Do elites bear at least some responsibility for the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes? Law professor Joan Williams, author of an excellent recent book on the white working class, thinks so. She argues in a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal:
"Global elites pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism. Some younger elites reject the notion of national borders entirely. Many blue-collar whites interpret this as a shocking lack of social solidarity. They are proud to be American because it’s one of the few high-status identities they can claim. Elites, on the other hand, seek social honor by presenting themselves as citizens of the world. And many are, with membership in global networks dating to their college years or earlier. But blue-collar Americans tend to stay close to home because they rely on a small circle of family and friends for jobs, child care and help patching that hole in the roof. These are problems elites solve with money.....
[U]nwritten rules govern who deserves sympathy and who doesn’t. Elites’...rules mandate empathy for immigrants, viewed as vulnerable people separated from their families or fleeing persecution, gangs or conflict. This empathetic human-rights lens contrasts sharply with the neoliberal lens elites use for blue-collar Americans, who are often viewed as dimwitted and fat. Homer Simpson is emblematic.
All this has created a toxic environment in both the U.S. and Europe. Three steps can help turn things around. The first is to recognize that the nation-state matters greatly for nonelites in developed countries. “You can’t put a Danish flag on a birthday cake without being called racist,” someone recently commented to me at a book talk in Denmark. Dismissing national pride as nothing more than racism is a recipe for class conflict and more racism. Better by far to embrace national pride, balance it with concern for those outside the nation, and refuse to allow racism to pose as national pride.
The second step is to highlight the ways President Trump’s immigration and trade policies are hurting red-state constituencies that voted for him. Critics can point to farmers unable to find farmworkers, small-business owners unable to find dishwashers, and construction workers hit hard by steel tariffs.
The third step is to fight the scapegoating of immigrants by ensuring that hardworking Americans without college degrees can find good jobs. Economist Branko Milanovic has found that people in the bottom half of rich, developed countries’ income distributions have seen “an absence of real income growth” since 1988. What’s happening, Mr. Milanovic argues, is the “greatest reshuffle of individual incomes since the Industrial Revolution.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average wages fell last year for nonsupervisory workers in the U.S.
There’s no inherent reason why native-born blue-collar workers should be anti-immigrant. They often hold similar attitudes toward hard work and family values. Elites who sympathize with immigrants do themselves no favors by dismissing the working class as too bigoted or too stupid to recognize the economic benefits of immigration. Instead they should actually try to make the case and address the causes of anti-immigrant scapegoating."
These steps all sound sensible to me. More sensible, and far more likely to be politically effective, than calling for the abolition of ICE, which is not likely to go down well with the working class voters Williams alludes to.