Why the Rise of Racial-Ethnic Nationalism?
The new millennium has seen a marked increase in parties and movements which appeal to racial and ethnic nationalism. What’s behind it? I have an idea.
Economic globalization could be a factor, as multinational corporations have shifted operations and production around the globe, to places where labor is cheaper and there’s less official concern for public well-being. That’s meant the loss of skilled-labor jobs in a number of countries with relatively high wages and state regulation in the name of public interest. There’s doubtless anger that such jobs have been lost to Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos, and people of other nations. But there’s also evidence that this racial-ethnic anger is local and less abstract. Something else has triggered highly authoritarian Conservatives, I think.
The studies of Conservatives and authoritarians which I’ve cited in previous essays [here and here] suggested that these individuals are more sensitive to, and more alarmed by, conditions which present them with uncertainty. Any change from the status quo will do that. Consequently, any perceived deviation from the traditional order, with its established culture and hierarchies, will cause them to band together and fight for the status quo ante.
It’s my hypothesis that, in many nations around the world, the 21st Century brought with it the increased presence and upward mobility of populations which Conservative/authoritarian citizens considered non-traditional and lower status. Conservative/authoritarian citizens would have viewed these social changes as threats to their traditional cultures and hierarchies, and they would have taken political actions intended to conserve or restore their traditional orders [e.g., to “Make America Great Again”].
Between 2000 and 2015, estimated global migration increased from about 173 million migrants to 244 million migrants, a jump of 41% (if I did the math correctly). Here are the top 10 countries to which they migrated:
The USA has been the major destination for immigrants for a long time. The following chart presents the Census data on the numbers of foreign-born individuals in the USA from 1850 to 2010, as well as [by the line graph] their percentage of the total U.S. population.
The graphs show that the foreign-born percentage of the U.S. population exceeded 10% from 1860 to 1940. Did anything happen politically in response to immigration in this period? Oh, yeah.
Here’s a timeline of major political events in the USA concerning immigration between 1860 and 1940:
President Lincoln signs “An Act to Encourage Immigration,” which welcomes immigrant contract labor.
A treaty with China welcomes Chinese immigration.
Immigrant percentage of the U.S. population hits 14.4%
The “Alien Contract Labor Law” is passed “to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor.” It reverses Lincoln’s 1864 “Act to Encourage Immigration.”
Immigrant percentage of the U.S. population hits 14.8%
The “Immigration Act of 1891” excludes more categories of immigrants considered undesirable, including “aliens assisted by others by payment of passage.”
Immigrant percentage of the U.S. population hits 14.7%
Congress passes the “Emergency Quota Act,” which establishes national immigration quotas based on the 1910 census. It’s claimed that this Act was “mainly in response to the large influx of Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.”
The “Immigration Act of 1924” is passed, to continue excluding Asian immigrants and further reduce immigration quotas for Southern and Eastern Europe. It’s said that the main purpose of this Act “was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.”
Because of the Great Depression, President Hoover engages in large-scale repatriations and deportations.
After 1940, the foreign-born percentage of the U.S. population declined dramatically, down to 4.7% in 1970. There followed a period in which immigrants were once more welcomed to the USA:
The “Bracero Program” permits Mexicans to work farms in the U.S.
McCarran-Walter Act ends exclusion of Asian immigrants.
Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1965 ends national origin quotas and emphasizes family reunification.
Simpson-Mazzoli Act grants amnesty to over 3 million undocumented immigrants.
However, since 2000, the foreign-born percentage of the U.S. population has again exceeded 10%. Once again there are demands for anti-immigrant government policies.
Immigrant percentage of the U.S. population hits 11.1%
REAL ID Act of 2005 includes provisions which make it harder to immigrate on the basis of asylum.
After Barack Obama becomes President, some Conservatives immediately begin to suggest that he isn’t qualified for the office, because his father was a Muslim from Kenya.
Immigrant percentage of the U.S. population hits 12.9%
President Obama signs two Executive Orders which have the effect of delaying deportation for millions of illegal immigrants.
A centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Presidency is his insistence on curbing immigration, with a ban on Muslims and a wall to keep out Mexicans. After he becomes President, his language continues to reflect disdain for immigrants from predominantly Muslim, Hispanic and Black countries. I don’t think this requires citations. We’ve all heard of his remarks.
President Trump signs Executive Orders which repeal the 2014 Executive Orders that delayed deportation of immigrants who arrived as minors or became parents of children born in America. He also ends Temporary Protected Status for Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants and attempts to ban immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.
At a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, right-wing marchers chant slogans like “You will not replace us!” As explained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is a reference to their fear that white people and white culture are under attack from multiculturalism and nonwhite races.
Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson
… told viewers the immigrants were coming “to change your country forever.” … In March, Carlson railed against “changing demographics in America,” asking viewers “how would you feel if that happened in your neighborhood?” In a fear-mongering January segment about Spanish-speaking grade school children, a Carlson guest blamed kids for cementing “Arizona's future as a Hispanic society.”
The Trump Administration officially adopts immigration policies which have the effect of separating immigrant parents from their children and sending the children to relatives, foster homes and detention centers, sometimes without documentation. Also, in his attempt to get more funding from Congress for his Mexican border wall, President Trump forced the U.S. government into its longest shutdown on record. Now he is proposing that asylum-seekers, most of whom are poor, pay fees for their asylum applications.
I would say that, overall, U.S. history shows a pretty clear association between high percentages of immigrants in the population and the rise of racial-ethnic nationalism in the form of demands for immigrant exclusion. But why?
Some apologists for anti-immigrant actions insist that immigrants hurt us economically, or threaten us with higher rates of crime. But unemployment has hardly ever been lower. Yes, wages have stagnated, but employers set wage rates, not immigrants. High-paying jobs have been moved overseas, but not because of immigrants. Have immigrants caused drug prices to skyrocket? No. Pharmaceutical companies did that all on their own, because they can. Fewer immigrants won’t change that. Is school loan debt ballooning due to immigrants? No. It’s due at least in part to our system of commercial colleges and private loans. Having fewer immigrants won’t change that. Do immigrants increase crime rates? Because of differences in data collecting, it’s not entirely clear, but there is evidence that, overall, immigrants “do not commit crimes at a higher rate than non-immigrants, and that higher concentrations of immigrants do not lead to higher rates of violent crime.”
Moreover, legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. actually has been declining for many years.
But it doesn’t matter to U.S. Conservatives. They still see too many immigrants around them.
Based on psychological studies of Conservatives and Authoritarians (which I discussed in essays here and here), it appears that people with Conservative political orientations are typically more anxious and uncomfortable in circumstances which present them with uncertainties – like social change. They will want to reduce their anxiety and discomfort over social change, so they will take actions calculated to conserve their traditional cultures and hierarchies.
There must be a point at which immigrants present a visible social change that creates alarm and anxiety among Conservatives. They will not be comfortable with having people in their midst who don’t look like them, who don’t behave like them, who don’t speak like them and/or who don’t share their religion. The default assumption among such Conservatives will be that these immigrants are potential threats to their traditional cultures and hierarchies. So they will treat them as such, and demand that their governments treat them as such.
In my view, this alarm is wildly exaggerated. Every country needs to control its borders, of course. Immigrants, especially waves of refugees, do present adjustment issues. But not enough to warrant “shut” borders, family separations and indefinite detentions. Immigration also has its benefits:
“Countries of destination benefit significantly from migration as migrants often fill critical labour gaps, create jobs as entrepreneurs, and pay taxes and social security contributions. Some migrants are among the most dynamic members of the host society contributing to the development of science and technology and enriching their host communities by providing cultural diversity.”
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
International Migration Report 2017: Highlights
Unfortunately, every time President Trump threatens to close the border and make immigration harder, he provokes another wave of would-be immigrants, desperate to get in before the hammer falls. Then the new wave further alarms Conservatives and provokes them to demand still harsher conditions for immigrants.
Worse still, research suggests that we’re already seeing migrants from areas of the world hit hard by climate change. This is expected to continue, and it will probably further inflame Conservatives.
Fortunately, our Conservative faction doesn’t yet have the power to unilaterally determine the policies and practices within our political economy. That depends on whether the Liberal faction can organize and mobilize sufficiently in the coming years to get recognition and satisfaction of our value priorities: cultural freedom and equal treatment.
1. For an article with a similar perspective, see “U.S. could face prolonged era of anti-immigrant fever.”
2. The first graph in this essay identifies the “Ten countries with the largest number of international migrants, 1990, 2000 and 2013.” What is happening politically in the other nine countries?
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates already are authoritarian conservative states. Tradition and hierarchy are, and long have been, fundamental elements of their politics. It’s reported that, since early 2013, Saudi Arabia has been brutal and abusive in its detention and expulsion of immigrants. UAE welcomes migrant laborers, but almost none will obtain citizenship, and their stay will often include discrimination, abuse and exploitation. Complaining publicly about such conditions will get you jailed and deported.
3. Why aren’t Liberals equally agitated by the increased presence of immigrants?
The research I cited in previous essays [such as here and here] indicates that Liberals are more open to experience, more sensation-seeking, novelty-seeking, curious, creative, and rebellious. Through cognitive intervention, Liberals experience less uncertainty anxiety than Conservatives. Therefore, in contrast to Conservatives, Liberals will place less value on traditional culture and hierarchies. Liberals will instead place more value on cultural freedom and status equality. I think that’s why Liberals are less anxious about having more immigrants around and more anxious about Conservative efforts to impose traditional culture [e.g., through anti-abortion laws] and unequal treatment [e.g., through tax laws which mostly benefit the wealthy].
4. Perhaps the waves of some refugees could be reduced by targeted, strategic international assistance to their countries of origin, specifically assisting them in ways that have proven to be effective for their local problems. That could then reduce the potential for conflict and violence within their would-be host countries.