Does Donald Trump represent the ascendancy of white nationalism on the American right? I’m skeptical, for a number of reasons. While anti-immigration rhetoric is certainly a big part of Trump’s appeal, it is also true that he fares particularly well among the minority of Republican voters who identify themselves as moderate or liberal. As a general rule, moderate and liberal Republicans are more favorably inclined toward amnesty and affirmative action than their conservative counterparts. Moreover, as Jason Willick of the American Interest has observed, the leading second-choice candidates are Ben Carson, the black neurosurgeon, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are senators of Cuban descent, the latter of whom played a leading role in crafting immigration reform legislation. Granted, it could still be true that Trump is benefiting from white racial resentment. It’s just not clear to me that Trump is anything more than Herman Cain with an extra billion or so dollars in the bank and over a decade’s worth of experience as host of one of network television’s most popular reality shows.
Nevertheless, I believe that white identity politics is indeed going to become a more potent force in the years to come, for the simple reason that non-Hispanic whites are increasingly aware of the fact that they are destined to become a minority of all Americans. According to current projections, that day will come in 2044. Non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of eligible voters a few years later, in 2052. According to States of Change, a report by Ruy Teixeira, William H. Frey, and Robert Griffin, California and Texas are set to join Hawaii and New Mexico in having majority-minority electorates in the next few years, and several other states will follow in the 2030s.
In its most extreme manifestation, white identity politics could take the form of outright racial separatism. For example, Osnos interviewed radical white-nationalist thinkers who hope to establish a sovereign ethno-state exclusively for people of European origin. These thinkers are marginal for now. But radical white nationalists are betting on the possibility that as whites become a minority, ethnic conflict will intensify and more whites will wish to extricate themselves from diverse environments. (To some extent, this already happens: As white Americans age and form families, it is not at all uncommon for them to leave diverse cities for less diverse suburbs or indeed less diverse regions.) You can also imagine a far milder form of white identity politics, in which whites accept ethnic diversity yet insist that they secure a fair share of resources and respect as members of a cohesive ethnic bloc of their own.
But this turn toward white identity politics is not inevitable. The boundaries separating majority groups from minority groups are fluid. We can’t reliably anticipate future rates of intermarriage, or whether Americans with one or two Mexican-born grandparents will identify as Mexican Americans. It could be that just as America’s Anglo-Protestant cultural majority gave way to a more inclusive “white” cultural majority, which over the course of the 20th century came to include southern and Eastern Europeans and others who might have once been excluded from the dominant group, our sense of who counts as white will expand to include many Americans we’d now think of as Latino, Asian, or black. This desire to blur boundaries lies at the heart of the melting-pot ideal, and it is why at least some conservatives, myself included, believe that we ought to embrace a more melting pot–friendly immigration policy. Essentially, this view holds that America’s diverse groups can over time blend into a new “American” ethnicity. To get there, however, we’d have to moderately reduce immigration flows that both put economic pressure on immigrants who already live and work in the U.S. and that reinforce their ethnic ties to their ancestral homelands. Whether this view will prevail is very much in doubt. Anti-immigration rhetoric tends to frame high levels of immigration as a threat to natives, not as a barrier to integration, assimilation, and upward mobility for the tens of millions of immigrant families that have made their homes in the U.S. over the past several decades. There is no major politician I know of who is offering a robust case for the melting-pot ideal. And that is a shame.
It’s remarkable in its honest handling of the situation. It should also be noted that the Reihan Salams of the world need the melting pot ideal. Bangledeshi neoconservatives are a microminority without a sufficient minority bloc that would enable them to have any say at all in a truly cosmopolitan and multicultural republic in which different ethnic groups vie for supremacy against one another at the polls and (likely) on the battlefield.
That is, itself, a sort of shame, because America has never been able to come up with a coherent expression of what its policy as it relates to diversity really is. The official story has never really matched up with the facts on the ground.
So, why are so few arguing for the melting-pot ideal?