When I was in San Francisco this past June, my Uber driver from the airport to the hotel was a man from a small country that was formed in the aftermath of the Soviet Union. It being my first time in the Bay Area, I was interested in learning more about the beautiful area. But what began as a conversation about the unique characteristics of San Francisco turned into a conversation about the unique characteristics of America.
“I wanted to come to here to experience true freedom,” he told me. For him, his mother, and two sisters, coming to America was an opportunity to start fresh and make a better life for themselves. He told me how much he believed in the American Dream, despite how hard it may be to achieve it.
“America is a country of immigrants,” we often say.
This conversation made me think of how an immigrant must have felt in the late 18th or early 19th century. Back then, making the move to America was even more dangerous and complicated. Anti-immigration sentiments were extremely high. But what motivated those people was the same thing that motivated my Uber driver: a feeling of endless possibility in the United States.
In today’s contemporary discussion (fight?) surrounding immigration, a prominent belief is that America is a melting pot where people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures come together to live in theoretical harmony. “America is a country of immigrants,” we often say.
People like Donald Trump, however, have challenged the thought that immigration makes our country better. Part of his scheme to “Make America Great Again” is the idea that certain people should be restricted from entering the country if their values do not align with ours. In Trump’s world, this means Muslims. Naturally.
It’s a belief that has sparked considerable backlash against Mr. Trump, arguing that his racist and xenophobic ideas are un-American. Even I, as someone who consistently finds myself at odds with the Republican Party’s stances on immigration, have largely bought into the idea that Mr. Trump’s proposed test for compatibility with American values based on one’s religion is wrong on a number of levels.
First, I challenge Mr. Trump’s premise that Muslims should be barred from entry into the United States because their faith in and of itself is not compatible with our values. While the values of a religion certainly shape one’s personal values, what Mr. Trump is saying is that the religion is the ultimate determining factor, and that is false. There are millions of Muslims that love America and our western way of life. One of which, I will talk about later.
Secondly, Mr. Trump’s idea that you can effectively screen people whose personal values do not align with American values is unrealistic because it assumes that people always tell the truth. If someone was attempting to enter this country with the intention of causing terror, it would be incredibly easy for them to fabricate a false love of freedom and democracy.
Suffice it to say, Trump’s extreme and genuinely bigoted stance on immigration has gently pushed me to the left, without even knowing it. Suddenly, I began adopting a left-oriented mindset of inclusivity with no foreseeable stopping point.
But it wasn’t until I was recently faced with a new way of approaching the question of immigrations that I began to find myself returning to a more conservative worldview. I still don’t, nor ever will, agree with Mr. Trump’s policy of “no Muslims allowed.” Instead, I have come to understand that American culture is in danger from those who don’t share our values, regardless of their religion or national origin.
“Only those… who have a clear sense of Why are able to think, communicate, and act in truly exceptional ways.”
On a recent flight to Las Vegas, I read Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Sinek is a globally recognized speaker who is credited with introducing the idea of the Golden Circle through his TED talk, which has been viewed over 28 million times. The idea, which he expands on in this book, is that, while most companies know “what” they do, or even “how” they do it differently from their competition, only the most successful and innovative companies know “why” they do what they do. Sinek argues that only those companies and individuals who have a clear sense of Why are able to think, communicate, and act in truly exceptional ways. Using Apple and Southwest Airlines as two prominent examples, Sinek explains how these two companies have become industry-leaders by motivating consumers and employees using their beliefs and values, not with their products.
“The message that America is open to anyone and everyone is flawed”
This way of looking at things is unique and important because America also has a clear Why. It’s written into our Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It’s understood by people like my Uber driver in San Francisco when he said, “life is hard here, but it’s better here.” It’s embedded in our culture, which Sinek says “strongly values ideas of entrepreneurship, independence and self-reliance.”
To synthesize, America has a unique culture, as does every other country. It is safe to say that if one looked hard enough, they could find a country with values that match their own, if not perfectly, then nearly so. Additionally, as Sinek also argues, just as great companies with exceptional company cultures only look to recruit people who would be compatible with that culture (people who understand their Why), so should America. In other words, the message that America is open to anyone and everyone is flawed, and that thinking opens us up to considerable long-term cultural damage.
“It is always said that America is fueled in large part by immigrants. But it is completely false that all immigrants make productive members of a society. It is not true that all immigrants have an entrepreneurial spirit – just the ones that are viscerally drawn to America.”
The question of whether or not to allow entrance to people who fail to share the same values as the country they wish to enter is not one that only America faces. In fact, our seemingly innocent neighbor to the north, Canada, has been going through this same national debate. After a conservative Member of Parliament, Kellie Leitch, suggested there should be a screening process to keep out those who disagreed with Canada’s western values, the political and media elite were outraged. However, when the Canadian people were surveyed, an overwhelming majority of them actually agreed with the idea that people who dislike Canada should probably not be allowed in.
That’s because, outside the political circle, this is not a controversial idea. It’s the same reason why we choose to lock the doors to our cars and homes: because we want to keep people with conflicting values (such as the idea that it’s okay to steal) out of our domain.
Our values are being challenged as not inclusive enough, even though western values are among the most inclusive.
When the majority of a population agrees that they wish to be surrounded by like-minded people, who’s to say they are racist? And is such a belief actually racist? In my view, it is clearly not.
Beyond this election, what I envision is a more honest and level-headed approach to how America brands itself to the world, and indeed, to potential immigrants. In my view as a right-leaning individual, I see key components of our culture being diminished and, in some cases, destroyed in the name of being more inclusive. Our values are being challenged as not inclusive enough, even though western values are among the most inclusive. But what exactly are we striving to be more inclusive of? And should we allow anti-western ideas to overpower ours? I certainly hope our collective answer is a resounding “no.”
One would be gravely mistaken to make the claim that our western values are compatible with, for the purpose of this example, Middle Eastern values. No matter how you look at it, Syrian values and American values are not the same. And that is not a matter of xenophobic opinion, it’s a matter of comparative fact. Therefore, it is completely rational and appropriate for us to say that people who believe in Syrian values probably should not immigrate to the United States. Again, not because their values are wrong, but because they are different and incompatible.
This isn’t about America or Syria, it’s about the individual. It’s about ensuring that individuals feel comfortable in the place they live while also ensuring that unique cultures remain unique. Further, this does not mean that someone from Syria should not come to the United States. In fact, quite the opposite is true! If a Syrian feels as though their personal values do not align with Syrian values, but instead align with western values, we should welcome them with open arms.
I’m reminded of Khizr Khan, the father of fallen soldier Capt. Humayun Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention this summer. The Khan’s are originally from Pakistan, a country that does not have the same values as the United States, yet Mr. Khan is a strong believer in American values and holds the U.S. Constitution in high regards. He is an incredible example of someone who makes America and its culture better. He is someone who belongs here because he understands our “why.” He even said in an interview, “it’s the values [of America] that brought us here, not our religion.”
In countries where people feel like they belong, where their values align with the values of those around them, is where you find the highest rates of happiness and cooperation. Sinek notes that “we do better in cultures in which we are good fits. We do better in places that reflect our own values and beliefs.”
To maintain our unique culture, we should strive to attract people who understand our vision and want to advance it.
Common rhetoric against this idea claims that our culture and values have been shaped over the years by immigrants who have brought with them their own set of beliefs and traditions. This is something I completely agree with, while also adding that America would not be the country it is today without the immigration that has occurred over its history. Certainly the fact that American culture has been molded by immigrants is true. But the challenges that we face today are different from the challenges faced 100 years ago. Today, we face individuals coming with values that directly conflict ours, whereas the immigrants of earlier centuries have come from complementary cultures. And while the source of the immigrant is not the problem, the challenge has been finding a way to ensure that those who wish to join American life are here for the right reasons.
Perhaps it is time for the countries of the world to think deeply about what makes them unique. And in doing so, perhaps it is also time to boldly say that our cultures are worth defending from those with incompatible values. I believe deeply in American values, which is why I hope they stay intact.