There occurred a world populist movement in the 1930s that is reoccurring today in Turkey, Poland, Italy, England’s Brexit vote, of course, Russia, and now America, fueled by demagogue leaders who disregard democratic institutions and govern by appealing instead to the people’s prejudices and misconceptions about why they feel they have been left behind: liberalism and the self-serving power of the elites. Conservatism has exploited ethnic nationalism and replaced competent governing with tribal patriotism.
But by far the biggest continuing underlying determiner of the common man’s prejudices in America today has always been race; in our economy, our cities, our criminal justice system, and our voting behavior. When white Christians first arrived in America they found a different race and obliterated them. They later brought over a different race to enslave them for economic gain. Only the Japanese were interned during World War II. Now, its Mexicans, Muslims and others. Immigration is now feared and seen as a threat and a dirty world instead of a proud pillar of America’s history.
The world has been changing, with globalization, international economies, the internet, and mobilization, all of which have made it vastly different from the past. The countries that emerge as strong providers for their people in the future are the countries that anticipate, embrace, and adjust smartly to these inevitable changes; not seek to hold on to an unattainable past. However, we will be unable to do so until we effectively address the continuing, pervasive issue of race in America. That is a change America’s future desperately needs. World history cautions us not to resist the future with false promises and the blame game from demagogues. Otherwise, we will be forever left behind in the past.
Joseph Donofrio, Ph.D.