David Frum ’82, a senior editor at The Atlantic and an outspoken conservative critic of President Donald Trump, visited Davenport on Monday to discuss American immigration policy in a college tea entitled, “Why a liberal state needs strong immigration enforcement.”
After graduating from Yale College, Frum pursued a career in journalism, which landed him a job as a speechwriter for George W. Bush ’68 in from 2001 to 2002. More recently, Frum published a book this year called “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic,” in which he discussed the current White House’s disregard for traditional limitations of the executive office. Frum is known for his support for stricter immigration laws — a topic he advocated for during his Monday talk.
“If your society is doing something that is inflaming your country to do dangerous and self-destructive things, maybe you should do less of that thing,” he said.
Frum began his speech by ruling out traditional economic arguments for immigration, claiming that the “consensus among professional economists” is that the economic impact of immigration is “mildly positive but extremely small.” According to Frum, “the proximate cause” of the rise of authoritarian populists across the Western world is “very high levels of immigration that do not seem [to be] under the control of the authorities.”
Frum used the case of Western Europe as an example to illustrate his claim. Because these countries have a robust history of protections for low-skilled workers and a higher minimum wage requirement, European businesses are forced to fold multiple jobs into one in order to make them economically feasible. For instance, he said that while in the United States being a bus boy and a waiter at the same time would mean holding two separate low-skilled jobs, in Europe, those two separate jobs would often be compressed into a single profession.
Since Europe has fewer openings for low-skilled workers as a result, Frum said that the large-scale influxes of low-skilled immigrants require European countries to drastically change their labor markets.
Though Frum acknowledged that his views do not necessarily fall in line with those of the majority of Yale’s population, Davenport Head of College John Witt ’94 LAW ’99 GRD ’00 said that he invited Frum for the tea because providing a rich array of opinions helps appeal to a diverse community.
“One of the things I like best about being a head of college is bringing in a diverse array of interesting voices,” Witt said. “I know there are a lot of conservative students on campus, and I want to make sure everyone has voices in our teas that are of interest.”
Although students who came to the talk had various opinions on Frum’s arguments, all said they appreciated his nuanced view of the complicated issue.
Clayton Hebert ’21 said that he felt that Frum’s argument that tightening borders was the best way to tackle the rise of populism in the U.S. and around the world “was a really unique perspective” and one that is usually unheard of at Yale.
Adrianna Alterman SOM ’19 said that although she “fundamentally disagree[d]” with many of Frum’s ideas, she still believed it was important “to be here, and listen and reflect on them.”
“If one’s premise is that one should only listen to people with which they agree, then you’re fundamentally wrong,” she said.
In February, a college tea with Efren Olivares LAW ’08 — a director at the Texas Civil Rights Project — will follow Frum’s as part of Davenport’s series of college teas on immigration.
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