An abandoned house in a working-class suburb of Kitakyushu, Japan, could provide a glimpse of how strictly limited immigration favored by the current Republican administration might lead to an inevitable American future of economic and religious decline.
The dilapidated Kitakyushu dwelling is a metaphor for what has long ailed Japan and is steadily and worrisomely worsening — the nation’s ever-restrictive immigration laws have made it one of the most homogenous places on earth.
Saddled with a sharply declining birthrate and a soaring elderly population, Japan increasingly finds itself with fewer and fewer people — native or immigrant — to drive the economy, and to pay for seniors’ upkeep and to service their burgeoning needs.
“As [Japan] ages and older people die with no one to replace them, neighborhoods across Japan are also slowly dying,” writes Francisco Toro in a Washington Post op-ed article this week, titled, “Japan is a Trumpian paradise of low immigration rates. It’s also a dying country.”
The house referenced above is located across the street from Toro’s father’s home. It’s one of 8 million homes now vacant in Japan, he says, in graying communities where romping children are an increasingly rare sight.
Toro notes that it nearly all developed countries, houses aren’t long on the market before being “snapped up,” often by immigrants “eager for a better future for their families.” But not in Japan, or, if President Trump and his advisors achieve their dreams, perhaps not in future America, either.
“Recently, sales of adult diapers outnumbered sales of baby diapers here for the first time, another harbinger of the demographic collapse that has left the country a pale shadow of the economic powerhouse that made Americans paranoid a generation ago,” Toro warns. “A chronic dearth of new workers has left economic growth lagging for a generation, turning ‘japanification’ into economic shorthand for decline. All that — plus the ossified 1950s gender roles that simply never went away here — has turned Japan into one of the least attractive places for women to have children. Low birth rates only compound the demographic death spiral.”
So, the writing appears to be on the wall if America embraces Japan’s ethos of an uber-homogenous native population with only a sprinkling of aliens. The obstacles to prosperity on such a path are clear, as Japan’s experience indicates.
In another relevant article this week, titled “The demographic time bomb that could hit America,” Post columnist Catherine Rampell also sounded a blaring alarm:
“In 2017, the United States saw the fewest babies born in 30 years, a stat that produced a lot of hand-wringing. But it turns out things could be worse — a lot worse. We could be Japan, whose unfolding demographic crisis provides some lessons for where America might be headed.”
In Japan, she points out, birth rates in 2018 hit their lowest rate since 1899.
But economic decline and social disruption aren’t the only potential negative effects of nativist policies. In America, the prevalence and influence of religion is also at risk due to policy and demographic shifts.
An excellent article this week by Post columnist and conservative Catholic Michael Gerson — “Why white evangelicals should panic” — warns that the dangers most evangelicals seem to be focused on are not the worst ones.
“Much white evangelical support for President Trump is based on a bargain or transaction: political loyalty (and political cover for the president’s moral flaws) in return for protection from a hostile culture. Many evangelicals are fearful that courts and government regulators will increasingly treat their moral and religious convictions as varieties of bigotry. And that this will undermine the ability of religious institutions to maintain their identities and do their work. Such alarm is embedded within a larger anxiety about lost social standing that makes Trump’s promise of a return to greatness appealing.”
Gerson contends the while these concerns are not imaginary, they’re exaggerated. What threatens the evangelical program existentially, he believes, is demographic — the “massive sell-off of evangelism among the young.”
“About 26 percent of Americans 65 and older identify as white evangelical Protestants. Among those ages 18 to 29, the figure is 8 percent. Why this demographic abyss does not cause greater panic — panic concerning the existence of evangelicalism as a major force in the United States — is a mystery and a scandal. With their focus on repeal of the Johnson Amendment and the right to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ some evangelical leaders are tidying up the kitchen while the house burns down around them.”
This means that the traditional reservoir for supplying new church members — young people — is drying up as births decline, while all young Americans continue to relentlessly turn away from religious affiliations of any kind. This would be exacerbated by a significant drop in immigrants, who, besides tending to initially have much higher birth rates than native Americans, also tend to be religious, often Christian.
Such a fundamental shift bodes ill for perpetuation of traditionally influential and far-ranging Christianity in America.
Referencing Rampell’s piece, Gerson suggests why the religious apathy of so many young people should cause apprehension among the faithful.
“Why is [the religious affiliation of young people] so low? There are a number of reasons, but one of them, Campbell argued, is ‘an allergic reaction to the religious right.’ This sets up an irony. ‘One of the main rationales for the very existence of this movement was to assert the role of religion in the public square in America. And, instead, what’s happening in that very movement has actually driven an increasing share of Americans out of religion.’ This alienation preceded the current president, but it has intensified during the Trump era.”
Talk about unintended consequences.