Friday, June 08, 2018

Been there, done that, don't need to do it again

One of the frustrations of the Trump regime is that very few East Coast-based political commentators seem aware that California has already lived through its season of extreme white fragility in response to demographic change. We went through this in the 1990s when an overwhelmingly white electorate tried every imaginative stratagem panicked white people could come up with to try to stem the rising black/brown/Asian-origin tide. We tried by initiative to deny public services to immigrants, to keep the emerging majority out of state-funded higher education, and to lock away offending adults and even juveniles as long as possible.

And then, finally, people of color got active and many white people calmed down, and we became a state that looks forward, not backward. We have our problems, but they are new ones, not the same old same old.

One of the good features of political scientist Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It is that he does notice that California has made itself different.

... Once areas grow accustomed to the reality of a multiethnic society, they may find their fears do not materialize -- and they become less anxious about a continuing process of change.

The experience of California seems to suggest that this ... optimistic interpretation holds true in some places. From 1980 to 1990, the overall share of the foreign-born population rose from 15 perecent to 22 percent. A great wave of anxiety washed over the state. Many native-born Californians were disoriented by the rapid pace of change, and grew furious that politicians were willing to accommodate the cultures and languages of immigrants. ...

... At the time, observers were understandably worried about the future of race relations in California. But in the 2000s and 2010s, the fever somehow broke. Most Californians grew comfortable with the fact that high levels of immigration were a part of the local experience, and the state had become "majority minority." As a result, the state is now known as one of the most tolerant in the country. Over the past years, Californians have reversed many of the draconian laws they had passed by referendum two decades earlier with strong support from white voters. ...

Hence #Notmypresident and #Resistance. We don't want to go back over that terrain. We're done with allowing white fears to define the possible. Can the California pattern be replicated nationwide? Not exactly, but it shouldn't be ignored either.

I'll be writing a more comprehensive post about Mounk's book when I get through some other tasks, but wanted to highlight what is a rare insight in the literature of Trump-time and democratic decline.
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