More than three decades ago, my aunt Hilda wrote an account of her father's voyage to and life in America for my daughter to read "someday." She began it this way: "Your great grandfather, Moore Engelhardt, a boy of 16, arrived in New York from Europe in March 1888. It was during the famous blizzard and after a sea voyage of about 30 days. He had no money. He often said that he had a German 50 cent piece in his pocket when he landed. His trip had to be in the cheapest part of the ship -- way down below in steerage. Poor boy, I'm sure he was seasick a good deal of the time. Since he was alone, he sort of attached himself to a family of a lot of children and, for the first few months in America, I imagine he slept behind the stove in somebody's kitchen.
"I don't know the whole story of his trip from somewhere near Lemberg in Poland to Hamburg where he boarded the ship, but from the few things he told me about it I gathered that it wasn't easy. He worked at anything he could find to earn money for the trip, saving every penny he didn't need for daily living. I do know that it took him two years. His last job was as a scribe for a lawyer in Hamburg. There were no typewriters, but he had beautiful handwriting, almost as perfect as printing.
"The reason for his trip to America at the early age of 16, besides the stories he had heard about gold in the streets of New York, was, as he told it, a strange one..."
In other words, my grandfather was a kind of nineteenth-century equivalent of a DACA kid (though without even parents to bring him here since he ran away from home). Like so many other immigrants of that era, he made it to the United States from a shithole part of Europe -- of, to be exact, the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- and he was lucky. He spent the rest of his life in Brooklyn, New York. A few decades later, Jews like him, or Slavs, or Italians, or Asians of any variety -- the Haitians, Salvadorans, and Nigerians of that era -- would essentially be put under the early twentieth-century equivalent of Donald Trump's "Muslim ban" and largely kept by law from entering the country. In those days, the analog to Trump's bitter complaints about Muslims and others of color was: Europe was "making the United States a dumping ground for its undesirable nationals." (So said Henry Fairfield Osborn, the then-president of New York's American Museum of Natural History, in 1925.)
So history -- specifically, the history of nativism and racism -- is only repeating itself in this not-so-new century of ours. Back then, northern European immigrants were favored by that same law, so no one should have blinked when Donald Trump, who (like me) grew up at a time when those bans of 1924 were still in place, extolled Norwegians as the dream immigrants he wants to come here.
It wasn't just racist but absurd for him to suggest that anyone from a country that regularly turns up at the top of the list of the "happiest" nations on Earth would have a driving urge to emigrate to our not-so-New World for a not-so-new life in a plutocrat-strong America with its 1% elections and ever widening inequalities of wealth. Still, for just a little while give reality a pass and let the wondrous Ann Jones, TomDispatch regular and author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars -- the Untold Story, take you to a planet in a galaxy far, far away and allow you to imagine what this country might actually be like if it were overwhelmed by Norwegian immigrants. Tom
The Norwegian Menace
Should We Build a Wall to Keep Them Out?
By Ann Jones
In the past couple of weeks, thanks to the president's racist comments about Haiti and African countries he can't even name -- remember "Nambia"? -- as well as the stamp of approval he awarded future immigrants from Norway, we've seen a surprising amount of commentary about that fortunate country. Let me just say: those Norwegians he's so eager to invite over are my ancestral people and, thanks to years I've spent in that country, my friends. Donald Trump should understand one thing: if he and his Republican backers really knew the truth about life in Norway, they would be clamoring to build a second "big, fat, beautiful" wall, this time right along our Eastern seaboard.
One thing is incontestable: a mass of Norwegian immigrants (however improbable the thought) would pose a genuine threat to Donald Trump's America. They would bring to our shores their progressive values, advanced ideas, and illustrious model of social democratic governance -- and this country would never be the same!
It's hard even to begin to imagine what a Norwegian-ization of the United States might mean. But just for a moment, try to picture how strange our country would be. After all, based on life in Norway, you would have to assume that our beloved land would lose many of its twenty-first-century landmarks. Gone would be its precious ghettos and slums, its boarded-up schools, hospitals, and libraries in the heartland, not to speak of its heirloom infrastructure: collapsing bridges, antique trains, clogged roads, and toxic drinking water.
To grasp what's at stake, consider how such immigrants would have reacted to the Republican tax "reform" bill, praised by the president as "the greatest achievement" of his first year in office (which, by his own account, is the greatest year in American history). That bill, filled with miscellaneous handouts meant to ensure the votes of individual Republican legislators, guarantees that the super rich and their mega-corporations will get richer still in perpetuity. It is, in its own way, a glorious hymn to future heights of economic inequality (in a country already ranked the most unequal in the developed world), as it cleverly passes on to the children of the un-rich classes a national deficit inflated by an extra $1.5 trillion.
It is, of course, the nature of any tax plan to redistribute the wealth of a nation in some fashion, even though Republicans use the word "redistribution" only to assail Democrats who occasionally suggest a little something to help the poor. But redistribute those Republicans did in a masterful way, surrendering yet more of our national wealth to the tiny team of people (many of whom also happen to be their donors) who already pocket almost all of it. As the Republicans were writing the tax bill, the top 20% of households were already taking home 90% of the American pie. Now, they will get more.- Advertisement -
That's exactly the kind of "achievement" that no Norwegian parliament would ever approve. All nine parties now in that country's parliament, from left to right, would have joined in tearing up that Republican tax bill and replacing it with a much simpler one aimed at redistributing the nation's wealth equitably to every last one of its citizens.
As a start, they would have tossed in the trash can the single most basic project of Trump and the Republicans: making the rich richer. Norwegians have long worked to do just the reverse, based on a well-established conviction that inequality creates elites that corrupt and destroy democracy. That's where politics come in: devising multiple systems to regulate a capitalist economy and safeguard democracy.
For example, two national confederations, of trade unions on the one hand and corporate enterprises on the other, annually negotiate wages and working conditions, while minimizing the difference between high-paying and lower-wage jobs, between CEOs and workers. As a result, Norway's income equality is near the top of any international list. America's, not so. On average in 2014, for instance, American CEOs grabbed 354 times the salary of their workers. For many corporate chiefs that figure hit well over 1,000 times the salary of a median employee, while in Norway for every dollar the worker earned, the average Norwegian CEO took home 58 bucks.