As expected, the Republicans seem to be about to hand unbridled power to Donald Trump. They do this while recognizing they are transferring unlimited power to the executive branch, and they are comfortable with this outcome only because, at a core level, they feel confident in two things: one, that the Republicans will never again allow a demagogue and criminal of this magnitude to achieve the Presidency and two, that the Democrat Senators are more honorable than they are and would not allow a similar leader to arise on their end.
They are wrong on both counts. Bernie Sanders shares many traits with Trump and he is a leading contender for the Democrat nomination, and the Republicans, having demonstrated themselves to be spineless marks, are a ripe target for future grifters.
In response to these events, it falls upon the populace to do what they can to combat the cult mentalities and idiocies which they see their fellow citizens embrace. That leads us to the culture war.
In the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, the word “fnord” is placed in the middle of news stories and other media to generate anxiety among people. The story explains that all very young children are conditioned by secretive powers as soon as they are able to read, with the word FNORD placed in front of them as they are exposed to fearful and terrible events. Eventually, people refuse to even acknowledge to themselves they’re seeing the word, they merely grow upset when seeing it. By this mechanism, whenever the secret powers want to create fear, they’ll simply use the word: “Dow Jones fnord rises unexpectedly”, for example.
This is what the Republican punditry have done with the culture war, and they have used the liberal positions to do it. This needs to be reversed, and that can only happen if we understand why and how it’s happened.
Americans have historically been leery of immigration, but there has been an element of self-admiration balancing out their fears. Setting aside for the moment our national contingent of white racists and their “Great Replacement” theory, most people, including most Republicans, have historically been proud of their country’s history as a draw for the desperate of other nations, its legacy as a haven where people who are willing to work hard can achieve great things for themselves and their families.
People, particularly those who are drawn to traditional Republican policy, tend toward one of two positions on other nations: either they view those nations as the cultural equals of America, or they look at America as better. Incumbent upon that viewpoint is a recognition that people coming to America to improve their lives will adopt many American habits. Even in immigrant enclaves this has been true; delve back into places like San Francisco’s Chinatown, New York’s Little Italy or the Polish neighborhoods of Detroit demonstrate people who retained many traditions, customs, clothing and food of their homeland but who had simultaneously embraced American notions of money, class, and work ethic.
Most Americans didn’t have a problem with immigration, they had a problem with “too much” immigration, the level of which varied on a person-by-person basis. Concerns were typically based not on what people were able to bring to America but perceived threats to individual welfare.
The rise of “multiculturalism” and its venomous sister “cultural appropriation” threatened even that flawed viewpoint. Multiculturalism by itself is far from a bad thing. Many of us recognize the joy of being able to find both a pho restaurant and a pizza place within easy driving distance… neither of which was typically available to most Americans a century ago, before the children of Vietnamese refugees popularized their national food in the early 2000s or Chef Boiardi took the American culinary world by storm in the late 1930s, encouraging investors to bring Italian cuisine to the masses via canned pasta.
Multiculturalism by itself might not be bad, but it was used by liberal activists to promote policy which had no root in the American experience. Far from simply enjoying the fruits of various communities, political figures used it to provide examples of how a policy seemed to be working elsewhere and extrapolate that Americans needed to adopt those policies. It became an easy rhetorical shorthand. Rather than explain why the policies might produce similarly good outcomes here, in an entirely different sociopolitical system, the place in question would be referenced with a phrasing similar to “It works in PLACENAME.” By doing so, the activists bypassed the logical flaw in their argument and went directly to arguing about whether the policy was, in fact, working in the country or location they were referencing.
The Republicans responded by weaponizing multiculturalism as well. They turned it into an epithet, setting aside the notion that different nations could have great contributions and instead making it a one-for-one comparison in which, as one would expect when addressing patriots, their nation always came out on top. By doing so they countered the arguments of the leftists and they increased a sense of entrenched division, gaining more influence over their followers.
“Cultural appropriation” charges ratcheted the enmity up a few notches. It was the natural extension of elitism: “This culture needs to be kept separate and unique, only to be celebrated by its own kind.” By promoting it, activists could simultaneously assuage themselves of their guilt at feeling superior to other cultures while conveniently keeping the other cultures at bay. It also provided a limited measure of power to cultural activists, who were able to police the borders of their social reservations. A black activist could attack a white girl for having cornrows in her hair, while simultaneously a privileged middle-aged activist could rest comfortably knowing that her daughter wouldn’t be coming home with cornrows.
Their efforts were aided by the continued existence of outright racist elements within America, people who would seize upon culturally significant elements purely for the purposes of derision and denigration. Rather than call them out for being racist jerks, these people were instead admonished for cultural appropriation.
The very notion was directly at odds with theory then embraced (at least intellectually) by traditional Republicans, that of the great melting pot. The small number of activists who were charging others of cultural appropriation were being granted disproportionate attention by popular media sources, and Republican pundits took advantage of this to heighten distrust of their opposition media and to frame the argument as if most people within the proscribed groups agreed with the extremists. The angle of attack was particularly effective under Obama, as the former President repeatedly waded into black/white issues by seeming to reflexively find in favor of the black person and whose policy-consistent laissez-faire attitude toward the Arab Spring played into suspicions of his youth spent in Islamic countries.
This was the situation when Trump rose to power, and it has been the underlying support beam for his attacks on everyone from “Mexicans” to “China” to “shithole countries”. It is why he was given a pass for Steve Bannon’s use of white supremacists to promote Trump’s campaign, why Stephen Miller’s atrocities have been accepted by most Republicans, why attacks against Jews and immigrants have been brushed aside by Trump supporters as simply unusually common isolated incidents.
It’s not enough to fight back against the symptoms. What needs to be addressed is the disease, and the disease is the systemic distrust of immigrants. Denouncing racism isn’t enough, because for many (not all) of the afflicted, they aren’t viewing things in a racist format; they don’t have any problem with Mr. Lopez next door who’s a third-generation American, they just don’t want the Mexicans from Guatemala coming to live near them. Same with their daughter’s boyfriend Mr. Jefferson; they just don’t want someone with a Moroccan accent dating her.
People need to be reminded that American culture isn’t about what we currently have, it’s about being consistently upgraded by the influx of the best of all other countries. It’s about getting the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free… and giving them that opportunity, which in turn provides bounty for everyone. And, yes, it is about national security as well… but that can and should be provided by things like routine background checks, basic border patrols and health screenings, not ineffective giant walls or restrictive policy designed to undermine one of the attributes which most directly led to America becoming great in the first place.