Three-times-failed presidential candidate Pat Buchanan has a right to feel vindicated by Donald Trump’s success.
“We were a little bit ahead of our time,” the syndicated columnist and colleague of mine on PBS’ “The McLaughlin Group” told NPR a day after Trump’s last two rivals for the Republican presidential nomination dropped out.
Buchanan served as an adviser to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan and ran twice for president as a Republican and also in 2000 on the Reform Party’s ticket.
Back then, a lot of critics, including me, thought Buchanan’s platform of an “immigration moratorium,” “America First” isolationism and not-too-thinly veiled white nationalism mantra — including a “Buchanan fence” between us and Mexico — was goofy.
Now Trump has ridden these ideas to the door of the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
While others argue as to whether Trump’s campaign pitch promotes European-style white nationalism under another name, there’s little doubt in Buchanan’s mind.
In books like his 2006 “State of Emergency,” he even spells out his own vision for what I would call making America hate again.
“If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050, Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built,” he wrote.
Asked by NPR’s Rachel Martin whether he still stands by that statement, Buchanan said he only would “amend it” to say 2042 or 2041 instead of 2050, based on more recent projections. “So we’re about 25 years away from the fact where Americans of European descent will be a minority in the United States,” Buchanan claims.
Why does he see that as a problem?
“Well, because I look at Europe and I look all over the world, and I see people everywhere at each other’s throats over issues of ethnicity and identity,” Buchanan said. When most immigrants came from Europe, prior to the 1960s, they seemed to assimilate more easily. Now, in half the homes in California, people speak a language other than English in their own homes. Anybody that believes that a country can be maintained that has no ethnic core to it or no linguistic core to it, I believe is naive in the extreme.”
I, by contrast, see business as usual for America’s long-praised “melting pot” model. Contrary to the alarmists’ doomsday outlooks, assimilation of newcomers into the mainstream still works.
It certainly works better in the U.S. than, say, European-style “multiculturalism.” In Europe, multiculturalism usually means multiple communities of immigrants corralled into separate and unequal ghettos for multiple generations. No wonder French, British and German leaders say multiculturalism “doesn’t work.” By U.S. standards, they aren’t doing it right.
So what if people speak another language besides English at home? What matters for assimilation is what language they speak outside the home. Most important, younger generations still tend to eagerly embrace mainstream culture, unless such barriers as poverty or discrimination get in the way.
Now candidate Trump, following in Buchanan’s footsteps, wants to throw up barriers. Like numerous anti-immigration demagogues through U.S. history — including the “Know Nothings” who wanted to keep out Irish Catholics, Buchanan’s ancestors, who came over during that period.
Opposition to immigrants is a long-held American tradition, especially during uncertain economic times.
Buchanan’s anti-immigrant pitch lost its strength in the 1990s, largely because the economy made a roaring comeback. Nowadays, the reality of 50 years of globalism, structural economic change and growing income inequality has given new fuel to xenophobia.
Nor does it seem by coincidence that rising anxiety among working-class white voters occurs while a liberal black president sits in the White House and changing demographics erode the dominance of white voters in national elections. Trump didn’t invent the racial or ethnic card in national politics, but when he needed something to help him grab the national stage, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers” lit his afterburners.
But America has gained more from immigration and ethnic diversity than it has lost. This campaign season is an excellent time for Americans to remember the slogan voiced by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., among other civil rights leaders: We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.