Soviet immigrants for the status quo!

As far as we are concerned, America was always neoliberal. It’s the only America we know.

“The Americans.” The Levine (aka Levandovsky) family, circa 1994.

Greetings from San Francisco. Visiting family for my mother’s birthday here. Happy birthday, mom!

Not sure how many older Soviet immigrants in America are still voting Democrat these days. It’s a big Trump constituency, after all. But based on my very informal polling data — carried out among my Soviet immigrant community in the Bay Area — I can tell you that most Soviet immigrants voting this Super Tuesday want anyone but Bernie Sanders: Bloomberg, Biden, Warren. Anyone. As one of my mom’s friends said to me last night: “We already had communism. We know what it is!”

When Soviet Jews came to America in the 1980s and 1990s, their knowledge of American politics and political culture was zero. We had no generational memory — no grandpa or grandma telling us stories of how things had been before. As far as we were concerned, America was always neoliberal. It’s the only America we know. So it’s not surprising that any challenge to this politics — even a minor one — is seen by many in my community as some sort of massive commie revolution against the American Way of Life.

The truth is that Bernie Sanders’ New Deal-type politics are not really radical. They seem radical today. But they were in the American mainstream not that long ago. Of course, few of my fellow immigrants are interested in hearing that. Nor do they want to come to terms with the fact that massive centralized government programs helped build the modern, consumerist, and capitalist America that they adore — with its cars, roads, suburbs, public parks, and even the Internet. That’s a contradiction that they don’t really want to explore.

I’m sympathetic to the weird politics of the immigrant experience. Hell, I’m one of those immigrants. But to me this whole “Bernie is a commie” argument is a great example that we shouldn’t just “believe immigrants.” Just because someone had direct experience of something doesn’t mean that they’re right or that they know any better. It’s also a reminder that immigrant groups can be very valuable to the political status quo.

—Yasha Levine

Immigrants as a Weapon is an investigative newsletter that explores the weaponization of nationalism and immigrant communities. Sign up to get subscriber-only stuff in your inbox!