Observations of an expat: Politics of fear and loathing

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Fear is the major political currency of America’s Republican Party. The traditionalists are frightened of socialism. They are scared of big government. They dread the thought of a diminished suburban life style.  They are panic-stricken at the thought of losing their guns that protect from the forces of both the law and lawlessness. But most of all, in an increasingly racially divided society, the long dominant White population is terrified of becoming a minority.

Republicans will deny that they are racists. But the fact is that race issues have been a dominant theme in American politics from the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619, to the genocidal elimination of Native Americans, the Civil War, segregation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act and, finally, Trump’s wall.

They are not overly concerned with constitutional rights (except perhaps their interpretation of the Second Amendment). Enforcement of the rule of law is not at the top of agenda (except as it pertains to the protection of property). Whether or not their president is a tax-evading, misogynistic, narcissistic, racist, incompetent foul-mouthed liar is of little interest. They accept that he is a bastard. But he is their bastard. Even a global pandemic which has left more Americans dead than in any other country takes a back seat to the battle to preserve the fabled American dream.

America is a largely conservative society. Donald Trump is in the White House because he has successfully managed to persuade Americans that he is their best bet for fighting off the foreign hordes and ideas that run counter to perceived American values. In this election, the American right has gone to war; and, as in any war, the first casualty is truth.

That was obvious from the Republican Convention where speaker after speaker uttered outrageous lies in pursuit of four more years of a Trump presidency. Former Army Colonel turned anti-abortionist nun, Sister Deidre Byrne, accused Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of supporting not only late-term abortion, but infanticide as well.

Tennessee Senator Marshal Blackburn warned: “If the Democrats have their way, they would keep you locked in your homes until you become dependent on the government for everything. “

A succession of Trump family members took to the podium to extol the virtues of their paterfamilias. They backed his oft-stated assertion that he is the greatest American president since Abraham Lincoln and the only man capable of saving America from the liberals, the democrats, the anarchists, the forces of lawlessness and all those who have united in a perfect storm to “demolish” the American dream.

The problem with the Republican version of the American dream is that it is rooted in the past and fighting a losing battle against the unstoppable tides of history. This is especially apparent in the country’s shifting ethnic mix.  In 1776 the infant United States was 80 percent White drawn from British stock. Immigration from Europe throughout the 19th and early 20th century reduced the British proportion of the American population but increased the number of Caucasians. By 1920, the percentage of White Americans peaked at 90 percent of the population, and stayed there until well into the 1950s.

But from the 1960s the booming American economy started attracting Asians and south of the border Latinos who brought with them different religions, cultures and language; all of which are perceived by conservative Whites as a threat to their national identity.  By 2018 the relative proportion of America’s White population had dramatically shrunk to 60 percent, and demographers reckon that American Whites will become an ethnic minority by 2044. In fourteen American states and Washington DC, the White population is already a minority.

Donald Trump, would have us believe that immigration blocks will reduce the gap. Wrong. The birth rate of the different ethnic groups is having a bigger impact on population trends than immigration. White women have America’s lowest reproduction rate with an average of 1.7 children per mother. American Latinos top the charts at 2.2 children. The White population also has the highest mortality rate.

Try as they might, Republicans will fail in their Canutish efforts. But their attempt to stop the unstoppable can inflict major damage on America and its role in the world.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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26 Comments

  • John Marriott 28th Aug '20 - 5:16pm

    I’ve been watching some clips via the BBC of the Republican Convention and wonder whether most of the ‘performers’ are on the same planet as I am. And yet, Trump could win again. How so many Americans can swallow such hogwash amazes me. My only consolation is that most of my US relations, discovered largely over the past six years of research courtesy of Ancestry, and some of whom my elder son and I visited in New Jersey and Washington DC last year, think the guy is nuts.

    By all that is holy, Trump and his crew of nodding donkey’s should be heading for the exit; but looking at the opposition makes me wonder. How can a country of nearly 330 million people, with an economy as rich of theirs, a reputation for academic excellence second to none and a GPD to die for and that is still supposed to be the Leader of the Free World, having saved it twice in the 20th century, come up with two white guys well into pensionable age, whose brain cell count clearly is not what it was, to contest its Leadership?

    David Raw, there’s ‘ope for thee and me yet, lad!

  • The bit about whites being in decline and more ‘forinner’ babies being born reflects on the UK. Farage wanting to keep migrants out whilst the birth rate in the UK can increase also so that ‘whites’ are in the minority makes the future demography look pale brown in colour. It is the obvious march of history as times change. .It matters not that,eventually, the people both in the UK and Us will identify themselves with that country they were born in.

  • Michael Bukola 28th Aug '20 - 6:36pm

    What a contrast between the RNC and scenes today of the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington paying homage to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s fighting for justice and equality and demonstrating a commitment to today’s struggle for racial equality.

  • Paul Murray 28th Aug '20 - 7:23pm

    I was recently watching an archive of US presidential advertisements from previous elections. The archive of 1976 was very interesting. In one ad Gerard Ford said “There’s no reason why somebody should go broke just to get well”. And now the official Republican Party position appears to be “If you can’t pay the doctor’s bill, don’t get sick”.

    The Republican Party is unrecognisable.

  • Paul Murray 28th Aug '20 - 7:26pm

    *Gerald Ford. Sorry, my fingers were working independently of my brain.

  • Peter Chambers 28th Aug '20 - 7:46pm

    Thanks Tom for your commentary from someone who actually used to live there.

  • @ John Marriott, Ayup, John lad, Get thi horse saddled up, sitha. Tha’ll do a better Job than yon Pence, n’ahl think on some better whoppers than yon Trump fella.

  • As I heard one American say,”Land of the free, home of the crazy.”

  • Andrew Tampion 29th Aug '20 - 7:11am

    I’ve no wish to defend President Trump or the present day Republican Party. But if you are going to reference the Amercan Civil War and the Ante Bellum South it’s worth remembering that Lincoln was a Republican. The Republican Party of the 1850’s and 60’s were the abolistionisyt Party, not the Democrats. The Democrats were the peace party who were prepared to let the Confederates leave with their slaves. In the aftermath of the American Civil War the Republicans did badly in the former Confederate States until relatively recently, because they were seen as oppressors. For this reason most of the State Legislatures that passed the Jim Crow laws referred to above were predominantly Democrat Party led. It is also not fair to link the Republicans with the begining of the slave trade in the 17th century when the Republican Party was not fformed until 1854.
    It seems to me a better and more historically accurate line would be to contrast the great Republican Presidents of the past like Lincoln with the modern version.

  • John Marriott 29th Aug '20 - 7:52am

    @Andrew Tampion
    Let’s be honest, by our definition, the USA has probably two ‘conservative’ parties. Didn’t Attlee more or less say that once, when asked to define them? As for the civil war, didn’t the British government at the time tacitly favour the Confederacy because of its cotton production?

  • The pull of the American Dream is not confined to whites, many – even most? – immigrants are pulled in by the ability to make loadsa dosh, ditto their children, so the idea that Trump’s appeal is confined to the whites is somewhat illusionary. He may yet be undone by a second wave of the virus or the Chinese using their wealth to crash the market and/or dollar so they can have a more compliant president such as Beijing Biden, although that might backfire.

  • I don’t think that America is “a largely conservative country” any more than countries in Europe are. After all Hilary managed to get more votes than Trump. Trump was elected due to Hillary messing up, that administrations almost never win a third term and aided by the electoral college.

    There remains a big debate in all Western countries on how big the state should be and how much we should be taxed. In practice at a guess if you take out healthcare, there is not much difference between the US and the UK on tax and indeed other European countries and the debate in countries tends to actually be around a few percent even if each side accuses each other of either communism or callous neglect.

    Obviously race is a difficult issue in the US with its history of slavery etc My guess is that it’s being worked through a bit better than the media might sometimes lead you to believe.

  • John Marriott,

    what is regarded as the first Liberal government was in power from 1859-1866 (when the American Civil War began) consisting two ministries: the Second Palmerston ministry and the Second Russell ministry.
    British officials debated offering to mediate in the first 18 months of the war, which the Confederacy wanted but the United States strongly rejected. Britain had abolished slavery and didn’t need Southern cottton. The British elite tended to support the Confederacy, but ordinary people tended to support the United States, the Union or “the North”.
    The Alabama Affair gives a flavour of the UK government’s approach to neutrality at the time https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/the-alabama-affair.html
    The English built conferderate ship captured, burnt or sunk 69 Federal ships in two years before being sunk in the English channel by the Federal warship Kearsarge.
    The United Sates successfully brought a claim for damages against the UK after the war for allowing the CSS Alabama to depart a British port during the war, eventhough it had not been fitted with guns at that time.

  • John Marriott 29th Aug '20 - 6:44pm

    I thought that a Professor Bourke might have something to say. However, does his brief trip down memory lane mean that I was wrong to say that I was under the impression (note the phrase) that the U.K. was more South than North in its sympathies. I’m not sure that he is right about the cotton. Those mill owners up north couldn’t get enough of it, surely.

    I

  • Regarding Chinese-Americans and other Asians.
    Take note
    https://time.com/5858649/racism-coronavirus/

  • Andrew Tampion 30th Aug '20 - 7:26am

    John Marriott
    I don’t want to go into the relationship between Britain and America during the American Civil War. If you are interested then I suggest Amanda Foreman’s “A World on Fire” as a excellent general account.
    The point I was trying to make is that the second paragraph of Tom Arms’ piece seems to me to imply that he thinks that the Republican party is historically racist from it’s beginning. Perhaps I am misreading this. But if that is the intention then it is misleading in that, as Joseph Bourke, points out the Republican opposed slavery from their inception.

  • richard underhill. 30th Aug '20 - 7:53am

    Tom Arms | Fri 28th August 2020 – 4:47 pm
    ” the greatest American president since Abraham Lincoln”
    Donald Trump said that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, true, but when he was elected the United States had multiple political parties, against only two now.
    Lincoln wanted to save the union, and the north had superior resources, but won the civil war because of t/he recruitment of black soldiers who risked their lives in bloody battles in aversion to what the south stood for. It is illogical for him to imply that ethnic minority voters should support him because of Lincoln.
    If they have a criminal record they lose their right to vote, even if they have served their time. Therefore part of the campaign to Get Out the Vote is about restoring their right to vote at several levels. There is a role here for educated, white skinned ethnic minorities, who in the past have been Jewish, risking their lives against supporters of the NRA.

  • richard underhill. 30th Aug '20 - 8:01am

    John Marriott 28th Aug ’20 – 5:16pm
    ” How so many Americans can swallow such hogwash amazes me. ”
    Have you seen what is happening to the once mighty US dollar??

  • John Marriott 30th Aug '20 - 8:20am

    @Andrew Tampion
    As someone whose family reckons he lives in the past, I am indeed a keen student of history, possibly not to the depth of Professor Bourke although I hope that I do not indulge in demonstrating that knowledge whenever I am given the chance. After all, with the advent of Wikipedia we can all be historians if we want to be!

    The problem with having any knowledge of history is not an ability to regurgitate the facts or to offer links to the less knowledgable to support one’s facts, or, sometimes in the case of Wikipedia the occasional ‘alternative facts’, but rather how you interpret them. They say, don’t they, that history “keeps repeating itself”. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all learn from history and stop keep making the same mistakes? That we don’t makes me sometimes wonder what is wrong with the human race.

    As to the forthcoming election, I would have thought that it was pretty obvious that Biden needed to “recover the South” if he is to carry that antiquated institution known as the electoral college. JFK had LBJ to do that for him, just as he had Mayor Daley in the rust belt. Who has Biden got? Yes, he can still win (Heaven hopes he does for the sake of us all) but he has got to win back some of the blue collar workers the Democrats lost four years ago and make sure that enough black and Hispanic voters get to the polls and not stay at home. Above all, he can’t afford to be too radical; but, considering that the choice is really between two parties that we here would broadly label to be conservative, it might not be as hard as we think – provided ‘Sleepy Joe’ stays awake, on message and doesn’t allow Trump to bully him as the latter did Hillary on TV four years ago.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 30th Aug '20 - 9:08am

    @ John Marriott,

    In terms of “taking back the South“, it’s a nice bonus for the Biden/Harris campaign if they can make inroads in the South, but not really necessary. The key battleground is what is sometimes described as the Rust Belt – the area around Lake Michigan.

    Clinton lost Wisconsin and Michigan last time by small margins, and since then there has been a significant swing back to Democrat candidates in the 2018 midterms. Add those to the Democrat column in the Electoral College, and Pennsylvania, which is thought to be increasingly leaning Democrat, and that’s enough.

    What’s interesting is the long term impact of demographic change, with the Hispanic vote of increasing significance in hitherto Republican states such as Florida, Texas and New Mexico, and thus becoming more likely to elect a Democrat. This time, with a Republican candidate who seems determined to alienate them, those states are probably in play.

    Whilst the South has trended towards the Republicans, other states have trended in the other direction. New Hampshire and Colorado were traditionally Republican states which are increasingly Democrat in their leanings.

  • Those criticising the BLM protesters (Daily Mail/Express comments) often quote “different values in the 19th century”…

    During the US civil war, even though they were starving, the Lancashire mill workers refused to handle cotton picked by slaves. This while the mill and ship owners were demanding that the Royal Navy smash the union blockade (an act that would’ve led to a Union/GB war) and were flying Confederate flags; in Liverpool, a city made wealthy by cotton imports, it was said that there were more Confederate flags flying along the banks of the Mersey than in Virginia….
    President Lincoln acknowledged the self-sacrifice of the ‘working men of Manchester’ in a letter he sent them in 1863. Lincoln’s words – later inscribed on the pedestal of his statue that can still be found in Lincoln Square, Manchester – praised the workers for their selfless act of “sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.” These words were followed by the arrival of US relief ships packed with provisions sent by grateful Americans as an act of brotherhood between the Union states and Lancashire.

    Far from ‘different values’, those shown by 19th century Englishmen, would put some current ‘Englishmen’ to shame..

  • For the first time the bookies have Trump and Biden joint favourites. Biden was previously the clear favourite. This election is going to be about law and order and the democrats have got themselves in a fix. If they condemn BLM violence they will lose many of their core voters, if they don’t it will allow Trump to be the law and order candidate. I just don’t see how the Democrats can win, they have chosen a weak candidate, but I’m not sure there was anyone else to chose.

  • John Marriott 31st Aug '20 - 1:47pm

    @malc
    God, I hope that you are wrong; but I also am nervous. It won’t necessarily be the BLM protests that may tip things in favour of ‘law and order’ Trump. It’s more likely to be the way that the Republicans Party uses an inherently unrepresentative voting system to deliver the election for its candidate. For electoral college in the USA read FPTP in the U.K.

    An even more sinister scenario is the possibility of an escalation of what happened in Kenosha and Portland last week. The USA has literally thousands of heavily armed civilians, courtesy of the Second Amendment, and not all of them are Trump supporters. If things really get even more polarised, we could be in for the Gun Fight at OK Corral on speed.

    I repeat what I wrote at the start of this thread, it doesn’t say much if the two ‘best’ candidates a nation of over 330 million people with a GDP to die for can come up with is a couple of white males well past retirement age, then, quite frankly, it deserves everything it gets!

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