Jeb's Flat Wrong On 'Creeping Multiculturalism'-- Today's Immigrants Are Integrating As Fast As Ever

Maybe Jeb has been paying attention. He just dipped his Bush silver foot into the nativist cesspool that Donald Trump has been splashing about in since the day he entered the presidential race ranting about "Mexican rapists."
09/28/2015 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Maybe Jeb has been paying attention. He just dipped his Bush silver foot into the nativist cesspool that Donald Trump has been splashing about in since the day he entered the presidential race ranting about "Mexican rapists." Jeb--who is married to a Mexican-American immigrant--would never be that obvious. Being the supposedly 'smart' one in his family, however, he knows a promising trend when he sees it.

On September 22 in Iowa, we saw Jeb aiming to tap into the anxiety about immigration that many white Americans feel. It's an anxiety that relates directly to demographic changes that are occurring as we move closer to the day non-Hispanic whites will be less than half of the population:

We should not have a muticultural society ... America has done immigration so much better than the other countries because it's a set of values that people share, that defines our national identity--not race or ethnicity or where you come from. And when you create pockets of isolation--and in some cases, the assimilation process has been retarded because they slowed down--it's wrong ... So I think across the board, education, English--being able to speak English--a common language is important. We need to get back to that. We're creeping toward multiculturalism and that's the wrong approach.

First of all, you might be saying: that's not what multiculturalism means. Most of us define multiculturalism more along the lines of teaching respect for as well as learning about other cultures (i.e., a multicultural education) or, even more simply, as a synonym for cultural diversity. Most of us also recognize that a society can be both integrated and multicultural, given that individuals can be bi-cultural. Actual human beings can be integrated into and conversant with the cultural 'mainstream' and yet also connected to a second (or third, or more) culture, typically handed down by ancestors and family members. This kind of multicultural diversity within a broader unity--something defined by integration, a sense of community and national identity, as well as a shared loyalty to one another and the country we share--is what we mean when we talk about pluralism in America.

Jeb, on the other hand, appears--without saying so--to be defining multiculturalism in the way more often seen in Britain and Europe, whereby multiculturalism is the opposite of integration. As British Prime Minister David Cameron put it in 2011, the "doctrine of multiculturalism" encourages "different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream." This is what Jeb means by multiculturalism.

In his attempt to gin up the fear that multiculturalism is leading to separatism, to a refusal to integrate, Jeb is playing on real fears felt disproportionately by older, white Americans who fear cultural change. If that doesn't ring a bell, I've just described a huge chunk of the people who vote in Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. When these anxious people hear 'press 1 for English,' or watch as the anchorperson on their local news pronounces place names with a proper Spanish accent, they worry that someday they'll be living in a society where they won't be able to function because they don't speak Spanish. It matters little that such fears are groundless. Fear leads to anger, and anger motivates people to vote. Jeb Bush certainly knows this, having lived through the Summer of Trump.

Apparently, Jeb has been listening not only to Trump, but also to Bobby Jindal. Although his campaign for the presidency hasn't exactly caught fire, Jindal has sought to play in this same nativist tinderbox, repeating over and over his line: "Immigration without assimilation is invasion." As Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, said of Jindal's remarks, "It goes back to ex­ploit­ing a fear of the new demo­graph­ics and the new chan­ging Amer­ica." The exact same characterization applies to what Jeb Bush said in Iowa.

In fact, these sentiments merely represent a toned-down kindler, gentler version of what Pat Buchanan spewed a few years back when he wrote:

The alienation and radicalization of white America began long before Obama arrived ... They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates. They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on--then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

Trump simply took Buchanan's paragraph-length hate and boiled it down to "Mexican rapists." Now Jeb is trying to draw a little of the heat from the flames the Donald has been stoking, albeit without standing close enough to get burned. The thing is, Jeb isn't just practicing pure demagoguery: What he said is also the opposite of reality.

The very day before Jeb's remarks, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a comprehensive report which found that the largely non-white immigrants of today are integrating with exactly the same breadth and at the same speed as did the predominantly Eastern and Southern European immigrants of a century ago. The latter are the same people whom many native-born Americans then regarded as culturally or even racially indigestible by the Anglo-dominated mainstream.

According to the recent report, the integration of today's immigrants is growing stronger "across all measurable outcomes." The study was led by Mary C. Waters, a Harvard sociologist, who noted: "The force of integration is strong ... The desire on the part of immigrants to learn English is very high." Fear that our society is moving to abandon English in favor of, say, Spanish or any other language spoken by immigrants is simply "not something people should be worried about." On immigrants learning to "speak American" specifically (how could I resist, really?), the report stated that it "is happening as rapidly or faster now than it did for earlier waves of mainly European immigrants in the 20th century."

As for Trump's suggestion that Mexican immigrants are criminals, well, the report refuted that as well. "Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence" than otherwise comparable areas that lack immigrants. On the downside, once they've been here a while, the crime rates among immigrants actually catch up to the levels of native-born Americans.

The report noted, ironically, that "if this trend is confirmed, it may be an unwelcome aspect of integration."

Take that, Jeb.

Seriously though: Bush, Jindal, and Trump are all engaged in a very dangerous game, one that gins up anxiety, feeds hate, and--as we saw from a couple of Trump's own supporters in Boston last month--leads directly to violence against immigrants and Latinos. Trump clearly doesn't care, and voters don't seem to care much about Jindal.

As for Jeb Bush: If he cares about his country (not to mention his presidential prospects), he must condemn this kind of bigotry across the board, and that means doing more than asking for an apology on behalf of his wife. When it's about immigrants and Latinos not named Bush, Jeb's not interested. He'd rather be Trump Lite.

Like his father, he of the infamous Willie Horton TV commercial, racial demagoguery seems to be something else that shows "yes, [Jeb is] a Bush."