Vintage Schutze: Nativism Always Loses

Editor's note: Jim Schutze is taking some well-earned time off, so we're digging into the archives to bring you some of his hits. This one, from August 2013 is about Farmers Branch's ultimately failed effort to outlaw undocumented immigrants and seems particularly ripe for a revisit. Schutze writes: "In the long run nativism and ethno-centrism always lose." Here's hoping he's correct, and that "the long run" includes the upcoming November elections.

The thing about ethnic identity is that it is always, has always been and will always be a dead end in the end. Then again, it's also in the nature of things that you can't change a dead-ender.

Last night I was watching a TV news story about a city council debate in Farmers Branch over that city's the anti-Mexican law. I concluded that everybody has a different version of what's embarrassing. Tom Bohmier, a resident, begged the Farmers Branch city council not to throw in the towel in a long legal war over the city's anti-Mexican law:

"It would be embarrassing for us to fold our tent up, have two other cities prevail, and then we'd be the laughing stock because we paid two million dollars when we didn't have to," Bohmier told the council.

Farmers Branch already has already spent six million bucks on lawyers in a seven-year fight to preserve a law requiring Mexicans to get a license in order to rent an apartment. On July 23, the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law — its third defeat in federal court — as unconstitutional. I haven't read the opinion, but I have a hunch there's a phrase or a line in there saying the Farmers Branch anti-Mexican law, in addition to violating the basic charter of the nation, "... is also kind of embarrassing." Could be wrong about that, though.

Bohmier is not wrong in saying anti-Mexican laws in other American cities have survived court tests. The most recent victory for the get-out-the-Mexicans campaign came just a month before the Framers Branch defeat in New Orleans: the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in favor of an anti-Mexican law in Fremont, Nebraska.

The question of local laws stepping out front of the federal government on immigration control has not been fully litigated all the way to the Supreme Court. The general tide, however, seems to be going strongly against the idea that a town can tell Washington what to do, so much so that if one were of the betting persuasion one might not throw good money after bad in a place like Farmers Branch. Last night the Farmers Branch city council deadlocked and did not vote to quit the fight or not.

Yeah, a couple towns may have prevailed in the lower courts. But do you really think this concept of upside-down government is a winner in the long-run? Forget bigotry as an issue. Just draw me a flowchart.

One thing that's stuck in the craw of people like Bohmier is that crying uncle at this point won't be cheap. When Farmers Branch admits it's a loser, it will have to pony up another two to three million dollars to pay attorneys on the other side. At that point I predict there will be some very big sailboats on Lake Texoma with names like "Thank you, Farmers Branch," and "Nativist Yokels Galore."

But I don't believe legal fees or even the thought of an embarrassing defeat in court is the biggest thing stuck in the craw of the diehards. James Traub has a great piece on the op-ed page of The New York Times today tracing nativist anti-immigrant sentiment back to the formative years of the republic, making the point that ethnic-identity movements always fail in the end, even dragging their political parties into the grave with them.

Because ... think about it. What? Do you really think you can make America look like your mistaken all-white dreams of yesteryear? Do you even care if that's real? Are you here with us on the Planet Earth?

I read Caesar's Gallic Wars as an adolescent. I remember being shocked when Caesar described the people in what I think of as France as a bunch of red-headed Irish-looking folk. Now, admittedly, they could have been caking their hair with red mud at the time. Those French! But our teacher explained that nobody looks like anybody used to look anywhere in the world today because everybody has gone everywhere and engaged in war, dismemberment and baby-making with everybody else. Those people!

It also has always been the case that some people just can't stand the inevitable process of erosion of their basic ethnic identity. There's another good story in the Times today about a man in Atlanta named D.A.. King, an anti-immigration activist working to defeat comprehensive immigration reform in the congress. King quit his job and burned through savings to devote himself full-time to a campaign for Mexican expulsion after a Mexican family settled in a house on his street and parked cars on their lawn.

Maybe they were a terrible family. An awful family. Hey, maybe they would have driven me crazy, too. But Mr. King has allowed his wrath over one family to convince him of two things: 1) 11 million hard-working people can be and should be expelled from the nation, and 2) he can make his world white again.

Let's not say he's crazy. Crazy means anomalous, and we know from our own history as a nation that nativism is not anomalous. It's as American as apple pie. It's just a loser. In the long run nativism and ethno-centrism always lose. That's the first thing. Always. The nativists always wind up having to pay for sailboats for the other guy's lawyers.

And here's the second thing. They don't care. Somewhere in the backs of their minds the people fighting to keep America white know that they will lose, and they do not care. They live to lose. They die to lose. There is no talking to them, no appeal to reason. Their identities are so tightly woven into ethnicity that they would rather go down smoking than give up.

So let's have a show of hands. Who wants to go down with them? OK, now who wants a sailboat?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze