That piece characterized immigration as basically positive, but didn't take a position on any of the issues surrounding the current proposal for reform. Rather, it took an historical perspective, exploring the long history of immigration in America and even suggesting that the country was "built for immigrants" rather than simply "by immigrants." (Emphasis mine.)
Nevertheless, or not surprisingly, depending on your perspective, the online comments were overwhelmingly negative. I analyzed the first 100 comments published.
I counted separate postings by the same person as one comment, but tracked the total number of "recommendations" they received. (On the Journal web site, a "recommendation" is equivalent to a Facebook "like" and is a rough indication of agreement.)
For simplicity and clarity, I ignored threads that sometimes made comments off topic or simply repeated prior assertions.
I recognize that people who disagree with something are more likely to comment than those who agree. The article continued to attract comments after I began my analysis. As of this writing, it had attracted more than 270 comments. A quick reading suggests that the tenor of the comments hadn't changed much.
So what did I find?
- Nearly 9 out of 10 comments (88%) took issue with the article's premise that the U.S. has an innate ability to accomodate diverse peoples and that immigration is basically positive.
- Negative comments received far more "recommendations" than the positive comments did, 95% to 5%.
- More than half the negative comments and recommendations (51%) were based on a perception that immigrants aren't assimilating into American culture (28%) but are here simply to collect welfare benefits (22%).
- About one out of ten (9%) said they were not opposed to immigration but simply to giving illegal immigrants anything but a one-way ticket home.
- Another one out of ten (12.5%) consider today's immigrants fundamentally different from prior generations, largely for the reasons explained above.
- Finally, a small (12.5%) but not insignifant group believes immigration reform, as well as the changing character of immigrants themselves, is part of a liberal plot to expand its electoral power.
- The last 15% had a variety of reasons for opposing immigration reform -- from calling it a plot by Big Business to lower wages or expressing an enduring fear of Muslims, to saying "I don't care about the rest of the world" or "if diversity had real benefits, whites would want more of it."
So what are we to make of all this?
It seems to me these are the comments of people who feel dispossessd, aliens in their own country. They are scared and angry. No rational argument -- no fact-based rebuttal -- is going to shake them from their feelings of assault and betrayal.
A question worth exploring: what will?