S2EP7 - RANDY & KEITH - MORALITY & IMMIGRATION
Samia: This is Make America Relate Again, presented by Better Angels Media. I'm Samia Mounts.
We're gonna start off this week's show with some more amazing social media shares from you wonderful listeners. Julie Anne Meerschwam posted on Facebook,
"Podcast lovers, I found a new favorite. It's called Make America Relate Again. And each episode is a fascinating exploration of a polarizing topic in which a conservative and progressive respectfully debate and seek to understand each other's viewpoints. It's inspiring, it's thought-provoking, and it's hopeful. It's the podcast equivalent of a nourishing and delicious meal. Go check it out."
Thanks, Julie! You rock! And I love it when my work gets compared to good food. Good food's the best.
Now, Marisa Michelson posted on Facebook,
"I'm obsessed with podcasts, but none more right now than this incredible one. Friends, consider listening. Thank you to Samia Mounts for devoting your time and energies to bringing light into our deeply polarized relationships. My favorite thing about this podcast is getting to listen to people move past labels into deeper conversations about the spiritual and practical depths of the challenges and pains we face and feel, and urgently need to address. While there is so much in these conversations that is difficult to sit with, Samia, your podcast brings me some hope. I'm grateful to you for what you've poured your intelligence and passions into during this time."
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That's the whole idea. Thanks, Beverly.
Okay, onto the conversation. This week, I'm bringing you Randy Lioz, a liberal and Better Angels Workshop organizer, and his friend, Keith Holland, a conservative and evangelical Christian, talking about how morality can influence politics, especially around the topic of immigration. How do we resolve moral dilemmas with political policy? And do we have a moral obligation to help all people of the world? Or should we focus on taking care of our own first? Let's hear what they had to say.
Samia: Randy and Keith, welcome to Make America Relate Again.
Randy: Thank you. It's great to be on with you.
Samia: Why don't we get started by having you both introduce yourselves. Tell me all of the things listeners would want to hear about, where you grew up, how old you are, what you do, what you're political leaning is, and what influenced that. Let's start with you, Randy.
Randy: I am from the east coast. I grew up on Long Island in New York. I was raised Jewish, so like a lot of Jewish families, we were pretty left-leaning. And I moved across the country gradually. In my career, I lived in Detroit for a little while, and then moved to Santa Barbara, and then Irvine for my automotive career. I'm still in the auto industry, and I do consulting, and writing, and a variety of things there. I'm 38 years old. In terms of my political involvement, one of the reasons that I’m so excited about this experience is because I've been involved in Better Angels for a little while. After the election, like a lot of people, I was pretty down about the level of our political discourse. And I was having good conversations with some of my red friends. And Keith happens to be one of those people that I had been talking to about politics and just about the state of the country. And we were having productive conversations, so I really believed that we could be doing more of this in this country. And I started talking about starting something myself. And I was calling that "The Empathy Project.” And I started shopping it around to my friends. One of my friends actually sent me the Indivisible Podcast. And they featured Better Angels on that. And I got really excited because I realized they were doing exactly what I wanted to do. And so I went to Virginia, got trained as a Better Angels moderator, and started running workshops. And Keith actually is one of my friends who I recruited to be a participant in one of those workshops. And it was just such a great experience. I have to give a lot of credit to Keith because I think that he was, out of the entire group of reds, he was one of the most willing to open up about his feelings and willing to be very self-reflective, very introspective about his beliefs. And so this has been just a really great experience. And I want to express my gratitude to Keith for participating and doing it so well.
Samia: I'm so glad that you talked about Better Angels and the workshops because that's something I think a lot of people in the country could benefit from. And you just gave an infomercial for it, so thank you.
Randy: My pleasure.
Samia: That's awesome. Thank you. All right, Keith, let's hear from you.
Keith: Yeah, yeah. I'm Keith, I grew up in Southern California in a little town called Chino. It's in the Inland Empire. I live now in Costa Mesa. I grew up in what would be called an evangelical Christian, semi-conservative parenting. You know, the typical white conservative growing up. I now work for a television show that airs on PBS. And I'm 32 years old. As far as political leanings now, it's changed significantly since I was younger. I definitely have opened up more to trying to understand where other people are coming from. And I've sort of just realized that we all want the same things. We just have different approaches to how to get there. Generally, my viewpoint is as long as your life doesn't directly try to interfere with mine, I'm okay with what you're doing. I think that applies to a lot of the things going on in the world today.
Samia: I asked you to come up with some ideas for topics that you could discuss, and you came back with something I thought was really interesting, having to do with morality, and how much our upbringing and our religion influences morality, and then by proxy, our politics. And I asked you both to think about what about the other person's mindset you most don't get, what you would most like to change. I’m curious, since I don't know either of you very well, but you obviously know each other. What are some of the moral issues that you've run into that affect your political positions that are hard for both of you to understand?
Randy: That's a really interesting question, the moral issues. I think it's kind of funny, because the way that I think about this is, Keith and I are very aligned morally on most things. And I was actually having a conversation with some of our friends the other day. And I mentioned that Keith has an evangelical background. And they were really surprised to hear that. And it's not because Keith lives an amoral life where it's just indulgence and ridiculousness. He is just perhaps a more laidback person than you might expect of someone with an evangelical background. And he doesn't talk about it a lot. And so I don't think that we have gotten into a lot of conversations about the deep issues that divide us. One of the conversations that we certainly did have was on immigration. And Samia, we had mentioned that to you as an interesting topic between us. But I don't know if there was really any moral tenets that we could point to that really divided us there. I think it was just some of the concerns, perhaps, that we had.
Keith: I think also it's our approach to morality. I think that because we have such different upbringings, the idea is that we have, like I said before, we ultimately want things to be better and different than they are. But we seem to constantly disagree to why things are wrong. I think with immigration, specifically, since Randy mentioned it, that conversation went more along the lines of, "Why should we keep people out when this is such a great place?" And it ultimately boiled down, to me, is that we gotta look out for number one first before looking out for number two.
Samia: We can use that as a springboard - so immigration. Keith, you said, "It's more important for us to look out for our own." Randy, you said, "No, we need to look out for everybody." And that is really a crux of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives on the issue of immigration and on so many others. The slogan "America first,” like, let's take care of our people before we start worrying about everybody else in the world. But that plays into morality quite a bit. You know, the Christian religion touts taking care of others as you would take care of yourself.
Samia: How does that jive, then - and this is actually something that I've always wanted to understand - how does that Christian tenant jive with the idea of, "Let's not worry about the other people in the world and only take care of our tribe”?
Keith: That's an excellent question. I think that Christians, at least from my perspective, we do want to look out for other people. But the separation, essentially, between church and state is kind of that boundary saying, hey, the government is there to look out for the people it governs, where non-profits, religious groups, whatever, they're there to look out for the other people. The government shouldn't really be involved in helping these other countries out in the sense of like, "Let's end Darfur or something." I know that's a huge issue that I wish we could deal with, but just in general, the government's purpose is to protect the people who are paying their salaries.
Randy: It's interesting. I think that a lot of this is really linked because when we talk about, "We have to prioritize our own people." One of the things that, in my mind, some conservatives lose sight of is that our aid to the rest of the world, and our involvement in the rest of the world, and our leadership in a lot of ways, our moral leadership, and our cultural leadership, in a lot of ways, we've obviously exported a lot of our culture to the rest of the world, and it has benefited us in a lot of ways. It's benefited the rest of the world, but it's benefited us in a lot of ways. I think when you talk to someone from Iran, you really see that the people of Iran, they love a lot of the culture that has actually sprung from the US. And they see our country in a much more positive way than a lot of Americans believe they do or imagine that they do, because we've had such a great cultural exchange. And so when we start to draw inward, and we start to say, okay, America first, we’re gonna prioritize ourselves. We're gonna put up trade barriers, barriers to letting other cultures in, and therefore exchanging culture with them. It hurts us a lot. I think we kind of lose sight of that when we go into our protective bubble that we think is gonna benefit us.
Keith: Yeah. And I don't think that we shouldn't care about the issues from a governmental standpoint. I think that we have a lot of shit to figure out within our own country first. I would love to be able to spend as much money as we could and just solve the world's problems, but that's not a realistic approach to things. We have a huge debt in our country. We have poverty and kids going hungry. If we were to accept a million immigrants a year, whatever number you pick, there wouldn't be enough money to go around work-wise, aid-wise from what we already provide. I think it would just kind of drag the economy down. And maybe in the future, we have a stronger economy, that's something realistic. But at this point, it really isn't.
Randy: One thing that I have been thinking about a lot when it comes to that sort of argument, the word "first.” When you said, "We've got to figure out our shit first." It's kind of like, okay, well we say that, but what period of time are we talking about? When are we gonna declare that we’ve figured out our shit and that we can finally look outward? It reminds me of the debate over our restriction of Muslim immigration. When Trump announced this policy, he announced this ban, he said, "President Trump has blah, blah, blah,” until we can figure out what the hell is going on. And in my mind, that's giving himself license to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants because he can say, "Well, we haven't figured it out yet." When someone tells you "later, later,” it usually means "never.”
Keith: Yeah, I think I agree with you to some point there. I personally don't have anything against Muslims as a group. I know some wonderful Arab people from my time in the Middle East. And I definitely know that they're all not trying to get us. I think that this policy realistically stemmed from fear in America. But the fear is well-founded. The only two groups of people to have ever attacked on US soil, this one's the most recent, and it's 9/11. And you're from New York, and you're not afraid of it, which is great. You were in the area. You probably knew some people in the city at the time. But the fact is that we're still fighting a war with Muslim countries. And I think that just banning Muslims in general is totally unfounded. I personally prefer everyone trying to come into America screened to a greater degree, but the restriction of just saying, "You're Muslim. You're not allowed here,” is not something that I agree with at all.
Samia: Yeah. And we're not at war with any Muslim countries, per se, but rather with a terrorist group that has twisted the religion with Islam.
Keith: Yeah, but in the Middle East, those terrorist groups are actually political organizations. If you were to talk about Hezbollah in Iran or Syria, they'd be like, "Oh, yeah. That's my political party." To them, it's not a terrorist group. It's a political party just like the Republicans or the Democrats.
Samia: I'm so glad the Republicans and the Democrats don't use the same tactics.
Samia: Maybe this podcast can help avoid that.
Randy: You also mentioned a drag on the economy. And that's definitely something that I think really needs to be addressed, because I think there's a huge misconception there. Immigration clearly, throughout the entire history of this country, has been nothing but a boon to our economy. There have been isolated, small groups of immigrants that have presented challenges for us as a country. But overall, immigration in general has been nothing but good. When we kind of use outside forces and the dangers of the world to justify closing ourselves off, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot. Would you agree with that mostly?
Keith: No, actually. I think that immigration, at some point, becomes too much. We had these huge groups of people flooding into New York. And the country was young. There was space. There was jobs. Everything was growing. At this point, we're in a down economy. I don't care how many times people think that it's growing. It really isn't, in my perspective.
Samia: Why do you see it that way? Because I've only heard reports that the economy is actually doing quite well.
Keith: I don't see the same type of metrics that we saw during those booms. We're not seeing massive job increases. We're having increase in certain areas of technology, but we're losing a ton of jobs going out to other countries. And it's great that we're able to manufacture stuff for cheaper. I wish we could do it in America for that cheap, but that's unrealistic. But those jobs, in addition to housing and just the general cost of things is going up, where essentially the middle class is disappearing. And I think everyone agrees with the fact that the middle class is disappearing. And I think if we saw the middle class growing, I would say that the economy was growing as well, because I think most people want to fit into the middle class. We strive to be rich, you know? Because, we want to be successful in life. But I think we just want to be comfortable and reach a point where we don't have to worry about missing our rent. We don't have to worry about not being able to go on that vacation because we just can't make it financially. You know? I think that the middle class is really the indicator of whether the economy is strong. And seeing that it's shrinking continually...
Randy: There certainly is a lot of income polarization, right? We've seen the stock market going up pretty steadily throughout the Obama administration and through the Trump administration. That's used by some people as a measure of the economy, when yeah, job growth hasn't actually matched the increase in the stock market, right? For example, with the major tax cut that just went through, that helped to reinforce the growth of the stock market capitalization. But it didn't really do much for wages. Unemployment, though... Just the other day, there was a major announcement of really good employment growth. And so the economy is still quite strong. And it has been for a while. The thing that's missing... And I think you're right. I think your hitting on this, is that wage growth has been stagnant, because a lot of those gains are going to the top one, or half, or .1, or whatever percent of people who are really in a position to benefit from that. But those are structural questions that our policy makers really need to address. It doesn't really have anything to do with the number of immigrants who are coming into this country, because there's plenty of work for those immigrants. We still need, first of all, the highly skilled immigrants who are coming in from a lot of parts of Asia. And we also still need the labor that has, for most of the history of our country, helped to run the entire country. I was looking into immigration laws, and we used to have a lot more flexibility in terms of the temporary seasonal workers that would come in. And then all of a sudden, there was a backlash. It was really just a political backlash. It was for the certain service of political power, and those restrictions put on those temporary workers. In order to actually fuel our industries, obviously agriculture is a big part of that, right, that is run by immigrant labor. And in order to actually get enough people to do those jobs, the labor force was diverted to undocumented status. And it became this crazy, vicious cycle. Because basically, it leads to, you know, there’s stricter enforcement and more restriction of immigration. It leads to more arrests, which means that politicians can up their rhetoric and say, "Well, look at all the people that we’re arresting. And that's correlated with a number of people who are coming in. And therefore, we have this immigration explosion, and so we need stricter enforcement." And so it goes straight back to the beginning of that cycle. And it's a cycle that is politically advantageous for a pretty big group of people. But it's not a cycle that is advantageous for us as a country, for our economy. Prices go up when that happens. It puts friction into the economy. And we also lose a tax base based on that, right? Those people are not paying taxes, but sometimes they need emergency services that they can't pay for. It's really just robbing our economy of its momentum when we put these artificial restrictions on it. One of the topics that we had talked about before was completely open borders. And I don't know quite how I feel about the idea of completely open borders. The European Union has tried open borders for their economic community, and it seems to have worked pretty well. There's a lot of countries that have a labor force that really wants to move around. And there's other countries that have a set of capital that needs that labor. When you allow it to flow freely... And that's the idea of NAFTA as well. It's good, but it's also labor. When you allow that to flow freely, it makes things work a lot better. And you can't just say all of a sudden, "Oh, we're afraid, so let's close everything down." And expect to still get the benefits, the economic benefits, of that free flow of labor and goods, but not have the dangers. Right?
Keith: Yeah. I mean, I can agree with you in some sense. But I think that the European Union is both a good example and a bad example. The European Union, to me, is essentially like creating the Europe States. We have all these small, tiny countries that are working together. And that's essentially what the United States is. We have all these separate governments that need to function and all these people moving around. But at the same time, you're right, deregulation is a great thing.
Randy: I love the conservative plug. It's good.
Keith: Right? You know, taking restrictions off people and allowing them to just do the things that they want to do and work in the industries they want to work in. But we talked about bringing in all this cheap labor, and I just talked about sending all this cheap labor out of the country. If we have a bunch of people coming in to do cheap labor, and we're losing all these cheap labor jobs, essentially in manufacturing. Okay, yeah, we need those seasonal migrant field workers. Where do they get left? They get left on the street. They get left having to fend for themselves doing whatever thing, whether it be legal or not, that they have to in order to make ends meet. They're driving for Lyft, possibly without a license. There's a gap in what we want to accomplish and what's available. I think that adding diversity to America ultimately makes us better. I think that assimilating to American ideals, which to most Americans is being the most successful you can be at the thing you want to do. That's all great, but there's people who not only were born here, but there's people who went through the long and arduous process to do it legally. Yeah, it sucks if you can't do it legally, but what does that say about the people who took the time, spent the money, jumped through the hoops, spent years of their lives to do it right only to get undercut by somebody who's half the cost.
Randy: That idea of fairness definitely resonates with me. If you read Jonathan Haidt's book - He’s on the board of Better Angels, and he just wrote this book, Well, I guess he wrote it a few years ago, called The Righteous Mind that examines the moral foundations that we each cling to. And he identified six of them that you can really appeal to on a consistent basis. And he said that all six of them were really important to conservatives, but liberals and progressives were more focused on three of them. But of those three, fairness and proportionality is definitely one of those things that liberals and progressives are very concerned with. And so it definitely resonates with me when you talk about if someone has come in illegally and "jumped the line.” I would imagine that if I were an immigrant who did wait, I would be so angry about that, right? And I'm sure that there are many who do feel angry about that. But I think that some of the other things to consider are our immigration laws - since 1976, legal immigration that is not related to your family or a special skill has been restricted to 20,000 people per year, per country. I wanted to mention, Samia, because you also, you had mentioned the Reveal Podcast and I checked that out and I listened to their immigration episode and it opened my eyes to some interesting facts. And one of the examples that they gave was someone from... We have a good friend from New Zealand that we play soccer with and he's a great guy. But they brought up the example that the limit of people that can immigrate from New Zealand is exactly the same as the limit who can immigrate from Mexico. Does that make any sense?
Keith: No. I honestly believe that there should just be a number for the whole country. And I think that the amount of people currently living on the border between U.S. and Mexico, on the Mexican side, I think that there's a lot of opportunity for them to work in the U.S. You know, it's right next door, it's really easy to go visit your family, you're not abandoning who you are. But you're coming to be in a place where there's probably more economic opportunity. I think that the number of immigrants for America should just be set at, this is how many we take, period. I think we should be taking the best.
Samia: But then how do you deal with the moral issue of when there are refugees fleeing absolutely untenable, horrific circumstances?
Keith: Great question. For sure. I think that Syria was a great example. When we had all the Syrian refugees looking for a place to go, Germany took in something like a million of them. I honestly wish we could've taken them in. At the time, Detroit was basically empty, and I was like, "We've got a place for them." You know, like we could honestly restart Detroit with all these people. The biggest issue people were facing with that was this was a Muslim, predominately Muslim country. Like you know, how do we know what we're getting?
Samia: You know the worst thing about that, every time I hear those kinds of statements, I think of the fact that the majority of ISIS’s victims have been Muslims.
Keith: Yeah. Yeah.
Samia: You know, we think that we're the big victims of ISIS, but in reality they're terrorizing what a lot of people might think of as their own, because they share, at face value, a religion. But I don't think what Isis is practicing is anything like what the vast majority of modern Muslims are practicing. And those are their victims. Like they're suffering way more than we have.
Keith: Oh, for sure, and I fully agree because you know, you look at the fighting between the Sunnis and Shiites, and it's basically like the Romeo and Juliet, the Romulets and the-
Samia: The Capulets and Montagues.
Keith: It's like, you guys are both the same people just, like, slightly different. And, there probably has to be some sort of way, special circumstance, rider kind of deal. And I don't think there's anything that we can just say is, you know, a blanket statement that'll work. But I definitely disagree with the fact that just letting anyone come into the country, you know, in any number. I'd be interested to hear, you know, what you think about refugees, you know, from say Syria or the risk factor of, "Okay, we accepted this many people, like, how many people of them are sneaking in to cause harm, and how do we filter that?"
Randy: Yeah. Well, one thing that the progressive side of this conversation brings up a lot, and I think is a very valid point, is that our screening process for refugees is unbelievably difficult and rigorous. It takes - Samia, I'm sure you know the figures on this better than me, but is it like 18 months on average for-
Samia: I think it's more like two years. It's a really intense screening process. There's biometrics screening, there's multiple interviews with different agencies, there's background checks galore. It's pretty intense.
Randy: Yeah. So basically I have practically zero fear that someone who is admitted as a refugee would... Now, it's not to say that someone couldn't be radicalized here, right? But the same thing can be said of white people. We have plenty of white people who are radicalized here and do shitty, violent things.
Keith: But Muslim isn't a race, it's a religion.
Randy: Sure. And Christianity is a religion, and plenty of Christians are radicalized-
Randy: So, basically I don't have any fear of the refugees coming in. And I think, I mean, quite honestly, I pretty much think that anyone who is in material danger to their life or their livelihood should be able to gain admittance to this country. And I think, I think it is right. I don't know if I would have quite as rigorous and long of a vetting process for the people who do come in, because you know, their lives are in danger. And we've even treated people who have worked for us in Iraq during the war, and we've put them on a line, made them wait for months, and months, and months while they’re getting death threats. And that's how we express our gratitude to them for helping our military, helping our State Department, right. It's shameful, I think, the way that we've treated people in the rest of the world who have put their lives in danger for us. But yeah, it's not just them. Really any refugee. And so, actually, the question, and I think I might have posed this to you a little while ago, but I had a question about if someone can prove to us without a shadow of a doubt that their life or their livelihood is in danger at home. Whether they be Muslim, whether they be from Latin America, Central America, any part of the world, would you put any restriction on the number of them coming into the US?
Keith: Probably not. But I think I have kind of a more important question I'd like to ask you, actually. Why America? Why do they need to cross, you know, an ocean? Like, okay, South American refugees, like, Central America, whatever.
Keith: Like, it makes sense. But, you know, you can walk there, you can drive there, we can take a bus. There's cheap ways to get them here. How much does it cost to send a million people from Syria to the US? Why is it that the US has to be the place?
Randy: Yeah. I think that's a great question. First of all, one of the amazing things about our country is that we're a beacon to the rest of the world, right.
Keith: Are we still, though?
Randy: Well, I think lately political rhetoric has changed that alittle bit, has tarnished it. But I still think that there are literally over like billions of people in the world who look to America as, you know, as Reagan put it, “a shining city on a hill.” And I think that there is something to that. I have an issue with American exceptionalism, but I also have fierce pride in what we are as a country. I think that there are several reasons why we are one of the best countries for those kinds of people to come to. I think there's a lot of historical reasons behind this, but we tend to have an easier time assimilating immigrants from different cultures. When you look at Europe, they seem to, and this is just my perspective and maybe I'm wrong about this, but they seem to have a more difficult assimilating some of their immigrant populations.
Keith: Well, why do you think that is?
Randy: I think because there is more of a history in those European countries of ethno-nationalism. And I think that France has this identity as French people, right? They have an official language, they have a common racial identity that, yes, there are certainly people in this country who have played up what they believe is our racial identity. But the fact is that our country at its purest essence is, I don't know if you would say postracial but-
Samia: Yeah, you're referencing the concept of the melting pot. We're supposed to be-
Samia: A collection of people-
Samia: -from diverse backgrounds and that's kind of what we think of ourselves as. It's a small world, after all. You know? And all of those cultures are living in our country.
Randy: Right. Detroit is a great example. Because it has the largest Muslim population in the entire country. And so it would be a great place for lots of Syrians to go live. They would have a very easy time building a life for themselves. And they would much more quickly become very productive and contributing members of our country. And I think that would be fantastic. There have been so many... You know, Steve Jobs is the best example of someone with Syrian background who has helped to build our country into what it is, right? And now the biggest company on the history of the world, over a trillion dollars in valuation - that's quite a legacy. And if we didn't, basically, want everyone from around the world to come here and to want to come here, then we really wouldn't enjoy that legacy. That's what makes our country, I think, still the strongest country in the world.
Keith: Yeah. But I still don't think you've answered the why does it have to be America? Like, why can't we help people assimilate, you know, become refugees in other countries? The cost of just moving that many people that far…
Samia: There are refugees settling in other countries. You mentioned Germany, and that is an example that stands out. But there's immigrants that have resettled, and refugees that have resettled in France, England, all over Europe. Canada as well is a place that people like to go. I think that America is seen as the gold standard of places for immigrants to go because of the PR message we've been putting out to the world. We call ourselves the leader of the free world. We call ourselves the melting pot. “Give us your poor.” We pride ourselves on this welcoming aspect of our culture as a nation. I can understand why people would want to come here. We've told them they're welcome.
Keith: Oh, for sure. I think America's great and I want to stay.
Randy: Yeah. When you phrase the question that way, why does it have to be America? It clearly doesn't, but is it great that it can be? I think that's fantastic. I think that the fact that people went to come here - I mean, immigrants have, throughout the history of our country, been some of the most productive groups and have contributed so much. And a refugee, the amount of appreciation that they are naturally going to have for the country that has helped them out, that has given them a new home, given them a new opportunity, they're absolutely going to want to contribute a lot to our - not just our economy, but our culture, just everything about our country that makes it fantastic. I think we should offer that opportunity to anyone who wants it.
Samia: Have either of you ever seen a brand new US citizen get their citizenship?
Randy: No, I haven't seen that.
Samia: A year or two ago, one of my close friends who is originally Palestinian and grew up all over the Middle East first came to the States as a young teenager - living in North Carolina I want to say? - and then eventually making her way to New York City to be an actor. She had been in the system trying to get citizenship since she was, like, 13 or 14 years old. She finally got her citizenship in her mid-30s. I went to the ceremony and I saw a room full of people who were just glowing. Just so happy, from all over the damn place. So thrilled, so happy. It was a really touching experience for me to see what it meant to all these people to be able to get citizenship in this country that has all of these problems. And this political polarization and everything. And this was after the election, right after the election. So I guess it was only a year and a half ago.
Keith: So she spent, what, 17-ish years working on that?
Samia: But she was living here most of that time. It's just... I don't think we need to fear the other. And I think the reason that this topic is so important to talk about is that the current administration is so focused with its rhetoric and its language on demonizing immigrants. I've heard Trump call immigrants animals and criminals and rapists more times than I care to remember. Keith, how do you feel about the way the current administration speaks of, and refers to immigrants?
Keith: I think they're bigoted assholes. To be honest, I don't think that there's any excuse for the things that come out of that person’s mouth. Or pretty much any of their mouths. I certainly didn't vote for him, I certainly didn't vote for Hillary. But he's who we have to put up with for now. I feel like a lot of us wish that that wasn't the option. It's tough being on the conservative side, as it were, and having someone who's so clearly not fit to be a leader. He may make great business decisions, I don't know, I'm not a businessman. I've never made multi-million dollar deals or talked with China for some reason. But, I don't think that any person who can say the things that he says is fit to be a leader. I clearly don't support him, and I think that most people know that. I may agree with him on some things, and I didn't vote for Obama either but I thought he was a good president, despite the fact that I didn't always agree with the things he was doing or saying. Where Trump is kind of the opposite of that. Like, I disagree with most of the things he says. I disagree with probably 60 to 70% of his policies, and I think he's an asshole.
Randy: In terms of immigration, where would you say that you're aligned with Trump?
Samia: Yeah, let's look at the policies instead of the rhetoric now.
Keith: Yeah. I think that he does have the idea of we need to make sure that we're looking out for the people living here in America first before we're trying to bring in all these people to fill jobs when frankly, you know... Like, you talk about low income jobs, you know? I started out working for $6.75 an hour in high school. Friggin’ awesome. It didn't feel like a lot, but you know I got a check and I didn't have any bills, I was in high school. It was fine. I learned good work ethic. You know, I slowly grew, I'm making much more than that now. There's something to be said about making people work for low income. Because that's just kind of where you start in life. You're not worth anything when you start. You don't know anything, you need to grow. That's not something that's doable for, you know, a single mom at 25 or whatever, but I would hope that at that point, you've made some more progress towards a skill that will earn you more money. And there's obviously jobs that don't require a high level of skill or education that may still pay well that are great for people who haven't done that. But ultimately, there's so many people in America who we just need to focus on before we open up these borders. And I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels saying that over and over. But, the fact is, you know, I don't know what the homeless population is. I don't know what the unemployment population is, but…
Samia: Unemployment's at an all time low. I think it's at, like, 3.9%.
Keith: Randy sitting here has been unemployed for what, nine months?
Randy: Yeah. I mean, I've been putting together, like we talked about, you know, the gig economy.
Keith: You've been looking for full-time work this entire time. So what does that have to say about the state of the economy, if you, a person with a graduate degree who's well educated, who's from America, still can't find work after nine months? Yeah, you can scrape by, you have savings, you know, you probably have a nest egg of some sort.
Randy: I think my situation - I don't think you can conflate it with what's happening in the rest of the country. There are very particular reasons why I am in the situation that I am in and have made the choices that I've made. I don't think that it has a lot to do with the overall unemployment rate. But, you know, when you talk about low skill jobs and... Well, actually, so I wanted to ask you about this from before. You had mentioned factory jobs, you had mentioned that a lot of those jobs are being shipped off. So one of the things that Trump has talked a lot about is the coal industry, right? How it's dying and he wants to revive that.
Keith: Yeah. It's silly.
Randy: Right? Okay. So you think that's silly. But it seems like you agree with his ideas about our factory jobs that are going away.
Keith: Yeah. Bringing back more blue collar work.
Randy: Right. So, what I wanted to find out from you is, like, what do you think is happening to those jobs?
Keith: I think that clean energy has allowed us to move away from coal, which is fantastic. I think that people who used to work in those industries should realistically be learning new skills. As one set of blue collar jobs, like the coal industry, moves away, other opportunities show up. How do you find a way to get those people to learn those new skills, whether it be, you know, a machine technician to fix the robots that are replacing a lot of these jobs, or quality inspection on these, you know, higher technology parts? You know, who knows what it is, but we have this industry that died for good reason. We need to find a way to allow them to find jobs without just putting them on the unemployment line. Okay great, we have these people who are highly skilled, you know, India, New Zealand, whatever, who are coming in on these H1 visas. But you know what, you're calling it a highly skilled job, but these are jobs that we could be learning and teaching people who are in their 20s and 30s. Or even people in high school. And we don't necessarily need them. We have plenty of people, we just don't have plenty of jobs.
Randy: From my perspective, you know, my understanding of the situation is that automation is impacting our job market a lot more than offshoring. We're not really shipping a bunch of jobs to China. We're getting rid of jobs that don’t, as you said, they don't need to be done anymore. And so, it doesn't really seem like the immigration debate is as big of a factor.
Keith: You're saying we just lost all these automation jobs, or jobs to automation. Even if they're not going to another country. But you're still taking away the same amount of jobs. And, okay, people from other countries may know how to do them, but why can't the people from America learn to do them? Instead of putting all this money into the ridiculous two-year screening process, or whatever. Like, could we maybe put some money into community college?
Randy: Yeah. I 100% agree with you that we need to be putting more money into education for those high tech jobs. Green energy is a great example. We need people to work on windmills, and solar panels, and install solar panels throughout our entire country, right?
Keith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Randy: And so, but we still have a shortage of labor in a lot of those engineering jobs. And so there's a lot of people from India and China who have that exact kind of education who want to come here. And if they do, then why is that an issue? Yes, if we start educating our people, the people who were born here, a little bit better and preparing them for those jobs, I think that’ll be great and we can have a pipeline. And the fact is that the market would adjust for that. Right now, the pay for those jobs is sky high and so it's attracting people into this country. But those people wouldn't want to come here as much if the labor market were more lubricated with more people who had those skills. We're drawing people in because we have a vacuum.
Keith: So would you say that if we had the education background to support all these engineering jobs that you would want to limit the amount of immigration for engineering jobs?
Randy: No. So, what I was saying was that, like, we're not going to have that issue because the wage will adjust.
Keith: And I think there’s where I disagree, because you think that the wage will adjust but coming from - I used to freelance in film and there was all these great places you could go to bid on jobs. And you know what, 90% of the time I was outbid by some dude in Brazil or some random country, and it was just because I live here in America where things cost more. It's just a fact of life. So my rate is going to be higher. And I was just constantly undercut. So I don't see that as, you know, okay we now have these people who can do this. I still see them getting undercut in the future because we're allowing it.
Randy: That's not really related to immigration is it?
Keith: It is, because in the end, like if those jobs stayed in America and we still had the H1 program, and we had all these people who were willing to do it for, say, 30 bucks an hour in India - I don't want to use India, but the fact is there's a huge amount of computer programming and engineering jobs that are going to people from India, because they seem to be really good at it. And whatever their education system there is, they're training them for it. In India, this 30 bucks an hour is, you know, might be worth 40 bucks an hour to them. So getting paid 20 bucks an hour here is essentially the same thing to them. You know, they're maybe renting their apartment for a little bit and then they're moving back, taking all that money with them back to India, or whatever country they're from. How do you prevent something like that from happening? How do know that the market won't shift?
Randy: Well, the market's always going to shift. And that's, you know, in economics, you have comparative advantage. So the education system, the systems in India and China have, in my understanding, and this is a relatively shallow understanding, but they seem to have a lot of emphasis on quantitative sciences.
Keith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Randy: Right? There's a lot of computer programming. There seems to be less creative and liberal arts education emphasized over there. Right? So the technical arts, they're certainly providing a lot of people to do that. Whereas in the US, and I think there are cultural roots of this, our culture is a little bit more individualistic. We emphasize the value of creativity. I think it's one of the reasons why Hollywood and the music industry and so many creative industries, and the creative aspects of technology industries, are still centered here, right? Manufacturing may have gone, and engineering to some extent may have gone to other countries that have a comparative advantage in those areas with their labor force. But we still have a comparative advantage in the more creative aspects of that. And we should continue to develop that. As long as we do, there will be a balance in the labor market. There will be more creative jobs that are being generated here and, you know, we will have plenty of jobs as long as we're able to allocate our educational resources to fuel that labor market in an intelligent way, then it's not going to be an issue. That's kind of how the world of economy has always worked.
Samia: One thing we haven't hit on that I think about a lot is there is sense of American entitlement when it comes to jobs.
Samia: Like, Randy, you've been unemployed for nine months. You probably could have gone at any point in the last nine months and gotten a job washing dishes somewhere.
Samia: Right? You don't want that job. I dated a guy for three years who came from... He was a white dude, but he came from an incredibly poor background. He had a lot of major obstacles in his life, no family safety net, and yet, the motherfucker still wouldn't go and get a dishwashing job. He wanted to be front of house, at a nice restaurant, and nothing else was going to do it for him, like trying to get him to put that pride aside and just get a job so that you can pay for your life was impossible, and it astounded me. And this is somebody who really came from the dregs of American society, not a good family background, and still was picky as hell when it came to trying to get a job, and would turn down offers because he didn't think that they were good enough for him.
Randy: Why do you think that is?
Samia: I think that Americans have a sense that they are entitled to a happy life and a job that they like, and a lot of people who come here as immigrants or refugees are more like, "I'll do anything to support myself and my family. There's no job that's too good for me because I'm committed to supporting my family, I'm committed to make this work. So I'm going to be grateful for any job that I manage to get." And Americans in general, I haven't seen much evidence that they share that attitude. I certainly don't. I would rather be broke than work in a restaurant.
Samia: You know? I'm picky as hell too.
Randy: Yeah, it's funny. I was just having a conversation with my roommate today. I’m a little bit wary of talking about this, because it gets to the depths of my psyche. But I walk around my neighborhood. I live in Irvine, California, which is a very nice place.
Randy: And it's a well manicured neighborhood. And I walk around and I'm reminded of my background, the privilege that I have come from. When I see the people who work there to maintain that well manicured state, I am reminded that they have a very different life situation from me, and it makes me very self-conscious about my circumstances, and it makes me think about myself, "Well, would I take that kind of job if I were in more desperate straits?" And it gets to the very core of this American identity, where we have so many jobs that we need done, and we have so many people who would be unwilling to do those jobs. I just started to drive for Lyft, and this is the modern gig economy. And I love driving, I love meeting new people. So it is kind of like the perfect job for me, but at the same time, it doesn't have the level of respect that you allocate to other jobs. I've worked throughout the auto industry, and I've had high paying jobs and great jobs, and I've enjoyed that status. Have they been always as satisfying to me as they could be? I think that's part of the issue. But the fact is that it's tougher to tell my parents, who have provided a lot for me in life, that, hey, I'm starting to drive Lyft.
Keith: I'd like to the anecdote for a second. I think that when you talk about kind of that drive, that respect, whatever you want to call it for those lower paying jobs, I used to drive for Lyft, too. I don't really talk about it, because I'm not necessarily proud of it, but I also have a friend who he had a kid with his wife and he started mowing lawns, seriously, just started mowing lawns to make money. And he stuck with it and built a business. He may not be making $10,000 a week or whatever, but he's getting by. And I think that when you say like, "Oh, they're willing to do anything for their family," and you're talking about your ex-boyfriend who didn't want to wash dishes, there's a huge difference between somebody who's coming and working to support a family, versus they're 25 and living in Beverly… Wherever they're living, and they just want to go out and party.
Samia: It was New York City, just as expensive.
Keith: Yeah. Like what do you want to do when you're 25 and living in a city? You want to go out, get drunk, and party with girls. That's just kind of the way things are just for anyone. Like-
Samia: In our country, our very privileged country.
Keith: If that was an option for anyone in their 20s, they're still going to choose to find the easy way to just, they're young, you want to be having fun. I don't know if that's true, but I honestly believe that everyone just honestly just wants to have fun. And when you're in your 20s, that's what you do, because you're young enough to enjoy it.
Samia: What if you're in your 20s and you're fleeing a country that's being torn apart by civil war, and you're trying to get to a place where you can be safe, and maybe you already have a couple of kids?
Keith: Yeah, and that's a totally different situation.
Samia: And those are the people that I'm concerned about helping.
Keith: Those are the people I'm concerned about with, too. But I think that people when they're forced to sacrifice for people they care about, always will, because ultimately, I think everyone cares about the people they love enough to do that. If my buddy had his wife and kid and was like, "I don't want to take this dishwashing job," I'd slap him in the face, be like, "Dude, you've got a wife and kid, go work."
Samia: Coming back to the issue of morality, I have a moral system that says all people in the world are deserving of the same basic rights, and we have massive inequality. So I see a real moral problem with any political ideology that says, "No, we need to take care of our people first," because in my moral system, all people are my people.
Keith: Well, what are those basic rights? Just so we have the same starting point.
Samia: Education, healthcare, freedom of speech, the freedoms and rights that are listed in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.
Samia: Healthcare isn't one of those that's in our Constitution, but I personally think that it should be a basic human right, considering the fact that having money ensures good healthcare. I don't see that as being particularly fair. It basically says, if you have more money, your life is more worthy of saving.
Randy: And we do talk about in our founding documents, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and health is part of that.
Samia: I'd love to hear both of your responses to that. Like, there's a moral system that says, take care of your own people first. It's an extension of take care of your own family first before helping your neighbor. And that's the America first conservative outlook on this. Whereas I think liberals and progressives are more like, "No, we're all the same people. It doesn't matter what country you're from. We’re all people, we all deserve this stuff. We need to be concerned about the global community." And I feel like they're both based in something that feels very morally justifiable. So how do you guys both feel about that? This is the last thing and then we'll wrap up.
Keith: If we're going to continue to talk about immigration and refugees, like absolutely, I think everyone should be allowed to pursue their dreams without somebody putting them in jail for saying something that the government disagreed with. But I guess to answer this question, I'd like to hear your perspective from immigration and how this applies. Because obviously, you know, Matt, coming from New Zealand, he clearly was already in a place where that was provided. So maybe we could add that kind of perspective into it.
Randy: It's great that he had that opportunity, and I'm glad that he took that opportunity, and I think everyone in the world should have that opportunity, regardless of their background, regardless of whether they've had an upbringing with the education and other resources that he enjoyed, right? So I guess, the moral question about who we should be taking care of… So in 1921, our immigration system changed because there was a fear of other people from around the world. That fear included Jews, like my family. And so when you go down this path that says, well, we're going to take care of everyone from our tribe… And I think there's certainly evolutionary, genetic bases for our system of morality and how it has evolved as essentially a tribalistic system of morality, so we can make sure that our gene pool is the one that survives and has passed along. But I do think that we have transcended that as a species. We can ensure the survival of whoever we want in this world now. And so, therefore, we get into a different realm of morality, and we have to make decisions that are on a more global scale. And when that happens, you really do have to solve the intellectual debate of, is every single life on earth equivalent in its value?
Keith: Yes, it is.
Randy: Yeah. So if we truly believe that everyone in the world deserves to aspire to the same standard of living, then we really have to have our borders as open as as logistically possible.
Keith: Huh. Yeah. I mean, I think that letting people into the country isn't the way we do that. I think that what we're doing now by going in and fighting for the people who can't fight for themselves is the way we do that. I wish that we didn't just do it when it benefited us. We probably shouldn't be spending the kind of money we are just to get some more oil, because there's so many other places in the world. We could talk about the children who are fighting wars in Africa for these people who kidnap them, like-
Samia: And we don't do anything because there's no economic benefit.
Keith: Exactly. And you know what? It wouldn't take that much work for America, who has such an amazing amount of military power, to go just stop that.
Samia: And that is a whole other conversation.
Keith: Yeah. I would take issue with that assertion.
Keith: And yeah, for sure. But just allowing immigrants to come in from… We shouldn't just allow this free flow, because there's so many other people we can help in different ways that doesn't involve just letting them into our country. I mean, they're contributing to our resources, sure, but in the beginning of them coming, they're pulling our resources away. I absolutely agree that everyone should enjoy the same basic human rights, and healthcare, more and more probably is on that list, because healthcare allows us to live longer and pursue those dreams longer. I've broken bones, I've been sick. And if I was living in a country that didn't have doctors available to fix me up, I might be an amputee, I might be dead, who knows? But I think that there's other approaches to equalizing everyone's human rights besides just saying, "Hey, come live in America."
Samia: Randy and Keith, thank you both so much for being on Make America Relate Again.
Keith: Oh, for sure.
Randy: Thanks. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Samia: Randy and Keith are both such thoughtful guys, and they both made great points. I can see the logic behind the idea of taking care of your own before worrying about taking care of others, from a foreign policy viewpoint. At the same time, my own moral system says that we are a global community. And as one of the most prosperous countries in the world, we have a moral responsibility to help other countries in need. What's your take on this? Leave your opinions in the comments for this episode at makeamericarelatepodcast.com. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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For a transcript of this show, head to makeamericarelatepodcast.com. And for more information on Better Angels or to become a Better Angels workshop organizer like Randy, check out better-angels.org.
Thanks to Keith's PBS show, Roadtrip Nation, for allowing us to use their in-house studio to record this conversation, Dear Culture Studio in Seoul for recording my intro and outro segments, Dani Valdezan for creating the theme music, and Christopher Gilroy for mixing and editing this episode.
This is Make America Relate Again. See you next week.