Racism: The Republican Trump Card in the 2006 and 2008 Elections

immigrationOne of the things that astonished me about last summer’s new immigrant marches in American streets was the ferocious xenophobia that they stirred among Americans. Survey after survey showed that, far from rousing public sentiment to the plight of illegal aliens and the struggles of new Americans to settle in the Land of Opportunity, these shows of Latin-American solidarity roused fear and revulsion among a wide swath of Americans who generally agree on little: racists, the unemployed and under-employed, crime-obsessed conservatives, white xenophobic homeowners who equate immigration with lower property values, libertarians who equate immigration with more demands on public health and education systems they would like to see dismantled, and even environmentalists who equate immigration with more suburban sprawl, pollution, population pressure on wilderness lands, and resource depletion.

So it’s not surprising that Republicans recognize this xenophobia as an opportunity to get this wide swath out to the polls to support anti-immigration candidates (who are overwhelmingly Republican) and are beginning to whip up hysterical anti-immigrant furor as part if the 2006 fall election campaign strategy. This is a no-brainer for them: They desperately need an issue to detract from the Bush administration’s colossal bungling of every facet of political and economic policy they have touched, and to prevent a rout in the polls this fall as support for Bush and his neocon extremism plummets.

This is an issue they can’t lose by exploiting. By creating a false hysteria about immigrants, they need present no evidence — they just capitalize on popular misconceptions by repeating them as if they were facts on talk radio and in campaign ads. These misconceptions include:

  • That immigration is so vast that whites will soon be a minority in their own land
  • That immigrants are likely to be, or to become, criminals (or terrorists)
  • That immigrants are more likely than other Americans to be ill and burden the health system
  • That immigrants take skilled, well-paying jobs from lifelong Americans
  • That immigrants do not, or cannot afford to, maintain their homes properly (and hence their presence lowers property values)
  • That immigrants are lazy, dishonest, cliquish, and disrespectful of American ‘values’
  • That immigrants, because of their lack of English language skills, burden the education system and lessen the ability of the system to deal with other education needs

As with all exploitable issues, there are a few facts about immigration that are not misconceptions, which can be conveniently blended into the anti-immigrant rhetoric when it veers too close to outright racism:

  • That immigrants often work for less than the minimum wage, accept intolerable work conditions, and are unlikely to complain about employment even when it is abusive or illegal, which makes them almost ideal employees to unethical employers
  • That immigrants constitute most of the net increase in US population and tend, at least for a generation or two, to have larger families than lifelong Americans, and hence contribute disproportionately to the increased demand for land, housing and other resources that makes ‘sustainability’ impossible to achieve

The other facet of the current US immigration issue that is so convenient to anti-immigrant forces is that the majority of Latin-American immigrants (by far the largest group of immigrants) describe themselves racially as ‘white’. So while much of the anti-immigrant furor is overtly or covertly racist (if most of the illegal US immigration was white English-speakers, it probably wouldn’t even be an issue), the fact that most immigrants are self-described ‘whites’ allows racists to plausibly shrug off the accusation. But racism is “discrimination or prejudice against a defined ethnic group”, and that is precisely what Republicans are hoping to stir up and tap into in this year’s and 2008’s elections.

Anti-immigrant, racist hysteria is a common, and successful, tactic of political extremists in times of political and economic turmoil. It was used by the Nazis to great effect, and was also used by governments in most of the affluent nations of the world during the 1930s when that affluence suddenly disappeared and everyone was looking for a scapegoat. When the population is deeply unhappy, as is the case now in the US, there is a natural preference to blame the misfortune that has given rise to that unhappiness on ‘outsiders’ rather than accepting that the blame lies with deep flaws in the systems and values on which the very social fabric of the country is founded.

“If you’re a Republican Party that’s fairing poorly, sometimes you have to win ugly,” Robert Dion, a local political scientist at the University of Evansville, Indiana, recently told PBS’s NOW investigative reporting program, “and in this case, it’s stirring up fears about the menace posed by immigrants.”

Democrats are helpless to defend against such a Republican ploy, because the fears that xenophobic attacks exploit are shared by many moderates and liberals, notably the two fears bulleted above that are justifiable. A well-intentioned attempt to make low immigration a policy plank of the US Sierra Club ended up being misrepresented and endorsed by xenophobic groups and almost destroyed the organization in the process. The whole issue of immigration leaves environmentalists, who tend to be social progressives, on the horns of a dilemma, and, as I have argued before, the only rational answer (which is: no restrictions on immigration whatsoever) is deeply troubling, divisive and massively difficult to defend. It’s a quagmire that could easily be the Democrats’ undoing.

And for that reason, it will, I predict, become the issue in the 2008 US elections, and Republicans will be testing the waters this fall to see how far they can push it. And they will find there is no limit to how far they can push it. It’s their trump card, and as they become more and more desperate to salvage control of at least one body of Congress this fall, they will choose to push it to the limit. Few will admit that xenophobia is the issue that gets them to the polls this fall (just as few admitted in 2004 that homophobia got them to the polls that year) — but if there is a significant spike in turnout this fall, look for a strong xenophobic, racist undercurrent in the results — and a lot of disappointed Democrats.

When politics feeds on hate and negativity, as it does increasingly in these troubled times, everyoneloses, especially the voices of reason and moderation, and the truth.

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6 Responses to Racism: The Republican Trump Card in the 2006 and 2008 Elections

  1. Most patriotic Americans – as can be seen by the backlash to the marches revealed by various polls – oppose foreign citizens making a show of force by marching in our streets and demanding rights to which they aren’t entitled. Other Americans, of course, would sooner plant shade trees so they can march in the shade.

  2. ochreous says:

    Dave, please don’t lump all US citizens in with the racists and christian fundamentalists nor the corporate fascists currently usurping our government. There are plenty of good people in the US (more than enough to turn things around) and they need the support of good people like yourself and others around the world. I have been reading your blog for years and I think one of the many great things you do is provide us with a view from the outside and give us the information that our media won’t share with us. I hope you believe me when I say that, regardless of how the US is portrayed by its own media, and regardless of how politically motivated pollsters skew and spin their survey results, most US citizens are neither racist nor xenophobic.I agree with you that what is going on in the US at the moment is shameful. Over the last 20-30 years, the republicans have been systematically corrupting our system of government and have usurped our government to commit a vicious crime upon the Iraq and isolate us from rest of the world. The fact that democrats hardly put up a fight while it happened greatly disappoints me. It’s true that there is a large group of racists whites, mostly fundamentalist christians who reside in the southern US and in a few places in the northern US, who form a block that can swing elections. It’s also true the the republicans have managed to get 50.1% of the vote, in part, by adopting a deliberate strategy of influencing them by scaring them with chimera and knowing how to push their buttons. But the republicans also got there by running alternative voices out of the media in the largely rural parts of the country by first eliminating the media fairness doctrine then buying up all the media outlets and finally using the megaphone they bought to systematically misinform great swaths of people about what is going on.I think most of the points you make are correct, but I also think that it is far from the full picture of the struggle that is going on below the radar. There are millions of peaceful people in the US toiling diligently to counteract these forces. People who have learned from people like you how to build movements from the ground up; people who listen and teach and influence; people who self-organize via the internet and every other way possible; people who desire the rejoin the world community; people who feel they have a responsibility to the rest of the world to stop the criminals running the government and who feel guilty for not being able to stop them in the first place.As you watch the corrupt republican party implode over the next month, remember that it’s not an accident that it is happening now, with so much at stake. Even as they are hoist on their own petard, it’s not an accident these particular scandals are the ones that drive a wedge between the republicans and the racists and xenophobes upon whom they depend for their 50.1% majority. Even many of the republicans who are too cowardly to act openly are appalled by what their party is doing and playing a part in bringing their own house down.

  3. Charlie says:

    I think it will depend on who the nominee is for the Republicans in 2008. Some of the leading advocates for the comprehensive reform in the Senate were Republicans thinking about the White House in 2008 (McCain and Hagel, with Brownback supporting them). Hopefully the Republicans will try to reach out to hispanics rather than using them as scapegoats.

  4. Geoff says:

    I think that we sometimes forget the simple truth that we are all immigrants. That this country is in fact great because of the melting pot effect of many people coming from many places and all pursuing (at the expense of American Indians) the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.There are plenty of examples of where nations pursued a strategy of isolation or of excluding portions of their populations due to a specific characteristic. What happened to Spain and to Portugal when they threw the Jews out? or to Flanders when the Protestants were sent packing? short answer – decline into irrelevance.Somewhere / somehow we began to equate

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Ochreous: I would not suggest that the majority of Americans are racist or xenophobic. But with 25% of the population die-hard progressive and another 25% die-hard conservative, and 50% of the population not bothering to vote, it doesn’t take many stirred-up racists to swing the vote one way or another when they bother to show up at the polls, just as stirred-up homophobes made a disproportionate difference in 2000 and 2004.

  6. Dear Dave;Wordy and verbose, is my only comment on your work. You wear liberalism like a badge of honor. Explain to me how Teddy Kennedy chanting spanish to illegal and legal immigrants about remember in NOVEMBER… what a joke… electronic ballots will confuse and confusticate most of those holding the picket signs… and this man is a Democrat..? First of all let me set you straight.. We do not live in a Democracy ! never have and never will! Oh the People Rule alright, the same WE THE PEOPLE named in that Historical Document the United States Constitution. Which has by the way been surplanted by the USCC. United States Commercial Code. Sound Paranoid to you..? Good, be afraid be very afraid… I’m not PARANOID… I’M VERY ANOID..! You speak about a governmental system that has been weakened by the Republican Party over time..? My friend the two party system of government is a sham… like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz… The Curtain is the government we see… the MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN IS THE CULTURAL ELITE WHO CALL THE SHOTS…IN THIS CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC YOU LIVE IN… I SAY LIVE IN.. YOU DON’T OWN IT.. YOU NEVER WILL.. so your arguement about RACISM.. and WASPS… trying to keep the wretched masses yearning to be FREE from crossing the Mexican Border is CRAP… IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS… THE CULTURAL ELITE… AKA FEDERAL RESERVE BANKING SYSTEM… who just happen to OWN the United States Of America… That Millions of useless feeders have given up their lives in defense of… are pulling the Strings of Immigration, Terrorism, Human Trafficing, Drugs, Prostitution, Corruption, Ecconomic Developement.. Afghanistan’s Opium Crop, Iraq’s Civil War and of Course IRAN’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM… and NORTH KOREA’S MISSLE PROGRAM… You want to write a column about Winning UGLY…? Let’s see you turn your intellectual gaze on Who is Funding the War in IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN…? Where does the U.S.GOVERNMENT GO TO BORROW IT’S OPERATING CAPITAL…? Who reaps the profits from the OPIUM FIELDS IN AFGHANISTAN…? AND THE OIL FIELDS OF THE MIDDLE EAST..? Who loans the money to wage WAR…? and who pays it back…? the answer is easy… just follow the money trail… THE BANKING FAMILIES WHO OWN THE FEDERAL RESERVE BANKING SYSTEM… CONTROL THE UNITED STATES.. AND YOU & ME… How else could the Village Idiot George Dubyah Bush win two elections…? Lamont CranstonNot an American… just living here… eating bread and watching the Circuses..

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