I have to admit I’ve been feeling rather depressed lately about political potentialities in the United States. Despite the real change that Obama’s election signaled in American racial politics, it seems all but certain that we’re heading into a period of increased attacks on people of color. This is most obvious in the campaign against Muslims in the US. The GOP, who have recently hit a new low in their approval ratings, have realized that the Tea Party ideology of naked contempt for anyone suffering as a result of the economic crisis is not the stuff of which successful electioneering is made. Accordingly, they’ve fallen back on what’s familiar – race baiting. Unfortunately, this looks as if it will work out rather well for them. Polls generally show about 70% of Americans oppose the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ (which is neither at ground zero, nor a mosque – discuss amongst yourselves). On another front, it’s worth pointing out that the Facebook group “Stand With Arizona (and Against Illegal Immigration)” has more than 300,000 members, about three times as many as any of the pro-immigrant groups. This is a rough metric, to be sure, but it’s nonetheless expressive of something. And now today, the New York Times, that bastion of liberalism, publishes an article whose argument is quite literally that xenophobia is good. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.
The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.