Sunday, November 13, 2016

What's It Mean? Getting the "race" story all wrong

 The American concept of race has been long lasting, but who fits into a "race" has changed dramatically over the years.

One of the most persistent stories we have heard before the election, and now after, is that Donald Trump won the election due to "white people". Even George F. Will, citing demographic information that supports this "white people" thesis, notes this in his lament over Trump's election in his recent post election column.

The problem is, who are the "white people"?

The press, when it talks about this, tends to redefine it if it looks at it in depth, as the analysis doesn't seem to work from the very onset, so we soon learn that they aren't talking about all "white people", but something like white men without college educations, or maybe white people without college educations, or maybe white people who are or were blue collar.

Well, bumpkis.  This is part of the whole, clueless, press analysis this year.

Here's the problem.

This way of looking at demographics is racist, but fits in with an historical American approach.  Traditionally, although not for a long time, "white people" meant White Anglo Saxon Protestants.  The mere fact that we, in the US, define who is white and who is not dates in large measure to this.  Speaking of WASPs was common when I was still young, and it basically fits this mold, except that the WASPs, to the extent its any kind of real classification, doesn't really fit what actually occurred in this election or what is supposed to have occurred either, let alone what actually occurred.  It does have a lot to do, however, on how Americans inaccurately categorize "race".

This is actually a flyer for an old detective movie, but the press could use some historical detectives themselves.  They use the term "white" as if it is a real classification, which is questionable, without even pondering what it means and how it came to mean anything.

I've written on this before, but this entire way of looking at the world dates to an era when to be a "real American" meant you were probably descendant from a British Isles Protestant.  Some continental Europeans got a pass, but only somewhat.  But many didn't.  If you look back at literature of a century or more, you'll see that Italians, Irish, Greeks, and Eastern Europeans were not "white people".

Oh, surely you say, that can't be right.

It most certainly can be.

All of these groups shared certain characteristics, the most common of which is that they were not likely to be Protestants.  They were likely to be Catholics or Orthodox. Virtually nobody admitted that their racial concepts were based on this, but in fact, they largely were. 

Added to this is that the British went into a period during the Victorian Era when they hugely admired the Saxon invaders of their homeland and came to the conclusion, erroneously as we now know, that everyone in England was descendant from the Saxons as surely the Saxons had killed off all the Britons who didn't end up in Wales ultimately. As it turns out they did nothing of the kind, and the English are, genetically, more Celtic than Germanic, but at the time, they were imagining the opposite. This fit neatly into the early views of the United States which emphasized British colonist as being on a civilizing, Protestant, mission.

At the tend of the day, therefore, what defined "white" was whether or not you were part of the culture of the Reformation.  The English fit that nicely, the Scots less so as they were not Germanic, but they were British, and were given a pass, and even the continental Germans and Dutch were as they had to be to fit this definition.  And oddly enough, this definition persists.  In looking at this earlier, I noted: 


Over time, what happened to these various non white (in the concept of the time) is that they were assimilated into the American mix and became "white" Americans.  It sure didn't happen all at once, however.  With the Irish it started with the Mexican War but it lasted all the way until the 1920s and the real assimilation was accomplished by World War Two. This is true of the Italians as well, who were some sort of weird, swarthy, dirty people in the public eye up until after World War Two when they were just part of that great old American melting pot society.  



Of course, in this time frame some things had actually changed, both in these groups and in our view of them. The odd accents, and in some cases the strange languages, became less common. And as they worked themselves into positions in the Middle Class, association with them caused familiarity and they seemed more American all the time. And of course, they actually became more American.

And as that occurred, they became "white". That was a pretty significant development, as in doing this, the meaning of "white', except apparently to the American press, changed quite radically.  Irish Americans would never have been regarded by early 20th Century Americans as real whites.  But by the mid 20th Century anyone would laugh at that notion.

And that's because concepts of race are purely cultural, and not without prejudice, having no other basis in anything at all, other than perception.  The culture had changed to accommodate Christian people who weren't Protestants.  Bizarrely, it still hasn't accommodated African Americans to the definition, keeping its oldest racial category, in spite of the fact that most African Americans are more a part of the culture than many more recent arrivals, and more part of the original colonizing culture, which forced them over and into it, than many of the later ones now regarded as "white".

Perhaps one of the best examples of this are Lebanese Americans, of which there are a lot.  They're regarded as white.  I have a large collection of Lebanese-Irish cousins and nobody would ever put them in some separate race.  Nor would I.  But, in terms of DNA, they share genes from the Middle East, which some Americans today would regard as the land of a separate "race".  Most Lebanese Americans are Catholics and always have been, and indeed Christianity is the sole defining thing, really, between who was Lebanese and who was Syrian at one time.  I suspect most Americans today would regard most Muslim Syrians as members of another race.  They aren't.

Because, as noted, race is cultural and a matter of perception.  

Or let's take Bernie Sanders.  He's white, right?

Well, he is today, but a century ago he would have been a mistrusted member of the "Hebrew Race".  Indeed, one of the 1916 newspapers I just ran referred to Americans who were Jewish in that fashion.

Modern Americans don't regard Jewish people as members of a separate race even though they have a distinct culture.  And we haven't had that view for a long time.  The reason is that acceptance of the entire culture came in as they largely assimilated.  This came to be so much the case that an entire meaningless word was adopted to rationalize it, that being "Judaeo-Christian".

Judaeo-Christian as  word, is entirely meaningless. There is no such thing as a Judaeo-Christian culture and the United States is not a Judaeo-Christian nation.  The US started off, basically, as a nation with a Protestant Christian culture and its evolved into one with a broad Christian culture, although its still more Protestant than anything else.  We just adapted our definitions and accepted the Jewish culture into our redefined definition.

Which brings me to election puditry babble.

The entire concept that there's a "white vote" is a completely erroneous way of looking at the election demographics.  What it does is make a false assumption that skin color defines how a person thinks and what they are, and it more particularly acts as if being an Hispanic or a Latino is some deep DNA classification that defines how a person thinks, as if they are a separate species.  

And this is important, by speaking of the new "minorities" or "diversity", in an ethnic sense, the Press, while it includes other groups, mostly means Hispanics.

In truth, as we've noted before, the term Hispanic is so broad a person can be an Indian, black, or a European American and still be attached that label.  It's a fairly meaningless label, therefore.  

It's particularly meaningless as quite frankly but for the fact that most are of relatively recent arrival, and have Spanish names, a large percentage of these individuals would otherwise be classified by people who must make such classifications as "white".  And this is what will occur in fairly short order.  Here's what we noted before:
This brings me to Hispanics and other new groups.  I'm constantly reading that the country is becoming more "diverse".  Maybe it is, but I suspect that Hispanics are a group that's going to be regarded as its own race, now that they are a significant demographic, about as long as Italians were, and for the same reasons.  Fifty years from now, to be Hispanic will be to claim a certain ethnic heritage, and that will probably be about it.

Indeed, it's already the case that I read piles of wedding announcements in the newspaper every week between people with Spanish surnames and English, or other, names. These cultures are already mixing at an extremely rapid rate, and not just in terms of marriage, but culture.  Some time ago I attended something at Mass where a person self identified as Hispanic, but who would have been impossible to identify that way by appearance, and this is becoming the absolute norm.  Hispanic last names are rapidly only indicating ethnic heritage and not race, and usually mixed American ethnic heritage, the same way Irish, German or Italian last names do.  Hispanics may have been a strongly identifiable minority in many places, and indeed they still are, but they're rapidly entering the mainstream and vice versa, the latter being an interesting process we rarely think of.  Just as minority cultures pick up and adopt large parts of the majority culture, the majority culture adopts parts of the minority culture as well.  Across the street from my office, for example, there's a Mexican restaurants that's really Mexican.  It's very popular with local Hispanics, but most days at noon, any more, it's swamped with everyone else.  An establishment that started off being patronized mostly by members of its own culture now no longer is, even though it hasn't changed a bit.  Restaurants are, of course, a superficial example, but it's also interesting how many people now celebrate Cinqo De Mayo in some fashion, and Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated at Catholic parishes everywhere.



And this is why the Press is so far off the mark.

This election wasn't about "race", but rather culture and economics.  And the cultural war here isn't between "white America" and " the new more diverse America".  It's between the deep urban white upper middle class and upper class America and middle and lower class America.  So, if there's a cultural war going on, it's between two different "white" demographics, with any other ethnic groups merely filling in, in a highly temporary fashion, where it suits their immediate needs.

This is certainly the case with the Hispanic demographic.  Almost completely missed in this entire story if the fact that while a large Hispanic minority many be somewhat new, that same demographic is assimilating so fast it soon will not be there in the sense that the press imagines it to be.  In this fashion, that particularly demographic strongly resembles that other "race" of our early history, the French.

What, you didn't know that French were a race?  Oh yes they were.  Or at least the early English colonist thought they were, as long as they were Catholic, which they almost all were.  And they did something the English did not, they intermarried at a high rate with other cultures.  This is true, we should note, of Hispanics as well.

A person can get into the history of this, and we need to a little, but the entire topic would be a lengthy one.  Basically, it gets back to their Catholicity.  Anglo Saxon, i.e., English, culture of an earlier period discouraged intermarriage.  It's a complicated story, but the English colonist to the United States and elsewhere saw themselves as a superior, Protestant, civilizing people, as noted above.  No matter how down and out you were, at least you were English, and that made you, in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, part of a civilizing mission to the world.  I don't want to be all down on the English, who did a much better job of colonial administration than most other European people, but that was part of their outlook at the time.  The French were bad colonial administrators, and in their later colonial period they also saw themselves as missionaries for French secular Republicanism, but early on, and shared with the Spanish, their rank and file colonist were fairly devout Catholics who believed that everyone was an equal before God.  So intermarriage was not uncommon at all, resulting in a highly mixed population wherever the French and Spanish went.  This carries right on to the present day and unlike some other immigrant cultures they do not spend the first several generations principally amongst themselves.

Which doesn't mean that their culture evaporates.  Like the Irish Catholics, and Italian Catholics, it'll tend to assimilate with the existing culture.  The  point is that people who imagine that the Hispanic culture is some mysterious other, and practically genetic in nature, with a genetic affiliation for the Democratic Party that will cause it to rise up unaltered once again, are fooling themselves.

Indeed, we should note that this year it was the GOP that ran one Catholic Hispanic and one Protestant Hispanic in the primaries, while the Democrats ran two really old white people.  Cuban Hispanics, which would describe the two individuals just noted, are already highly assimilated and. . . gasp. . . frequently Republican.

Hmmmm.

And New Mexico has had Hispanic governors twice who were. . . Republicans.

Gee.. .

Anyhow, that takes us to the next step of this.

If this years vote doesn't amount to a pure racist "I'm white and you are not" vote, what does it mean?

Well, I've already noted a lot of what it means just recently.

But what I think it means is that people paid their $20.00 to come to Ray Kinsella's field.

Eh?

Recall this line from Field of Dreams:
Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
Okay, what do I mean by that?

Well, this.

People don't like what the United States has become and they're sick of being told to accept it.

This has been going on for a long time.  Indeed, it's always going on to some extent.  But its been much more noticeable over the past twenty years and now a lot of average people are really fed up. They're fed up in part because the GOP has kept telling them that it would address their concerns, and the Democrats  kept telling them to learn to love the new reality that the Democrats would bring and that everyone would be happy on that bright, shiny, Greenwich Village on the Hill.

So what are they fed up about?

By and large, contrary to what pundits tend to believe, and particularly contrary to what the political left believes, and to the surprise of people from other nations, Americans culturally are a fairly conservative people who go through bouts of liberal fevers.  They have private libertarian tendencies, but they aren't "liberal" or "progressive" in the way that the Democrats would like them to be.  Basically, therefore, to put it crudely, a lot of voters looked at the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and barfed up all over it.

As noted earlier, what people are saying is that they liked the more rural, more working class, lives they once had.  They are also saying that they value traditional societal views even if they don't adhere to them, which has often been the case for a lot of people.  They were appalled when, and it may have been the final straw for them, when Anthony Kennedy wrote a legal opinion that said that there really wasn't any difference between men and women, as they know that there is, as unlike Kennedy, they live in the real world.  They're sick of being dragged to the cultural left. And they want things to slow down, and even reverse. And that's their right.  That doesn't make them bigoted, and it doesn't make them wrong.

Also, and very importantly in this context, we are also seeing something within the "white" culture that seems likely to spread to the "Hispanic" culture as it assimilates.  And that's that the Catholics, who have never defined "whiteness" in this society, suddenly rediscovered themselves as a voting block and bolted the Democratic Party. This is a huge, and missed, development.

No Catholic voter could have been comfortable with Trump, but sincere Catholic voters found themselves in a situation in which they cold not morally vote for Clinton. Clinton defined the death from cradle to grave view that Progressives have taken up.  Indeed, its been noted a bit that the demographic that's most identifiably Democratic, the white, urban, Protestant, upper middle class is now in the self eliminating mode as it doesn't reproduce. A person can analyze what that means, but it is curious that a group that has come to define marriage in terms of "happiness", "life support" and economics is the one that backs gay marriage. It would, as it has come to believe that sex is a species of entertainment and that personal Joy is the end of life, and that at that end, that's pretty much that.  Most people don't think that way at all, as they live in the real world, and Catholics definitely don't think that way. 

Indeed, not only most people not think that way, most people don't live in an economic strata that would allow them to.  Most people still have children, still have bills, and still struggle to some extent to get by.  It's easy to imagine how nifty the new economy is if you are a comfortable urban sophisticate in the high value condo district, with two  high incomes, not children, parents you don't need to take care of, and enough surplus cash to afford anything you reasonably want to your exclusive enjoyment, but that doesn't define most people.  It's come to define, however, many in the upper echelons of the political class. Think Huma and Anthony, before the implosion.  I may be completely unfair (knowing nothing about them personally), but do they match the nature and appearance of the couples of the same vintages you know?

Catholics have generally been Democrats since they first showed up in the country in numbers as the Democrats were good at organizing them and passing out patronage.  That tradition reflects itself in the Hispanic community today, but with it assimilating so rapidly, that's unlikely to continue.  If this election is any guide, the demographic time bomb may be going off inside the Democratic hall, not the Republican one.  Indeed, it may have exploded this election.

This election it appears that a majority of Catholics, who are a minority in the country (recall, they weren't even mostly "white" until the 20s and 30s, the way the culture defines it) voted for Trump. They likely held their noses and voted for Trump, but they did.  They felt they had no choice.  This is huge, however, as its the first time that they've voted as an identifiable voting block since the 1960s, its the first time that they really strongly followed the homily from the ambo on a political issue in all that time, and its the first time that the Church itself came out with blistering attacks on cultural issues in the political sphere.

Snotty Progressives did notice that this was going on early on, but their reaction was to bitterly attack the beliefs of the Church and make no effort to accommodate a demographic that had been loyal to them, and indeed Progressive, for well over a century.  Now they're gone.  John Podesta should get a dope slap for his insulting comments on Catholics and should have been fired about 30 seconds after they went public, but instead the Clinton campaign kept him on, just as it stupidly entrusted its campaign to people too close to the Weiner scandal.  Now, Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic in culture, even when they are not individually Catholic. As their economic fortunes increase and they come more and more into the American mainstream (i.e., as they become "white", as the press defines that) they'll quite being Democratic for patronage reasons and start acting more on their individual cultural beliefs.  That doesn't bode well for the Democrats at all.

Does all of this make Trump nifty?

Not hardly.

Indeed, its flat out bizarre that multiply married, super rich, former Democrat Trump became the choice for voters in this class.  As a salesman, he tapped into the current and read it right.  That doesn't mean that he personally believes any of it.  We have no idea.  But as a salesman, with something to sell, we can suspect that he'll keep selling it for at least four years.

During that four year period the GOP and the Democrats have a chance to reform. But will they?  I doubt the Democrats will.  The Democratic Party's halls of power seem to be mostly populated by the ghosts of the politicians of the 1970s.  George McGovern seems to be their guiding hand every year.  A party that claims to represent minorities can't seem to find a single person of color to run. This is particularly bizarre in that African Americans, who have been highly loyal to the Democrats since Franklin Roosevelt, just can't seem to get into the Presidential race and be treated seriously.  The only black candidate this year who performed at all was in the GOP.  This does not mean that there should be a racial litmus test to run for President, but how could a party that actually ran a post Baby Boomer black candidate, successfully,  the past two terms only mange to find a pants suit wearing 1970s throwback and a pre Baby Boomer New Yorker (yes, I know he was the Senator from Vermont, but he's a New York) to run this go around?

Indeed, are there no viable Democrat candidates located outside of New York state?

It's hard to take the Democrats seriously and the voters didn't.

And my guess is that they won't reform.

The Democratic Party is too controlled by crowed that go to trendy cocktail parties in big cities to begin to grasp that most people aren't vegans who wear their trousers five sizes too small.  A world in which women gush at little babies, where boys oogle attractive girls, where those girls seek to be chased, where men go hunting on the weekends, and where crowds spill beer rooting for baseball teams that have no chance of winning is completely foreign to them.  If they have any chance of success, after this, they have to find some candidates that 1) aren't ancient, 2) don't see every womb as a chance for sterilization; 3) seem to care about the native born; 4) don't hate Catholics, Orthodox, and Orthodox Jews.  But are there any left that have a chance?

This doesn't mean that the GOP can sit on its laurels either. The GOP basically lost this election at the Presidential level, as Trump isn't a recognizable Republican.  He's something else, somebody, the way he ran this time, who would have been more at home in the old Populist Party of the 19th Century.  But as he ran as a Republican, and as the Republicans held on to Congress, and as Trump adopted the positions of the social conservatives, they have an opportunity that they didn't before.

They also have a duty to act on it.  If the GOP doesn't act right away to curtail abortion and to reverse the court imposed redefinition of marriage, it's sunk.

It also has to act on immigration, as Trump does, but it ironically has an opportunity here to begin to reshape itself into something that the new immigrant communities and the old persistent minorities  can recognize and support.

Immigration in the US has been controversial along ethnic lines forever.  But in modern times, and seemingly now forgotten, the post World War Two battles over restricting immigration came originally from the far left.  It was organizations like Zero Population Growth that argued for strict immigration control, and still do, on environmental grounds. They argue, and frankly correctly, that you can't take in an infinite number of immigrants and still have a country that is nice living in, basically.  Put another way, we don't want to have the population density of India or China. That has nothing at all to do with "race".

Democrats and Republicans, at the Congressional level, have given lip service to immigration issues but at the end of the day the Democrats imagine every immigrant as a Democratic voter and the Republicans imagine every immigrant mowing their lawns.  So they've done nothing.  But poorer Americans, white, black and whatever, know that more immigrants mean more competition for jobs.  And middle class Americans who are not on the threshold of being rich know that more people in general make for towns, cities, and a countryside, that's more crowded.  All of that's what fuels anger over immigration, not really the culture of the immigrants.

Indeed, immigration at the level we have is most harmful to urban blacks, who often have a really seething resentment towards new immigrants for that reason.  The late Richard Stroud, a liberal, used to argue that the employment impact on American blacks was so severe that immigration should be shut down completely until blacks achieved economic parity with whites. That's hardly a "conservative" or "racist" position, but it's one that a lot of people hold instinctively.

Beyond that, no national conversation about immigration has taken place for at least thirty years other than the incredibly lame "we're a nation of immigrants" argument that everyone hauls out.  I often think that if you are Sioux or Shoshone, etc. that argument must be really aggravating, as in "yeah. ..  your nation is one of immigrants, Wašíču".

Anyhow, as the public is reacting on this, and the GOP has to accordingly, this is a chance for the GOP in numerous ways.  If the GOP doesn't begin to appeal to the social views of Hispanics while taking in its more corporate and collective cultural concerns, it has to be staffed by idiots. At the same time, if it doesn't seek to rebuild an immigration policy based on the countries present population, actual economic needs, and the special concerns of African Americans and Indians, it will have missed the boat as well to come across as more rational less bombastic in an odd way.

And indeed, the GOP has to.

This is the last chance, I suspect, for both of these parties.  The voters have screamed that they don't want any more lies and they're willing to gamble on a nearly completely unknown on the hopes that he'll do what he says, as much as that may scare most of the politically attune.  In doing that they've told the GOP we don't want any more boring Bush's and we don't want your country club culture either.  They've told the Democrats they don't want any more Clinton's and they don't want to have their likes and religious beliefs insulted or ignored.  Maybe this guy won't get the job done of getting that message through, but they're willing to gamble that he will, or that he won't be worse than getting ignored anyhow.

It's going to be a wild ride, that's for sure.

But it doesn't have anything to really do with race, in the mind of the average voter.

Indeed, as close as this election was, and it was incredibly close, if Trump hadn't gotten the support of Catholics, he would have lost.  If he didn't get the support of cross over Democrats, he would have lost.  If he didn't get the support of some African Americans, he would have lost.  If he didn't have the support of some Hispanics, he would have lost.

And for the Democrats, he Clinton didn't have the support of most Hispanics, an eroding base of support, she would have done much worse.  And if she didn't have the support of African Americans, the Democrats most loyal and most ignored based, she would have done even worse.

A clear wake up call for both parties.

But not one based on "race".

No comments: