The president cites a memoirist with a persecution complex.
In a tweet early Friday morning, President Trump hailed Nick Adams’s new book, “Green Card Warrior,” as a “must read,” suggesting that it offered lessons on how to reimagine the U.S. immigration system.
Well, now I’ve read it, and it is not a must read. If not for the president’s endorsement, the book would barely rate a must acknowledge. It is, however, a must laugh, a must groan, and, if “Green Card Warrior” is indeed where Trump is finding ideas for immigration reform, it is also a you must be kidding me.
Adams, a 33-year-old conservative commentator whose longtime dreams have included providing election analysis for the Fox Business Network (hey, if you’re dreaming, you may as well go big), wanted to emigrate from his native Australia to the United States. This book details his quest to gain U.S. permanent-resident status, also known as a green card, which subsequently enables recipients to more easily acquire U.S. citizenship. It is a tale of meetings with immigration lawyers and interviews with consular officers, of emails and documents shooting and back forth, of bureaucratic delays and snafus and — spoiler! — of eventual success, when Adams wins his visa.
But in the author’s eyes, it was a saga for the ages, revealing gross miscarriages of justice, a dedicated conspiracy against his conservative politics and the naked abuse of power by liberal forces seeking to deprive America of his imported greatness. The application process left Adams feeling misunderstood and victimized, full of self-generated rage and imagined grievance. I see why Trump likes him. Adams appears to sincerely love the United States, an affection harbored since childhood. “I was raised to believe America was a force for good in the world,” he writes, “and that it should take its leadership role seriously,” because America is “the best idea the world has ever had.”
This devotion would be tested, so severely, in 2015. That is when Adams, after being approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a green card based on his fulfillment of “extraordinary ability” requirements as a writer and television pundit, encountered his nemesis: a U.S. consular officer in Sydney whose name is unmentioned but whose monstrosity is laid bare when he dares request proof of sufficient financial assets or income before processing Adams’s visa.
Rather than blame his lawyer for not better warning him of these requirements, Adams concocts a theory of personal oppression based on the consular officer’s Facebook page, which outs him as sympathetic to Democratic politicians and gay rights. “It is abundantly clear to me what has happened,” Adams writes. “This man thought he knew me from the documents that had been lodged, and didn’t like me because of my politics . . . . I believe this man acted arrogantly and abused his position because he wanted to vilify an enemy of the Left.”
He provides no proof in the book, but these days that doesn’t get in the way of a good persecution complex — one that was only heightened when Adams received notice from the consulate two months later that his application was being returned to USCIS with a recommendation that its approval be revoked. This despite pouring $200,000 into his bank account as proof of financial solvency, courtesy of a generous father.
The outlandish metaphors Adams invokes for his plight are among the book’s few amusing moments. “I’m homeless,” he writes, when first awaiting word from the consulate. “In a world of socalled refugees flooding countries, I’m one that will never be discussed. Please, God, intervene. Please stop the torture.” (It’s like Syria, but for conservative Australian pundits with graduate degrees and regular cable-news hits.) Later, he goes from stateless to pugilist. “I’m out on my feet. Against the ropes. I’m absorbing incredible punishment. My body prays for the mercy of the knockout. My mind refuses to comply.”
Adams, the author of other conservative tracts such as “America: The Greatest Good,” “Exceptional America” and “Retaking America,” deployed his connections among the American right and on Capitol Hill, getting lawmakers to intercede on behalf of his application. (The book’s acknowledgments thank the offices of Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Tim Scott and Cory Gardner, as well as now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among many others.)
He even worries for a while that his highlevel contacts may not be enough. “You can do all the right things, have all the right connections, have the best attorney, pay all the money you have, and sometimes you still get screwed.” I found this a somewhat encouraging passage, suggesting that what you spend and who you know won’t always do the trick in America.
Except they do. Adams is hanging out at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference when he learns that his application has been approved for processing again. “The emails come in thick and fast,” he recalls. “I field calls from multiple Senatorial and Congressional Offices, all bearing the great news. I feel elation.”
The vendetta with the consular officer was hardly over, though, and Adams ricochets between hatred for the bureaucrat and selfdoubt. When he is unable to reenter the United States for a leadership conference because authorities in Australia tell him he has been flagged, he further speculates on the venality of the local consulate, which in his mind has nothing better to do than torment him. “I believe the Sydney Consulate is sore about their recommendation not being accepted by USCIS, and that I used my trip to America earlier this year to mobilize political support for my application and further my extraordinary ability case. Once they realized what I had done, they stepped in to make sure that traveling to the US to defend myself and create public awareness of my application would not be possible.”
He later learns that the consulate had nothing to do with it — he had been labeled an “intending immigrant” and thus was unable to travel as a tourist while his green card was being expedited — and he becomes briefly embarrassed. “It is unlike me to be conspiratorial, but what else was I to think?” Yet, when his father, the lone sympathetic character in the book, falls ill, Adams blames it on the stress of the application process and again targets the anonymous consular officer.
“One man in one office on one day has caused all our lives to go into a tailspin,” he writes. “And for what? Because he didn’t like my politics?” He works himself into a lather. “It was unwarranted, and evil. Arrogant and personal. Abusive and discriminatory. This was political persecution, plain and simple.”
In his tweet praising the book, Trump argues that a “merit-based system” of immigration is “the way to go.” It’s not clear, of course, that the president has actually read the book, which was published a few days before the November election. (The president was reacting to Adams’s Friday morning appearance on “Fox & Friends.”) But Trump has shown that books — or the snippets he hears of them — can affect his policy views, as when Ann Coulter’s 2015 book, “Adios, America,” helped shape his campaign statements on the supposed criminality of Mexican immigrants.
Aside from lamenting a “broken” immigration system in America, and complaining that legal immigration is hard while illegal immigration is easy, “Green Card Warrior” offers scarce details on what a reformed, merit-based approach would look like. In recent television appearances, however, Adams has expounded further. “We need to really elevate skills and job prospects and proficiency in English over simple family ties,” he told Fox Business on Friday. “If this is going to remain the best country in the world, we’ve got to make sure that only the best can come . . . . America doesn’t need the B-team from anywhere.”
The “extraordinary ability” condition under which Adams gained his green card is supposed to reward individual merit, granting admission to talented people at the top of their fields in business, science, arts, athletics and other endeavors. Adams believes he possesses such skills — “my extraordinary ability was indisputable,” he boasts — and U.S. immigration authorities appear to agree.
Who knew that political punditry, an industry in which the barriers to entry are notoriously low, would qualify for such treatment? And judging from this book, Adams’s talents as a writer would seem to land him comfortably on the B-team. Yet now, with the blessing of the president, this overwrought, self-indulgent and otherwise forgettable work may prove not just commercially successful but politically influential.
Now that is extraordinary.
Carlos Lozada is the nonfiction book critic of The Washington Post.