Why Conservatives Are Anxious About America

Rahmaan Mwongozi (@TheRocsWorld) recently had one of the few good-faith conversations I’ve heard in recent memory regarding the anxieties among those on the political right with Bo Winegard (@EPoe187) on his podcast.  Mwongozi is a talented interviewer, so I was very interested to hear this segment because I felt he would get real answers and he did not disappoint.  The segment is just 11 minutes, and well worth listening to in full.  I explore my take on the conversation below.
To summarize Winegard’s common thread, the angst stems from:
  • cultural domination of progressive views on race, sex, immigration and other topics in mainstream media and academia
  • the distortion or banishment of other views on those topics from those institutions
  • the prospect of irreversible cultural change
The first point is revealing in a number of ways:
  • It suggests that despite fairly broad, moderate conservative control of the country’s political institutions, conservatives want their views of race, sex, and immigration to control cultural institutions as well
  • it suggests that the ongoing, multi-decade project of building competing conservative institutions has failed to produce any prestigious ones
  • Note the absence of any explicit mention of economic issues in the list of topics driving conservative angst
Winegard’s argument that left-of-center views on race, sex, and immigration are more popular culturally seems broadly correct.  His argument that dissenting views are distorted or banished from mainstream institutions may be informed by his own experience (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/03/12/assistant-professor-says-hes-been-fired-because-he-dared-talk-about-human-population), but there are plenty of counter-examples.  The opinion section of any major mainstream newspaper you can name has any number of right-of-center columnists and views on race, sex, immigration, and economics.  It’s true of the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal.  You can and do find conservative views from CNN, to MSNBC, to NPR, even PBS.  The prospect of irreversible cultural change is perhaps the most salient fear of conservatives–and as Winegard correctly says later in the interview culture is not merely about demographics but also norms.
Winegard mentions the Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965 later in the discussion.  This law made it easier for my parents to come to the United States (though there were Jamaicans in this country well before then, despite the patently racist Johnson-Reed Act of 1924).  The point he goes on to make regarding immigration is that it causes consternation to people (especially more conservative ones) because they are attached to a vision of a country that is more stable.  “They want stasis.”
One problem I have with this argument is that there are at least as many conservative voices advocating not for stasis (and definitely not for celebration of the country’s current diversity, as Winegard does), but for a return to the composition of the country as it was much earlier than 1965.  Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke at length and in laudatory terms of the Johnson-Reed Act and was among the first to support Trump’s Muslim ban.  A second problem with this argument is the idea of hurt or injury to people more attached to the country as it was in 1980 or 1990, to use Winegard’s years.  It would be one thing if he were citing economic examples, but he doesn’t do that.  He doesn’t mention immigrants doing the sort of low-skilled labor formerly done by working class white people (or black people for that matter).  He doesn’t mention outsourcing.  Winegard provides no qualitative description of the harm caused by immigration either.  A third problem with the stasis argument is the idea that people can become attached to whatever the particular demographics of their area are.  Believing that argument would require you to ignore the entire history (and present) of this country when it comes to segregated schools, segregated housing, and the white flight from diversity in both spheres when the number of black and/or brown people exceeds the level of curation that the legacy of redlining still imposes to a degree.
Mwongozi draws an analogy between the response of black & brown communities to gentrification (in the specific case of Oakland) and the response of white communities to changing demographics.  I can see the argument, but gentrification is not about co-existence.  The end result of gentrification is usually to price out and push out those who were there before.  Black & brown people leave gentrified areas under duress.  Winegard and others might argue that immigration is doing the same to them, but that argument is weaker–and not a strictly economic one.
Winegard takes great pains to draw a distinction between “ethnotraditionalism” and white nationalism, and doesn’t want to be called a xenophobe for advocating in favor of preserving the current demographics of the country.  Unfortunately for him, louder voices to his political right are the ones that characterize the restrictionist position.  An additional project of many who advocate immigration restrictionism is the political disenfranchisement of black & brown citizens of the United States.  That’s what every post-election lawsuit was about.  That’s what the sabotage of the 2020 census was about.  That’s what the Supreme Court majority’s evisceration of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was about.  That’s what every resulting Voter ID law enabled by the Shelby County vs Holder ruling was about.  They do not want non-white citizens of the United States to have a say in the debates and conversations about the trajectory of the country.  It may not be fair to lump Winegard in with those who hold such extreme positions, but that background is why it happens–and will continue to happen until they are clear that they are pro-citizen, regardless of race or ethnicity.