Increasing diversity causes Republicans to act out
With all the yelling, jeering and booing at the State of the Union address — all the disruptive antics from ill-mannered and immature members of Congress — viewers needed a sweet moment that came in the latter half of the speech: the introduction of Maurice and Kandice Barron, parents of a 3-year-old cancer survivor. President Joe Biden invited them as White House guests to highlight his Cancer Moonshot initiative, the quest to reduce the mortality rate of a constellation of diseases that take far too many lives.
The image of the Barrons, though, held more than the hope and relief of parents whose young child may yet live a long and healthy life. It was also a portrait of a racially and ethnically diverse America, a nation that celebrates its immigrants in myth if not in practice. Maurice Barron is a white immigrant from Ireland, and his wife, Kandice, is a woman of color whose parents immigrated from Panama, according to Biden.
Ironically, much of the jeering from Republicans in attendance was on the subject of immigration. For decades, the GOP has been frozen in a rigid xenophobia that rejects all efforts to ease the pathway to citizenship for any immigrant who crossed the border illegally, even in childhood. That’s because the overwhelmingly white and aging GOP base is resentful of a browning America, afraid of changing demographics, angry about the prospect of losing its place at the top of the cultural heap.
Another of the White House guests for the State of the Union address was Mitzi Colin Lopez, a “Dreamer” whose parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was just 3 years old. As a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, she was able to graduate from college. But Republicans have refused to grant a pathway to citizenship to even model young adults such as Lopez, so they are stuck in limbo.
Conservatives often attempt to veil their xenophobia with legitimate concerns about border security and crime, especially traffic in illegal drugs such as fentanyl. But just last year, Republicans rejected a compromise that would have set aside an additional $40 billion for border security alongside a path to citizenship for “Dreamers.”
While demographers have been forecasting a browner America for many years, most white Americans weren’t paying attention to the trends until the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president, powered into office by a “rainbow coalition” of voters of every race and ethnicity. While he won two terms, his tenure nevertheless provoked a backlash from a substantial minority of white citizens.
Among those was Pat Buchanan, the paleoconservative who ran for the GOP nomination for the presidency three times. In his 2011 nativist polemic, “Suicide of a Superpower,” he forecasts a swift decline for a nation that has allowed itself, in his view, to be overrun by people of color. He writes, “White racial consciousness is rising and has begun to manifest itself in politics because, for tens of millions of Americans, this is no longer the country they grew up in.” Buchanan succinctly sums up the view that the current ideological struggles are a war for the soul of the nation.
It’s no wonder, then, that those disaffected whites found their savior in Donald Trump, who pandered to racist views more explicitly than any presidential candidate since George Wallace. Even if Trump is no longer the Republicans’ great white hope, the party remains a festering sinkhole of extremism, racism, fascism — all on display during Biden’s recent speech.
That doesn’t bode well. The nation is on an inevitable path toward a browner, more pluralistic future. That’s baked in. By the year 2040 or so, whites will no longer constitute a clear majority of the population. Already, Christianity is declining as a major cultural force as fewer Americans identify as religious and more Muslims migrate to these shores.
If we cannot adjust to this new reality and live out the promise of a pluralistic democracy, we’ll be on the path to giving Buchanan the gift of a prescience he doesn’t deserve: We’ll be committing suicide, indeed.