Nicholas Gallagher: Immigration and the Political Explosion of 2016 – The American Interest

Just as how at the turn of the 20th century, people failed to see how factory work would thoroughly replace family farming as the source of American income and identity, so too today we struggle to foresee what will come after “Allentown.” As then, so too now the opening of global markets has exacerbated this problem in certain regions. Other problems of the 1850s and 1900s-20s also exist. As the chasm between educated elites and the middle class is exacerbated by the tech revolution, concerns about inequality have increased. Due in part to the particulars of the 2008 crash, those who have lost most from many of the recent structural economic changes are increasingly convinced they are being conspired against by financial elites and politicians, as well as just left behind. And terrorism has yet again tied immigration to national security.

The same ingredients that fueled the political explosions of the 1850s and the 1920s have come together again. Each of these issues—mass immigration, employment, local community makeup, homeland security, and national identity—are highly sensitive for average Americans. People, including or perhaps even especially those who are not usually politically active, care deeply about them. When all of them are in flux at once, as we have seen, they can combine to create political explosions. This is the third such crisis, and we shouldn’t expect it to quietly die down. History says that those concerned about the future of the Republican Party are right to worry: in times like ours, immigration is a potent enough issue to break a party and provoke a realignment.

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