever corporation makes the most popular adult diapers. He was grossed out.

One of the reasons Russia is acting so weird is that it imploded as a Great Power. Half the population of the Soviet Union hived off into new republics. Of the 150 mn. Russia was left with they lost 10 million to over-drinking, suicide, depression and a collapse of the birth rate. Losing the Cold War was hard on them. White Supremacy ironically could push the US into a disaster similar to that of Russia’s after 1991.

5. As for admitting only people who speak English and have higher degrees, this idea is based on yet another set of fallacies. Working class immigrants in the United States generally do not compete with native-born workers for jobs. They occupy different niches. In part this is because the immigrants don’t have good English.

So guess what. If you go down to admitting 500,000 educated English-speakers a year, you may a) produce the Japan effect of decline, 2) you will cut out the ability to harvest strawberries, and 3) you will actually start bringing in many more immigrants who can compete for jobs against native-born Americans.

6. CNN’s Jim Acosta accused Stephen Miller of a Whites only immigration policy, saying he was angling only for Australians and British. The charge is actually probably true, but like most racist immigration policies, it would get subverted.

The fact is that not very many people immigrate to the United State from developed countries like Britain or Australia. So you know what would happen if this law were passed in the form reported by Miller?

Desi paradise. The largest pool of English-speakers with BAs and higher degrees recognized by the United States lies in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. From each according to current law up to 25,000 can come each year, not counting later loved ones who join them. The next largest pool is former British Africa– Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, etc. etc.

I hear Steve Bannon doesn’t like Indian-Americans and once asked of Silicon Valley, ‘Why are these people here?’ Bannon and Miller have managed to craft an immigration proposal that would replace Central Americans and Mexicans with highly skilled Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Sri Lankans, and huge numbers of people from African countries. Remember, unless they change it, up to 25,000 can legally come from each of these countries annually. They’d get that many qualified applicants from 20 Commonwealth countries annually without any difficulty. India’s middle class just doubled to 250 million or so and is set to double again by 2025. You think they’d even miss 250,000 if they came over the next 10 years?

Here are the English-speaking Commonwealth countries whose degree holders Miller and Bannon and Sessions want to import wholesale. More bad news for Bannon and Miller: A lot of these countries are Muslim-majority or Buddhist or Hindu, or have large Muslim minorities (who might have a special reason to want to leave).

So I really don’t think this outcome is the one the Trumpies were going for. But some other time I’ll tell you how our current system was crafted by Southern white supremacists in Congress and how reality subverted their white bread designs.

Commonwealth Countries:


Sierra Leone
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago

monarchies with heads of state other than the Reigning Monarch of England:


Commonwealth Realms
Antigua and Barbuda
The Bahamas
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Solomon Islands
The United Kingdom

Related video:

Exchange between Stephen Miller and Jim Acosta on Statue of Liberty & Immigration (C-SPAN)

9 Responses

  1. Make America White Again while the Trump family offshores all of it’s manufacturing. A US labor shortage won’t affect them.

  2. This is the playing out of the dilemma inherent in the Patrick Buchanan-espoused immigration / culture war policies from the Nixon era. I believe they would prefer America to be a reduced White, Christian, English-speaking enclave than a cosmopolitan superpower.

    It’s all of a piece. Note well the [so-called] Justice Department’s reversal on affirmative action in college admissions. This stuff has been building pressure and looking for policy outlets since Trump’s father denied housing to Negro (the polite word back then) tenants.

    As for Stephen Miller, he is little more than a Kapo serving Bannon’s agenda. SCHANDE.

  3. Note that your prediction of “Desi Paradise” would also be the probable result of the move against affirmative action.

  4. Perhaps those who elected Trump don’t care that much about being a great power. After all it doesn’t benefit them to spend uncountable sums turning the ME to rubble while their own lives are daily more fraught. All but indigenous Americans are descended from immigrants but that doesn’t mean the doors must stay open forever. How many could pinpoint Russia, China, Libya, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen etc. on a globe, or have ever been harmed by any of their people? How has being a great power helped the average American over the last generation. Perhaps Trump was not elected for what he is but for what he isn’t.

    • Keep spinning. Eventually you’ll be right about something.

      Perhaps as an American (and a Texan) I know those who elected Trump a lot better than you. It’s the EXACT same people who have turned our state governments, which have no foreign policy for you to deplore, into pits of far-right insanity and bankrupting tax cut mania, cells for theocracy, deniers of all forms of pollution, advocates for private prisons. How about you listen to some of us tell you how many stone-cold racists there are here? How many who wish the Confederacy had won? How many wanted homosexuals to be herded into concentration camps during the AIDS crisis (including Pat Buchanan, who was the genesis for so much of what we call Trumpism?

      I fucking guarantee you that 90% of the people who voted for Trump are gun-obsessed, soldier-worshiping neo-Victorians who want America to be an aggressive military power. They just want to attack people they can beat. They don’t even care what the economic variables are; just win and they’ll volunteer to whip the slaves.

      Why the Hell are you conflating our imperialism with “the doors” staying open? You seem to imply that the immigrants are the source of our imperialism. Again, you will never catch the sort who obsesses about being a “real” American at a peace rally.

      You Britons must have a very strange idea of what our rednecks are like. Believe me, Harper Lee had them nailed pretty well with her withering portrayal of Jeb Ewell in To Kill A Mockingbird. What’s changed since then is suburbs and Fox News.

  5. The global competition for brains is fierce and the USA is rapidly losing appeal.

    Every year EE Times (a global technology publication) does a global engineering salary survey that is carefully done to make the comparisons as realistic as possible.

    Over time an interesting thing happens. Because engineers are mostly free to move around the globe, a MAJOR finding is engineers are paid approximately equally around the globe. so engineers have a similar lifestyle in China as they do in the USA (actually these days better) That is, engineers don’t move for money, but the move for:

    – intellectual stimulation. that is, the opportunity to work on challenging projects. With the USA cuts in primary research and the INCREASE in Asian and European research, engineers are accepting jobs out side the USA. Remember, Frances pledged to take all the USA climate engineers and scientists trump was throwing away. This was treated as a joke in the USA, but France was dead serious about it.

    – Engineers want to live where they and their families are treated well socially. many non-usa engineers not perceive the USA as a bad place to live.

    So the bottom line is the white, English speaking people that will come to the USA may not be that large and many not be enough to make the economy better.

    Like all trump ideas, this will also FAIL badly.

  6. Over the years northwest Arkansas’s been a settlement site for a surprising number of immigrants: Cubans and Vietnamese earlier on and now Mong, Marshalese, Central Americans, a smattering of Eastern Europeans and a Tibetan or two. I see no reason for this not to continue as a positive development. For every three people who voted for Tom Cotton, two voted for someone else. I’ve been welcomed here for over 40 years and leave yesterday’s tomfoolery to others.

  7. India now has 125 million English-speakers.
    I somehow don’t think these are the English-speakers those who hide behind language to justify draconian policies are trying to favor.

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