I judge people based on their capability, honesty, and merit.
-- Donald Trump
Give me what I want, or I'll punish the whole country!
I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!
That’s what Trump said this morning. We need great people coming into our country.
And you get those people, apparently, with a "merit" based immigration system.
Immigration based on merit.
And not just immigration.
Merit is important to Republicans, to Trump. He says it quite a bit. Merit. In all caps, so apparently he means it this time.
Merit. This is a common theme with Trump, judging people based on “merit.”
What merit? And who decides?
Who decides which immigrants have merit?
No, I mean it. Tell me, who decides which immigrants have merit?
Who decides which people have merit, which human beings have merit and which ones don’t. Who decides that?
See, it’s one thing for an individual, a private businessman, to apply some personal, arbitrary measure of merit to others in his personal interactions. Perhaps we all do this to some degree.
It’s another thing entirely for the government to decide the merits of a human being.
And Trump is no longer a private individual, for the moment, for better or worse, he is the government.
Who decides which immigrants have merit?
Hell, before we even get to that, you'll have to define what "merit" means in this context.
What is human merit? Is there a standard set of criteria? An agreed upon list of traits which constitute merit? Is merit measured in degree, with precision, a scale perhaps from 0 to 100? What is the minimum amount of merit to allow entry? How do you measure it? Who measures it? When do you measure it – i.e. when a person is an infant? A child? A teen? An adult? When? After they’ve had some education. After they’ve made a fortune? After they’ve gained some proven worth? Or is it raw potential?
The inherent merit you’re either born with or not. Is that it? Is it?
People change, they grow, and they sometimes diminish with time – you have only to look at those we once though had great merit until they suddenly didn’t. Bill Cosby comes to mind, along with myriad other entertainers, politicians, and wealthy entrepreneurs who’ve fallen from grace in recent memory.
How do you measure that? Because we’ve never been able to do so in any quantifiable manner.
Instead we use vague subjective terms and questionable metrics: Happy. Well adjusted. High IQ. Studious. Smart. Above average. Well educated. Talented.
Take this guy, does he have merit? The smartest kid in class. 167 IQ. Skipped ahead in high school, National Merit Finalist, graduated at 15, accepted into Harvard at 16, full scholarship for advanced mathematics. PhD by 25. A genius by every measure. His potential for greatness and merit? Unlimited. Trump says, "We need great people coming into our Country!" Great people. Great. Well, then what are the things that make a person "great?" Does that guy, the one just I described have merit? Is he the kind of 25-year-old we’d want helping us make America great? If you met him at the border, would he be the type you’d let in?
That’s Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
So, who defines human merit in the context of greatness?
Trump's own mother was an immigrant.
When she immigrated here at the start of the Great Depression. She was a teenager, 18 years old. Her first language was Gaelic, her English nearly incomprehensible to Americans. She had no education, no trade, no special skills, no unique abilities, no money. She was a dirt-poor economic immigrant, one of tens of thousands from Scotland during the depression. She ended up a domestic servant in New York, scrubbing the toilets of the more well-to-do.
Now, what "merit" did she have?
It's not as if America needed another dirt poor non-skilled toilet-scrubber during the Depression. We had plenty of natural born Americans of our own who needed jobs and would have done anything to get them, including scrubbing toilets. What merit did Mary Ann MacLeod have? Why should she have been allowed to come here and take a job, money, a desperately needed livelihood, from an American?
What greatness did she have?
Other than being young, and pretty, and white, and eventually married to a rich guy, I mean?
Much the same could be said of the President's current wife. What greatness did Melanija Knavs have? What merit? Her father was an Eastern Bloc communist. There's nothing special about her education or her experience, she has no unique abilities, no special skills. She did have a trade when she came here, true, but "model" is hardly something great that America needs and can't produce for itself. Her looks got her here, true, but they're fading now and she'll never walk a runway again -- so what merit does she have? Other than being attractive and white and married to a rich guy?
Who decides which immigrants have merit?
How do you define "great people."
What is it that makes an immigrant great?
Who decides what greatness is?
It matters. Very much.
For example: Trump and numerous Republicans have said, or implied, more than once, that immigrants – and in particular, Latinos – tend to vote for Democrats, or at least this is the assumption. And thus, many outspoken Republicans seem to suggest that alone should be enough to bar them from the country. And you don't have to look very far or very hard to find them saying so.
So does that mean we let people into this country, and eventually grant citizenship, to only those who have the "merit" of voting for the political party we like?
Who decides that?
Those currently in power? The same way we decide gerrymandering and voting districts? Yeah?
Or do we compromise? Balance it out? Sure, like before the Civil War when the Union granted statehood only in pairs, one Slave State and one Non-Slave State had to be admitted together in order to maintain balance in Congress.
Is that a template for immigrants? We only grant citizenship in pairs, one liberal and one conservative at a time, so as to maintain the balance and assuage Republican fears?
But we've made many such ridiculous compromises in the past, or worse.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus
Who decides what human merit actually is?
No, seriously, who decides?
Is skill with a scalpel more valuable to America than the skills of a warrior? No, I'm not being facetious here. We have holidays to honor the military, Trump himself wants to see soldiers parade through the Capital. We have no national holidays to honor doctors and nurses, Trump hasn’t ordered a parade for those who save lives rather than those who take them. So, which has more merit, the doctor? or the warrior?
Is ability with complex math more meritorious than, say, facility with music? And we’re back to Ted Kaczynski again, aren’t we?
Some kid, say, hyperactive, no education, no experience, behavioral problems, only skill is screwing around on skateboards. He shows up at the border, you gonna let him in?
No merit. No special skills. No useful education. Just another punk kid, just another troublemaker on wheels. No merit.
That’s Tony Hawk. Pro-skateboarder at 14. World Champion twelve years in a row. Today he’s a 50-year-old man, who still does little more than screw around on skateboards – and he’s recognized the world over, a hero to tens of thousands, a star, a leader in a billion dollar industry, and business is lined up twenty deep for his endorsement.
What merit to America’s supposed greatness does skateboarding have?
Well, that depends on how you define merit, doesn’t it?
How many Tony Hawks didn’t have the luxury of being born here? How many future sports stars are right now six years old and locked in cages on our southern border? And what if those skills, that merit, develops only after someone immigrates to America? What if it's America itself, the opportunities here, that create greatness in a person and not the other way around? What if it's both? I mean, how do you know? How can you know? How can you predict human nature, human potential with any degree of fidelity?
How do you tell the Ted Kaczynskis from the Tony Hawks?
Who decides what merit is?
Isn't merit subjective?
Dependent on the moment? Subject to change?
Merit. Human merit. I came from the military. From the Navy to be specific. I spent most of my adult life there. I joined up, at least in some part, because I didn’t know what merit I might have. I had some education, a bit. But I wasn’t a warrior. I wasn’t an egghead. I didn’t fit in much of anywhere. I didn’t have a lot of direction, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. The military gave me that, direction, purpose, education, perspective. I learned something about human worth. You see, turns out I was selected for something special. Intelligence work. And back in the day, back during the Cold War, my specialty was pretty damned important. And the prestige of my profession was very high in the military. No one knew what we did. We were special, important, and we were regarded – at least we thought so – with more than a bit of mysticism and respect, and maybe a little awe. It made you feel a cut above the average sailor. Unique. Imbued with special merit, perhaps, greatness even.
But, see, here’s the thing.
Out there, on the pointy end, far from home, onboard a warship, you learn a little something about merit – and maybe something about your own relative worth.
Us? We spooks, those of us who worked behind locked steel doors, well, out there we were no more special – and lot less so – than the rest of the crew. Merit? Let me tell you about merit. Out there, far, far from home, the unnamed and unknown sailors who carried the mailbags to the helicopter in some distant port, the men who flew those machines over the sea and landed them on a pitching deck, the clerk who sorted that mail and handed it out at mail call, well, let me tell you those son of bitches had merit. Because a letter from home, back then before email and satellite network connections at sea, that guy was your lifeline to home. The ship’s servicemen, who washed your laundry every day, down in the bowels of the ship, who sweated their asses off in steam-filled compartments so that you could have clean skivvies, those men had merit. If you crossed them, you might spend the next three months of your deployment free-balling it. The mess specialists, the ones who cooked your breakfast and served your lunch and made your dinner, those guys had merit, and one hell of a lot more than some codebreaker like me up in the spook-shack, because the quality of navy chow determines in very, very large part the morale of a ship. Bad cooks are a special misery at sea. Merit? There was no glory in sorting mail, in washing clothes, in cooking up dinner, or in the hundred other jobs done by the unnamed and unknown sailors out there everyday, but the ships won’t move without them and it sure doesn’t take you long to learn just how important they are to your quality of life.
Merit? What has more merit? A dentist when you need a cavity filled or the garbage man when your cans are overflowing? The person who waits on your table when you’re hungry or the one who cuts your hair? Those people, the ones who turn up whenever you need help, the ones who stop alongside the road to help you with a flat, the ones who always turn up to help look for a missing child, the ones who fill the sandbags when the water is rising and the winds start to howl, what merit do they have?
Who decides the merit of a human being?
Is merit education? Experience? Skill? Intellect? Able bodied? Ability? Something you’re born with or something you learn?
Or is merit your Race? Religion? Language? Wealth? Health? Politics? Age? Attractiveness? Breeding potential? Skull shape? Eye color?
Who decides what constitutes human merit? What makes a human being great or not?
You know, there have been nations throughout history who have attempted to define exactly that, define greatness, define merit. Measure it. And set human beings on a scale, their worth measured against each other.
Universally, history regards those societies as monsters and we hold them up as examples of horror and the ultimate villainy.
Who decides which people have merit and which ones do not?
Congress? Voters? The mob? Some faceless bureaucrat? A secret committee? Do we contract it out? Outsource the decision to a company in Bangladesh? Who decides?
And how long, once we begin assessing immigrants on their supposed merit, their unmeasurable and unknowable potential contribution to our alleged national greatness, how long before we likewise begin dividing up natural born Americans into categories of relative worth? How long before we begin separating those with merit from those judged to have less, or none?
And what do we do with those who have no merit to our society? What happens to them?
When the state grants itself the power to decide which humans are worthy and which ones are not, then slavery, genocide, absolutism, war, and horror follow almost immediately. Every time.
Every. Single. Time.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And there is no power more absolute, or more corrupting, than a government who declares itself the arbiter of human worth.
Since I have difficulty defining merit and what merit alone means – and in any context, whether it's judicial or otherwise – I accept that different experiences in and of itself, bring merit to the system.
-- Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States.