In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham stated that in the “demographics race” the Republican Party was “losing badly.” “We are not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” remarked Graham. In regards to the political scene of the United States, the statements by Senator Graham are as troubling as they are profoundly insightful.
America is changing, and the term ‘Obamerica’ has been coined to describe the striking and nuanced changes of a 21st century America. There is now an option for choosing displays in Spanish at ATMs, for example. There is now a Thai restaurant on Main Street. There is now a black president in the White House. And in response, there is animosity towards an America that is rapidly changing not only demographically, but also socially and culturally. Whether one attends a Tea Party rally, or watches a conservative media outlet such as Fox News, pessimism towards what the United States has become, and is becoming, is widespread.
In the presidential election of 1996, Republican candidate Bob Dole gave a speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he challenged those who believed that the United States had improved in the later half of the 20th century. To those who believed in the spirit of American progressivism, Dole remarked, “I say you’re wrong. And I know, because I was there. And I have seen it, and I remember.” For Dole, the 20th century had not seen an improvement in the United States. And yet, if Dole had asked a homosexual, or disabled American, or an American woman, or a member of a minority group if the United States had improved, the answer would most likely have been different .
Statements such as those of Graham and Dole reveal a melancholic yearning for a “white” America that never was, and never will be. In 2012, minorities accounted for 36% of the population, with non-Hispanic white Americans projected to become a minority by 2042. The reality is that minority birth rates in the United States are on the rise, and will have unprecedented demographic consequences for the future. How the two main political parties respond to these changes is what will be important.
The members and supporters of the Republican and Tea Parties call for a conservative response to the changes occurring within the United States. The segment of the population that comprises the base of the Republican and Tea Parties is generally older, white, religious and dismayed by the ways in which they perceive America to be changing. An example of this conservative response is the controversial 2004 Voter ID Law in Arizona, which requires voters to present identification at the polling station in order to receive a ballot to vote . The measure was widely seen as an attempt to deter certain segments of the population from voting.
Rather than bemoaning the lack of eligible and ill-tempered male Caucasian voters, Senator Graham may instead have benefited from quoting the late President Kennedy, who once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” What is needed for the future is not pessimism, but optimism for what the United States is today and what it can become. What is needed are more DREAM Acts, which promise permanent residency status to undocumented migrants who arrived in the United States as minors, and may pursue citizenship through service in the military or post-secondary education.
The reality is that America has always been, and will always continue to be a nation defined by cultural and ethnic amalgamation; a nation shaped by immigrants and religious dissenters, who historically have rejected nativism and embraced the ‘big tent’; a nation which rests upon universal values and principles, and unites in its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America is changing because America is and will always be a project, which must continue to be built and constructed for all. In its ever changing and evolving face, America has always been as much about the future as it has been the past. In order to confront the challenges of an uncertain future, Americans must first accept their nation for what it is. Only by facing the realities of ‘Obamerica’ and the imperatives of the 21st century can the United States once again collectively look to what it can be, rather than what it was once perceived to be.
– Maxson Gallo