Radicalizing Immigration

If you look at America's most strongly conservative states, they tend to be places with high diversity -- Texas borders Mexico, the Deep South has larger black populations than elsewhere, and so forth. If you look at the eras of large-scale immigration, you tend to find violence. Immigration plus assimilation works out well for America in the long run, but in the short run it tends to provoke upset and tends to drive conservative reactions.

The obvious exception is California, where a large surge in immigration has been coupled with a complete end to conservative politics. Republicans are simply not to be found in the state government or its Federal delegations. The alliance between minorities in the state's big cities and an elite of tech companies in Silicon Valley has settled all questions in the liberal direction. Republicans and conservatives still exist in the state, but they are voiceless and powerless in democratic government.

That's the model that the 'emerging Democratic majority' has been aiming at all these years. The problem is that it works to the degree that it does in California because the immigration surge happened quickly (Reagan was governor a generation ago) and the tech jobs keep a large part of the white population convinced not to pursue their own version of identity politics. It's easy to buy the argument from white privilege when you are, in fact, privileged. It's not as easy to sell that argument in Alabama or West Virginia -- or Michigan.

For the last eight years the Federal government acted as if it believed that this 'emerging Democratic majority' should be helped along. They banned states from enforcing Federal immigration laws to prevent them from being more vigorously enforced, while also winking at 'sanctuary cities' that refused to enforce Federal immigration laws at all. Whatever their intentions, it looked like they were trying to shift the population's demographics a little more quickly than the law allowed.

People on the left may be waking up to the fact that it may not be possible to get to a nation that looks like California. These policies may be making more parts of the country look like Texas or Mississippi.

For now, they're still looking at this as a strictly moral issue: prejudice is bad, so these people acting out of prejudice are bad people, and we want to be on the side of the good (meaning non-prejudice: these are of course white people writing at Vox, who are thinking about the issue from their own perspective, not about how identity politics actively encourages racial prejudice from minorities). I agree that there should be no racial prejudice, and that we should -- as a moral concern -- strive against it in our hearts. But there is also an environmental psychology issue. Raising the discomfort level people feel makes them more conservative, because conservatives are characterized by being sensitive to threats in their environment. If you increase the perceived number of threats, you are going to make more people functionally conservative.

That's true even of people who share the moral concern about prejudice. Even if people are striving against prejudice in their heart, if you disrupt their community economically or culturally in a way that feels threatening, you're going to find more total prejudice. A good person who is trying hard may be able to suppress prejudice in themselves 50% of the time, say; maybe it's 70%, or 90%. Whatever the figure is, if you increase the number of times a day that their environment provokes an opportunity for prejudice, you're going to increase the total amount of prejudice even if they continue to suppress it in their hearts at the same rate.

If you wanted to put the brakes on this, oddly enough, you'd do what Trump claims to be doing: you'd slow legal immigration, clamp down on illegal immigration, and work on improving the economy so that people felt less personally threatened by the immigration that there is. That would be the sensible policy for lowering the temperature so that we can assimilate the large wave of immigration we've had recently with the minimum of racism, prejudice, or violence.

But that's not the conversation we're having. Mark Lilla's getting close, though.
It works for them. It doesn't work for us. It's that simple. It's killing us. The task isn't to deliver a moral judgment on whether appealing to identity is a good or bad thing. We're talking about trying to seize power in this country....

The other thing is that Fox News and conservative radio have managed to take characteristics that we have, exaggerate them, and turn us into a kind of specter. This specter, for people who don't come from our classes, don't share our education, don't share all of our values, is something that leaves them with the impression that we have contempt for them, and they have developed contempt for us. We're unable just to make people feel culturally comfortable....

So yes, we have to emphasize certain things and not emphasize other things. We compromise. We try to remain silent on things that will be too contentious. It's not about being morally pure. It is about seizing power so you can help the people you care about. That's all that matters right now.
I would feel better about his theorizing if he were less interested in 'seizing power' as the end of his politics, and more interested in avoiding the violence and division that is coming out of this method. But maybe that's just a way of trying to be rhetorically persuasive to people who are committed to identity politics. In any case, I would rather that they listened to him for a bad reason than ignored him for a good one. The way out of this mess lies in the direction he's pointing, whatever their reasons for taking that path.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am also put off by his claim that the usual bogeymen, Fox News and conservative radio, have somehow twisted and exaggerated the characteristics of the would-be rulers to make it appear as if they have contempt for the masses, and thus the masses have contempt for them.

That contempt is not exaggerated! I have worked among these elitists all my life and many (not all) absolutely have contempt for the benighted others. They say "Arkansas" with a sneer and believe they have made a joke, dammit!

I grant you he may be a decent sort, trying to sell this idea with the only advertising that works, but I wouldn't put money down on that.

Grim said...

You're right, of course. The contempt is real. It is nice to see them speaking as if they recognize that it isn't something they ought to feel, though, even if they won't admit that they probably really do. Hypocrisy being the tribute that vice pays to virtue, as they say.