The Dutch Elections and the Looming Crisis

By George Friedman – Daily Digest

A class struggle is emerging in Euro-American society.

Geert Wilders, the nationalist candidate for prime minister of the Netherlands, lost the election on March 15. This has brought comfort to those who opposed him and his views on immigration and immigrants. It is odd that they should be comforted. Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that someone of his views would have won any seats in parliament.

The fact that his party is now the second largest in the Netherlands, rather than an irrelevancy, should be a mark of how greatly the Netherlands – and Euro-American civilization – has changed, and an indication that this change is not temporary.

Wilders’ views are coarser than most. He called Moroccans pigs and called for closing mosques in the Netherlands. But more alarming from my point of view is the inability of his enemies to grasp why Wilders has risen, and their tendency to dismiss his followers as simply racists. This comforts his critics. They feel morally superior. But paradoxically they are strengthening Wilders – and his allies in the rest of Europe and the United States. By willfully misunderstanding the movement and attempting to delegitimize the nationalist impulse, they make it impossible to shape a movement that cannot be resisted.

I have written before on the intimate connection between the right to national self-determination and liberal democracy. The right to national self-determination is meaningless without the existence of a nation. And a nation is impossible to imagine without an identity. There is something that makes the Dutch different from Poles, and both different from Egyptians. Nationalism assumes distinctions.

For Europe, Nazi Germany and the wars of the 20th century were seen as manifestations of nationalism. Without nationalism – or more precisely the obsession with national identity – these things would not have happened. One of the results of this was the European Union, which tried bafflingly to acknowledge the persistence and importance of the nation-state while also trying to reduce the nation-state’s power and significance. The European Union never abolished the differences between nations and their interests, because it couldn’t. In an embarrassed way, Europe acknowledged the sins of nationalism, while clinging to it.

Hitler taught us an important lesson. The balance between loving one’s own and despising the stranger is less obvious than we would like to think. Nationalism can become monstrous. But so can internationalism, as Stalin, Hitler’s soul mate, demonstrated. All things must be taken in moderation, but the need for moderation doesn’t abolish the need to be someone in a vast world filled with others.

Nationalism was the centerpiece of the rise of liberal democracies because liberal democracy was built around the liberation of nations. Liberals in Europe and America did not deny that, but they simply could not grasp that the nation cannot exist unless the people feel a common bond that makes them distinct. The claim was that it was legitimate to have a nation, but not legitimate to love it inordinately, to love it more than other nations, to value the things that made it different, and above all, to insist that the differences be preserved, not diluted.

Nationalism is not based on minor idiosyncrasies of food and holidays. It is the deep structure of the human soul, something acquired from mothers, families, priests and teachers. It is the thing that you are before you even understand that there are others. It tells you about the nature of the world, the meaning of justice, the deities we bow to and the obligations we have to each other. It is not all we are, but it is the root of what we are. Novelist André Malraux once wrote that we leave our nation in a very national way. He meant that even when we try to abandon our national identity, we do so in a uniquely national way. Sitting in a bar in Shanghai, I can tell who is an American and who isn’t. I know mine and those who are not mine.

If I say that I am an American, then I have said something of enormous importance. I am American and not Japanese or Dutch. I can admire these nationalities and have friends among them, but I am not one of them, and they are not one of us. I owe obligations to America and Americans that I do not owe to others, and others owe the same to their nations. It is easy to declare yourself a citizen of the world. It is much harder to be one. Citizenship requires a land, a community and the distinctions that are so precious in human life.

The problems associated with immigration must always be borne in mind. The United States was built from immigrants, beginning with the English at Jamestown. America celebrated immigrants, but three things were demanded from them, two laid down by Thomas Jefferson. First, they were expected to learn English, the common tongue. Second, they were expected to understand the civic order and be loyal to it. The third element was not Jefferson’s. It was that immigrants had to find economic opportunity. Immigration only works when this opportunity exists. Without that, the immigrants remain the huddled masses, the wretched refuse etched on the Statue of Liberty. Immigrants don’t want to go where no economic opportunities exist, and welcoming immigrants heedless of the economic consequences leaves both immigrants and the class they will compete with desperate and bitter.

In some countries, such as the United States, immigration and nationalism are intimately connected. Since economic opportunity requires speaking English, immigrants must learn English and their children learn loyalty to the regime. It is an old story in the U.S. But when there is no opportunity – as in many European countries – assimilation is impossible. And when the immigrant chooses not to integrate, then something else happens. The immigrant is here not to share the values of the country but as a matter of convenience. He requires toleration as a human, but he does not reciprocate because he has chosen to be a guest and not a citizen in the full sense of the term.

For the well-to-do, this is a drama acted out of sight. The affluent do not live with poor immigrants, and if they know them at all, it is as servants. The well-off can afford a generous immigration system because they do not pay the price. The poor, who live in neighborhoods where immigrants live, experience economic, linguistic and political dislocation associated with immigration, because it is the national values they were brought up with that are being battled over. It is not simply jobs at stakes. It is also their own identities as Dutchmen, Americans or Poles that are at stake. They are who they are, and they battle to resist loss or weakening of this identity. For the well-to-do, those who resist the immigrants are dismissed in two ways. First, they are the poorer citizens, and therefore lack the sophistication of the wealthy. Second, because they are poor, they are racists, and nationalism is simply a cover for racism.

Thus, nationalism turns into a class struggle. The wealthy are indifferent to it because their identity derives from their wealth, their mobility and a network of friends that go beyond borders. The poor live where they were born, and their network of friends and beliefs are those that they were born into. In many cases, they have lost their jobs. If they also lose their identity, they have lost everything.

This class struggle is emerging in Euro-American society. It is between the well-to-do, who retain the internationalist principles of 1945 reinforced by a life lived in the wider world, and the poor. For this second group, internationalism has brought economic pain and has made pride in who they are and a desire to remain that way a variety of pathology.

The elite, well-to-do, internationalists, technocrats – call them what you’d like – demonize poorer members of society as ignorant and parochial. The poor see the elite as contemptuous of them and abandoning the principles to which they were born, in favor of wealth and the world that the poor cannot access.

It is about far more than money. Money is simply the thing that shields you from the effect of the loss of identity. The affluent have other ways to think of themselves. But the real issue goes back to the founding principles of liberal democracy – the right to national self-determination and, therefore, the right to a nation. And that nation is not understood in the EU’s anemic notion of the nation, but as a full-blooded assertion of the right to preserve the cultural foundations of nationhood in the fullest sense.

In other words, the nationalism issue has become a football in a growing class struggle between those who praise tolerance but do not face the pain of being tolerant, and those who see tolerance as the abandonment of all they learned as a child. I began by talking about Hitler, whom no reasonable and decent person wants to emulate. Yet, what made him strong was that the elite held his followers in contempt. They had nowhere else to go, and nothing to lose. Having lost much in World War I and the depression, they had nothing left but pride in being German. And the scorn in which they were held turned nationalism into a monstrosity.

Scorn and contempt are even more powerful a force than poverty. Liberals are sensitive to the scorn directed at immigrants, but rarely to those who must deal with immigration not as a means of moral self-satisfaction, but in daily life. This is not about immigration or free trade. It is about the nation, first loves, and the foundations of liberalism.

 

Nationalism and Liberal Democracy

Annex 1:

Tension between nationalism and liberal democracy

By George Friedman – Daily Digest

Nationalism is rising in the Western world, and many view it as the enemy of liberal democracy. The basis of this view is not unreasonable, as European wars fought from 1914 to 1945 were among the most barbaric in history. Those wars were fought between nations, many of which had rejected the principles of liberal democracy. Some saw the proliferation of nations as causing a rise in tyrannies, destruction of liberal democracies, and a war fought to recover liberal democracy in Europe. The view that Europe’s wars originated in nationalism became common, along with the belief that nationalism gave rise to fascism, and that the preservation of liberal democracy required nationalism’s suppression.

From this, the European Union emerged as a moral project, along with the idea that a re-emergence of nationalism would return Europe and Euro-American civilization back to barbarism. Historically, that may be a persuasive argument. But it fails to understand that nationalism – however distorted it might become – is the root of liberal democracy, not only historically, but also morally. The two concepts are intellectually inseparable.

Liberal democracy as a political doctrine arose in the 18th century as a challenge to monarchy. At the time, monarchies were based on the idea that kings and emperors had a divine right to rule. Maps of 18th century Europe, and even before, show the outcomes of this approach. The holdings of a monarch or lesser nobility were built by war, money and marriage, and the subjects likely consisted of many nations. Many nations, in turn, were divided between the different monarchies. Therefore, kingdoms and nations did not necessarily coincide, and regimes were not connected to the people, neither in theory nor in practice.

Nineteenth and 20th century history involved the struggle of nations to extract themselves from monarchies and empires to take their fragmented parts and make them whole. A European uprising in 1848 was a result of nations seeking the right to be free from empires. For the most part, they failed at this goal but succeeded in another: Nationalism became a moral imperative. Nations emerged from the chaos of World War I after four empires collapsed. To a great extent, this was due to the guidance of Woodrow Wilson at Versailles. Then, in 1991, more nations emerged from the collapse of the Soviet empire. After World War II, as European empires collapsed, nations – and frequently entities pretending to be nations – emerged from the rubble to assert their right to national self-determination. Whatever Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini would have done, advocates of liberal democracy celebrated the global emergence of nations that would govern themselves.

A nation is a group of people who share history, culture, language and other attributes. It is the existence of a common identity, a coherent sense of self and nationhood that make self-government possible, because it is that sense of self that permits self-government. A random collection of people without a core set of shared values cannot form a coherent regime, because nothing would hold the regime together or prevent internal chaos. The principle of the right to national self-determination can be universalized, but the practice of national self-determination must be rooted in the nation. Without this commonality, a nation could tear itself apart. We saw this happen in Yugoslavia and when Czechs and Slovaks gracefully divorced. We saw the chaos of the former European empires as nations once divided from each other by imperial borders and forced to live together with strangers were enveloped in constant turmoil. Without people who have self-identity, the right to self-determination cannot exist. Without the democracy that flows from it, liberal democracy cannot exist.

Liberal democracy makes two core assertions. First, there is a right to national self-determination. Second, this self-determination must manifest in a type of popular rule, and the people, in ruling themselves, have the right to select and approve the form and substance of government. The important point is that democracy is comprehensible only through the prism of the nation.

The centrality of the nation derives from its irrelevance to the old regime. Monarchies did not recognize the right of people to rule themselves, and they didn’t see the concept of a people as important. To challenge despotism, a political instrument that could be wielded as a powerful weapon had to be created. From a political point of view, the only coherent political force to oppose monarchs was the nation. The American Revolution was the rising of a nation crafted as colonies against the English monarch. The French Revol ution was the rising of a French nation, as fragmented as it was, against the French monarch.

Liberal democracy also has an obvious inherent danger: It celebrates democracy and liberalism, a system of values that defines the individual as the moral core and guarantees him liberty. This is the core tension in liberal democracy. On one hand, liberal democracy demands the right of people to determine their own government. On the other, it demands that people respect liberalism. In other words, liberal democracy wants the people to rule, but it insists that if the people understood the moral universe in which they live, they would always vote a certain way.

Contemporary tension in liberal democracy is not with the nation, but rather between democracy and liberalism. If people have a right to self-determination, then they have the right to elect leaders with values they prefer or share. The problem is that some people will object to leaders being selected who violate the principles of liberalism.

The battle is between the right of national self-determination on one side, and a faction of people who are appalled at the path the people have chosen on the other side. Nation after nation is being torn apart by those who embrace liberal democracy being usurped by others making democratic choices.

The American founders understood this problem and sought to resolve it by limiting democracy in a number of ways. The most important of these limitations was the Constitution, and its purpose was to define how the state works and checks itself, what inviolable rights all citizens have, and what system would make changing the Constitution enormously difficult. The issue with a constitution is always whether the people will respect it and whether tyrants will overturn it.

Democracy and liberalism live in dangerous tension with each other. Democracy can destroy liberalism if the majority wills it. And liberalism has a tendency to want to limit democracy if it reaches decisions that are offensive to it. The key to a liberal democracy is a powerful constitution – powerful in the sense that the people, over generations, respect it with an awe approaching worship.

The point here is that tension between nationalism and liberal democracy is not what haunts us today. Rather, what haunts us is the tension between liberal principles and democracy. The only thing that can contain that tension is a constitution that brooks no challenge. Without that, everything breaks down. In the end, designing a constitution is the most fundamental decision a self-governing nation must make. Of course, the constitution must be worthy of its authority.

 

Annex 2:

In Defense of Nationalism

By Jacob L. Shapiro – Daily Digest

The concept of nationalism in the modern world remains largely misunderstood.

Two overly reductive tropes are developing around the concept of nationalism. The first is the idea that “nationalism is rising.” In this conceptualization, nationalism is a kind of primordial haunting that has begun to possess various segments of society. It comes about via spontaneous generation, infecting the minds of those susceptible to notions of ethnic or religious superiority. Once sparked, it can be very difficult to stop and often ends in war and global catastrophe. The second is the way nationalism is often used in the same breath as words like authoritarianism, chauvinism and xenophobia, as if these concepts are synonyms, and nationalism is just one concept in a basket of “deplorables.”

Nationalism is rising, but an increase in nationalist sentiments is often a symptom of increased instability, not a cause. Nationalism began to emerge with the American and French revolutions, but nationalism as an ideology came to maturity as a political force in Europe in the 19th century. It is no coincidence that nationalism became powerful at the same time that massive economic dislocation was occurring because of the Industrial Revolution. What began in Great Britain as factories replaced cottage industries in the production of textiles soon spread across the Continent, fundamentally changing the structure of the family and the life of the typical worker, and bringing teeming numbers of workers from farms into rapidly growing cities.

The Industrial Revolution was a massive discontinuity. It had many effects, but two of the most salient were the ways it undermined the security of the individual and the stability of political society. Not coincidentally, at the same time that the individual worker was having his traditional role turned upside down, a new conception of the inherent worth of the individual was crystallizing. Individuals had basic human rights that had not been appropriately recognized by various kings, czars and enlightened despots of the time. A new mode of political organization was necessary based on a social contract between those who ruled and those who were ruled. A basic part of that contract was that leaders could be replaced. Nationalism was an integral part of that ideology. Nationalism gave the high-minded ideals of the Enlightenment the practical tools it needed to create new political regimes based on these principles. The individual had lost a sense of identity and security, but the nation gave new meaning to the life of individual citizens.

Another moment of nationalism that is often brought up shook the world between World War I and World War II. The scars of those conflicts are still fresh, but the root cause was not nationalism. Nationalism was one of the ways that those who lived through a moment of extreme economic dislocation rationalized their experiences. The years preceding Hitler’s rise to power were dominated by a global depression that brought Germany, in particular, to its knees and that was felt most intensely by the working classes all over the world, who had no buffers from economic dislocation. In addition to this economic instability, the goal of the Treaty of Versailles was not to sustain peace among equals, but rather to keep Germany crippled. An imbalance in power relations between Europe’s (and Asia’s) major powers existed, and Germany was both embarrassed by its previous defeat and scared of a future at the mercy of the French or any other historical enemy surrounding it.

When we say nationalism is rising today, what we really mean is that the world is increasingly unstable and that nationalism is increasing as a result. The 2008 financial crisis continues to reverberate throughout the world. It manifests in decreased growth prospects for exporting countries, in the European Union’s inability to form a coherent union-wide strategy towards overcoming the crisis, in declining purchasing power by the middle and lower-middle class in the United States, and in economic dislocation and job loss driven by globalization affecting the working classes than on anyone else. The U.S. is the world’s only global power, and its would-be peers are all too weak to challenge the U.S., which creates fear that can be used by leaders of those countries to boost their legitimacy as they struggle with domestic economic issues. These factors in turn delegitimize international institutions, as many begin to realize that if something is everyone’s responsibility, it is no one’s. The desire to assert what limited control one can over the fate of one’s nation is an inevitable outgrowth.

This desire is not by itself authoritarian, chauvinist or xenophobic, nor does it necessarily lead to violent conflict. For example, nationalism and authoritarianism can go hand in hand, and in countries like Russia and China, they often do. Both are vast countries in terms of landmass, but also ethnic composition and the gap in wealth between the richest and the poorest. There is a reason Russia and China were ruled by czars and emperors and have not made a transition to liberal democracy. But nationalism isn’t the reason. Nationalism props up the legitimacy of authoritarianism just as it binds together the citizenry of liberal democracies. There is nothing inherent within the concept of nationalism itself that leads to war or conflict. Human beings do that on their own, and they fought wars for sovereigns, kings, clans and pharaohs long before nationalism was thought of. Power imbalances, scarcity of resources, fear and lack of trust of a neighboring power are all far more consequential dynamics that can lead to violence. When they do, nationalism is an excellent ex post facto ideology to graft onto those conflicts.

None of this is to deny the powerful role that nationalism – or any ideology – can play in exacerbating conflict, especially once conflict has already broken out. It is also not to deny the consequences nationalism can have at the domestic level. The concept of a nation can be a unifying principle, but the flip side of that principle is that rules must be set for who is considered part of the nation and who isn’t. Current economic imbalances in the world mean this can manifest in ugly ways toward immigrants or refugees fleeing conflicts. There is of course another perspective. The citizens of one nation want to protect their own, and as unfortunate as it is that others don’t have that protection, why should a nation look out for refugees, especially if doing so poses a tangible threat.

Too much nationalism on top of political and social instability can lead to the rise of a regime like the Third Reich. Too little nationalism can lead to the current situation we see in Syria. “Syria” is a fabrication, a flippant creation of European imperialism. When Syria came apart at the seams in 2011, the result was the proliferation of a dizzying number of rebel groups that to this day are as busy fighting among themselves as they are with resisting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The humanitarian horrors in Aleppo are a reminder that the international community’s promise of “never again” has never been kept. National self-determination is not just a principle enshrined in the U.N. Charter, it is also, for better or for worse, the best way political communities have found to secure power in the modern world. Many in the West are nervous about the rise of nationalism; the Syrian rebels in Aleppo would gladly take some of that nationalism if they could.

Nationalism is ultimately an ideology. Ideology very rarely drives geopolitics; it is almost always the other way around. The fact that nationalism is rising today is a signal that there are tectonic shifts happening at fundamental political, social and economic levels that are causing individuals and nations to feel insecure about their place in the world. These challenges can also lead to authoritarianism in some countries and bigotry in others, but these are all separate phenomena. The important thing to remember is that increased nationalism comes not from the ether but from instability, and that it is not synonymous with various other “-isms” that many lop into one large category of poisonous ideologies. The world is built on nation-states. Take out the nation and you’re left with a house of cards.

 

Annex 3:

Immigration Chaos

By George Friedman – Daily Digest

As long as illegal immigration is permitted, the foundations of American culture are at risk.

President Donald Trump temporarily blocked both “immigrants and nonimmigrants” from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. From the beginning of his presidential campaign he has spoken at various times and in a variety of ways of taking a step like this. Having done it, the action created uproar in part because it was done without adequate preparation, and in larger part, because it was done at all. The mutual recriminations over this particular act are of little consequence. What is important is to try to understand why the immigration issue is so sensitive. The uproar over Trump’s action is merely one of many to come, which also will be of little consequence.

Trump has pointed to two very different patterns. One is immigration to the U.S. by Muslims. The other is illegal Mexican immigration. Both resonated with Trump’s supporters. It is interesting to consider other immigration patterns that have not become an issue. One is immigration to the U.S. from India. The other is immigration from China and other parts of Asia. Both have been massive movements since about 1970, and both have had substantial social consequences.

Indian migration to the U.S. has been one of the most successful in American history in that it has been among the least disruptive, has generated minimal hostility and has been extraordinarily successful economically. Today, Indian-Americans are the wealthiest single ethnic group in the United States. They are hardly invisible, as they are present in all professions and as corporate executives.

Chinese and East Asian immigration is more complex. Chinese immigrants began coming to the U.S. in the mid-19th century. They came as laborers supplied by Chinese contractors and were crucial in building American railroads alongside – and in competition with – Irish immigrants. The Chinese were exploited and brutalized and didn’t get citizenship. But after the 1970s, their story matched the Indians’ – the Chinese were not quite as wealthy, but they did well.

About 3.7 million people of Indian descent live in the U.S., many of them second-generation immigrants. About 4 million people of Chinese descent live in the U.S., with somewhat more complex backgrounds. There also are 3.3 million Muslims and 35.8 million people of Mexican descent, including an estimated 5.2 million of the 11 million who are in the U.S. illegally, according to Pew Research Center.

If there was a strain of intense, anti-immigrant or racist sentiment in the United States, it would be directed against Indians and Chinese just as much as Muslims and Mexicans. There would also be a persistent strain from previous Irish immigration in the 19th century, and of Italians, Jews and other Eastern and Southern Europeans who flooded into the United States between 1880 and 1920. To the extent that racism exists against any of these groups, the anti-immigration fervor is marginal; century-old immigrant cohorts have become mainstream. They are not the ones marginalized – their detractors are.

It is the example of the Chinese and the Indians that blows up the theory that Americans have an overarching anti-immigrant sensibility that Trump is tapping into. It also raises serious doubts that Trump is anti-immigrant. I have searched and may have missed it, but I didn’t find that Trump made anti-Chinese or anti-Indian statements, as opposed to anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican statements. If it were classic anti-immigrant sentiment, the rage would be against Indian immigrants who have emerged as a powerful and wealthy ethnic group in a startlingly short time. But there is minimally detectable hostility toward them, which means that the immigration situation in the United States is far more complex than it seems.

The issue is not whether Trump and his followers are generally anti-immigrant. The question is why they are so hostile toward Muslims, who roughly total the same number as the Chinese and Indians, and to Mexicans, who vastly outnumber these groups. I wish the explanation were more complex, but it is actually quite simple in both cases.

The United States has been at war with Muslim groups since Sept. 11, 2001. When the U.S. has gone to war with foreign powers, there has been a surge of hostility toward immigrants from that foreign power’s country. During World War I, German immigrants in the United States who still spoke German came under suspicion and were pressured to adopt English. During World War II, Germans who had maintained close and cordial ties to Germany prior to the war were harassed, and in some cases, arrested under suspicion of espionage and subversion. Japanese citizens of the United States were arrested and sent to detention camps out of fear that they might be conducting espionage or sabotage for the Japanese. During the Cold War, post-war émigrés from Soviet satellite nations were distrusted by the FBI, which feared they were sent by the Soviets as spies and saboteurs.

When there is war, there is suspicion of the enemy. When there is suspicion of the enemy, there is fear that émigrés might be in the United States on false pretenses. Historically, émigrés have been caught in the middle to some extent because their loyalty is questioned. In war, there is rage as the casualties mount, particularly if sabotage and terrorism are carried out in the homeland. This is hardly new or difficult to understand. If those of us old enough to recall the terror after 9/11 will do so, we can remember the fear and uncertainty not only about what comes next, but also whether the next terror team already was present in the United States. After 15 years of war and many Americans dead, this has congealed into a framework of distrust that may well go beyond the rational. The detention of the entire Japanese community was not rational. Nor was it something that cannot be understood. It is hard to calibrate what you ought to be afraid of in war, but you know that something dreadful might happen. Are all Muslims warriors against the United States? No. Do you know who is or isn’t? Also no. Wars, therefore, create fears. There is nothing new in the American fear of Muslims in the context of war.

The Mexican situation is different. There was a war, but it was long ago, and fear of war is not the driving issue. Rather, the driving issue is illegal Mexican immigration. There is a great deal of homage paid to the rule of law. Congress passed a law specifying the mechanics of legal migration. Some 5 million Mexicans broke the law. Whether this has harmed the U.S. economy or not, the indifference to enforcing the law by people who are normally most insistent on the rule of law has created a sense of hypocrisy. At the same time that the middle and lower-middle classes feel as though their interests are being ignored, the presentation of illegal aliens as “undocumented immigrants” reveals a linguistic maneuver. The “illegals” are transformed into the merely “undocumented,” implying a minor bureaucratic foul-up.

The anger is not only directed at the Mexicans. It is part of the rage against those living in the bubble, who present themselves as humanitarians, but who will encounter the illegal aliens, if at all, as their servants. And rightly or wrongly, some suspect that open support for breaking the law is designed to bring cheap labor to support the lifestyles of the wealthy at the expense of the declining middle class. The fact that the well-to-do tend to be defenders of illegal aliens while also demanding the rule of law increases suspicions.

There is a somewhat deeper layer. As long as illegal immigration is permitted, the foundations of American culture are at risk. It is not simply immigration, but the illegality that is frightening, because it not only can’t be controlled, but also the law is under attack by those who claim to uphold it. The fear that a person’s livelihood is being undermined and his cultural foundation is being overwhelmed creates deep fear of the intentions of the more powerful.

The issue appears to have little to do with NAFTA and other economic concerns. The U.S. and China have equally intense economic issues, but there is minimal tension over Chinese immigration. The economic and immigration issues seem only tenuously connected.

It is rare that an issue of such emotional impact as Muslims during a war with Muslims, or immigration in violation of the law, would not cause tension. As we saw with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Japanese, things that are obvious to those living decades later are not obvious at the time. Indeed, it is a failure of imagination to be unable to empathize with the fear felt after Pearl Harbor. In our time, the failure to empathize comes from those who feel immune to illegal immigration or the 15-year war. It is part of the growing fragmentation of American society that different classes and regions should experience these things so differently, and that each side has so little understanding of the other.

It is the president’s job to bridge the gap. But regardless of his wishes, the president is trapped by the upwelling of feeling on questions of immigration by Muslims at a time of war, or the refusal of government at all levels to enforce the law. But what is not true is that this represents a generalized hostility to immigrants or even racism. If it did, the Indian and the Chinese immigration in recent generations would have encountered a very different greeting. This issue is about two groups. The response may well be extreme and clumsy. But after many years of ignoring the anxiety that both issues generated, or dismissing it as racism, it inevitably ratchets out of control. In fact, neither issue is mysterious, unprecedented or subject to cautious management, given the passions on all sides.

 

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