The Coming Great Divide in American Political Culture

Michael Barone's occasional forays into sociology are always a pleasure to come across. Like the rest of his work, they are concise, well-researched, original, and always marked by clarity. Barone goes where the data takes him, and never seems to have an agenda or an ideological ax to grind.

All this is true of his latest such piece, "The Realignment of America" which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, May 8. While going through recent census estimates, Barone discovered a pattern until now overlooked: the old coastal cities, or "Coastal Megalopolises" are steadily becoming dominated by immigrants, while at the same time native Americans are repopulating the thriving heartland cities.

Since 2000, Barone tells us, New York City has seen "a domestic outflow of 8% and an immigrant inflow of 6%". Boston, LA, Washington, and San Diego show similar turnovers. The total outflow of native-born Americans from these cities amounts to 650,000 a year.

At the same time, cities such as Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Tampa have had dramatic leaps in native-born population, in all cases exceeding 10%, and in that of Las Vegas approaching 20%. So while the coastal cities remain static in population numbers despite the turnover, interior cities are booming.

What does this mean for our political culture? Barone touches on the question, noting that "The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo", but doesn't go much further. But if the process continues, the implications will be profound.

If Barone is correct - and there's no reason to believe he isn't - then we're headed for an even more serious social schism between the heartland and the coastal metropolises. The heartland (along with smaller cities and towns on the coasts) will be comprised of melting-pot Americans, the coastal cities a bewildering melange of immigrants from all points of the compass, topped with an exceedingly thin layer of ultra-wealthy natives.

Miami, as it has been for the past thirty years, can serve as an example, with these differences: the Cubans represented a single homogeneous group; they had very good reasons - hatred of Fidelista communism above all - to appreciate American society; and they already understood American culture. This will not necessarily be the case with the new arrivals. Above all, PC and multiculturalism have removed all reason for immigrants to adapt to their new country.

With no particular pressure to fit in, the new immigrants will cling to their traditions, worldviews, and customs, many conflicting with ours and with those of other immigrant groups. NYC's asinine decision to establish a madrassah in Brooklyn is only the opening wedge - now all hundred-odd ethnicities residing in New York will demand the same treatment, and they will get it. The result will be Babel.

So thank the Archangels you're not living in NYC. But there are implications that may affect us all. Many of these people will have emigrated from failed polities of one type or another. Too many of the countries of Africa and Asia and Latin America, are operating in something resembling free fall, to put it kindly. Government is whoever has the most guns; civil society goes its own way with little reference to governmental activity; whatever political entanglements that can't be avoided are dealt with in the most primitive manner conceivable, through processes characterized by kinship and tribal relations, bribery, and paternalism. It's those conditions many people were fleeing when they came to the United States.

But it's those same conditions that, even with the best will in the world, they are going to bring with them. People cannot shed elements of their culture the same way they may change the dishdash for slacks and shirt. They are going to look for the Big Man. They are going to wonder whom to bribe, and how much. They are going to gravitate toward whoever operates in the manner closest to their country, region, or tribe. They will, without the least intending to, recreate in the U.S. the same situation they were fleeing from back home. With the added complication that dozens of other ethnicities will also be trying to grab the political levers to ensure that things are done their way, all at once.

It's difficult to see how this is particularly congruent with American democracy as we understand it today. Nor that there is any way to make it compatible with any form of democratic practice. So something will have to give. And it seems likely that what will give will be the members of America's sole native criminal class, the politicians.

What politician could resist such an opportunity? Masses of helpless, ignorant, and needy people requiring guidance, requiring a protector, requiring a leader. We've seen this before. Consider how the black vote has been manipulated by Democratic politicians since the days of the New Deal. Multiply that by a few dozen ethnicities, and the magnitude of the problem becomes manifest. (What's that? New immigrants can't vote? Do you really think so?)

But let's not be unfair to Democrats. If you think the GOP would hesitate a minute to leap into the same role, your introduction to practical politics remains before you. All the same, the Democrats are the prime suspects here, seeing how they control the surviving political machines in cities up and down the Eastern seaboard. Many of these machines have been in operation since the last big immigration wave early in the 20th century. Adapting them to the new conditions will simply be a matter of integrating the new arrivals into the places once held by Italians and Irishmen.

But there's another factor at work as well - even as the pols are gathering in the new flock, the new flock will be exerting pressure on them to conform more to the style that they're used to. How are they going to resist becoming something along the lines of a tribal chieftain? Many of them think of themselves in similar terms in any case. And with that shift will come a level of corruption that will make New Jersey or Louisiana look like the Palace of the Just. If you think that New York resembles a third-world country now... you ain't seen nothing yet.

At the same time, we'll have a native-born American population that has reconnected with its roots, and very likely, after years of dealing with terrorism, undergone a resurgence of patriotism, much as Great Britain did in the course of the lengthy Napoleonic Wars. (And, as Barone points out, will have grown more Republican, too.) This will represent quite a contrast to the teeming multilingual coasts, and create inevitable and unavoidable grounds for conflict.

We can dismiss any thoughts of civil war. Conflicts in advanced societies aren't settled that way, and a situation in which isolated urban areas are opposed to the country at large doesn't lend itself to such an outcome. But there are plenty of other ugly possibilities. (And some benefits as well - the coastal cities, which wield far too much influence today, will find their sway over the rest of the country dwindling, no doubt a good thing.) Most of the downside factors will involve native politicians released from any responsibility to the population of the country as a whole, a nightmare in and of itself. Corruption will grow to proportions not easy to imagine today, particularly as it takes on an international dimension.

Mayors, representatives, possibly even governors and senators, will be running their own sub rosa foreign policies in order to fulfill the wishes of their foreign-born constituencies. Foreign groups and organizations of all types -- religious, political, social, and criminal -- having no current connection to American society will establish strong beachheads by manipulating and playing off native politicians. This will create new challenges for law enforcement, particularly as it shades into foreign intelligence. Questions of national security will begin to take in the policies of the administration the next town over.

Potential solutions are less than obvious. Education of new immigrants as to what the American system is and how it works would appear to be the key, but who would handle that? With the educational system as it exists, enraptured with the doctrines of multiculturalism, the cure would be worse than the disease.

It may in the end merely be a matter of muddling through, of using law enforcement and social pressure to hold the fort while the new immigrant masses ever so slowly adapt themselves to this country (or, rather, their children and grandchildren do). It doesn't seem like much, but it may be the best we can hope for.

Of course, we could always return to a sane immigration policy. I have yet to hear what would be wrong with that.

J.R. Dunn is contributing editor of American Thinker.
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