Some Americans believe that the 1950s and 1960s represent a great and golden age. They believe that low crime rates and an unprecedented standard of living was achieved through a homogeneous society bonded by decades of assimilation and the shared sacrifice of the Second World War.
This homogeneous society represented a record-low of foreign born residents; a result of restricted immigration after 1924. This was when an immigration quota based arbitrarily and prejudicially on the 1890 Census was implemented, and the gates were shut to new-coming groups.
Law, order, and prosperity supposedly disappeared when the “floodgates” opened up with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. These reactionaries lament the end of a “liberal consensus”, if there ever was one, and a new realpolitik which prefers a “mosaic” of cultures in lieu of the proverbial “melting pot”. They say: “Go back to where they came from”. We heard this crude phrase last week.
That is not what America stands for. Not since 1945, when Tokyo and Berlin stood in shouldering ruins. Two decades of American isolationism, following the Great War, ended in an even bloodier global war. In Europe, America embraced the Marshall Plan to rebuild European social and economic institutions. At home, America began to turn a new leaf, allowing much greater immigration; first with piecemeal programs, then through a new immigration act in 1952.
The White House’s horrible comment against four Congresswomen, and the silent approval of the President’s defenders, was overshadowed by more aspirational news: the 50th Anniversary of the First Lunar Landing in July 1969. It was certainly an American accomplishment, but only possible with the knowledge and great assistance of then-recent immigrants:
· - Albert Einstein, renowned physicist who escaped the rabid antisemitism of post-World War One Europe.
· - German scientists and Nazi defectors who gave the United States invaluable information on rocket technology.
· - An Wang, computer hardware expert and pioneer of the CPU, who came to America from war-torn China in 1945.
· - Countless Russians and Eastern Europeans who escaped through the Iron Curtain and flourished in America, freed from the yoke of communism.
As Elon Musk and venture capitalists dream a near-future return to the Moon, America again faces a simple choice: Shoot for the stars, or “Send them back”.