While I favor granting citizenship automatically to children born in the United States, I was reminded of birthright citizenship’s biggest downside Tuesday while listening to Tucker Carlson on his Fox News show.
Unlike immigrants, natural-born citizens such as Carlson are neither screened nor forced to pass a citizenship test nor made to swear an oath. And when they stray from the American way, no one thinks to tell them that they’re failing to assimilate.
But isn’t “failure to assimilate” an accurate way to characterize Carlson’s angry identitarianism? Carlson, who broadcasts to millions of viewers on national television, keeps fueling xenophobia and needless social strife by singling out people who weren’t born in America for special ire, then attributing negative qualities to whole groups. He just can’t get with the program of the American experiment.
A case in point was his monologue last night about Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born woman who came to the U.S. as a 12-year-old refugee and is now, at 36, a member of Congress. *
Carlson purported to characterize her views. “Omar isn’t disappointed in America,” he said. “She’s enraged by it. Virtually every public statement she makes accuses Americans of bigotry and racism. This is an immoral country, she says. She has undisguised contempt for the United States and for its people.”
A review of Omar’s public statements shows that isn’t true. Although Omar is frequently critical of the United States, she tends to attack what she regards as the country’s failure to live up to its lofty values. “She was almost like a cliché of a civic-minded new American,” one of her college professors told The New York Times. “She would quote the Declaration of Independence asking, ‘Why have we come up short?’”
The same article quotes Ilhan saying: “I think back to the orientations I went through a little over 20 years ago in the process of coming to this country, and in those orientations they did not have people who were homeless. There was an America that extended liberty and justice to everyone. There was an America where prosperity was guaranteed regardless of where you were born and what you looked like and who you prayed to. I wasn’t comfortable with that hypocrisy.”
I don’t always agree with Omar. And I don’t expect Carlson to, either. If Carlson had simply quoted Omar’s views and dissented on the merits, even harshly, I would not be writing on the subject.
But Carlson suggested that because Omar came here as a child, she doesn’t have the right to voice critical opinions about America—that her gratitude for citizenship should result in silence. And then he cited her views as if they bear on the attitudes of immigrants generally, before engaging in sweeping, negative generalizations about them.
“Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country,” he said. “A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it … She’s a living fire alarm, a warning to the rest of us that we ought to change our immigration system immediately, or else.”
What an odd conclusion to draw from Omar’s example. Isn’t getting elected to Congress a great achievement, and proof of assimilation? There is no more establishment, Founding Father–approved way of seeking change than winning elected office and proposing new laws. Whether or not Omar overestimates the relative degree of injustice in America, seeking to remedy its ills through official channels is the opposite of dangerous.
The notion that Omar alone proves anything about America’s immigration system, for better or worse, is absurd. If Carlson wants to make the case that the immigration system is broken, he should find evidence, not an avatar to rile up his audience. What’s a term to describe someone who insists that whole groups of people are bad in the same way, and ceases to treat members of that group as individuals?
Tucker Carlson is that term.
“Maybe we’re importing people from places whose values are simply antithetical to ours,” Carlson continued. But isn’t it Carlson who holds views antithetical to American harmony? Perhaps Carlson provides “living proof” that it is dangerous to grant citizenship to San Francisco–born, La Jolla–raised white men.
If that sounds like a parody of what a “grievance studies” professor would believe, Carlson is the real-life, nativist analogue of that parody, fit for a tenured chair at Trump University. For other examples of his generalizations about foreign-born people, I refer you to his fear-mongering monologue concerning Roma refugees in America and his appearances on a morning radio show, where he called the citizens of Iraq “semiliterate primitive monkeys” for whom he has “zero sympathy.” He has also suggested that immigration “makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.”
I think Carlson divides America. And I’d rather hear the views of the first 100 immigrants listed in the Boston phone book than those of Carlson and his Fox producers. Many call Carlson’s show “racist,” which I would resist—strictly speaking, it is more accurate to call it xenophobic, animus-filled, prejudicial, poorly reasoned, and bigoted.
As a natural-born American like Carlson, I hope no one groups us together and makes assumptions about me based on his views. I ask not to be judged for his words.
* This article originally stated that Ilhan Omar came to the U.S. when she was 10.