Some spooky stuff in the last few days has brought back to the fore a concern I've been chewing on since the November election: What's going to be the organizational expression of the deep current of nativist sentiment among a substantial chunk of the white population in this country?
True, the main aspect of the shellacking the Republicans took was the occupation of Iraq, but very important as well was the fact that Latina/o voters also rejected them because the party was identified with the rabid anti-immigration stance of Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and his ilk. In their post-mortem commentary, Republican bigwigs and associated thinktanks and pundits have been vociferous in declaring that their party can’t afford to go the anti-immigrant route.
A couple of days ago, the Anti-Defamation League released a new report suggesting that right wing extremist groups like the Klan are stepping into the vacuum. An article about the report highlighted the danger.
“Extremist groups are good at seizing on whatever the hot button is of the day and twisting the message to get new members,” Deborah M. Lauter, ADL civil rights director, said Monday. “This one seems to be taking hold with more of mainstream America than we’d like to see.”
Activists and NGOs in the Chicana/o community and doing work with immigrants sure see it.
“I’ve been doing (Hispanic advocacy work) for a long, long time and the atmosphere has never been as poisonous as it has been in the last few years,” said Lisa Navarrete, a vice president at the National Council of La Raza. “The level of vitriol is new.”
Some of the more foam-flecked anti-immigration ranters will doubtless wind up in swastika t-shirts, but I don't think most of their calmer, quieter, but no-less-bent-out, white Middle American counterparts are going to--yet. But the question recurs: if the Republican Party hierarchy decides that it simply can’t afford to let the likes of Tom Tancredo be their public face, where will these folks find a home?
Let's step back for a moment. The issue of immigration today roils right below the surface of political life in the U.S. During the massive and historic immigrant uprising of last spring, many of us were unpleasantly surprised at the response of some of the plain-old, everyday, Marcia-Brady-hair-having white folks we know. (And some Black folks who should know better, too, but let's leave that for another post.)
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I highly recommend folks look at The Nation's issue on "The New Nativism" from last fall (available online here). Folks living in large cities, with diverse and cosmopolitan populations, can have a hard time recognizing how jarring the last decade or two have been for folks in older ‘burbs, smaller cities, and towns. Whiteness has been the norm in these areas, or perhaps a simple white/Black binary with a long ugly history, but whose presence and rules are known by all.
For some people, already insecure about their place in a country undergoing massive economic transformation and the erosion of community, the presence of a bunch of stores on Main Street with Spanish or Chinese language signage is a threat to their very sense of self. It's what my pal Napolitana Piemontese sometimes calls "the wounded narcissism of empire."
Now freaked-out white folks have never been a group to stir a lot of sympathy in me, but I do like keeping an eye on what’s up with them, especially when they are freaked out in large numbers. Lou Dobbs is reported to command the highest ad rates on CNN--and his high ratings come because he’s the country’s leading "respectable" immigrant-basher, not because anybody’s getting rich off his show’s banal reportage on the business world.
So where are they going to go? Some bloggers who posted comments to a thread on this subject yesterday at the left liberal DailyKos site suggest that 2008 will see a serious right wing third party effort by the Constitution Party (better known in some states by its local affiliate, like the American Independent Party in California). I have no way of judging how real this might be.
But one thing I do know is that nobody better rely on the Democrats to stand up to nativism. Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chair and currently a key figure in Hillary Clinton's campaign brain trust, was asked about immigration on a radio call-in show a few dsys back:
I couldn't agree more. We've got to shut these borders down. These people shouldn't be coming in this country. We need to enforce our border protections. We have to do something for the people who have been here for years and have paid taxes -- you know, we're for the people who have been in this country and paying taxes and raising their family. But for the people who have not been here, who have been here illegally and have taken advantage of the situation, we need to have a plan to get them back to the countries they came from, and more important, which is the first thing John talks about, we have gotta shut these borders down. I couldn't agree more. (h/t MyDD)
So lemme throw this open to Fire on the Mountain readers. Where do you think the nativist sentiment bubbling under out there is going to go? And what should we be doing about it? Is my concern overblown? What is the next recession going to do to the situation?
Hit the "Comments" button directly below and weigh in.