Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“…if families there [Muslim enclaves] do not willing merge into the country’s maintstream, they should be compelled.”
— Ellen Barry and Martin Selsoe Sorensen, “For Help From Danish State, a Demand: Give Us Your Children,” The New York Times, July 2, 2018
The Danes have decided to ask for and then compel assimilation of what it calls its ghetto immigrant population, about a half-million Muslims, into a preferred cultural identity such a minority population must learn, adapt to and reflect in their own lives.
This move from integration as in a quilt social pattern wherein different groups are stitched side by side, up and down to a tapestry in which all difference weaves into a unified cultural picture is a major move on the chessboard of our clash between identity and difference.
It is a move that other nations may decide to follow but here in the U.S. it is a move that suits neither Liberals nor Neo-Liberals.
A Social Democrat in Denmark distinguished the elemental, and for Americans, the disturbing difference between Scandinavian and Angle-Saxon thinking: “The Anglo-Saxon conception is that man is free in nature, and then comes the state, constraining that freedom…Our conception of freedom is the opposite, that man is only free in society.”
Margaret Thatcher, a launching voice of a Neo-liberal economic view and a conservative cultural one, announced that there was no such thing as society. Reagan took that ball and ran with it, the U.S. now deeply into the illusions of individual empowerment and autonomy. Thus, the idea of the State separating children from their families for at least 25 hours a week is a cardinal sin in the conservative view. It replaces individual choice and personal liberty and so on with “social engineering.” Personal choice and liberty cannot be replaced by State control is the kernel of the violation here.
What would animate Liberal opposition to the Dane’s proposal is the compelling of different racial, ethnic, and religious factions into a privileged sense of cultural identity. In the Liberal view, diversity and multi-culturalism must not only be accepted but must shape a politics of identity. Such a politics seeking to establish that every fracture of difference has equality under the law is directly opposed to Denmark’s position that such a fraught of difference undermines a well functioning cultural coherence established over a long period. The outcome of that long incubation has been a highly lauded society.
A statement released by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science offers this: “The Social Progress Index 2017 captures three dimensions of social progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity and found Denmark to have the best quality of life in the World.” The OECD reports that in 2016, the most recent data on the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, Denmark ranked 6th most equal while the U.S. ranked 32nd among 38 nations. In short, Denmark has achieved a high level of wellbeing, equality, and opportunity among nations and its attempt to preserve that against any eroding threats appears natural and rational.
The crucial point is whether an influx of about one half million Muslim immigrants allowed to preserve in every way their own “cultural literacy” will eventually advance that society even further or, as the current proposal suggests, set the nation on a backward spiral.
There are several political parties as well as a few supporting parties in Denmark. In the U.S., there are two parties, with seldom appearing third parties of consistently failed political consequence. On top of that, both parties, Democrat and Republican, ground themselves in what they call free market rule, the Democrats offering field triage after market rule leaves bodies in its wake while the other, Republicans, consider the collateral damage of market rule as not only acceptable but incentivizing. What doesn’t kill you, leads you to start a business sort of poli-economics.
While Trumpian Republicans now ridicule “the dark State,” Democrats have for a very long time ignored state and society, preferring a politics of personal liberation not of besieged wage earners but of various minorities, some entrenched on the outside, some emerging on the outside.
Bernie Sanders’s entrance into Democratic politics is actually a disguised entrance into a social democratic poli-economics that may attract the Dividend Recipient class of Democrats as well as return Democrats to wages and not the enfranchisement of minority groups of every stripe. And whether or not Millennials and Generation Z will drop their socialist preferences when they know more, such as knowing that in Denmark, for instance, taxes take 50% of a yearly income and starting a business would mean paying wages at a rate of about $20 an hour, exclusive of benefits, is a future matter.
What we can discern now is that it does not seem that the party duopoly in the U.S. will be moving the country toward a poli-economic state similar to Denmark’s.
President Trump, however, seems to have a privileged American cultural identity in mind, one which his supporters also are ready to fight for. But it is difficult to define what President Trump means when he says “America first” because the question in an incredibly diverse society is: “Which America?” Which demographic would be required, if we followed Denmark’s example, to assimilate? And into what identity because the privileged identity the president has in mind seems grounded in hate, damage and suffering for the many and a Mar a Lago life for a few.
Trump is taking the oxygen out of our market ruled society but that is just so much optics. The fact is that he stands behind it and the cultural identity that rule has created in the U.S.
If difference, of all kinds, except the criminal and terrorist kind, fosters the innovativeness of the U.S., and history shows such to be the case, in what way does market rule preserve that difference in some just, equitable and reasonable way?
The clash of a field of acceptable differences of all kinds and an economic system that axiomatically creates ruling elite, a plutocracy, and an underclass, regardless of what they call themselves, means that the U.S. does have a privileged identity. The whole idea of a quilted society of equally respected differences is therefore disingenuous, a mockery, an alibi we offer the world. And we do not integrate either. A market ruling economics works against it. We neither assimilate nor integrate.
What do we do?
What President Trump has shown us is that a privileged identity should be recognized and should be allowed to dis-assimilate and dis-integrate all manner of differences.
Liberals want to believe that such a privileged identity is itself a sham circus, a composite of the ill educated and uninformed, the unhinged and delusional, the racists, homophobes, misogynists, and gun nuts and so on which will crawl back to wherever they came from when Trump is marched out of office, impeached, chained, committed to an asylum or Rikers. However, 90% of Republicans support Trump and the New York Times reports that criticism of the president, high or low, prompt his followers to dig in deeper in support. (Jeremy W. Peters, “As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig in Deeper,” June 23, 2018)
For some, hatred of various kinds brings them to Trump, a hatred that precedes him and was doubtlessly around since the country’s founding. Trump fuels it for political gain quite obviously. But the faction that will not disappear are those who see much merit in dismantling structures and protocols which engineered the extinction of the middle class, created a permanent underclass, and brought a very obnoxious gentrified elite into the homes and neighborhoods once occupied by those scheduled for extinction.
Donald Trump did not create a country in which at the time he assumed office had already become a plutocracy. His tax “relief” sent four out of five tax dollars to the top 1% and there is no effort on his part to address a wealth inequity, which quite clearly has replaced a middle position political class with an angry division heating up faster than the planet, is. The tweeting Trump most likely is not mapping any long range, plotted benefit to such a situation beyond keeping his supporters on the boil while expecting that liberal Dividend Recipients will prefer his economics to what the Democrats may offer in November 2018 or November 2020.
The ways in which the Democratic Party represents itself on both occasions is now very much an unsettled matter. The Sanders/Warren faction will make every effort to dismantle the resident plutocracy and its feed lines but return on investment as well taxation of the plutocrats make the election of Democrats unattractive to not just wealthy Republicans but wealthy Democrats also. This is a reality not to be mentioned.
The American identity to be first in Trump’s view can be realized if what doesn’t fit those requirements is ejected. But he is not expecting his partners in crime, the wealthy enjoying the fruits of American casino capitalism, to be ejected. Right now, he is ejecting his supporters without their awareness of the event.
At what point will his wage earning followers see that Trump’s tax gifts to his wealthy buddies, his hatred of all forms of entitlement he curses as “welfare,” the dangers of his willful ignorance plunging us into wars neither he nor his wealth buddies will fight but will surely profit from, and his usurpation of democratic traditions with his own `blind egoism will eject them from any survival place they thought they occupied?
We can conclude that any ejection of what is different and deficient by any privileged identity, whether Trump or the Danes, two white entities, is not only problematic but also potentially tragic.
However, there seems to be nothing or very little rotten in the state of Denmark in comparison to the U.S. The richest 10% in Denmark earn 5.2 times as much as the bottom 10%. This is the lowest among all OECD nations. Only two countries, Chile and Mexico, have a higher gap between rich and poor than the U.S. True, you cannot as easily start a business, toxic or wage depressed, in Denmark as you can in the U.S.; nor can you rip up the safety net and allow the Losers to fall to their fates. Or, rise up, incentivized, and start a toxic or wage depressed business. Neither can you squirrel away your profits, retreat behind gated enclaves of privilege, or discover something good or even salvageable in someone like Donald Trump.
You have to immigrate to the U.S. for all this. And many do, though Trump’s plan is to make the country even less appealing than countries from which many seek asylum. Nordic countries, like Denmark, have an open invitation from Trump but right now, more Americans move to Scandinavia than vice versa.
A proper part of a nation’s sovereignty is to protect and preserve its cultural ways and heritage, including the political, social and economic choices that have been made. It seems then that Denmark’s recent attempt to do so, though outrageous in the eyes of both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. for the reasons I have given, may very well be the only course that can preserve a cultural integrity without destroying the richness of heterogeneous points of view.
Immigrants to the U.S., who have contributed greatly to the country, from Einstein to Pulitzer, John Muir to Irving Berlin, assimilated in the same fashion that Denmark is proposing for its immigrants. They did so on their own, without state compulsion. What we face now all over the world is a belief that affecting in any way the cultural differences of immigrants is a violation of our diversity and multi-culturalism beliefs. More pertinently, we can see that in the U.S. very little of any quality is done to pass on through education the bedrock values of the U.S. This certainly has to do with a preference for profit and not people, which means that we deal with immigrants as poor, needy, supplicant people first. And in that light, or darkness, the first concern is how to they stand on a profit/loss analysis. Found wanting on the scale of quick returns on investment, we find it easier to eject or ignore rather than make any effort to assimilate. We also do not hesitate to shoot.
We are as much prepared to employ education for the purposes of assimilation, as we are to resurrect our dissolving middle class and our permanent underclass by the same means.
Denmark has shaped an educational system able to do so. And yet, the presumption in assuming that all difference must be assimilated within a chosen identity does not sit well in our age where differences, long invisible, are now visible. We are not “post” interrogating and deconstructing assertions of lasting Truth, of an absolute and universally unimpeachable identity that cannot benefit from a contesting of narratives, of challenging reality constructions.
What remains undeniable, however, is that at any certain moment, and in any certain place, we judge some of our myths and memes as deficient or delinquent, clearly retrograde in a comparative frame. I judge that the Danes have now made that evaluation of their ghetto Muslim populace. They have not been condemned as rapists and murderers and ejected without compassion. Rather, a door has been opened, an invitation that cannot be declined without the benefits of Danish society being taken from them. But that is opportunity, not rejection and ejection.