In her column, “The Big Alienation” Peggy Noonan is trying to convince us that the nation is alienated from its government. As a pivotal argument, Ms. Noonan brings the uncontrolled mess on our nearly 2000 miles long border with Mexico; most Americans want this border secured, the government promises to do so, but does not do enough to make it happen.
Disassociation between the claimed goal and actual actions is obvious; hence, maybe the term alienation is proper for the occasion. However, how one can be alienated from his or her government?
On the WSJ website, hundreds of people commented on this dilemma. The overwhelming majority mindlessly agreed with Ms. Noonan, “that nothing can or should be done, no new federal law passed, until the border itself is secure.” As it often happens, the word of wisdom did not come from a mob praising Ms. Noonan but from a lonely critical comment by Martha Bromberg who does not feel alienated because, as she wrote “I am my government. I am an American citizen blessed with a democratic representative government, and any failure on my part to assume responsibility for my government is just that, a failure.”
In opposition to the majority of Americans, Ms. Bromberg takes responsibility for the actions of her government. If she asked her government to do something that the government failed to do, she allows herself a thought that she might ask her government to do something unachievable.
This takes us to the fundamental question of what we want our government to do. Ms. Noonan complains that she and the rest of Americans are confused by two stark and utterly conflicting messages coming from Washington: “We control everything” and “You are on your own.” Politicians always say whatever people want to hear; hence, it is irrelevant what Washington is selling, it is important what Americans are buying. The very first citizens of the U.S. had no dilemma here; they wanted to pursue happiness on their own, with as little control from Washington as possible. Issues such as health care and immigration testify that today the majority of Americans sign-up for the “we control everything; you just follow the rules,” option.
Each of these two options has its consequences. Americans left on their own, within the about first hundred years of the Republic, built the richest and most powerful country on Earth. Unlike most Americans, growing up in then socialistic Poland, I experienced first hand a political system built solely on the concept, “we control everything; you just follow the rules.” I can testify that in many everyday situations, this system provided much more convenience and comfort than the “you are on your own” concept, still practiced at least to some degree, here. However, the “we control everything” system, by curbing the most entrepreneurial individuals, proved unable to provide even basic food and living necessities; before bankrupting all together.
Most of Americans and Peggy Noonan in particular, know this in abstraction but are incapable to connect this knowledge to their own experiences. They are confused by the overwhelming litany of problems that we face, but they are alienated from the political concepts that made America rich and powerful in the very first place. They do not understand how the free market system made America rich and powerful. They see the wealth of the nation as a God given blessing, lasting as long as Americans would praise God everyday. They do not understand what brought the Soviet system to bankruptcy. They want the goods that the “you are on your own” system can provide, and they expect security and comfort offered by the “we are in control” approach. Unfortunately, these two systems are mutually excluding.
When we assume that Americans, and Peggy Noonan in particular, are alienated from the very ideas that made America great in the first place, all the blocks in the picture of chaos that Ms. Noonan draws in her column fall into their places, and the questions she raises, find simple answers.
In particular, Ms. Noonan complains that “while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about well-being of the Republicans, who worries about America?” And, she answers that “No one. Which American people have noticed?” Who worried about America when it was growing to become the world’s greatest superpower? No one in particular, but Americans did not notice that as they were busy working on their own prosperity. The greatness of America arrived from the concept that individuals given freedom to pursue their dreams on their own would create a rich and powerful country. What Ms. Noonan did not say, but what observant readers could conclude, is that now Americans are not so eager to provide for themselves, but expect that the government would secure them access to the wealth accumulated so far.
This is how we have arrived to the border issue. Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreigners cross our borders illegally or overstay visitor’s visas. Why? Because there is work for them here, however Americans told their government not to allow foreigners come and work here. Seeing foreigners sneaking in anyhow, Americans asked their government to exercise more strength in preventing this. And, their government did it. When this still has been not working, Americans, and Peggy Noonan in particular, ask for even more determination in executing policies that have been permanently failing for about the last forty years.
Americans fear competition from foreigners and want the splendid isolation back, as many of them are undereducated, overpaid, and not capable to compete on the worldwide labor market. It is beyond the comprehension of the majority of Americans, and Peggy Noonan in particular, that in the era of affordable transportation and communication, the only choice that we have is between letting foreigners come and work here, pay taxes here, and buy cars and houses here; or having jobs that they do go to other countries. When asking to secure borders, Americans ask their government to choke the economy, but economy does want to give up. There is no alienation between Americans and their government. Americans and Peggy Noonan are alienated from facts and logic. They do not realize, that securing the borders as they envision it, could be possible only in the Soviet style political system. As it is unlikely that they would support turning the U.S. into a police state, they ask their government to do what they on the other hand would never accept.
As America became a powerful nation, there were multiple temptations, abilities, ignorance, and arrogance to give government this strength in order to resolve some problems for Americans, so they would not have it so hard doing this on their own. Prohibition comes to mind as an example when Americans were guided by an illusion that their government could resolve for them a problem that they should deal with themselves. Our immigration law, banning foreigners from coming freely to work in the U.S. is another example. Most Americans and Peggy Noonan in particular, ask their government to secure the border before reforming immigration system. The wisdom of this proposition, is as if during Prohibition, someone would agree that Prohibition should be revoked, but just after the government stops all illegal alcohol production and trafficking.
The same as it was in the case of Prohibition, the simplest and only way to eliminate the mess on our borders is by revoking our current immigration law and allowing everyone who can find work here to come and do it legally.
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post