Budweiser's "Born the Hard Way" advertisement during the Super Bowl won plaudits for putting today's anti-immigrant sentiment under a harsh light. But it was a stretch. In reality, the white Anglo-Saxon America of the 19th century was generally welcoming of Germans. They were Christian, often Protestant, hard working. Which is not to say the migration was without troubles.
For example, especially after the failed revolutions of 1848, German immigrants transformed Cincinnati. They congregated in the dense neighborhood north of the Miami-Erie Canal. The city's English and Scots-Irish majority sniffed, "There are a lot of Germans over the Rhine," meaning the canal. And the district, still one of America's architectural treasures, gained its name. The Germans brought great beer and helped make Cincinnati a magnificent music city. Before World War I, Cincinnati had many German-language newspapers — these, and much of the German culture, were victims of wartime xenophobia. Later, the German families moved to the west side. Even today, Interstate 75 is called the Sauerkraut Curtain, dividing old German from old English Cincinnati. The Germans assimilated and became some of the city's leading citizens. Samuel Adams beer is based on a recipe from co-founder Jim Koch's great-grandfather.
The Irish were reviled in many cities in the same century. They went on to become among the most American of Americans, producing two presidents. The largest mass lynching in American history was carried out in 1891 against 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans. Italians, too, assimilated, and became a distinguished (and sometimes, with the Mafia, notorious) part of America. In the early 21st century, the governor of Arizona, most prominent businessman in Phoenix and, ironically, anti-immigrant sheriff of Maricopa County were all Italian-Americans (many of Phoenix's most important earlier leaders were of Jewish extraction). So it went for scores of different ethnic and religious groups who came here. Native fear, discrimination and even atrocities, assimilation and acceptance. America is a credal nation, not an ethnic one. And we have been stronger for it.
Still, America — the empire built by conquering 500 indigenous nations and the enslavement and long, often brutal, discrimination against blacks — was always a white majority nation. And that majority, whether WASP, Scots-Irish, German or Italian, traced its roots to Europe and Western Civilization. The academic-protest left despises this and claims that America holds a unique place in the world for ethnic cleansing, discriminatory criminality, and hatred of "the other." But it is the American creed and the tenets of reviled Western Civ that even give birth to such intellectual conceits.
As of 2015, the United States was 61.6 percent white (not Hispanic), down from 63.7 percent in the 2010 Census. According to the Brookings Institution, almost half of young people under 18 are racial minorities. Meanwhile, the white population is aging. The Census American Community Survey in 2014 showed that the immigrant population was 42.4 million, or 13.3 percent of the total U.S. population.
This is an unprecedented high as a percentage, more even than the historic wave of immigrants of the late 19th century immortalized by the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus' poem. In 1970, the immigrants share of the total population was 4.7 percent. (Add their U.S.-born children and the number swells to 81 million, or 26 percent of the total population). Not only that, but these immigrants are largely not from Europe. A million immigrants enter the country legally every year. Unlike in the past, America's elites oppose assimilation. Many celebrate the looming end of a white Christian majority. On top of this, norms and a broad national consensus on American values have crumbled.
Donald Trump is not a legitimate president. This becomes clear with each new revelation of malfeasance, incompetence, and treason. James Comey's interference in the election, vote suppression, media malpractice overplaying Hillary Clinton's imaginary wrongdoing while downplaying or ignoring Trump's real corruption, conflicts of interest, unfitness for office, and the machinations of Russian intelligence — all played roles in his election. So, too, did the irrational anger of a large number of voters toward the first African-American president and the prospect of the first woman president. It was an ugly spectacle. But the election shouldn't have been close.
I suspect that a large number of Trump voters were not white supremacists, white nationalists, racists, or whatever names are hurled at them (some surely were). But many are definitely white majoritarians who don't want to lose that country. They support equal rights and opportunities for minorities. But they want a white majority America. They won't tell pollsters this precisely because of the calumny that would be hurled at them. I've even talked to many African-Americans who quietly resent losing their status as the minority to Hispanics and others.
History shows no example of a nation that survives long as the kind of polyglot entity for which many progressives long. It shows many examples of the unsustainability of such experiments. The Austro-Hungarian Empire existed from 1867 to 1918, most of that time peaceably under the reign of the beloved Emperor Franz Joseph. But the empire was comprised of dozens of different ethnic groups, often jealous of each other and holding grudges. When World War I destroyed Austria-Hungary, it became the "killing fields of Eastern Europe" for much of the 20th century. Conversely, China is reclaiming its world power role after "the century of humiliation" with a conscious tilt to a Han Chinese majority and assimilation of "superior" Chinese civilization.
Progressives would like to see an America like Seattle. It's an amazingly international city on the surface, full of tolerance, cutting-edge left policies, diversity, and boasting a Socialist-Alternative member of the City Council. The Mexican Consulate is in my block — the only protests I've ever seen there are by Mexican nationals outraged by the mass kidnapping of students in 2014. At the airport, announcements for flights to China are read in Chinese and English. Faces from all over the world are found along Seattle's sidewalks. I attended a citizenship ceremony at Seattle Center last year, with new Americans from many nations taking the oath. It was deeply moving. But red America is not Seattle — not even most of Washington state is Seattle and doesn't want to be. It was instructive to take a drive this past summer going east — and seeing the Trump signs appear in abundance.
I write this not as an endorsement. The white majoritarians who oppose immediate measures to address climate change while hating the immigrants it will unleash are worse than hypocrites. The same with those who wave the flag as we destabilize nations and tribal groups with our military adventures — then are shocked when refugees show up at our doorstep. If Republicans are serious, they can enact severe limits of immigration such as those that existed from 1924 to 1965 — but they're afraid of alienating Hispanics. And this is the bunch that opposes birth control in a world with 7 billion people (1.6 billion in 1900).
"I voted for Trump because of the economy" makes no sense, either. Many Trump counties are doing quite well. And he's put in place people and policies representing the buzzard capitalism that devastated the worst-hit pockets of the nation. But Trump and his dog whistles do appeal to demographic and cultural anxiety. White majoritarianism is "a thing," as the saying goes. It's powerful and deserves thoughtful consideration, not glib dismissal.