This Amer­i­can melt­ing pot

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion may have strength­ened a shared Amer­i­can iden­tity

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Victor Davis Han­son Victor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity, and the au­thor of “The Sec­ond World Wars: How the First Global Con­flict Was Fought and Won,” to ap­pear in Oc­to­ber from Ba­sic Books.

The star­tling 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion weak­ened the no­tion of tribal iden­tity rather than a shared Amer­i­can iden­tity. And it may have be­gun a re­turn to the old idea of un­hy­phen­ated Amer­i­cans. Many work­ing-class vot­ers left the Demo­cratic Party and voted for a bil­lion­aire re­al­ity-TV star in 2016 be­cause he promised jobs and eco­nomic growth first, a new sense of united Amer­i­can­ism sec­ond, and an end to po­lit­i­cally cor­rect eth­nic trib­al­ism third.

In the 19th cen­tury, huge in­fluxes of Ir­ish and Ger­man im­mi­grants warred for in­flu­ence and power against the ex­ist­ing Amer­i­can coastal es­tab­lish­ment that traced its an­ces­try to Eng­land. De­spite their eth­nic chau­vin­ism, these im­mi­grant ac­tivist groups even­tu­ally be­came in­dis­tin­guish­able from their hosts.

Then and now, the forces of as­sim­i­la­tion, in­te­gra­tion and in­ter­mar­riage make it hard to re­tain an eth­nic ca­chet beyond two gen­er­a­tions — at least with­out con­stant in­flows of new and of­ten poor fel­low im­mi­grants.

The strained ef­fort to cham­pion the vic­tim­ized tribe can turn com­i­cal. In the 1960s, my fam­ily still tried to buy Swedish-made Volvo au­to­mo­biles and Elec­trolux vac­uum clean­ers. But it proved hope­less to cling to a fad­ing Swedish her­itage.

For all the trendy talk of the salad bowl and the ca­reerist re­wards of hyp­ing a mul­ti­cul­tural an­ces­try, Amer­ica still re­mains a melt­ing pot of di­verse races, eth­nic­i­ties and agen­das.

The al­ter­na­tive of ad­ju­di­cat­ing which par­tic­u­lar group is more vic­tim­ized and in greater need of gov­ern­ment repa­ra­tions is a hope­less task in a mul­tira­cial so­ci­ety — one that in­evitably re­sults in in­ternecine strife among iden­tity-pol­i­tics groups.

Re­cent schol­arly stud­ies, here and abroad, have found that the ag­gres­sive ef­fort to win gov­ern­ment pref­er­ences for par­tic­u­lar eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties de­scends into “com­pet­i­tive vic­tim­hood.” In other words, such groups bat­tle each other even more than they bat­tle the ma­jor­ity.

Af­ter all, who can cal­i­brate nec­es­sary gov­ern­ment set-asides and repa­ra­tions for a cen­tury and a half of slav­ery, for ill-treat­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­cans, and for de­scen­dents of vic­tims of the Asian im­mi­gra­tion ex­clu­sion­ary laws, of seg­re­ga­tion, of the un­con­sti­tu­tional re­pres­sion of Ger­man cit­i­zens dur­ing World War I and of Ja­panese-Amer­i­can in­tern­ment dur­ing World War II?

In an­other para­dox, im­mi­grants came to and stayed in Amer­ica be­cause they saw it as prefer­able to their aban­doned home­lands. Ro­man­ti­ciz­ing a for­saken cul­ture that one has al­ready de­cided of­fered far less op­por­tu­nity and se­cu­rity than Amer­ica is in­co­her­ent.

In the aftermath of the elec­tion, for all the shrill charges that Trump is a racist, bigot, na­tivist and xeno­phobe, the iden­tity pol­i­tics in­dus­try is silently mak­ing some sub­tle con­ces­sions. For ex­am­ple, the Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza an­nounced that it will wisely drop “La Raza” and change its name to the less po­lit­i­cally cor­rect UnidosUS.

The old La Raza dream of a per­ma­nent vic­tim­ized class of mil­lions of Span­ish-speak­ing cit­i­zens — cham­pi­oned by eth­nic elites on the ba­sis of shared race — will nei­ther win the Democrats the Elec­toral Col­lege nor prove sus­tain­able as im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy re­turns to be­ing mea­sured, le­gal and di­verse.

De­spite de­nials, La Raza ac­tivists could never es­cape the re­al­ity that “raza,” as its Latin roots tes­tify, is an ex­clu­sion­ary racial term (as op­posed to “gente”).

“Raza,” a buz­zword of the 1960s, ac­tu­ally had come into pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal us­age some 30 years ear­lier in Fran­cisco Franco’s fas­cist Spain (Franco wrote a novel, “Raza”) and as the chau­vin­is­tic idea of “razza” in Ben­ito Mus­solini’s dic­ta­tor­ship in

Italy. Other changes re­flect elec­tion re­al­i­ties. Now, the Demo­cratic Party — stunned by the 2016 loss of its prover­bial elec­toral “blue wall” of Mid­west­ern states — is talk­ing of a new agenda dubbed “A Bet­ter Deal.” The ob­vi­ously more in­clu­sive mes­sage is that wounded Democrats want to unify their con­stituen­cies — rather than con­tinue with di­vi­sive racial, gen­der and eth­nic ar­gu­ments — in or­der to win back the suf­fer­ing mid­dle classes. The lat­est “Deal” is de­signed to res­onate the old pop­ulism of Franklin Roo­sevelt’s “New Deal” and Harry Tru­man’s sub­se­quent “Square Deal.”

In 2020, Demo­cratic can­di­dates will cer­tainly avoid stereo­typ­i­cal put­downs of “clingers,” “ir­re­deemables” and “de­plorables.” These were past coded smears used by Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton to de­fine sup­pos­edly il­lib­eral con­ser­va­tive work­ing­class vot­ers, who were writ­ten off as too ig­no­rant to know what was good for them and cer­tainly were no longer needed in the Demo­cratic Party.

But no longer: “Them” is out, and “us” is back in.

The al­ter­na­tive of ad­ju­di­cat­ing which par­tic­u­lar group is more vic­tim­ized and in greater need of gov­ern­ment repa­ra­tions is a hope­less task in a mul­tira­cial so­ci­ety — one that in­evitably re­sults in in­ternecine strife among iden­tity-pol­i­tics groups.

ILLUSTRATION BY HUNTER

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