Doug Saunders writes, in the Globe and Mail, that the politics of resentment is tearing modern conservatism asunder. The argument is about immigration; and it was apparent last week in Washington with the fall of Eric Cantor. There are now two distinct camps: One group:
argues that immigrants tend to be natural conservatives: They’re more likely than other voters to be small businesspeople (so are fiscal conservatives), and to be religious (so are social conservatives). Canada’s Stephen Harper, Britain’s David Cameron and Germany’s Angela Merkel have all recently tried to make theirs the party of diversity, with varying degrees of success (Mr. Harper has fared the best).
The other camp – the one against which Mr. Cantor crashed and burned – looks at the same figures and concludes that the rising proportion of racial and ethnic minorities is going to make white voters more insecure and fearful, and playing to this fear will drive them to your party. This, for the past 40 years, has been the Republicans’ core strategy. The secret to success in American politics, the Republican Party activist Kevin Phillips declared in 1968, is “knowing who hates who” and using that hatred to your advantage.
Modern conservatives have made a lot of hay by first identifying and then demonizing "those who hate us." In 1970, American political strategist Kevin Phillips advised Richard Nixon to adopt a "southern strategy:"
“The more negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.”
That was the beginning of the politics of resentment. The whole anti-immigrant movement in the United States goes back to a stoked resentment between whites and people of colour. Saunders writes:
This is a pretty cynical political tactic – one that risks long-term damage to your party’s, and your nation’s, social fabric. And is based on a view that looks narrowly inside partisan politics, not more broadly at the world.
True, U.S. right-wing Republicans and European far-right parties have been able to chalk up electoral victories recently by appealing to these white voters who are frightened of immigration (they tend to be older and undereducated). As one national survey shows, partisan Republicans and Democrats have polarized themselves more than ever before into mutually resentful “ideological silos.” This polarization seems to be happening in many countries.
And, so, we view each other suspiciously, convinced that "the other" is our mortal enemy -- even as our resentment grows.
This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.