February 7, 2007

Where Will The Nativists Go?

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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for starting this discussion. I don't think people are paying sufficient attention to this growing trend. Only a few groups on the Left seem to be in tune to what's happening. The Spartacus forces want to fight them every time they show up in urban areas and the ARA folks do very specific anti-fascist work. And of course there are some very specialized publications on this subject. However,we need more grassroots/mass education and exposures.

In the South we have to monitor the activities very closely given our general and specific history with this phenomena. As the link suggested here shows, old vicious Klan forces are still in the field and hoping for a resurgence. The Black movement, as it builds alliances and unity with Latino workers will have to confront this issue and what it means for their joint struggles. This is from the Charlotte Observer:http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/news/16668261.htm?source=rss&channel=charlotte_news

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting and worrying question, isn't it? Speaking from the experience of my home state, Arizona, I'd say that there's some reason to think that a large section of the white population has already begun to go beyond the bounds of politically-sanctioned racism.

As you may know, a few years ago the voters in Arizona passed Proposition 200, an extremely punitive law that forbids almost all public services for immigrants, sets up ID requirements for voting as a means of disenfranchisement, etc. What's less well known is that Prop 200 was opposed not only by the Democratic governor, but also by both reactionary Republican Senators (McCain and Kyl).

And of course recently we've had the arrival of the Minutemen, connected (for now at least) to the right wing of the Republican Party -- like former AZ House Speaker Randy Graf, who hung his office photo of George Bush upside down as a protest against "illegal immigration" (and who almost got elected to the US Congress last year).

Of course, organized right-wingers with guns aren't a new phenomenon in the west, but I think what you've raised here is the possibility of a conjuncture that would be new: a national shift towards the center that would leave them without a political home, combined with a confident immigrant rights movement that disorients a population of (the ever easily-scared) white folks.

Perhaps the leaders of that camp will head for the libertarian party if that situation occurs. I think that's an optimistic idea, though, given what else one could imagine...

Stan said...

There may be a competing Othering meme afoot, courtesy of our friends at the Manhattan Institute, PNAC, etc ad nauseum.

A friend just wrote me, after watching C-Span:

QUOTE: For the first time, I heard Boehner, who launched the anti-resolution side, name this as a conflict against Islamic jihadism _that began in 1979_ with the Iranian hostage crisis. Now, their Islamophobia doesn't surprise me, and half of Islam's re-articulation of longstanding brutally repressive practices against women pisses me off and I won't apologize for it, but until yesterday I hadn't heard them reframe this as a war that has been going on "since 1979," with "30 attacks against America" in the intervening years, only one of which was 9/11.

Here's what concerns me . . . There's something highly psychologically enticing to anyone who was born in or before, say, 1975, I think, to have offered to them a powerful new narrative for the entirety of their lives. . . not just a narrative for a crisis of the past few years. .. but suddenly, like the disease metaphor in addiction, a large grand theory through which so many culturally and personally dislodging changes, losses, accelerations can be reinterpreted. (I'm not talking here of the small minority highly informed about the long history of American imperialism.) Of course, the lives of any generation, whether Stone Age or Digital, are always full of individual and collective ego-generated suffering (desire and fear, from the Buddhist perspective), and the kneejerk human response is to long for a grand, typically otherizing (and thereby ego-maintaining) theory to explain it. I'm just concerned that this sweeping up of the past 28 years into a new grand narrative is going to register on the inner fascism-to-counter-psychic-pain meter perhaps more powerfully than the immigrants-are-stealing-our-jobs narrative. At first glance, it seems counter-intuitive. We've got lots more Mexicans in our daily lives in the US to hate and round up and blame for shitty jobs and unaffordable health care than people who are or look like Muslims. OTOH,this new narrative re-engages the imagery of what for many was a highly emotionally charged conflict about which they or their parents had unresolved anger. . . .and suddenly, oh, all these years growing up and fucking up like any living human being and seeing my society changing so goddamn fast and my hopes not pan out . . . it's captured by Americans in blindfolds. "We've been blindflolded." There's enormous demagogic potential in dramatically merging the desire to rip those blindfolds off those hostages, with the incessant human desire to re-visualize "anew" our personal and collective histories in a way that gives meaning to the unavoidable losses and absurdities of life that, for two generations, would have accrued since 1979.

I don't know. I knew the neocons were drumming up shit about Iran and were willing to manipulate memories of the hostage crisis, but I never thought about the mass potential of those so psychologically tempted to trace back a reverse trajectory around the random scatterplot of their lives' and culture's perceived losses that could trace its causation quite neatly to the "global fight against Jihadism (sic) since 1979."CLOSE QUOTE.

This is a very interesting thesis. The neocon philosophy, in fact, is very Straussian, and places great emphasis on these constructed narratives as an essential-to-social-order cultural mythology.

Might this trend among one faction of the R's lead many Dems to take up the anti-immigration mantle? The most rabid xenophobia I ever encountered was when I posted against Dobbs on liberal Huffingtonpost.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, has just offered a concrete example of the somewhat general concerns Stan raises in his comment above (and in a longer version on his Insurgent American blog).

Strickland, in one of the most appalling stands taken by a U.S. politician this year (in a field full of world-class competitors), has denounced the Bush administration's plan to admit more Iraqi refugees to the US. "More" is of course a relative term--a grand total of 200 were admitted last year from a country where over 3,000,000 have fled their homes as a direct result of US occupation. Bush and company propose to expand this to all of 7000 over the next year.

"Strickland -- a Democrat who opposed the war as a US House member -- says Ohioans can't be expected to have open arms for Iraqis displaced by the war. More than 100 Ohioans have been killed since the war began.

"The govenor says he has sympathy for the refugees' plight, but he won't ask Ohioans to accept a greater burden."

Words fail me...