Embarrassed by the outburst of jingoism from some on the right, damage control is kicking in to say that it was just the gay couple in the Coke ad that has everybody up in arms. Um, no:
In fact, the initial reactions were not about the gay couple. I didn’t even catch that image in the rapid flashes that composed the montage. Starnes had a half dozen tweets on this ad and they were all about ginning up panic about them furriners. Particularly prominent was the terror of using other languages in the ad. (I always wonder how such people feel about Hebrew, Latin, and Greek in the Mass.)
Chalk it up to One More Reason the Right Keeps Losing Ground, even with a Prez as weak as this one.
Here’s how immigration to America works and always has. People come from foreign land with their culture and language of which they are rightly proud. Nativists recoil in fear of the Other. Somebody gets the bright idea that foreigners are remarkably like human beings and welcomes them and advocates for them. Grateful immigrant responds with gratitude, starts to settle in. Kids come. They speak language of old country at home and American English salted with their own slang, which beefs up American English–a language that has always had a penchant for borrowing from other tongues. Connections continue to be made between immigrants and kids and the people who were smart enough to welcome them instead of treating them like an invading virus. Grandkids come. They speak only American English unless they go to college, have their consciousness raised about The Immigrant Experience, and set out to deliberately study Yiddish, Romanian, Spanish, or Russian.
Through all of human history, what determines the dominant language is not the immigrant, but the political, economic, and social power of a particular language group. So Greek became the dominant tongue after Alexander. Latin became the dominant tongue with the ascendancy of Rome–and remained that way for centuries. The tribal peoples who looked back on the dominance of Rome did not flood Rome with foreign tongues, they instead found themselves flooded with Latinized languages. One of them, French, was the, ahem, Lingua Franca, when France was top dog. In the New World, the Spanish conquerors did not find the impoverished Natives drowning their tongue in native dialects. They made Spanish the dominant language. And with the rise of the British and then American superpowers, English took first violin.
Right now, the US is still on top of the global power pile, so English is the dominant tongue and will remain so as long as America is powerful. Immigrants who come here to make a life for themselves will learn English because you can’t make a ton of money here without knowing it–and that’s why people come here. Meanwhile, all the language instructors are teaching ESL to China, not teaching Americans Chinese.
Should China become the dominant economic power in the next century, Americans will either learn Chinese or wash out of the competition. They will not suddenly lose their English and start speaking Spanish. People who promote panic about such stuff do so for a political purpose: because they have stupidly chosen to belong to a political tribe that has made Fear of the Other part of its bread and butter in holding on to power. It’s a doomed strategy, of course, and is one of the reasons the Right keeps losing the Latino vote–and elections.
Case in point: A couple of years ago, I remember Latino Catholics–conservatives–trying to talk reason to the readers of Crisis after John Zmirak wrote a ridiculously inflammatory piece called “Amnesty Equals Abortion” in which he argued that the very very smart thing for conservatives to do is treat their fellow Catholics from South of the border as invading enemy aliens since (for some unfathomable reason) they felt more welcomed by Democrats and tended to vote for them. It did not enter the minds of these very very smart combox conservatives that–maybe–if they embraced this population with which they have so many affinities–pro-family, hard work ethic, pro-life, religious conservatives–they might actually get their votes. But no: the Right, then as now, was bent on weeding out heretics and alien Others, not making converts. So the meme became Amnesty Equals Abortion and all but the most dedicated Latino conservatives were sent packing to go vote for Dems. Strangely, the Dems won. Very very smart.
As long as the Thing that Used to be Conservatism is the natural home for attitudes like those in that graphic at the top, it can expect to lose more and more elections. As long as the tiniest peep of common sense such as “It’s stupid to talk about deporting 11 million people who are thoroughly integrated into our economy, so let’s deal with reality and help them fully integrate into the the rest of our society” is shouted down with this…
…the Right can expect to keep losing.
Solution? Think like Catholics and not like jingos. One of the genius strokes of America is that it managed to somehow internalize a Catholic ethos about welcoming different cultures while simultaneously reconciling them. No. The record has not been spotless as our treatment of Africans and Natives attests. The Klan and the Know Nothings we have with us in our history (and Catholics suffered at the hands of both). But at the same time, consider the astonishing spectacle of a country where people from nations filled with ethnic and political hatreds going back millennia have come here and, within a couple of generations, such hatreds seem like something out of legend. Grandsons of Turks buy gyros from granddaughters of Greeks and shoot the breeze about the Seahawks. There are no Orangemen bombing St. Patrick’s parades. My Croatian-descended co-worker did not dream of slaughtering her Serb-descended grocer. And as a rabbi I know once remarked, “The biggest problem American Jews face is not that Christians want to kill them; it’s that they want to marry them.” Give immigrants a couple of generations and what you invariably find is that when they travel abroad, nobody looks at them and thinks “Russian” or “Vietnamese” or “Latino”. They think “American”.
So relax, conservative Coke drinkers: the brown horde is not coming to steal your country. Try doing the Catholic thing and welcoming the alien, the orphan and the widow.