As a US citizen living in the Netherlands, I have been cringing my way through this year’s presidential election. Republican candidate Donald Trump has many blemishes, but his attempt to sow division is perhaps the most troubling. Particularly given my line of work.
Here at PAX, we help communities riven by conflict try to heal. Bombs and destruction are only one aspect of conflict – dividing people from one another, setting communities against each other, ensures that conflicts will last long after the military violence has stopped. We see this in the Balkans, Ukraine, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. In all of these places, people in authority exaggerate the differences between groups of people.
During his campaign, Mr. Trump has been using similar tactics. He tries to drive a wedge between communities. Which is not to say that the United States is free from ethnic divisions (police shootings of unarmed black people only the latest instance to make the headlines). But in the US, we have always believed we were moving toward an ideal which includes people of all races, ethnicities, gender orientations, and classes. All are equal under the law, and simply by becoming a citizen, one becomes a full-fledge member of society.
Looking purely at demographics, that ideal is closer than it seems. The US is evolving from a country dominated by Caucasians of European background to a truly multi-ethnic country. In the next 30 or 40 years, whites will no longer be a majority in the US. In four states — California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas – minorities already make up the majority. Nationally, among all children 5 years old and younger, whites are no longer the majority.
This does not mean inter-ethnic tension will suddenly disappear. Societies with majority-minority populations face even greater challenges than homogenous ones. But it will mean that the identity of what it means to be a citizen of the United States will finally catch up to the ideal.
As I anxiously await the outcome on November 8th, I take solace in the thought that Mr. Trump is the last of a dying breed, one whose revanchism will become increasingly obvious for what it is – desperate nostalgia for a racist past.