Why Is the Ugly American, Ugly?
It’s been interesting hearing the debate concerning immigration, especially the latest controversy involving children. The Republican answer time and again has been basically to send the kids back immediately. I can understand not just making everyone a citizen upon entry. But find the fervor from conservatives rather chilling. Instead of trying to find out if their claim was legit, there seems to be this drive among conservatives to just get rid of the kids. Damn any hearing to find out if they are true refugees.
Damon Linker thinks the GOP has become more tribal, afraid of anyone that is different. Linker goes as far as to accuse the GOP of only favoring Caucasians and no one else.
I don’t disagree with Linker’s anaylsis. But this brings up a question: why is the GOP so unbending on this issue- to the point of closing our doors to children?
I know there are those who will say that this is proof that Republicans are racist losers. I don’t think that’s true, or at least that wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan led a celebration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. He pushed for reforms with immigration and he got his way with a number of Republicans. Even George W. Bush wanted to reach out to Latinos and was moderately successful.
So, what has changed? Why is the party so skittish on immigration; a party that used to welcome immigrants has become so cold towards “the other?” What made former Iowa Republican Governor Bob Ray accept immigrants from Southeast Asia (yes they did come here legally) and the current Republican Iowa Governor Terry Branstad less welcoming?
The reason I’m not immediately jumping to racism is twofold. First, I lean conservative and I’ve met fellow conservatives that are welcoming of people from various backgrounds. Second, I think it’s lazy analysis- it’s the way people who don’t like conservatives or Republicans can wrap this all up in a bow. It also ignores examples of Republicans being inclusive.
My own guess is that the anger and xenophobia we are seeing is an example of “Archie Bunker’s Revenge.”
Let me explain. Archie Bunker is the central character in the 70s sitcom “All in the Family.” Archie would be considered a racist today with an unhealthy touch of sexism. He’s a working class person that is bewildered by the rapid change taking place in his society. Archie is more than just a bigoted white person; he’s someone that cares for his family and is trying, mostly through stumbling.
While the GOP is thought of as the party of the rich, the reality is far more murky. Whenever I’ve gone to a GOP party caucus, it’s interesting to note who is there. Forty years ago, the Minnesota GOP was the party that Minnesota businessmen and women belonged to. These days, it’s a little different. Attending a caucus in Minneapolis finds that most of the active members are not rich. Most are pretty common folk- mostly white and working class. If I were to go to a Democratic Party caucus the room would be made up of upper middle class people- in some cases they very people who 40 years earlier would have been Republicans. The GOP is becoming a whiter party, but I don’t think it’s the party of the well-to-do anymore.
The Archie Bunkers of the world are the white working class. They are seen their incomes stagnate if not fall. My guess is that these people feel squeezed in every way. Could it be that when the American Dream seems a long way off, that you might be tempted to “circle the wagons?”
If the problem here is partly economic, then the solution is to make that segment of American society feel more secure. Maybe enacting some kind of widespread reform that allows the working class of all colors to feel more secure economically.
This is where I both agree and disagree with Reform Conservatives like Ross Douthat. He is right that the party has to focus on the downscale voters of all ethnicities that are feeling pinched. But I disagree with Douthat in believing we can ignore immigration reform. Because while I don’t think all the protest on immigration is xenophobic, it is there and it makes conservatives appear that they hate anyone who looks different. If the GOP of the 1980s was able to welcome immigrants, the 2014 version should as well.
I’m not trying to diminish the specter of bigotry here. It does exist. But sometimes that bigotry is the result of some change, and it would be wise for us to find that out in order to help solve this issue.