Posted by Ryan J. Suto on August 16, 2018 in Blog

Last week NBC News reported that Trump is preparing yet another policy to prevent new Americans from their own pursuit of happiness. This proposal is in line with the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant worldview and reflects a broader normalization of xenophobia in a last-ditch effort to reverse demographic change in America.

The not-yet published proposal, promoted by senior advisor Stephen Miller, would hinder legal immigrants from obtaining citizenship or green cards if they, or their families, have ever benefited from social safety net programs, such as children’s health insurance or housing assistance. The Department of Homeland Security defended the proposed program as “protect[ing] the American taxpayer.” In reality, the proposal will remove important stepping stones for families who hope to become the workers, students, and yes, taxpayers, who would otherwise support and create the America of tomorrow. If enacted, the policy would only serve to protect the administration’s myopic view of who is allowed to be included in Trump’s America.

While this proposed policy appears callous, with unnecessary and life-changing effects on vulnerable populations in this country, it is in line with nearly every immigration-related policy from this administration and a growing trend in the West recently detailed by Francis Fukuyama. Every few months advocates point to new dangerously nativist policies, proposals, and rhetoric, from last year’s proposed RAISE Act to TPS removals, from “shithole countries” to January’s proposed Framework on Immigration Reform. And more recently, the administration-created child separation crisis in which the federal government systematically targeted migrants with children for prosecution instead of those without children. Taken together with President Trump’s policies regarding DACA, the Muslim Ban, the U.S. Census, and his nominations and appointments, and a clear pattern emerges of an effort to halt the continued diversification of America.

Worryingly, President Trump’s weaponized suspicion of immigrants and communities of color more broadly, is shared by an increasingly explicit subset of Americans. They harbor a concern for the demographic reality, and future, of the country: that America is no longer, or will soon cease to be, a country controlled by white Christians. As political analyst Pat Buchanan has voiced, the concern is whether “America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the country until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely.” FOX News host Laura Ingraham declared that, “…the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like...” Of course this comment was praised by former KKK leader David Duke.

These sentiments are not fringe beliefs of only partisans or pundits. A PRRI poll released last month shows that half of Republicans, and 13% of Democrats, feel that increasing diversity will have a largely negative impact on American society. For this reason, the timing of the official release of Trump’s latest attack on legal immigration will likely come just ahead of the midterm elections in order to “serve as a talking point for Republican candidates,” reducing the wellbeing of millions of people into a political wedge for the campaign trail. And while the policy has not been announced or taken effect, several immigration advocates have already noticed families forgoing medical care for their children in fear of it being used later to justify deportation.

Whether or not the policy is ultimately enacted, it is representative of the new normal for American politics. Despite a growing number and size of minority groups in the country, white Americans continue to make choices to segregate themselves from non-white neighborhoods, and social media continues to exacerbate distrust between Americans of different racial and ethnic identities. It is perhaps not surprising, for example, that our own analysis has found that Arab American communities face threats of targeted violence which have “increased amid burgeoning xenophobia, racism, and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment.” Findings such as these have extended the life of the cottage industry of articles, which took off in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, about how white Americans are experiencing growing “anxiety” or racial “resentment”—which are now synonyms for xenophobia and bigotry, respectively.

These trends of “anxiety” and “resentment” among white Americans are real, and they will continue to drive the future of politics in this country. Concerns over a diversifying America likely led to the election of Donald Trump, as many Trump supporters are driven by fear of social replacement of whites for minorities. On the other side of this cultural divide, Americans who have felt marginalized by the policies of the Trump Administration have reacted: record number of women and members of the LGBTQ, and American Muslims are running for office, including high-profile Latina, Arab American, and Sikh American candidates. As more minorities run for, and attain, elected office across the country, white Americans who supported Donald Trump in 2016 will likely dig their heels, extending that year’s “whitelash” against President Obama’s political success.

Moving forward, identity will continue to be a central factor in how Americans vote. Prominent Democratic politicians who are speculated to be considering runs for the presidency in 2020 are already embracing race-related criticisms of Trump policies. As the Trump Administration continues to stoke social cleavages over ethnic, racial, and religious lines in both policy and rhetoric, the post-WWII party system of big-tent Republicans and big-tent Democrats will finally settle into a new dichotomy to which it has been moving since Nixon's Southern Strategy: white Christians, who have existing power structures on their side, against a coalition of “everyone else,” who have demographics on their side. Politicians and voters alike will be increasingly forced to align with one of these two major groups, threatening to undermine the mutual trust and national belonging which undergird the foundations of American democracy.