Monday, September 19, 2016

What do white Americans stand to lose?


An article by Zack Beauchamp in Vox tries to draw a parallel between Donald Trump and the rise of nativist movements in Europe (including Brexit). The similarities do exist: a bunch of angry white people, afraid of immigrants in general but especially Muslims, electing right-wing populist leaders. I don't expect the same outcome here as in Europe, even if Trump manages to win the election, for several reasons:

1. America has a history of pro-immigrant sentiment, which continues to this day. Intermarriage rates are high, supporting George Washington's prediction in 1794:
Whereas by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people.

2. Non-Hispanic whites are far less demographically dominant here than in Europe, and even less so among younger generations, meaning that the Trump movement will have to radicalize a far larger percentage of American whites to gain dominance. Highly unlikely.

3. Younger Americans are solidly against Trump. Some of that is demographics and some is an age effect, but a large part of it is probably a cohort effect - younger Americans have grown up with the new nonwhite immigrants and are hence far less likely to think that nonwhites don't represent "real Americans."

So I predict that even a Trump victory, should that occur, will be a last and only hurrah for white nativist racist populism.

However, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't worry about white nativist racist populism. A substantial minority of Americans who are implacably opposed to the nation-state can create all kinds of terrible problems for our country. It can sometimes elect terrible people like Trump to high office. It can elect legislative blocs like the Tea Party that can use veto points to block the functioning of the state, as we found out in 2011. It can dominate local and state governments. If things get extremely bad, it could even resort to terrorism - I see McVeigh as a potential harbinger.

So I think we ought to pay attention to this movement, and think about why these people are angry and afraid. Beauchamp's article suggests that groups' anger is aroused when it seems like another group's status is being raised higher in society:
In order to fully understand why ethnic violence happens, [political scientist Roger Petersen has] argued, we need to appreciate the role of resentment: the feeling of injustice on the part of a privileged portion of society when it sees power slipping into the hands of a group that hadn't previously held it. Drawing on social psychology, he theorized that one of the underappreciated causes of ethnic violence was a change in the legal and political status of majority and minority ethnic groups. 
According to Petersen, that change in status comes from a sense of injustice. Members of dominant groups simply believe they deserve to be the dominant force in their societies, and resent those challenging their positions at the top of the pyramid. 
"Any group that’s been dominant — well, it’s not that easy for them not to be dominant anymore," Petersen tells me. 
This helped explain the puzzle of Kaunas and Vilnius. In Kaunas, the Soviet invasion in 1940 had politically empowered local Jews, who had occupied leadership positions in the Communist Party prior to the invasion and ended up with plum Soviet jobs as a result. This sparked intense feelings of resentment on the part of Kaunas residents, resulting in the vicious pogrom. In Vilnius, by contrast, non-Jewish ethnic Poles held most leadership positions. The Soviet invasion didn’t empower Jews on a large scale, and thus failed to create any resentment toward them. 
In his book, Petersen argues that his theory helps explain the causes of other cases of ethnic violence in Eastern Europe, including the carnage in the Balkans in the 1990s. Other scholars have since found that it could be used to understand communal violence elsewhere in the world. 
A 2010 paper published in the journal World Politics tested Petersen’s theory, looking at 157 cases of ethnic violence in nations ranging from Chad to Lebanon. It found strong statistical correlations between a group’s decline in status and the likelihood that it turns to violence against another group.
Seems reasonable enough. And many people in the media - usually, people on the Left - have declared that it's the imminent or ongoing loss of "white privilege" that is angering Trump voters.

What is "status" in modern America, though? What is "privilege"?

Unlike in Eastern Europe a century ago, most of our jobs and positions don't come from government fiat, but from the workings of the market. And here, it is true that elite whites are destined to occupy a smaller and smaller percentage of the elite, thanks to high-skilled immigration. By taking the intellectual cream of the crop from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (the best Chinese Americans, for example, now beat the best Chinese people in math competitions, despite being selected from a pool that's outnumbered more than 350 to 1!),  we've ensured that the corporate, scientific, political, and thought leaders of tomorrow will be less and less white. Ivy League discrimination can slow this process down, but it's inevitable.

BUT, the Trump movement doesn't look at all like a movement of elite whites. Instead, it's primarily a movement of the relatively uneducated. And while low-skilled nonwhite immigrants have certainly provided some job competition for these whites, Hispanic immigrants for example certainly aren't doing better than uneducated whites in terms of employment or wages. This doesn't look like a situation in which the American system is awarding jobs to Hispanics that whites aren't getting.

How about college admissions? While the Supreme Court has upheld some affirmative action programs, the practice of privileging historically disadvantaged racial minorities has declined in recent years after being banned in many states. The result has been a decline in black enrollment. So this form of white status is less under threat than in previous years.

Criminal justice? The Black Lives Matter movement might make headway against discriminatory policing and incarceration practices, but as of 2016, these look solidly in place. And it seems unlikely that a reduction in the incarceration of black people would result in an increase in white incarceration. It's not like the cops have quotas of people to throw in prison (I hope)!

How about the tax system? This might be a big one. For decades, Republicans have told white Americans that the tax system represents racial redistribution from whites to blacks and Hispanics. Rush Limbaugh once said that "Obama's entire economic program is reparations," and he said this of Obamacare:
The days of them [racial minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry. And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang. He’s angry, he’s gon’ cut this country down to size, he’s gon’ make it pay for all its multicultural mistakes that it has made, its mistreatment of minorities. I know exactly what’s going on.
And he also said this:
Obama has a plan. Obama’s plan is based on his inherent belief that this country was immorally and illegitimately founded by a very small minority of white Europeans who screwed everybody else since the founding to get all the money and all the goodies, and it’s about time that the scales were made even. And that’s what’s going on here. And that’s why the president is lawless, and that’s why there is no prosecution of the Black Panthers for voter intimidation, because it’s not possible for a minority to intimidate the white majority. It’s not possible. It’s always been the other way around. This is just payback. This is ‘how does it feel’ time.
So there's a good possibility that the angry white Trumpians fear the same thing that the GOP has been telling its base to fear since before I was born: that the tax system will be used to crush whites as a form of racial redistribution. As whites shrink as a percent of the electorate, the fear is that they'll simply vote as a bloc to elect leaders who punish whites with racial redistribution policies.

If this is what Trumpians are afraid of, then it really isn't anything different from previous elections. The angry white people are simply more scared than before, because of Obama's 2012 victory, and hence willing to vote for a totally crazy candidate. This interpretation fits with the fact that Trump supporters tend to be better off than their neighbors.

There's one more possible "status" threat, which many on the Right and a few on the Left bring up: a feeling of being in the in-group. In the past, I gather that open expressions of racism by whites were more acceptable in the workplace or in other public places. Ralph Nader, expressing some lukewarm support for Trump, said this:
Well, and you see this when you walk past construction sites and you talk with white male workers, they feel they have been verbally repressed. It’s hard for someone your age to understand what I’m about to say...You can’t say this about that, and you can’t say that about this. And the employer tells you to hush. And perhaps your spouse tells you to hush, and your kids tell you to hush. So they have a whole language that they inherited — ethnic words like Polack. A lot of these people grew up on ethnic jokes, which are totally taboo now. Do you know, Lydia, there are no ethnic-joke books in bookstores anymore?... 
There were Negro-joke books, Jewish-joke books, Polish-joke books, Italian-joke books. They used ethnic jokes to reduce tension in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s. And they’d laugh at each other’s jokes and hurl another one. But it still flows through ethnic America, you know. There are hundreds of things that people would like to say.
Indeed, many Trump supporters cite "political correctness" as a concern. Even some left-leaning white men are worried about it. This explanation of Trumpism seems to fit with the scattered signs that Trump's rise is emboldening white racist speech and actions across the country.

What this tells me is that some white Americans are afraid of losing something intangible - a kind of cultural cache that allowed them to feel as if they were society's in-group, the cool kids, and that others - blacks, Italian and Polish immigrants, whoever - were the out-group, the marginal Americans, the uncool kids. If the "political correctness" hypothesis is correct, this intangible thing - this nebulous feeling of being in the in-crowd - is even more important than things like jobs, college admissions, or the social safety net.

It seems weird that millions of Americans would march to the polls and vote to put thousands of strategic nuclear weapons in the undersized hands of an obvious narcissistic madman simply out of the fear that they won't be able to think of themselves as the cool kids anymore. But human beings are weird. You almost can't put anything past our species, really.

Anyway, I don't know which of these explanations is right - or if it's something else I haven't even thought of. But I think if we want to avoid a dysfunctional, divided nation, this is something we should think about.

22 comments:

  1. Maybe it is because they haven't had a real raise in decades while elites have prospered, as though force feeding the rich money until they gag on it is any solution.

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  2. You mean it might have something to do with economics!? Maybe we should ask an economist.

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  3. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I think Noah is out of touch with how a majority of the working class feels. In my opinion, the biggest issue in this election is income inequality and whoever handles that question the best is going to win. I've seen the Luntz group and followed a ton of the political shows; a lot of the pundits fail to realize how much harder the world is becoming for the working class (blue and white collar). People were frustrated with Bush with magnified by the financial crisis and Obama's promises of making a majority of people better off has failed.

    Given the failures of politicians to make the working class better off, the working class wants a candidate from the outside to bring "common sense" to Washington. Trump is that messenger and people are seeing him as big of a risk as many pundits seem to think he is. For some reason the DNC and media shoved Clinton down the publics throats which was a poor decision in this election (had to portray yourself as for the people and not the corporate face).

    Some people think this is herding that is occurring but I think it's that this election cycle has made people so fatigued that they're not holding any feelings back anymore. Disagree with the younger crowd not liking Trump more because he seems to have on the surface stronger plans or "change" that portrays a brighter future.

    Immigration and foreign policy are outweighed by trying to raise the wealth of the common worker.

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  4. What America is losing is its unique political and civic culture that undergirded its amazing success. The danger is not the rise of color, but lack of assimilation into the majority culture. Actually, the very concept is under assault. This leads to growing tribalization of politics greatly aided and abetted by the promotion of resentment and ethnic ghettoes. Open borders lower incentives for assimilation through intermarriage, and special set asides for "oppressed" groups prevents their assimilation as effectively.

    Assimilation is never fun, but there is no choice if the success of America as a coherent political entity marked by high social trust is to be hoped for.

    Immigration has to be curtailed and out groups have to be beat up into assimilating.

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    1. MaxUtil6:18 PM

      This explanation might make more sense if we had "open borders" when we actually have a dropping number of undocumented immigrants in the country. We also have rapidly rising rates of intermixed marriages which would seem odd given the "incentives" you posit but don't explain. By most general measures, assimilation of recent immigrants continues along roughly the same path and pace of that that other large waves of immigrants followed.

      I'd also like to know exactly what "unique political and civic culture" you are talking about that we are losing. Please define.

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    2. Open borders is not about specific flows at any given point, but cumulative impact: 15 million of immigrants between 2000-2010, for example. As to recent times, preliminary numbers for 2014-2015 show a significant surge of illegal immigration again.

      No, by most measures, some groups assimilate nicely, while others don't. Asians are fine, Mexicans not so much. For example, their educational attainment lags significantly across generations. New waves of arrivals from a specific ethnic groups lowers incentives for integration.

      The bigger problem is that large immigrant ethnic groups bring their social mores into the mainstream, instead of being socialized into the mainstream values.

      As to what's unique about the US culture?: High social trust, high civic engagement, unique patriotism and unreasonable optimism. This collection of virtues is virtually unprecedented in a diverse society. it's a unique achievement of the american project: a creation of a veritable tribe of tribes.

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  5. By the by, the social standing story from Kaunas elides a couple of small details about what exactly the Stalinist "inversion" involved.

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    1. But those of us who've read "Bloodlands" have an idea.

      My point was that nothing similar has happened in the U.S., or is likely to happen soon...

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  6. Uneducated whites seem like they're having a tough time with the increased mortality among older whites, drinking, drugging, and suicide. Crime rates have increased in rural areas too, I think. People love authoritarians when society is in a tailspin. It's just hard to grasp when most Americans don't live in that society.

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    1. But it's only in a tailspin for uneducated, drug addicted whites on welfare. Out in the working world of professional class whites & other colors who aren't on welfare or addicted to heroin, everything is basically fine. Maybe we need to cut off their welfare so they can't afford their heroin?

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  7. The figures show white Americans as much wealthier than blacks or Hispanics. Repeated tests show employers reject otherwise similar applicants with names seen as black or Hispanic at much greater rates than those with "white" names. Realtors and lenders similarly discriminate. So, yes, white Americans have something of an inside track.

    But the fear that the lower orders (however defined), will, if they gain power, use it to take away all "our" stuff is very common. It was the great driver of conservative politics from 1850 to 1950. It is, after all, what the higher ups did and do, so they are just expecting others to be no better than themselves.

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    1. Yes, young native (as opposed to immigrant) black men are discriminated against, since they are not properly socialized.

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  8. It's always hard to hear complaints about "political correctness" as anything other than a lament that the formerly privileged now have to be as careful about the potential effects of their speech as the unprivileged.

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    1. Trump is about having a safe space for bigots, misogynists, racists and such.

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  9. Anonymous4:06 PM

    1) Brexit was partly a nativist movement, but not nearly as much as Trump's. The comparison is disingenuous (if half of Sanders supporters were actually Trump backers the comparison might hold)

    2) As a person assigned the label black, having lived 8 years in France, 8 in USA, and now living in UK, the USA elites patting themselves on the back about America's welcoming of immigrants are fooling themselves:
    - intermarriage is just as high in Europe (lower for some ethnicities, higher for others. >50% of afro-carribeans in UK are in mixed marriage, the number is 80% in Netherlands)
    - Counting hispanic as non-white is self serving. France/UK might as well count marriage with Portuguese, Spaniards and Polish as mixed unions.
    - As a percentage of the population, immigration to UK/Germany/France is similar in numbers to immigration to US, and often more tilt toward lower-skilled immigrants
    - Economically, low-skill immigrants fare similar or better in Europe, are less residentially segregated.
    - Muslim immigrants fare worse in EU than USA, for historical and sociological reasons. Black immigrants fare better than US black natives and similar or better than US black immigrants of comparable skill level.
    Check this book for a more nuanced view of integrations of low-skilled immigrants in EU vs US:
    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strangers-no-more-richard-alba/1120692737#productInfoTabs

    Aside from your mischaracterization of Europe, I agree with you overall, there is not much difference between Trump and your run of the mill republican, playing on fear of racial redistribution.
    The only differences are the distrust of free-trade and globalization (which is not limited to the right), and the correlated indiscriminate hostility to all non-whites, as racism against blacks and poor hispanic is socially accepted in US politics, racism against muslims, asians and foreign professionals is newer (in the often circulated graph about anti-black sentiment of Clinton vs Trump backers, remove the % of black voters and add some Bradley effect, easily >50% of americans are racist).

    The conceit of liberals in the US who only focus on excoriating racism in Trump movement are making the same mistake as the anti-brexit ones in the UK.
    Instead of shaming people for what is actually a fairly common opinion (as opposed to a crime in Germany or France), democrats should talk about what matters, and get the undecided, the apathetic, the Sanders supporters, or the disinterested (among them many minorities and working class whites) to vote FOR Clinton, because they probably won't vote against Trump.

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    1. MaxUtil8:28 PM

      This is a good corrective on a common, but very simplistic misunderstanding of Europe vs. the US when it comes to immigration and race.

      But I will take some exception to your implication that the long standing/ongoing racism that Trump's campaign has brought into focus is not "what matters". It may be true that pointing at Trump and yelling "racist" is not a great electoral strategy by itself. But in the broader scheme of things, the fact that a major party candidate is so openly racist is important to address and call out. But yes, Clinton needs to make both a positive case and a negative one. I think she is genuinely trying. Unfortunately, media attention tends to get completely sucked into the latest accusation of 'who said what' and fails to cover most of the substantive debate.

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    2. Immigrants in Europe fare economically as well as those in the US? This is just delusional. Look at this graph:

      http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/factbook-2011-en/02/02/04/02-02-04-g1.html?/ns/Chapter&itemId=/content/chapter/factbook-2011-16-en&_csp_=9b0c56b0426680f807c916c3f62559a2

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    3. Anonymous12:59 PM

      Your graph is useless and doesn't show what you think it does. First of all doing well economically is not the same as having a job. You can work and still be in poverty. How to measure integration? Many different factors, having a job is one of many.

      Educate yourself and look at a more comprehensive OECD report, especially:
      - poverty rates
      - educational level of immigrants in various places
      - unemployment rate
      - housing/health situation etc...

      http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/factbook-2011-en/02/02/04/02-02-04-g1.html?/ns/Chapter&itemId=/content/chapter/factbook-2011-16-en&_csp_=9b0c56b0426680f807c916c3f62559a2

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    4. Are you serious? You measure success by welfare consumption?
      The best indicator of integration is the relative unemployment rate. Work, apart from its economic dimension, has important socialization effect. Unlike in Europe, we don't have jails filled with immigrants and their children.
      The Us rate is a bit overstated since it includes illegal labor competition, plus the safety valve of outmigration, but overall the us integrates immigrants way better than Europe. No contest. Even Canada that cherry picks its immigrants performs worse.

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  10. Human beings are weird. Think about how many people passionately supported Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Mao. So it's not so extraordinary that Trump has so many supporters.

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  11. Wow this is a surprisingly excellent post. Surprisingly because it isn't about economics yet you know a lot more than me about Baltic violence in the 40s (are you sure that the people empowered in Vilnius were ethnic Poles not ethnic Lithuanians ?).

    I think that before your final disclamer you were tending towards saying the issue is hatred of political correctness. In any case, I do. Trump supporters say things like "he's not afraid to tell the truth" clearly using the dictionary definition of the word "truth" .

    It is odd that millions (sadly 10s of millions) of people would vote based on something so silly, but many say that is exactly what they are doing.

    Another topic "The Tax System" is a misleading header. You should have typed "Welfare". It is true that Trump's only detailed proposals are his 3 tax cut proposals, but, I think it is clear that they have less than nothing to do with his popularity. He argued that other Republicans were serving the rich. He claimed he would raise his own taxes (it is possible that he won't cut them as they are currently zero). I think the 3 proposals just show that the sort of conservahacks who are willing to work for Trump can't think of any other policy proposal.

    Polls show self identified Republicans are roughly evenly divided on whether taxes on the rich should be increased. Tax cuts for the rich are the way Republicans get money from the rich not the way they get votes.

    The winning issue is welfare hatred. I think this is hard for wonks to grasp, because it is not possible to reconcile the views of welfare haters with uh the Federal budget. They assert it is a huge costly program costing them money (even if they pay almost no income tax). They don't mean Social Security OASDI, Medicare or Medicaid. They do mean TANF, SNAP, housing vouchers, energy assistance and other small programs.

    Here I think the key slogan is the possibly apocryphal "keep your government hands off of my Medicare". The welfare haters are beneficiaries of what wonks call social welfare programs. Notably Trump support is very strong among the elderly. I think a key issue is the perceived threat of means tested programs to the budgets of age based programs. There is great fear of death panels and such.

    A related strong issue for Trump is hatred of foreign aid (recall America First). Wonks can't understand how such a tiny budget item could be hated so much. The explanation is simple - most US adults think that foreign aid is a huge program. In one poll the median estimate was that it is 10% of the Federal Budget. In another 28%.

    Reality based bloggers such as yourself can't imagine that spending amounting to 0.67% of the Federal budget could be a key issue for many voters. The massive delusion makes it a key issue.

    Now an error that huge doesn't just happen. Xenophobia causes overestimates of the foreign aid budget. But looking for something which actually exists which might enrage Trump supporters is a mistake. Many of them are enraged by things which don't actually exist.

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  12. Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/they-are-all-breitbart-now/499511/ gives best rundown I have seen.

    "White racial grievance enjoys automatic credibility, and even when disproven, it is never disqualifying of its bearers. "

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