Wednesday, August 03, 2016
A hundred years ago a British author of East European Jewish origin, Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), coined a phrase that was long to remain resonant in this country. The expression stemmed from his play “The Melting Pot,” which enjoyed great success in the United States in 1909-10 Among others, Theodore Roosevelt was a great admirer of the play, which found a counterpart in his decrying of the concept of the “hyphenated American.”
Of course the metaphor of the melting pot captures the content of the more prosaic notion of assimilation. In nineteenth-century America immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany assimilated very easily; the Irish a little less so. Since Americans place such emphasis on an individual’s outward appearance, blacks and Asians proved problematic: they were”unmeltable.”
Nonetheless, the assimilation model remained popular. In the 1960s, however, it was challenged by increasing evidence of a countermovement - termed “deassimilation” by the sociologist Stephen Murray. In due course, Hispanics, feminist women, and LGBT people began to deassimilate.
Recently the deassimilation process, abetted by multiculturalism, has yielded a new slogan, that of “intersectionality,” which asserts that the new tribes (if I may use the expression) need not subsist in separate enclaves but can join together in a common enterprise, assured we are told by the prospect that white people will become a minority in this country by 2055.
In this process of tribalization, it should surprise no one that nonelite whites should now be coalescing into their own tribe. In this light, the denunciations of Donald Trump as an irresponsible demagogue, a sociopath, or a child who has never grown up will prove futile, for when he goes he will leave behind a large disaffected segment of the population - not unlike, to reach for a remote comparison, the Huguenot minority in France before the revocation of the edict of Nantes. In all this, there is great latitude for discord.