Monday, May 15, 2017

The Ethnocentric Core of Anti-Immigrant Fervor

by Michael Dorf

A recent episode of This American Life focuses on two precursors to the Trump era: the unlikely 2014 primary success of David Brat in unseating Eric Cantor; and the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan. Although Brat's run was not initially fueled by opposition to illegal immigration, that became its primary focus when GOP primary voters reacted more positively to that aspect of his platform than to any other. Meanwhile, Buchanan was Trump before Trump (albeit without Trump's gaudy showmanship, profound ignorance, and linguistic incompetence). The episode is worth a listen overall, but here I want to focus on one claim it highlights.

During the episode, Buchanan, right-wing radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, and others all express their opposition to a path to citizenship (or "amnesty" as they call it) in, among other ways, cold political terms. They oppose extending citizenship to undocumented immigrants because the new citizens will mostly vote for Democrats. Thus, it could be said, they're not anti-Latino; they're just pro-Republican. As I shall explain, this defense fails. Anti-immigrant fervor is ethnocentric at its core.

To begin, let's assume for the sake of argument that the factual premise of the argument is true: that GOP immigration hardliners are simply trying to preserve their electoral power in the face of a demographic onslaught, not acting out of any deep-seated ethnocentric motives. Even so, that would not acquit them of the ethnocentrism charge.

We can gain some insight from voting rights law. Suppose that a Republican-controlled legislature wants to gerrymander in a way that maximizes GOP districts by "packing" Democrats into a small number of districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic (thus leaving fewer Democrats available in other districts) and "cracking" Democrats whose numbers in some other districts might be enough to elect a Democratic representative. If the legislature uses aggregate data about how particular areas voted in prior elections, it will have engaged in political gerrymandering, but at least for now, it will have acted legally, because partisan gerrymandering is legal.

Suppose, however, that the GOP-controlled legislature doesn't have or doesn't use data about how areas voted in recent elections. Suppose instead it uses census data about race. This would be completely rational, given racially polarized voting patterns. So now let's assume that the legislature draws its lines so as to "pack" and "crack" African American voters. Its reason for doing so is not racial animosity. Rather, the legislators know that in their state (as in the country generally), African Americans are overwhelmingly Democratic voters.

Nonetheless, packing and cracking African American voters--even as a means of serving only partisan ends--would violate the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. Why? Because using race as a proxy is generally illegal, even if it is being used as a proxy for an otherwise permissible end.

The impermissibility of proxies is obvious in other contexts. For example, women are more likely than men to graduate from college, but it would nonetheless be a clear violation of Title VII for an employer to hire women rather than men for a job requiring a college degree, even though the proxy has a positive statistical correlation. When the law makes a criterion (like race or sex) presumptively illicit, that continues to be true even when it could be a statistically useful proxy.

Of course, the Voting Rights Act, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and Title VII do not apply to a decision by Congress whether to grant a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants. No court would invalidate congressional failure to grant undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, even if it could be definitively proven that the reason for that failure were Republicans' belief that Latinos would disproportionately be the beneficiaries and they would vote Democratic. Indeed, there would be no case for judicial intervention even if it could be proven that naked racism motivated the failure of Congress to act.

Yet that hardly acquits the likes of Buchanan and Ingraham in the court of public opinion. Our law disfavors the use of race or ethnicity as a proxy because of a moral principle. Even where the law does not supply a remedy, the moral principle persists. Thus, GOP politicians who say (or even who don't say but act on the hypothesis) that undocumented immigrants shouldn't be given citizenship because most are Latinos who would vote Democratic are voicing (or acting on) what we may fairly condemn as ethnic stereotyping.

Moreover, the whole line of reasoning rests on a false premise. The radio show characterized the GOP dilemma this way: If they follow the Trumpist path and crack down on undocumented immigrants, Republicans will lose Latino voters, who--even without any change in immigration policy--will become an increasing share of the electorate over time; but if they follow the post-2012 "autopsy" report and liberalize the Republican approach to undocumented immigrants, they will likewise undermine their political prospects because the new mostly Latino citizens will become Democrats. In this view, Republicans are damned if they do and damned if they don't, but at least with Trumpism they can delay the day of reckoning a bit.

Yet that analysis is plainly flawed in assuming that there is some reason why Latinos are inevitably going to vote for Democrats. The premise of the autopsy report was that by changing its policy with respect to immigration, the GOP could shed its (deserved) image as anti-Latino. That premise could well be correct. Latinos are a very diverse segment of the U.S. population. There is disagreement over whether Latinos are, on average, more socially conservative than non-Latinos, but even if not, they are not especially likely to be more liberal. Thus, if the GOP were to abandon Trumpism on immigration and actually support a path to citizenship, there is no reason to think that it could not dramatically increase its appeal to Latino voters, including new citizens.

Put differently, the political reasoning for a continued GOP hard line on immigration is circular. It goes: (1) Latino voters support Democrats (2) so we oppose changes to immigration policy that lead to more Latino voters. But opposition to changes to immigration policy is a big part of the reason that Latino voters don't support Republicans in greater numbers. Change (2) and (1) will change as well.

If political calculations about Latino voters do not provide a rational explanation for GOP politicians' turn towards a hard line on immigration, what does? The obvious answer--as illustrated in the David Brat storyline itself--is the preference set of Republican primary voters. That then raises the question why these voters oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Here the main storyline is often described as economic--they are taking our jobs--and occasionally by reference to public safety--they're bringing drugs; they're bringing crime.

These concerns are factually ill-founded. Undocumented immigrants do not commit more crimes than anyone else and the effect of undocumented immigrants on the economy is subject to debate but at most marginal. Ah, one might respond, but if GOP voters believe that undocumented immigrants are responsible for their own economic misfortune and for crime, then GOP politicians who pander to those beliefs are acting indirectly on concerns about economics and crime, not on ethnic prejudice.

But that analysis also lets the Trumpist politicians off the hook too easily. There is a further question why GOP voters believe that undocumented immigrants cause economic hardship and crime. And a big part of the answer is surely this: Because GOP politicians--including many before Trump--encourage that belief. By scapegoating undocumented immigrants, these politicians distract attention from the other policies they promote, many of which harm the very people most willing to believe the worst about undocumented immigrants.

So, whatever the ultimate motives of the Trumpist and fellow-traveling anti-immigration GOP politicians, their hard line on immigration cannot be separated from the "cultural" fears of Latino immigration that their scapegoating fosters.


el roam said...

Thanks for that interesting post , yet , the author of the post is confused ( somehow at least ) and he is describing confusing reality , full of contradictions and conflicts of motives and interest . This is because, the analysis touches the surface (electoral interests and traditional votes or tendencies) instead of clarifying more deep psychoanalytical structures and tendencies:

Democrats tend to the left side . Republicans to the right .What is the " theological " difference ?? Typically , the left tends to consider the human being , or the individual , as the purpose itself , while the right : As rather a mean for greater purposes ( and " cloudy " , like : holiness , the state , national honor or pride , the flag , land , god , history , tradition and so forth ….. ) .

We can take abortion as a great example :

While the left is pro, this is because the human being, the individual is what counts : his interest, his autonomous wish and calculation and personal individual well being , the right is against, because, life created by god (greater purpose than the individual) and should prevail over personal autonomous whishes . We could go on , with : homosexuals , exercising torture , teaching the evolution theory , and so forth ( even economy , but bit more complicated , although totally coherent with the differences presented ) .

As well as immigration : if you count the individual as the purpose , much less you would care about his origin or his formal status ( documents , citizenship and so forth …. ) .

So , what you miss , is the greater " theological " picture :
How , pro and anti immigration , reflects finally , the whole attitude and ideology towards everything which is American and the way it should be conducted . Then , much less room , shall be left , for contradictory or conflicting interests and calculations .


Shag from Brookline said...

The production of toothpicks continues.

Be that as it may, over at the Legal History Blog, its Sunday Book Review feature includes a link to Joel Klein's review of Pat [not Neil] Buchanan's new memoir in the NYTimes. It also provide's a link to a New Republic critique of Klein's review that puts Buchanan in context closer to reality based upon my observations in real time (as I'm older than Buchanan) beginning with Barry Goldwater and then as part of the Nixon Administration and as a two-time presidential candidate.

But describing Mike as "confused" is a bit much especially since that opinion is presented in a confusing manner. But strolling along, perhaps something is lost in the transliteration.

Shag from Brookline said...

I neglected to note that the Legal History Blog also featured a link to a NYTimes review of Alvin S. Felzenberg's "A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley, Jr." that outlines Buckley's shifting away from the John Birch Society, its founder Welch, Pat Buchanan, George Wallace, and other extremists as blots on true conservatism.

I wonder how Merriam Webster defines "confused"?

David Ricardo said...

Mr. Dorf’s post is slightly ambivalent (but not confused) because, I suspect, he is nice person who does not want to explicitly state the reality of American attitudes towards religion, race and culture. Not being as nice a person I will state explicitly that reality.

There is a substantial proportion of Americans, maybe not a majority but if not certainly close to a majority, who believe the United States is not a country of pluralism but a nation of white Eurocentric Christians and that anyone who is not of this nature is an alien and potential enemy of American society. Thus Latinos, along with Jews, Asians, Muslims, African Americans and the like are not part of ‘us’, they are ‘them’. This is not new, it has been with the republic since its founding.

Even worse, the distribution of that proportion is heavily skewed towards Republicans. It is in fact the Republican base, the 40% who will support Trump no matter what. The group represents probably 80-85% of all Republicans. It is not clear whether the non-Trumpian Republican leadership supports this view because they are like-minded, or if the leadership supports this view in spite of their own beliefs because to do otherwise would doom them within the Republican Party. Either way, the philosophical attitudes of Pat Buchanan now embodied in the Trump administration prevail in Republican controlled government.

Assuming the best about the non-Trumpian Republican leaders, that they are not the bigoted people they represent and that they only subscribe to the beliefs of those individuals in order to gain power to enact legislation that comprises of tax cuts for the wealthy and the removal of health care from those who cannot afford it still leaves the nation controlled by elected leaders who support a credo that is in opposition to the principles that led to the founding of the nation. That is what we face for at least the next three and a half years.

Joe said...

Various racial or ethnic groups supporting a political party is not exactly new and districting is likely to factor that in. The (mis)use of this in particular on the racial side has a long history and "neutral" [yes, sarcastic quotes] districting is a major concern of voting rights laws and litigation. A difficult process.*

In breaking news, SCOTUS (with Roberts with a statement that we shouldn't judge this n the merits -- hint hint, I don't disagree with the law!) didn't accept a challenge to a North Carolina law where "the 4th Circuit used partisan discrimination as a proxy for race discrimination in determining that North Carolina had racially discriminatory intent."


* Other than expanding the size of the House of Representatives, it appears that at large representation might be a means to address some problems, including the difficulty added when Democratic leaning voters mass together in urban areas etc. Someone pushed back on me saying this once, but at the very least, it appears to be more complicated to address it. OTOH, there has been many examples of where "at large" representation, especially on the local level, used to dilute minority voting strength.

Shag from Brookline said...

Consider the tax cuts of the "plan" of the Trump Administration. I recall an estimate that the 400 richest families in America would each average annual tax cuts of $7 million. This could work out to a total of $2.8 billion. Imagine in gratitude "traditional" tithings (10%) by these families to Republicans to preserve such tax cuts. Consider similar tithings from the rest of the 0.1% added thereto. Money talks, roars, in political campaigns in America greased by the decision in Citizens United (5-4, 2010).

Over the weekend, I came across this article in the Guardian:

with the title "Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit." The billionaire is Robert Mercer who with his spouse provided significant financial backing to Donald Trump's campaign. I was not aware of the strict rules of the UK on limitations of political financing, rules that most likely would not survive the Constitution in America. The article is long and quite detailed, a good example of investigative journalism. One of the UK limitations relates to foreign money. Mercer is an American citizen, thus not permitted to contribute. Brexit was voted on in 2016. Recall Trump's trip to Scotland to his golf course during his campaign and his views/prediction on Brexit. Did the Brexit decision bolster Trump as a candidate here in America as a smart person? (The article does not focus on the Trump role in Brexit.) But it seems Trump's voting base shared some of the views of the 52% UK voters favoring Leave. The article focuses on the sharing by political groups favoring Leave of data that drives the use of money to convince potential voters, including psychological use of such data.

The Guardian will be continuing with its investigative efforts that so far indicate alleged violations of UK laws. To what extent in America was similar data used in the 2016 presidential campaign? The role of money in American politics can be even more effective if the Trump tax "plan" is enacted: might the payback politically be tithing to benefit future Republican election campaigns, aka Populism of the 0.1%?

Shag from Brookline said...

Yesterday I read yet another book review linked to at the Legal History Blog: at Slate, a review of Richard Rothstein's "The Color of Law: A forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America."

There is quite a bit of history to consider in understanding Mike's post. Despite what David said, David is a nice guy in his discussion of religion, race and culture. My busy Sunday (yesterday) reading book reviews that I have noted, as well as others, drive home the thrust of Mike's post and David's comment. Add to these reviews campaign financing issues and the Trump/Mercer/Brexit campaigns dots, not to mention the Russia role in the 2016 presidential election. I go back to Brown v. Bd. of Educ. (Unanimous, 1954) and what followed. Few directly challenge Brown today but events with the Trump campaign and his election, now into the second 100 days, stirs race, religion and culture further into the cauldron of political dysfunction. I just got through reading Jack Balkin's essay over at Balkinization on constitutional rot as contrasted with constitutional crisis. I'm an optimist at age 86 - what do I have to lose at this stage of life? But it seems America is marching backwards at a time when the world seems more dangerous. More must speak up.

jax said...

El Roam each side chooses its issues whether to be for individual rights or for the greater good as you describe. Both 2nd amendment and climate control arguments are at odds with your supposition of what the left and the right support. I believe 20% of the population dogmatically agrees with all of the left's arguments and 20% absolutely agrees with all the right's arguments. The rest of us personally weigh what is most important on various issues realizing that the country has to come to some consensus to move forward.

At the end of the day character of my elected representatives means so much because I put faith in them to do the right thing. I believe Clinton lost because in the contested states people's lack of trust in her overwhelmed the issues and Trump's craziness. And here we are crazy every day.

el roam said...

jax ,

I was suggesting or describing ideologies , not personal choices . The latter, can vary chaotically, from one individual to another, depends typically, upon personal circumstances and characters .

The reason Clinton lost, has nothing to do almost with lack of trust (in personal terms ) but, mainly, preferring " solitary predator " like Trump, for the illusion of radical change in the administration and its conduct ( They serve lobbies , rather than the American people ) .


Shag from Brookline said...

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), the "crazy" Joe mentions is not the same as Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Yesterday's BREAKING NEWS on Trump's disclosures of intel to Russian officials reminded me as America was about to enter WW II of the poster reminding Americans: "LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS." Maybe there were 20% back then on the right that thought America should stay out of WW II. (I don't know as I was not as yet a teenager at the time.) But then Pearl Harbor came along. Richard Nixon claimed in his Watergate defense that "If the President does it, it's not illegal." Trump employed the Nixon defense, as the President has the power to declassify intel, in response to criticism of his disclosure to Russian officials. But doesn't character count with the President? Maybe tapes were running on Trump's meeting with Russian officials, either by Trump or the Russian officials, or both.

el roam said...

Jax , and I haven't written : " Greater good " , you have " read in " something out of context . What has been written by me , and explicitly so :

Greater and " cloudy " purposes , not the greater good . Greater good , is hardly an issue . Paying taxes , obeying the law , keeping green or clean the environment , serving in the army and so forth…. All put the individual as a mean , but , for the sake of the society and people ( living and breathing here and now ) directly so !!! not for the sake of vague and abstract and theological purposes ( " cloudy" strictly ) .

P.S :The above is purely descriptive , nothing of it , constitute personal opinion .


Shag from Brookline said...

OOPS! The "crazy" was mentioned by jax, NOT Joe. Sorry. But give a listen to Patsy Cline's "Crazy" for the distinction.

Joe said...

"with Roberts with a statement that we shouldn't judge this on the merits -- hint hint, I don't disagree with the law!"

Seems pretty apparent this is what he was saying, but for those who need an expert saying that, Election Law Blog (cited) basically said the same thing in a later comment.

Welcome "jax" and the crazy comment. Find it unfortunate some don't realize that distrust of one person doesn't mean the other is better, even if said distrust should be taken at face value. A case study of sorts is discussed here:

jax said...

Joe, thanks for the welcome aboard. Great read with your link.

Shag from Brookline said...

I, too, read the article Joe provided a link to and can understand and appreciate how certain Oregon conservatives for economic reasons voted for Trump, stressing there was no "monocausal" reason why they voted for Trump. Perhaps the "polycausal" reasons for such voting could be prioritized. I can understand and appreciate that all, at least most, of us have some biases. But what I did not get from the article is that these conservatives angry about their economic circumstances expected that Trump - or the republican Party - could, would improve their economic circumstances. Going back to Reagan, addressing the income inequality gap has not been part of the Republican Party.agenda. And so far in 100+ days the Trump Administration has not demonstrated that it is populist, either with AHCA or its tax "plan." Perhaps there is a false equivalency in their anger as between the Republican and Democrat Parties regarding failure to address their anger, as Pres. Obama was handicapped by the reaction of Republicans in Congress from the beginning.