Vail Daily column: ‘Cosmopolitanism bias’ and immigration
Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
In a tense exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, senior White House Policy Adviser Stephen Miller accused Acosta of revealing his “cosmopolitan bias,” which brought to mind a line uttered by the lead character Cher in the 1995 hit movie “Clueless,” “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
The two were squabbling about proposed changes in U.S. immigration policy. Acosta’s protest that the new policies disregarded a long-standing tradition of welcoming the world’s most vulnerable was met with Miller’s blithe dismissal of the significance of the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” that adorns the Statue of the Liberty.
Miller then rebuked Acosta for using “Great Britain and Australia” as examples of the limited number of countries from which immigrants under this new rule would be allowed to emigrate. Miller distorted Acosta’s example to imply that Acosta believed that those were the only countries where people speak English. Alt-right house organ Breitbart News could not have been more pleased and gushed, “Stephen Miller Demolishes CNN’s Jim Acosta.”
By invoking the term “cosmopolitan,” Miller was not referring to Acosta’s preference for Grey Goose over Absolut. Instead, he was referencing a worldview anathema to members of the alt-right such as himself, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and white supremacist Richard Spencer. While these three vary in their levels of publicly displayed fanaticism, they do find common ground in white nationalism and the rejection of nonnative ideas, innovations and, especially, people. Hostile to all things foreign, they want to drastically reduce immigration and de-emphasize multiculturalism.
This view is not limited to extremists but was cloaked in the “alt-right lite” language of Sen. Marco Rubio. As Uri Friedman writing in The Atlantic explains, “America’s Americanness has had to be reaffirmed ever since Bernie Sanders suggested that Americans could learn something from Nordic countries about reducing income inequality, providing people with universal health care, and guaranteeing them paid family and medical leave.” To which Rubio whined, “We don’t want to be Sweden. We want to be the United States of America.”
As insults go, cosmopolitan seems rather milquetoast. But as Jeff Greenfield writing for Politico explains, “to label someone a ‘cosmopolitan’ carries with it a clear implication that there is something less patriotic, less loyal … someone who is not a ‘real American.’”
Miller’s boss has worn out slurs such as “loser,” “crooked,” “pathetic” and “sad.” Miller, in searching for a fresh epithet for administration opponents, borrowed one from the former Soviet Union. Josef Stalin employed the term to discredit dissidents — many of whom were Jewish. Given the word’s anti-Semitic undertones, it is astonishing Miller, who is Jewish, chose to use it.
“Cosmopolitanism” comes from the Greek word “kosmopolites,” meaning “citizen of the world,” and is attributed to Diogenes. Philosopher and New York University Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah notes the word embraces the idea that a nation “is not the boundary of your moral concern.” Thomas Jefferson acknowledged as much in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal …” Jefferson was precise in his word choice, indicating that universal equality was axiomatic and not limited by citizenry and borders.
Cosmopolites believe that every human, regardless of nationality, has worth and deserves dignity. They seek to understand differences. However, they also acknowledge universal human rights. In addition to tolerance, cosmopolitanism implies an obligation that extends to the larger global community.
Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense,” a treatise that persuaded many colonists to adopt the patriot cause and rebel against British rule, was a heart a cosmopolite. He echoed the sentiments of both Jefferson and Diogenes when he wrote, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
Your ancestors, Stephen Miller’s and mine, with courage, and likely trepidation, left all that was familiar and followed the beacon of liberty in the world to our nation’s shores. Will ours be the generation that rejects an American principle and extinguishes that beacon?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Claire Noble can be found online at clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.