Silicon Valley and the extreme reaction to Trump’s immigration order: Brilliance, greed, naivete

by William R. Hawkins,

The massive opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order pausing for a few months immigration from seven war-torn countries, failed states and adversarial regimes seems totally irrational.

Normal partisanship cannot account for the extreme rhetoric and violent actions that erupted within hours of the order being issued. What, after all, is unreasonable about the intent of the order as stated by DHS Secretary John F. Kelly on Feb. 7 at a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Albert Einstein fled the Hitler regime for the United States, but later railed against the “monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism.”

The order suspends entry into the United States from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan Syria, Libya and Yemen until a comprehensive review has been completed; directs Federal agencies to implement uniform screening standards across all immigration programs; suspends the Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days to assess the vulnerabilities in the program and establish additional procedures to ensure refugees admitted do not pose a threat to national security or public safety; orders completion of the biometric entry-exit system; and ensures that applicants for visas are personally interviewed before their visas are approved.

Given the increase in not just terrorist acts, but crime in both Europe and America in the wake of massive immigration (legal and illegal) from problematic foreign societies, it would be irresponsible for a new administration not to conduct a review of current policy and procedures to determine their suitability in the changing situation. There was no desire expressed to end immigration per se, only to improve the vetting of those given permission to cross the U.S. border to insure they would add to America, not damage it.

The explanation for the outburst of protest over such a minor executive action has to look beyond the issue in question. Critics want to halt any move away from the airy notion of a world without borders; a world imagined to operate on “universal” liberal values.

This is the product of philosophy, not analysis. Its fantasy realm reached its developmental peak in the early 19th century and the experience of all the centuries before and since has not served to weaken its appeal to those who think of themselves as having been “enlightened” by their own wool gathering. Of course, even philosophers have to make a living, so their views must fill the need of at least some interest groups that think they can profit from using the ideology as a cover.

Thus, we see the odd alliance between left-wing activists who loathe capitalism and capitalists who abhor the nation-state (which also rates high on the Left’s hate list).

This alliance took on new life in the 1990’s at the end of the Cold War when it seemed national security had lost its imperative. Intellectual discourse was rife with stories about how the nation-state was being destroyed from both above and below. Above by “global governance” centered on a United Nations that would become the vehicle for the spread of liberal values. And from below, by transnational corporations “liberated” from the constraints imposed by national rivalries and national allegiances. Factories could be moved overseas because under “universal” concepts of human rights, all workers were morally equal (even if not treated equally in pay or working conditions). Workers could be freely substituted at home or abroad like blocks of wood, the only consideration being cost. So-called liberal ideals were thus used to justify nothing more honorable than greed and community betrayal. The theory of human rights was used to strip citizens of their actual humanity.

Consider the amicus brief filed by 126 transnational corporations in support of a court-issued stay of Trump’s order to reform immigrant vetting. High-tech firms including Apple, Google. Tesla, Facebook and Microsoft took the lead, claiming that any actions that restricted immigration would make it difficult for them to attract “the world’s best employees”, would increases costs and make competing in the global marketplace more difficult. It would compel them to build new facilities outside the U.S. where they could hire foreign workers at will (as if they had not been doing this already for decades).

These arguments are nonsense in regard to this particular executive order. The seven countries on the list do not offer pools of technical talent, with the possible exception of Iran — the only country on the list that can be said to even still be intact. The main policy concern has been the flood of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. Germany has taken large numbers of these immigrants because their industrialists think they have a blue-collar labor shortage. Reports, however, indicate that the education and skill level of the refugees are so low, they are not of any use. Silicon Valley is not going to find a wealth of tech savvy individuals, let alone innovators, in the ranks of those fleeing failed states in the Middle East.

Iran poses a different problem. There should be some accommodation for anyone defecting from Iran with technical knowledge. They could be sources of valuable intelligence on the state if Iranian sciences given that Tehran is devoting so much effort to developing weapons that menace America and its allies. And a “brain drain” from adversarial regimes to the U.S. is sound strategy. But it must be pursed with caution, as it could be used by Iran in reverse. The employment of Iranian scientists and engineers should be avoided if they are simply going to take advanced American technology back home with them. It is as important to guard against espionage as terrorism.

When Teheran made the knee-jerk response of halting travel of Americans to Iran, it offered the U.S. an extra benefit. The lifting of sanctions by President Barack Obama gave Iran a huge boost of resources needed to fight its wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. It also acted as a lure to American business to form new commercial ties with the theocracy. Yet, every business deal serves to recruit a new voice for appeasement as nominally American firms see “peace at any price” as necessary to protect their profits.

The National Foreign Trade Council, notorious for its opposition to sanctions on Iran and other rogue states hostile to America, issued a statement on the Trump order which opened, “Enhancing national security is a critical objective, but it must be done in a thoughtful and measured way that permits legitimate business and educational travel.”

But how legitimate is dealing with Iran? One can recall the same sentiments expressed by British business groups in favor of trading with Nazi Germany. Trump has reimposed sanctions on Iran in response to its ballistic missile tests, but those sanctions will be much more effective if reinforced by a travel ban.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are certainly brilliant in their field. They have created astounding technology and spectacular fortunes. But they are also greedy and naive in ways that do not benefit American society.

When their amicus brief mentions higher labor costs if immigration is restricted, they are admitting what the Center for Immigration Studies concluded long ago from deep research on the abuse of the H-1B visa system by high-tech firms, “The system lowers wages for workers where it operates, and denies jobs to perfectly well-qualified residents of the U.S. This is an evil by design.”

It doesn’t just harm American workers in the present, but discourages American students from going into high-tech fields because of reduced job opportunities; thus harming future national development. That is the greed part.

The naive part is the notion that the world of science is borderless; that there is a fellowship of scholars that transcends national allegiance. We have been down this road before.

No one can doubt the genius of Albert Einstein, and his fame led him to comment on issues well outside his field; in particular foreign policy where he was a pacifist. On behalf of the idea of an “international of science” he wrote with an arrogance that matches anything coming out of Silicon Valley, “The really great scientists have always known this and felt it passionately, even though in times of political strife they may have remained isolated among their colleagues of inferior caliber.” In regard to disarmament in 1932, he argued, “the greatest obstacle to international order is that monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism which also goes under the fair-sounding but misused name of patriotism.”

Yet, it took American patriotism and “national” science and industry to defeat the Hitler regime Einstein had fled in 1933. And who can seriously claim today that the way research labs, heavy industry, chip foundries, aerospace plants, shipyards, and manufacturing supply-chains are dispersed around the globe does not affect national strength in a contentious world?

The trifecta of liberal delusions about how the world works: open borders, global governance and disarmament, remain what it has always been: a sucker’s bet that no amount of corporate money can turn into a winning strategy.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.