Fear of “white nationalism” is very much in vogue, but Reihan Salam is skeptical that Donald Trump’s rise represents the ascendency of a resentful white wing of the American right:
Nevertheless, I believe that white identity politics is indeed going to become a more potent force in the years to come, for the simple reason that non-Hispanic whites are increasingly aware of the fact that they are destined to become a minority of all Americans. According to current projections, that day will come in 2044. Non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of eligible voters a few years later, in 2052. According to States of Change, a report by Ruy Teixeira, William H. Frey, and Robert Griffin, California and Texas are set to join Hawaii and New Mexico in having majority-minority electorates in the next few years, and several other states will follow in the 2030s.
Why does it matter that in the near future, non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in one state after another? The most obvious reason is that non-Hispanic whites might lose their sense of security. They will be outnumbered and outvoted. If they remain wealthier than average, as seems likely, they might fear that majority-minority constituencies will vote to redistribute their wealth. Over time, they might resent seeing their cultural symbols give way to those of minority communities—which is to say the cultural symbols of other minority communities.
In a 1916 essay in the Atlantic, Randolph Bourne, at the time one of America’s leading left-wing intellectuals, attacked the melting-pot ideal, in which immigrants to the United States and their descendants were expected to assimilate into a common culture. He saw instead America evolving into “a cosmopolitan federation of national colonies, of foreign cultures, from whom the sting of devastating competition has been removed.” Instead of forging a common American identity, the country he envisioned would be one where members of minority ethnic groups preserved their cultural separateness.
To fully realize this ideal, however, it was vitally important that Anglo-Saxon Americans not assert themselves in the same way as the members of other ethnic groups. Why? Because if Anglo-Saxon Americans were to celebrate their identity as a people with longstanding ties to their American homeland, it would implicitly discount the American-ness of those from minority ethnic backgrounds. For Bourne, and for those who’ve advocated for his brand of cultural pluralism since, it is the obligation of Anglo-Saxon Americans, and other white Americans with no strong ties to a non-American homeland, to be post-ethnic cosmopolitans. But what if being a post-ethnic cosmopolitan is not actually that satisfying?
In his highly inventive 2004 book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America, the sociologist Eric Kaufmann calls this bargain “asymmetrical multiculturalism.” Under asymmetrical multiculturalism, minority ethnic groups are encouraged to assert their group identities and to defend their group interests while the majority ethnic group is strongly discouraged from doing the same. Overt expressions of Jewish, Mexican, Laotian, or Bengali pride are very welcome. Overt expressions of WASP pride, however, are not. Kaufmann maintains that because WASPs, and to a lesser extent other whites, are denied the option of celebrating their ethnic heritage, they instead champion essentially ideological ideas, like individualism or a vague, ill-defined belief in “American exceptionalism” that is bereft of any real cultural content.
It should go without saying that white Americans have been quite effective at advancing their interests, even without overt expressions of ethnic pride. You could cynically suggest that it is all well and good for Bengalis to have their Bengali pride as long as whites have all their power. The majority does not need to assert itself, as members of the majority can be serenely confident that their interests will always be served. The trouble is that this serenity is much harder to maintain as majority-group status slips away.