America will become more racist – after the election. Regardless of who wins.
And it has absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump.
It feels right and good to blame the display of racism by Donald Trump on Donald Trump. In the news I can see headlines and commentators who suggest that he is stirring up this feeling of fear and racism toward immigrants, that he is making it popular. The suggestion is that Donald Trump is to blame for the racist tone of his campaign. This is not correct – America is to blame.
Donald Trump is a racist – but he is only reflecting a sentiment that Americans want to hear. He did not create or brew the racism on display in America – he simply reflected it. What this means is that Trump is no more racists than America herself.
Here’s the proof. In 2015 – when the idea for building a wall at the Mexican border was first proposed, 51% of all voters said that they liked the idea of a massive wall with Mexico. That same year, 66% of Americans did not like the idea of protecting undocumented immigrants. Another poll that same year showed the 63% of voters said the military should form a border guard to prevent undocumented Latinos from entering the USA – aka militarize the border, and 58% said providing a way for undocumented people in the USA to achieve citizenship will only make the problem worse. Additionally 41% of American voters said that all immigration is problem for America in general. Just to show that these poll numbers are not in isolation – In 2014 the year before Trump ran for the post of American President, hate crimes against Latinos across America tripled – not grew 30%, but grew by 300%.
In 2016, when Trump proposed the idea of banning Islamic immigrants – 51% of Americans said they supported a total ban on Muslim immigration. In 2015 – a poll showed that 58% of American did not trust Islam all together, and 55% didn’t want to learn anything more about the religion because they already knew all they needed to know. In 2015 a young boy who made a science project for school was accused of being a terrorists because he made a clock and he was muslim. The FBI actually investigated this claim and took it seriously. That same year in another part of the USA – a woman who was a Muslim was punched with a beer for “not speaking American”.
These are real Americans thinking and acting the way that they do – independent of Trump. He did not secretly build up support for a wall with Mexico and for banning immigrants from nations that allow Islam and then launched his campaign to link into a sentiment that he already created. The sentiment was already there.
Lets be clear – these polls are reflective of all voters. Over half of American voters said they want a wall to stop Mexicans and a ban on immigration to stop Muslims. Almost 2/3rds of Americans said they liked the idea of militarizing the border, and not providing undocumented people a way to become American and that they didn’t trust any Muslim.
In the news I can see headlines and commentators who suggest Trump represents only conservative thinkers or a minority of the true opinion of America.. These polls say otherwise. To drill on this point – a poll in 2015 showed that only 26% of voters considered themselves Republicans. That means that at least 26% to possibly 40% of voters who would not call themselves Republicans – like Trumps xenophobic, racists ideas.
In 2016 only 49% of Americans watched the Super-bowl but all Americans consider the Super-bowl to be an inherent part of American culture. Even those that don’t watch the Super-bowl accept that it is a symbol of America. What does it mean when 51%, 58%, 63%, and 66% of Americans support racism and xenophobia?
If racism and xenophobia did not start with Trump or is not caused by him – but has its own internal independent support – then you can bet racism and xenophobia will not end with him. In fact, I think racism is going to get even worse in America and will go on for decades before it finally disappears.
How can I say that? NBC, NPR, the New York Times, and Newsweek have all posted the hypothesis that Trump in 2015 is a reflection of California governor Peter Wilson and his campaign running on xenophobia of immigrants in 1994. I agree.
In 1994, California was looking at making it law that all Californians who were undocumented would not receive any government services – they would all become literally second class citizens. The law proposed was called 187, and the Governor (read: the highest elected official) ran for office supporting this bill and its underlying support of xenophobia. That law however did not happen in a vacuum. In 1992, California had the largest race riots it had seen in decades. In 1996, a law was proposed to ban affirmative action in education, and in 1998 a law was proposed which would have banned all bilingual education. Laws that seem to attack the very concept of acceptance of a diverse society in California were not proposed and did not gain support in the 1980s in California nor in the 2000s. The 1990s were a time of heightened support for xenophobia and racism that was greater than the decade before it or after it. From the 2000s on California has only become more accepting of diversity with no back-slide. The question is why was the 1990s of California a period of heightened racial tension.
There are many theories – but mine is that demographics explain the increase of racism on display of that decade. Looking at data from the CA department of finance which reports population and demographic statistics we can see that the white population of California was 60% of the overall California population in the late 1980s. In the early 2000s, the white population no more than 50% and likely under 50% if all of the undocumented people in California were correctly counted. The 1990s was the time when the white population went from a clear position of dominance to a position of equal size. The year 1994, when xenophobia was on its most prolific display in California, the white population was about 54% of the total California population – an almost exact tipping point from 60% to 50%. That’s not a coincidence.
Looking at Pew Research Center data based on the USA Census shows that America had a white population of 60% in 2015. The white population of America will not be at the 50% level until the year 2050, and it will not be at the 54% level until 2035. If California in 1994 is an explanation for what is happening with Trump in America in 2015 – then America can expect for this heightened level of racism and xenophobia to last until 2035 and then slowly start toning down until 2050 when it will be gone. Another way to saying it – America should expect this heightened level of racism and xenophobia it experiences now to last another 20 years.
“For all the demographic changes the U.S. is undergoing, most states will continue to have a white majority as far as anyone is willing to predict.” – LA Times
Some people will be shocked at this conclusion and disagree. Something other than demographic trends, tipping points and ethnic competition has to explain what is going on. California is way more diverse than America today – as it was in the 1980s. California grew by incredible bounds in diversity from the 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s and then it all seemed to go backwards in the decade of the 1990s. An idea that many gravitate to is the theory of “social progress”. This theory says that societies achieve an understanding of a concept, that understanding spreads through the entire society and at that point the society never goes back to its earlier ignorance on that topic. The idea that slavery is bad, that everyone deserves a right to vote, and African Americans can be leaders of all Americans are examples. But so is the idea that racism and xenophobia are bad, and that no elected official can appear to support these ideas. If the theory of social progress is correct – then California should have never back-slided on its support of diversity in the 1990s and America should not have allowed a candidate for the highest office in America to be openly racists in 2015. But California did slide backwards in the past and so has America now.
“Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century” – Politico
Demographic tipping points can explaining back-sliding in a diverse society. In the field of sociology this concept is called “intergroup dynamics” or “intergroup competition” and “relative deprivation”. What sociologist have come to conclude is that when one group realizes it will lose something that it had – a position of dominance – it fights hard to hold onto it. When a group that was always dominate at 60% of the population begins to feel that it will lose its dominance and fears that it will have no greater strength than other groups in society – it will feel threatened and it will fight not to lose what it had. “the motivation not to fall behind … is more likely than the former to spur competition for relative standing” The Fear of loss is a powerful motivating emotion for people and groups. Policy analysts at Policylink and the Brookings Institute agree with what sociologists have found that when minority groups grow from 40% to 50% a tipping point happens which can cause a “source of tension [that] is the fear that new groups will dilute hard-won political power and representation.” Also history seems to agree. Some of the most horrific ethnic conflicts happened in nations that experienced this tipping point. When the nation of Fiji experienced ethnic warfare in the 2000s, ethnic Fijians were 56% of the population, while the rest of Fiji was not. And when the nation of Lebanon experience ethnic warfare in the 1980s, Christians were 54% of the population, while the rest of Lebanon was not.
The parallels between the USA now and California in 1994 don’t end there. In the 1990s when California was its most racists and xenophobic – it also experienced for the first time a major population loss. Massive amounts of people left California reversing a trend that was decades old. The stated reason was that these people hated the increased taxes and regulation. But Demographics shows that 71% of the people who left California during this great period of exodus were white, and that taxes and regulation only increased in the 2000s – yet massive groups of white people did not leave California at that time. In America today – it has been well documented that Donald Trump does well in parts of the USA where white people aren’t doing as well as they were a decade ago, or where they feel they have lost some of the affluence they used to have. White people felt threatened in the 1990s in California and left – white people feel threatened now in America and vote for Donald Trump. These behaviors easily exemplify what sociologists and policy analysists have said about “intergroup competition” and fear of loss of “political power”. Is that a coincidence that this conclusion was also found in a 2011 Harvard University study that came to “conclude that whites, unlike blacks, view racism as a zero-sum game, a situation in which one side’s gain automatically results only from the other’s loss” and that “White Americans See Anti-White Bias on the Rise” in recent years.
It’s hard to accurately predict the future and it is hard to explain what exactly causes changes in public perception. Future forecasting and sociology are known for both being very speculative fields – but they are also areas of science that do occasionally accurate explain and predict behavior. If anything has been proven in this piece – it is that there is just as much reason for a logical person to believe that it will get a lot worse in America – for the next 20 years into the future – as to believe that societies always progress forward and can never stumble back.
“If we aren’t careful, 50 years from now we’ll be looking back to 2016, wondering where all the time went as we remain stuck over the same debate—but in a country far more riven by race than it is now.” – Politico