What Progressives Need to Learn About America From the Immigrants They Welcome | Opinion

Over the past few months, the U.S. Border Patrol has encountered tens of thousands of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. In July, those encounters hit a 21-year-high. Many Americans are frustrated by the scenes of chaos, believing that many of the migrants are seeking jobs but trying to use the asylum system to bypass the usual wait involved with the formal immigration process. Others believe that we should be more welcoming to these immigrants and stop turning so many away from the border.

But whatever your position is on immigration one thing is clear: The people who are risking everything to come here are coming because they believe they'll get a better shot at life in this country.

Data gathered by Gallup suggests that over 750 million people worldwide would move to another country if they could, and our country is the most popular destination: In all, 158 million people said they'd like to move to the United States.

So it's not surprising that once they get here, immigrants tend to be more patriotic than the native-born population. And yet, ironically, the people here in the U.S. who are traditionally most welcoming to immigrants—political progressives—don't seem to share their positive view of the country.

What could explain this strange phenomenon of welcoming people to a country you don't think very much of? The late British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton has an idea that might be useful here: He coined the phrase "oikophobia" as an alternative to xenophobia; while xenophobia involves fear of a foreign other, oikophobia involves a sort of fear of your own home and surroundings.

Over the past few years, the Left in the parts of the Western world has grown increasingly oikophobic. More and more, it feels like progressives are not so much critics of their countries—a necessary precondition to any kind of social change— but opponents who are simply ashamed of their homelands.

We can see this in polling from the organization "More in Common" when they surveyed Americans about whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that they were proud to be American. They found that around 74 percent of Americans overall said they were proud to be American. Among Hispanics, the number was slightly higher, at 76 percent, while it was slightly lower among African Americans, at 70 percent. But among progressive activists, the number dropped to 34 percent—the lowest of any group.

immigrants welcome
A participant in the 2019 Women's March in Santa Fe, New Mexico, holds a sign declaring that racists should be deported and asylum seekers welcomed to the United States. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Gallup polling, too, shows a substantial partisan gap in who describes themselves as extremely proud to be American. In 2021, 64 percent of Republicans said they were extremely proud to be American, while just 31 percent of Democrats agreed.

Left-wing oikophobia appears to be uniquely severe in the U.S. and U.K. A recent Pew survey found that just 17 percent of people on the Left in the UK and 16 percent of people on the left in the U.S. said they are "proud of their country most of the time," as compared to 58 percent of British people on the right and 55 percent of Americans on the right who agreed with the same statement. In Germany, there was far less polarization, with 46 percent of Germans on the Left and 55 percent of Germans on the Right agreeing.

Perhaps the most galling example of progressive oikophobia coming into contact with aspiring Americans who migrated to our shores came during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, when candidate Beto O'Rourke informed a roundtable of immigrants that "every single institution and structure that we have in this country still reflects the legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression, even in our democracy."

Can you imagine spending years to work through the process and finally arrive in the United States only for a major politician to tell you the country you arrived at is not just imperfect (like everywhere else, the U.S. has its share of problems) but fundamentally defined by those imperfections? If O'Rourke truly believed what he was saying, he should've been standing at the border with a sign urging people not to come here.

Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that many immigrant communities shifted right during the 2020 election. For years, nativist elements in the GOP have made it difficult for that party to court immigrant constituencies; these days, though, it's likely that the oikophobic elements on the Left are off-putting to many of those same people.

Many immigrants see the United States as their best shot for a better life. The oikophobic progressive narrative simply does not appeal to someone who has what most on the Left don't: a basis for comparison.

When I was younger, I, too, was attracted to the idea that America was a lost cause. I spent a lot of time reading the Noam Chomskys and Howard Zinns of the world, and I could recite a long list of our country's sins by memory. But focusing only on our missteps makes it easy to forget our achievements.

People coming here from parts of the world where there's far less tolerance and freedom and much less economic opportunity know that this is one of the best places in the world to live.

This doesn't mean we should refrain from criticizing our country. Our very Founding was based on rebellion against the status quo. But we should do so in a spirit of optimism, the same optimism shared by the world's immigrants who come here. We should acknowledge that this is a wonderful country that provides hope to people around the world, and that we should work hard to make it even better. Only then can we recognize our potential and continue the process of making this a land truly "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Zaid Jilani is a journalist who hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He has previously worked as a reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress, United Republic, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Alternet. He maintains a Substack newsletter at inquiremore.com.

The views in this article are the author's own.