National Identity and Anger

A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that seventy percent of Americans felt that the country was “losing its identity.” Unfortunately, what the poll also revealed was that Americans couldn’t agree on what were the important components of that “identity.”

Although there are some points of agreement among Democrats, Republicans and independents about certain aspects of what makes up the country’s identity, such as a fair judicial system and rule of law, the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and the ability to get good jobs and achieve the American dream, recent political developments make it clear that the consensus on these points is overshadowed by the differences.

Fifty-seven percent of Republicans thought one of the most important parts of the national identity was a Christian belief structure, as opposed to twenty nine percent of Democrats. On the other hand, sixty-five percent of Democrats thought that that the mixing of global cultures in the U.S. was important, compared to thirty-five percent of Republicans.

According to the poll, seventy-four percent of Democrats say that the ability of immigrants to come to the U.S. to escape violence and persecution is very important, as opposed to fifty-five percent of Republicans. Forty-six percent of Republicans agreed the culture of the country’s early European immigrants was very important, versus twenty-five percent of Democrats.

Putting these findings together suggests that, in general, Republicans think that the national identity should be based on an enshrined Christian faith and the Anglo-centric patriarchal culture of the first immigrants, while Democrats emphasize a more global-culture, welcoming to immigrants, and more concerned with the present than the past. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but there’s still a basic conflict, almost between the past and the present.

That conflict was definitely revealed in the last election, with the Republicans essentially claiming that the country was turning from its white, European, and totally Christian roots, and that such a turn was destroying and/or diminishing not only the United States, but the position of middle-class white American males.

As both the AP-NORC Poll and the Women’s March on Washington [with millions of women in hundreds of cities and towns across the country] showed this Republican “traditional” society is not endorsed by a significant percentage of the country.

Yet the Founding Fathers attempted to hold together thirteen colonies of very different belief structures, some with the [to me] abhorrent idea that slavery was morally acceptable, and they crafted a government based on shared principles that did not require a specific religious belief, or indeed, any belief in a supreme deity at all. For the time, this was an extraordinarily radical enterprise, so radical that the American Revolution equally merits the title of the Anglo-American Civil War.

So why is there so much disagreement about national identity and national priorities?

The election results and the vitriolic rhetoric from the right reflect, among other things, that there are fewer and fewer well-paid unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, and those jobs already lost to out-sourcing and technology, but mainly to technology, removed some eight million largely white men from the middle class. Those men and their families and relatives look to a past of more secure and prosperous employment and believe that the country has lost its way… and its traditional identity, and they’re angry.

On the other hand, there are over forty million African Americans in the U.S., and while the Civil War that resulted in their freedom ended over 150 years ago, those blacks still face discrimination and other barriers to rights equal to other white ethnicities. After 150 years they’re angry, and getting angrier, especially given the number of young black males killed and incarcerated, particularly when study after study shows discrimination still exists and that blacks receive harsher jail sentences for the same offense as do whites… among other things.

Educated women of all ethnicities are angry that they do not receive even close to equal pay for the same jobs as men and that the male-imposed glass ceilings in business, government, and politics still remain largely unbroken.

Since women and minorities are getting more and more vocal, and since minorities are becoming a bigger and bigger share of the American population, I foresee some very “interesting” years ahead, and I’d suggest that the largely white male Congress consider those facts very carefully.

12 thoughts on “National Identity and Anger”

  1. Alan Naylor says:

    My only concern over national identity is that many of those who are quite vocal about changing the way things are advocate going to ways which are failing in other parts of the world. People who are fleeing violence and oppressive cultures overseas have come to the US where they try to replicate many of the same features of their homeland’s culture. Be the culture religious or secular, if it was something you had to run from to find safety is it really wise to attempt to replicate it in your new setting?

    I know that there are oppressive elements in society in the US which make life more difficult for minorities and women, but I will hold to my stances on employment and criminal activity. No one forces you to commit a crime. Every day I get out of bed and decide not to go rob the bank despite being up to my chin in bills. I don’t take my anger over a situation out on others, and I especially don’t pick up my gun and shoot some one because they cut me off in traffic or the school was unresponsive to my child’s needs.

    Similarly I have little experience with women being paid less than men in any field I have worked in. While in the military the women I worked with were promoted and paid just as well as the men. Or perhaps it is just as poorly as the men? The pay scales for most government sector jobs are published and there is no possible way for a woman to be paid less than a man. In the civilian sector my company openly publishes starting salaries for all positions. More over we have a distinct lack of personnel to fill all the existing positions we have in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers positions. I’ve said it before, if I could find women to do all the men’s jobs here for 3/4th of the pay, I’d be the instant new head of HR. More over, how many women choose to seek employment in fields, predominantly female fields, which do not pay as well? Jobs such as daycare or secretarial work?

    Perhaps in places where pay is kept secret and it’s all about your negotiating skills minorities and women do more poorly, such as academia or upper levels of business. Not to deny the wage gap exists, but how large a percent of people fill these sorts of positions?

    I would suggest that the minorities are a growing power block who should put forth their own candidates. What prevents them from doing so?

    ~20% of Congress identify as minorities. ~40% of the US identifies as minorities. The numbers aren’t an even representation but they’re not terribly far off, either.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Input from a variety of cultures is one thing, Balkanization quite another. Even if a “melting pot” is somehow culturally chauvinistic (but why shouldn’t we expect newcomers to conform to us more than we conform to them?), an overly “chunky stew” will simply replicate a world’s worth of conflicts.

    People need to keep what differs between them and the existing society either at home, or in other private settings, aside from cuisine and _self_-retraint (that they do not impose on others)…and peaceful, even with immediate family members. We do NOT need “honor” killings (there have already been a few here) and other barbaric practices.

  3. Devildog says:

    I agree with both of the previous writers. Technology really has not reduced the number of jobs of white or any color middle class men. Economic incentives have reduced the number of working class jobs. I can give you example after example of companies moving low skilled or semi skilled jobs overseas because it was their fiduciary responsibility to do so. I also can give you example after example of my company exporting product overseas only to run into difficulty in customs because that country does not want to import our product. We need jobs in the US that pay people living wages to make shoes, clothes, food stuffs, parts etc. Bring the legal immigrants in and they can work here. Give someone the ability to make a living legally and the you take away the incentive to make one illegally. Provide legit opportunity for all and we will see what happens. But positioning the argument so society has an adversarial relationship between the “privileged” and the so called oppressed will not fix what needs to be fixed

  4. darcherd says:

    The Economist recently made the case that the new political axis was decreasingly along traditional (for the 20th Century, anyway) lines of “left” and “right”, but rather along the lines of how open people want their country to be, i.e. to trade, immigration, etc. They referred to these positions as “drawbridge up” and “drawbridge down”, and while many of the older left and right issues continue to matter, this new alignment has a great deal of validity.

    Also, as a student of American history, I would point out that the fears of what one poster called “balkanization” and of having one’s own national culture subsumed by immigrants is hardly new. In the early 19th Century, the Germans were seen as the immigrant threat to traditional American culture, followed by the Irish in the 1840s, and shifting to southern and eastern Europeans by the end of the century.

    Every new influx of immigrants brings uncomfortable change, as well as providing a convenient scapegoat for whatever else is making us unhappy about our lives, opportunities, or society. Yet two generations in, every new immigrant group is generally indistinguishable from the general culture in terms of language and cultural values (African-Americans, for a variety of reasons, are an important exception). Time will solve much of the concerns about current immigration.

    And while I sympathize with Devildog’s wish for an increase in U.S.-based manufacturing jobs, everything I’ve read says there are tens of thousands of U.S. jobs going begging now because there are not enough candidates with the requisite literate and mathematics skills needed to program and run the complex and robotic machinery in modern manufacturing. A focus on better education is the single most important thing we can do to return U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, because it makes our workers more productive. And higher productivity is the only thing that justifies higher wages.

    1. Devildog says:

      I don’t know about tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs going begging but there is somewhat a disconnect between our current education focus and what the evolving manufacturing requirements are demanding. Around me there are manufacturers that are looking for workers but the extended temp status, the mandatory overtime (seven days a week for weeks on end) and the really low pay (which loses out to government assistance) are a couple of the reasons that these firms are perpetually looking for people. I would love to have some young men and women walk into my office looking to master a skilled trade.

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      In the early 1900’s, most immigration was from Europe, which has a relatively compatible culture. Now, most is from Asia and Latin America, for which that is perhaps less true, depending on the details. To be blunt, those from cultures that lean anti-western are no service to us, but those from cultures that prize education as well as hard work, may be of value. In that regard “Asian” certainly includes both. Those whose cultures differ excessively from ours increase the social strain required to assimilate them.

      Immigration as a percentage of existing population is probably not high compared to some historical levels. But with no frontier where the unpolished can struggle and succeed (or die), and way too many social programs, we cannot afford to be nonselective; we should only accept those that fill needs we’re not filling ourselves. Why strain social programs, infrastructure, and destroy more wild land, merely to accept those who will not serve us well? Some will, but most won’t, and some level of population should be plenty. 200 million wasn’t too few, now we have 300 million. Should we really have a billion, merely because China and India do? Shouldn’t we be looking for quality rather than quantity?

      And why in any measure of sanity should we act as if all humans on the planet have some _right_ to come here? The latest idiotic ruling on the revised travel ban shows how far the extreme open border crowd wants to go; or the left does, just to be insufferably obnoxious whenever possible. The premise is simple: some countries can’t or won’t supply sufficient information to support reliable vetting, so until they do, we shouldn’t accept people from there on a routine basis.

      1. Shannon says:

        I happen to support the most recent ruling on the travel ban. The argument is that it violates a Constitutional ban on discrimination based on religion. I personally believe our country is better as a melting pot. Those immigrants and refugees are mostly not a threat to us and benefit us in the long run. Immigrants fuel innovation. Besides, I have no desire to live in an intolerant, traditionalist, insular, Christian theocracy. Trump’s ban is only going to make the US looks worse internationally and do nothing to prevent terrorism.

        I just finished reading both Madness in Solidar and Treachery’s Tools. The right/GOP sounds suspiciously similar to the High Holders trying to hold back the tide of change. Globalization will happen whether we want it to or not.

  5. Alan Naylor says:

    I work in the tech side of manufacturing. I’ve worked in multiple industries but always on the engineering and automation side of the business. This has given me a wealth of personal observational data on the jobs in the mid-western US. There are plenty of jobs in my area (easily 100’s of manufacturing jobs which leads me to believe there could easily be 10,000’s country wide), many companies cannot find qualified people to fill them, but some people are not willing to take. Why they won’t take them is a bit more complex. For some they probably feel it’s not enough money for the work being asked. Others probably feel they can live better with less effort off of the dole. Regardless, the employers are not offering the correct incentives to get employees of the necessary skill sets in the front door.

    This might be in the form of benefits (both direct pay and less tangible ones such as medical coverages), or it could be in the quality of the work environment, hours worked, treatment from supervisors, etc. I know several business, and I think it is something of a corporate model now, rely on the temp to permanent method of hiring. Many companies also maintain a largely temp staff with relatively few skilled full time employees.

    There are a large number of commercial jobs in the area, mostly retail and customer service, which go unfilled. Likely for pay reasons, I suspect.

    Overall, I feel that it is an education issue for many people seeking employment. Far too many people who have applied at my current employer lack the skills to be in maintenance or engineering. This is skilled technical work and the company does not want to run an apprenticeship program to build their own in house technical force.

    However, it is difficult to convince men, and especially women, to go into these fields. They don’t want to do hands on, often dirty, work. They would prefer to sit at a computer terminal and desk. No doubt some of the opposition for women comes from cultural biases they have imbibed about doing mechanic, plumber and electrical work. I, for one, would have no difficulty at all in hiring a woman who was qualified to do the job. I can tell you that my college courses had very few women in them, in any of the STEM courses. A choice made by the women attending school when they chose a career. You should not try to force some one to a job, no matter how lucrative or stable it might be. So I don’t know how we can convince today’s generation to give up dreams of everyone being a lawyer or a doctor or a desk jockey and take up blue collar work within valuable fields which require educated and skilled workers.

    I will briefly re-address the cultural integration of immigrants to the US. When immigrants came from Europe, they did bring their own culture, by and large that culture tended to be compatible with what was already existing in the US. There were disagreements and biases that were in place with each wave but the fundamental culture was in the same headspace. The immigrants who are found to be most objectionable to many Americans are not similar to the waves of immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century. More over there is a strong effort by the immigrants of the later half of the 20th century and today to maintain the exact same culture they came from. A culture they found oppressive enough to flee. I believe it would behoove them to not try to recreate that culture here but to embrace a more tolerant attitude while finding a new way.

  6. darcherd says:

    Every new generation of immigrants struggles to maintain some measure of their own cultural identity in their new, adopted land. And that same generation watches in dismay as their children, and especially their grandchildren, forget their ancestral languages and adopt the cultural mores of their friends instead of that of their parents. The point is, assimilation does occur. It may not seem like it at any given snapshot in time – especially when there has been a particularly large influx of immigrants – but it is an inexorable process.

    I’ve heard arguments that immigrants from Mexico, at least, are slower to assimilate because their native homeland is so physically close. But large numbers of 3rd-generation immigrants from Mexico have forgotten or never really learned Spanish. Of course, the cultural influence works both ways, which help explain why both St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are bigger celebrations in the U.S. than they are in their original countries.

    1. Nathaniel says:

      St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are bigger celebrations in the US because we’ve made drinking holidays out of them. They’re as culturally relevant to Irish and Mexican culture as Super Bowl Sunday.

  7. Tim says:

    A thousand years ago, the same debate could be said here in Britain: who are the English? There was no English race per se, but a conglomerate of local Britons, Romano-British, and all the economic invaders from The continent (Jutes, Angles, Saxons) and then of course, the Vikings. The English nation only formed in the mid 10th century – similar to America in the mid 1800s, ie a conglomeration of whoever was there. Later we had the Huguenots and refugees from the French Revolution and Nazi oppression. Then we had the influx of Asians as part of our Commonwealth responsibilities when the regimes in Uganda and Kenya became very oppressive.

    Also, in the 400 years when Britain was a Roman province, there were tens of auxiliary cohorts stationed along the various northern walls, and these came from different places of the empire, and when you have 400-1000 youngish men around earning money, and local girls, you get marriages. So the genetic pool is very diverse.

    So Being English means you come from a very varied background and there is no purity at all.

    That is where the Republicans seem to be coming from: i.e. a unified group of people with different distant ancestry.

    The Democrats, from your stats, are more about recognising separate rather than unified groups within America all of whom have different beliefs and colour but are still American. London and Birmingham in England have the same challenges, and with the surge of economic migrants from the EU in the past decade this has now spread to most of England, but far less so to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales where the economic conditions are not so attractive.

    I think being an Englishman in 50 years time will mean something different than it does today.

  8. Tom says:

    I am unable to find a resource for “Strength and Weaknesses of Nations”. Apart from the US Military, what other of our vaunted “checks and balances”, or, facet of our “National Identity” can prevent our externally stimulated self-destruction in the age of a “Business model” administration of the USA and our penchant for instant response to “fake news”?

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