A Call for "Responsible Nationalism" and Attention to Those Who are Falling Through the Cracks

By Jerry Kammer on July 13, 2016

The populist revolts in the United States and Great Britain against unchecked immigration and free trade are forcing a rethinking of the ideology of post-national cosmopolitans. David Brooks, while dismayed at Donald Trump’s candidacy, acknowledges that Trump has brought attention to the fact that “people across America have been falling through the cracks.”

The latest example of opening eyes comes in an essay by Lawrence Summers, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1999-2001 and a former economic adviser to President Obama. “What is needed is a responsible nationalism — an approach where it is understood that countries are expected to pursue their citizens’ economic welfare as a primary objective but where their ability to damage the interests of citizens of other countries is circumscribed,” Summers writes in the essay, which was published by both the Washington Post and the Financial Times.

That advice needs to be heard by those enthralled by the open-borders ideology that is now under siege. Their fantasy has caused enormous dislocation for ordinary people, who have grown increasingly disillusioned by post-national elites who have grown steadily more wealthy, more convinced of their superiority, and more indifferent to the struggles of those below.

Personally, I would like Summer’s advice to get immediate attention among the State Department bureaucrats who oversee the Summer Work Travel program that provides American employers with financial incentives to hire foreign college students rather than young Americans. We have published an expose on State’s negligence in containing the program’s excesses.

State, which issues J-1 visas to participants in the SWT program, describes it as an exercise in “visa diplomacy” to improve relations with other countries. For American employers, SWT is a clear-cut matter of cheap labor.

Bernie Sanders, leader of the populist revolt that challenged former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, blasted the program during the 2013 debate on the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill. Said Sanders:

“Each and every year companies from all over this country are hiring more than 100,000 foreign college students in low-wage jobs through the J-1 summer work travel program. Unlike other guest worker programs, the J-1 program does not even require businesses to recruit or advertise for American workers. What they can do is pay minimum wage. They don't have to advertise for American workers. And guess what. For the foreign worker, they do not have to pay Social Security tax, they don't have to pay Medicare tax, and they don't have to pay unemployment tax. So, essentially, we are creating a situation where it is absolutely advantageous for an employer to hire a foreign worker rather than an American worker.”

Sanders didn’t succeed in his effort to eliminate the program. But he did win Senate adoption of an amendment for a major youth jobs program. That was the price he exacted for voting on behalf of the Gang of Eight bill despite his dislike for its massive temporary worker programs. Sanders charged that the bill would worsen the unemployment crisis “by bringing into this country, through the J-1 program and the H-2B program, hundreds of thousands of low-skilled, entry-level workers who are taking the jobs young Americans need.”

State Department careerists tend to live in the bubble-world of post-national cosmopolitanism. It’s time they practiced a little responsible nationalism on behalf of Americans. More generally, those who make immigration policy need to understand what contrarian liberal T.A. Frank wrote three years ago in a New Republic article titled, “Why Liberals Should Oppose the Immigration Bill.” Frank wrote:

“If I have a plea to my fellow liberals… it’s that they focus more of their empathy on fellow Americans being left behind. Because we increasingly live in bubbles, many of us are at best only abstractly aware of how cruelly circumstances of unskilled Americans have deteriorated over the past few decades. Even as these Americans have lost their well-paid manufacturing jobs, Washington has looked the other way while millions of low-skilled unauthorized immigrants have competed with them for low-skilled service jobs. The insouciance of privileged Americans toward the effects of this on life among less-privileged Americans is, in my view, a betrayal of citizenship.”