Politics

A Bridge to Nowhere

My family has been in America a long time.

My first descendant was a Dutch immigrant to New Amsterdam in the 1630’s named Wyckoff. He was an indentured servant who rose to become a colonial judge after the Dutch lost the territory to the English. His immigration marked the start of an American family line that can be tracked nearly four centuries to my children. The original family house in Flatbush is still standing. It’s the oldest structure in New York City.

My wife’s American family is older. They were at Jamestown. Her earliest American descendant was a woman whose first husband was killed in a Native American raid. She later married a ship captain that brought supplies to the colony from England. His name was Bennett, my wife’s maiden name. My oldest son’s first name.

Those two old American lines married into recently arriving Irish Catholic and Mexican families in late 20th century in unions that, for most of history, would have been unimaginable. Centuries of war and bloodshed had to solve the conflict of Catholic and Protestant and Mexican and American so that one day our parents might have an uneventful ceremony at city hall.

In my house, the Age of Religious Wars was reenacted and anticlimactically decided by the local Catholic school and its choice to have the only all-day kindergarten in the city. That was the tie breaker. I was raised Catholic.

2800 miles away, on the opposite coast, my wife was half Mexican with an English last name. She didn’t speak Spanish. And so she was raised white as far as anyone knew. Including her.

Today, my wife and I are two mostly white 40 somethings with three mostly white children in the Southern California suburbs. Hundreds of years of English and Dutch and German and French and Irish and Native American and Spanish cultures and religions have mostly been paved over. Until we did DNA tests and logged onto Ancestry.com to do some research, my wife had no idea she was a quarter native American. And I had no idea that I was entirely Northwestern European. Neither of us had any idea our American roots went back four centuries.

I was raised with no pride in my genetic heritage. Nor any shame. I identified as American; an identity that I was told in school and by my parents was a mixture of immigrants. I was a melting pot. And I drew pride in my identity from that distinction.

This is a common American pattern. Hundreds of years of cultural differences assimilated into a common, contemporary American one. This is how cultural assimilation works.

If one is allowed to assimilate, that is. 

For most of American history, what has been allowed to assimilate into American mainstream culture are white people. And so that seamless transition that my family and my wife’s family, from one local or religious culture to another, was reserved for white people. And so, until recently, American mainstream culture has had an over-representative white identity.

African American history dates back to 1619. Latin American history is rooted in the 16th century. They are deep and rich cultures. But they were kept undeniably separate from white American culture for centuries, with great care and effort.

Two weeks ago a white supremacist drove ten hours to the border town of El Paso in Texas to murder 20 people in a mass shooting at a Walmart. Prior to the shooting, he published a manifesto railing against the “great replacement” and drawing on references from and language used in recent white supremacist mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Christchurch, New Zealand.

In his speech condemning the shooting, President Trump called for unity. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”

I applaud the President’s condemnation. But I struggle to dive deeply into the cognitive dissonance it takes to be moved by it. The hard reality Americans are struggling to reconcile in the modern identity politics environment is that hate does have a place in America. And our history is riddled with white supremacy.

Our founding documents originally reserved voting rights for “white persons of good character.” It took four scores and seven years and thirteen amendments before the 14th granted citizenship to black Americans. Asian immigrants weren’t granted citizenship until the 1940s. Interracial marriage was illegal when my parents married. Candidates who ran on segregationist platforms served in the Senate until the Obama administration. And from 1920s to the 1960s, immigration quotas were designed to allow mostly English, German and Irish immigrants into the country.

Policies that forwarded white American interest at the expense of other races are undeniably ingrained in our history.

This history is important to remember. Not because white people like me should walk around with heads hung low in shame. Like all histories, America’s has both shame and triumph. And though the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on the child, we can’t ignore the past. And we have to understand where America came from. And where we are going. And where we are on the arc of that journey.

America will lose its majority white demographic in my lifetime. This is reasonably certain. Most of the people that will be alive then are alive today. And most of the people that are alive today that won’t be then are already known. Demography is easy to predict.

If we closed the doors to immigrants tomorrow, it wouldn’t change the fate of the white American majority. If we left immigration open only to white people from developed nations, it wouldn’t change it either as they don’t come here in large enough numbers anymore. At current inter-marriage and birth rates, over time, 25 years or so, there will be fewer white only Americans than non-white only Americans. The shift has already happened. It is inevitable.

The only questions we need answered are who are the right leaders with the right policies and the right new American ideas to lead us through it.

Four years ago, when then candidate Trump launched his campaign for president, railing against Mexican immigration and riding a wave of anti-immigration sentiment towards a wire to wire victory in the Republican Primary and a general election in which he won every contested state, I was concerned. My concern was that we’d unlocked an undercurrent of populous anger that was motivated by an impossible aim; to keep America frozen in the cultural and demographic glory of the past.

We danced around issues like the economy and  manufacturing jobs. We played lip service to trade and an America first policy. But what both research and a cursory view of any Trump rally will tell you is that what binds the most vigorous Trump supporters together the most are two characteristics. 1-Views on immigration. 2- Views on politically correctness.

The new GOP led by President Trump isn’t content with simple indifference towards the plight of minority populations in America. They’ve given voice to the anxieties of a majority population living through demographic shift in real time. President Trump has taken aim at the institutions of the media, academia and the liberal leaning tech sector who have worked to anchored American cultural norms of intolerance towards racism. And he’s made impossible promises to try to hold together a strong political base, at all costs.

Ethnic majorities that live through demographic shift behave predictably. They are susceptible to populous demagoguery. Fringe ideology of racial purity escalates. Violence against minority populations escalates. Negative attitudes towards immigration and immigrants become more salient.

In the past, when America hit 13% foreign born population, as we are today, the nativist Know Nothing party swept state and local elections in the 1850s. In the 1920s when it did again, emergency immigration quotas were passed to ensure an ethnic majority. Today we have both relatively high immigration, a changing ethnic demographic and an information and social media age that breaks down regional separation.

As the pattern shows, President Trump was right on schedule.

His message though, is a loser. And the fear it runs on, is unfounded. There is no replacement of people. Only some mix of assimilation and diversity that makes for a richer, no less American, America.

I live in a minority white region. And it looks mostly like the majority white one I came from with more food choices and more reasons to throw a party. We still drink beer and watch football and baseball. And there’s plenty of conservative non-white folks here. Because when you make conservative views about something other than maintaining a past white culture, you’ll find that conservative views are universal across peoples.

Faith. Family. Tradition. Personal liberties.

We’re living through change. And we need strong civic leadership to bring us through it. The Trump message is a bridge to nowhere trying to stop a shift that can only be stopped through coercion or violence.

What’s the 20-year plan in that direction? Be 20 years angrier? Be 20 years more afraid? That way lies pogroms. There are strong indications that they’re already here.

It’s time to change course.

Categories: Politics

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2 replies »

  1. I always learn from your posts. I appreciate the knowledge and experience and history that your posts share.

    I’m not sure it’s conservative values that are universal, but perhaps all our values stem from hope for a future in a world of differences. As a liberal, these are also some of my values: Faith. Family. Tradition. Personal liberties.

    Anyway, this is such an important post — about who we really are as Americans. I’m just so sad about they current discourse and policies about nonwhite Americans, immigrants, migrants. It doesn’t fit my vision of America and, to me, the words and the actions are inhumane. Your words show what is happening and why, and what the reality is. Hopefully, our idea of “American” and how to treat others will find its way back to the message of hope and “united.”

    I do have one request. I wonder about your featured image. I look away when I see that picture. I am filled with overwhelming sadness when I see it. To me, that “thumbs up” is signal to Trump’s “base” of what he’s done: orphaned that baby, and that he’s going to do it more. The picture is a symbol of all the horrid actions and words and lies he has made for them. He is not for all Americans, and that picture shows it. I shared this post once on Twitter, but I can’t share it more with that picture.

    But it’s a powerful post, and I thank you for your careful and thoughtful words.

    ~ Sheri

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  2. I agree with Shari’s comments accept I couldn’t see the thumbs up symbol she referenced. I don’t think of Trump when I do see it but, rather, the emoji that tells me the sender and I are all set or in agreement.
    I think this is a terrific post and I hope it gets a really wide audience.

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