Dear Democrat voters,
You are probably the most influential and powerful segment of the human race today. In terms of cultural reach, you are supreme; politically you are masters of the universe; you have the ability to shape our world for good or evil, and for most of the past century you and your forebears have done a pretty good job of it.
I’m addressing this to Democrats in particular because in the US, as in Britain, liberalism is the prestige faith; the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in American academia is now five to one, and up to forty to one in some social sciences. Eight of the ten richest zip codes voted Obama in 2012; at Harvard College, 96 per cent of political donations go to the Democratic Party. The influential film industry of southern California is overwhelmingly liberal, as is the influential tech industry of northern California. Likewise the prestigious newspapers and news outlets are not only pro-Democrat but display a deference to Democrat politicians that we in Britain once would have described as ‘oriental’. The Democrats have in recent years become the party of graduates, while the Republicans have increasingly represented the white middle and working classes.
I grew up with a deep sentimental attachment to the United States. My father and uncle were sent there as children when the Nazis bombed London, and they experienced nothing but kindness and warmth in your country. It was a war that English boys were still replaying in their bedrooms 40 years later, with the GIs as the heroic liberators of our lucky half of Europe. As an eight-year-old, I visited the other, less fortunate half, in the city of East Berlin, a deeply frightening place one entered by passing the crosses marking those killed trying to escape. I remember seeing the American soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie – the photo is still somewhere at my parent’s house – and being aware that these were the men protecting us from this nightmare vision, just as their fathers had from an even greater menace 40 years earlier. This sentimental attachment runs deep, so deep I like Dennis Madalone’s America We Stand As One both ironically and unironically.
But I’ve come to believe that America is treading a dangerous path, and the guiding ideal of its ruling class has become, not a protector of our way of life, but a danger to it. We’ve seen a return to the Cold War, with a hostile, belligerent Russia threatening eastern Europe once again, yet it is now the United States which is the superpower promoting a utopian ideology. This ideology was laid out in a recent speech by Barack Obama, when he said:
What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters. And that’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own. That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That’s why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service. That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end. That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection; that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it, we embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.
This is stirring stuff, the dream of America, the nation like no other – but where do you see this country heading in the future?
The sort of society I favour for my country is one where city-dwellers use public transport and bikes rather than cars; where the police are routinely unarmed; where there is a large amount of investment in libraries, parks and playgrounds, as well as informative public broadcasting; where the differences between the haves and have-nots are mild and the flaunting of wealth and success is stigmatised. A society where the talented can rise to the top but also where people with average abilities performing average jobs can have a decent life, dignity, and perhaps even afford a home and family in a safe area their children can play in. These are the things I’ve often noticed that American europhiles and anglophiles, mostly Democrats, admire about my country, and compare favourably with their own.
And yet the huge contradiction is that this dream of ‘every shade of humanity’ is incompatible with the sort of egalitarian society Democrats favour, which depends on high levels of trust. There is a great deal of research into the negative effects of diversity on trust, such as this paper here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here. This trust affects how much is spent on public goods, and how much people care for the needy. Trust also has an impact on inequality; then there is the evidence that diversity leads away from progressive institutions and towards autocracy. Do you want your president to be a statsminister or a tsar? Increasing diversity is also one of many reasons cited for political polarisation in the US.
Meanwhile ethnic diversity also leads to lower levels of innovation, while values diversity increases it. What America had in 1776 was high values diversity, and low ethnic diversity, without which the British could easily have divided the colonists. Had the America of 1776 contained ‘every shade of humanity forged into common service’ you’d still have the Queen today.
But since the 1960s, American society has changed rapidly; and trust, or social capital, has declined sharply, inequality has risen and politics has become increasingly extreme. These are troubling trends, yet they are umbilically linked to the faith of the American ruling class outlined by Obama. This ideal is incompatible with an egalitarian, liberal, democratic republic, and instead is pushing you in the direction of Latin America, towards a country of sharp economic inequality, political extremism and low trust.
I appreciate that, for American liberals in particular, patriotism is not about where your ancestors came from but an ideal, and an attachment to a set of values. This is heartfelt and genuine, and you are certainly right to abhor racism, but if you try to ignore human nature you will fail in whatever your goal is. Another result of multiculturalism is that the more diversity there is, the more white support there will be for radical right-wing parties at the national level. This is happening across Europe, and it can only be further accelerated when the multicultural party promotes identity politics, as the Democrats are masters of – because either no one does identity politics, or everyone does. This is where Trump comes along.
Donald Trump is not my cup of tea; he is the very antithesis of those mild-mannered northern European values I outlined earlier and as a human being does not seem to possess a single redeeming feature. But the nationalism he espouses, which seems like a derivative of Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 platform, would paradoxically make the United States in the long term far more like the egalitarian social democracy the Left likes.
How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant:
Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but ‘racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia’ — is the desire to delegitimise any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic… cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.
Is it any surprise then, that across the western world the centre-left is sleepwalking to irrelevance? The proposition nation is a noble concept, and one against which the white identity politics of the Alt Right is hard to morally articulate, but it is very much a utopian one, and certainly something that has never been tried before in a democracy. Liberals boast that demography is on their side, which it certainly is, but when they achieve their goal they might not like what they have created. The more utopian dreams fail the more virulent its believers tend to become towards opponents, but it doesn’t solve the existential contradictions. As a child, I remember a superpower tried changing human nature to create a paradise on earth; that didn’t work out too well.
After the American people have voted, what next for the US and the rest of the world? Join panellists including Sir Christopher Meyer, KCMG, former British ambassador to the US, for a discussion chaired by Andrew Neil on 30 November at RIBA, London. Tickets include a drinks reception. In association with Seven Investment Management. Book now.