Monday, August 02, 2010

Two Americas

Back in the mid-century, we used to have an America with room for both conservatives and liberals. Liberals got to have activist government, conservatives got to have a racist, sexist, mostly religious society. Then the bargain broke down, when liberals decided that the racism, sexism, and religiosity had to go, and conservatives retaliated by disallowing activist government. The result was a society that was more friendly and inclusive, and more economically dynamic, but less effective at spreading economic gains throughout society. This was the new bargain of the 80s and 90s.

The problem is, there were two types of conservatives - businesspeople and small-town traditionalist whites. The businesspeople got what they want from the 80s and 90s (money), while the small-town traditionalist whites got screwed out of their jobs AND had to put up with brown people, gay people, etc. So now the social compact is breaking down again, as the STTWs demand that the brown people shove off. This is the root of the Tea Party.

But America is constitutionally biased toward accepting the brown people, because we're a nation based on immigration. Back when Germans and Swedes were considered brown people, our leaders griped, but let them in anyway. And then when Italians and Greeks and Jews (and maybe Poles) were considered brown people, we had to let them in as well. Letting the "brown" people in is at the core of our national character.

Which is why to stop the brown people from coming in, conservatives would have to change our national character. Indeed, they would have to repeal the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship. But the small-town traditionalist whites are so upset at the death of their closed little world that they are willing to scrap the United States of America in retaliation:
On Sunday, Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) became the highest-ranking Republican to call for the repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appearing on CBS' Face the Nation, Kyl said that he opposes allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be granted U.S. citizenship and wants Congress to hold hearings on the matter...

There are already a number of Republican officials who have preceded Kyl in calling for a reworking of the country's citizenship laws. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has proposed the piece of legislation that would repeal the 14th Amendment; he is joined on the House side by Rep. Jack Kimble (R-Calif.)...

Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.) caused a stir shortly after winning his primary by saying he supported stripping citizenship from children of the undocumented. Former congressman and potential Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo -- one of the staunchest anti-illegal immigration voices in national politics -- has made repeal of the 14th Amendment a major cause.

There are many obscure Republican candidates who have made the same proposal, including Kevin Craig in Missouri and Gary McLeod (an obscure Christian conservative who is challenging -- without much hope -- Majority Whip James Clyburn).

When moderates and liberals talk about "America," they are generally referring to the national institutions that formally define our country - the Constitution, the government, etc. When conservatives refer to "America," however, they generally mean something much different, something much closer to what Sarah Palin tellingly called "the real America." They refer to an American subculture defined by race and religion - a suburban (or small-town) "white" Christian nation.

If our suburbs become populated with Mexicans and Indians and Koreans, the moderate/liberal America will still be perfectly intact as long as the Constitution still reads the same. But the conservative America will either die or have to go through wrenching change (as it did in the 1800s when the Germans came, and in the 1900s when the East Europeans came). This is why conservatives are suggesting changing some of the core provisions of the Constitution - they are holding a gun to the head of our America, threatening to kill it unless we let their own America live.

But their threat is hollow. The Mexicans are here to stay, and the Indians and Asians will not stop coming as long as our labor market demands them. Conservatives do not have the votes to repeal the 14th Amendment. They must either change their America to accommodate the latest wave of "brown" people, or watch it die.

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