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August 25, 2019

Limits of Matters: Can the USA Become a Real Multi-Cultural Society?

One of the things which Trump's America is most concerned about may be the advent of a society where the whites become a minority. The doomsday is slated as early as in 2045. The tenacious support for Trump regardless of his personality and behavior, partly reflects this.

This anxiety is understandable for me as a Japanese living in an ethnically homogeneous country. When I stay in the US, I am always stunned by the diversity of the society, in which almost everyone on the street has different skin color and you cannot tell what kind of ethics and motives make them tick. And I admire the fact that the majority of the whites in the US are seemingly faring very well in such a multi-national society.

But to what degree is this propensity for racial cohabitation genuine, and to what extent is the human being able to peacefully live with other races? This is an important question not only for the US but also for Europe, Russia, India, China and other countries. Racial diversity is in the offing even in Japan, which has now more than 2 million foreigners permanently living there and more than 31 million foreigners annually visiting (Japan's total population is about 120 million).

A Great Society

My first stay in the US was in the early 1970s, the peak of economy and culture sustained by the whites. Blacks had just started to gain success in their fights for more rights, the affirmative action for example.

My second stay there was in the late 1990s, when the multi-ethnicity in the urban areas was firmly entrenched. I was pleasantly astonished that there were then distinct middle-class black communities in Boston's suburbs, and that in Manhattan the erstwhile slum Harlem District had changed into a posh middle-class area. It is a great society, I thought, and later being posted in Moscow as a diplomat I used to defend America whenever the Russians pointed to the social gaps and racial discrimination in the US.

Of course, I could not but notice the other side of the coin. In a business elite club in Boston there was only one black member admitted as an excuse, and some black people complained to me how difficult it was for them to get bank loans for their own business. Further, gated communities were starting to spread at that time, and slums with dreadful conditions existed in Boston just as twenty years before.

When the Lehman Brothers financial crisis hit the country, it became impossible to maintain the superficial niceties about multi-ethnicity. The unsuccessful part of the whites came to hate the competition which Hispanic immigrants or Chinese students pose, and the "clash of civilizations" as predicted by Prof. Samuel P. Huntington came to the fore.
Trump rides on this tide of hatred and resentment. His politics based on enmity unnecessarily divides the nation, whereas politics of hope and aspiration would unite it.

Is Nirvana Possible?

Will the US regain its racial magnanimity, if the economy ever recovers? Probably not. Remember that seeming resurge of economy in mid 2010s did not reduce the tension in the society; instead it brought Trump and Co. to power. Unless the wealth is more fairly shared by all strata of the population, frustration will linger on in the populace, including the whites.

Trump wants to see more immigrants to come from Europe, say from countries like Norway, in order to increase the white portion of the society. But the West Europeans would not want to emigrate to today's US, which looks anti-intellectual and behaves like a bully, the opposite of the European culture. Trump's propensity to rule by sheer force without moral justification makes him appear no better than the imperialistic Russians, who intimidate the Norwegians.

On the other hand, if more equality is warranted in the society, the US will surely regain its capacity to assimilate new comers to its values of openness, accountability, diligence and entrepreneurship. It is what happened in the early 20th century, when the US absorbed and assimilated millions of immigrants from South and East Europe. As they tried to build a decent life by their own toil, the economy grew several times.

Racial cohabitation is not 100% possible. Even among the people of the same skin color marriage often breaks down. But economic prosperity with fair distribution of income will surely raise the threshold for generosity.

A New World

Today's world is undergoing a profound change, in which abundance instead of shortage may become the main feature of society, because the spread of robots and AI will remarkably raise productivity. People will be allowed to get a fair share of wealth, even if they do not work. As menial jobs will be performed by robots, the inflow of low-income immigrants will decrease.

So the racial problems may eventually lose its acuteness, but they may be replaced by a new confrontation: conflict between those who keep learning and going forward and those who idly consume their life, occasionally engaging in fiscal fights with others to prove who is better.
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(This is an epic novel set in the turbulent years in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. A free-minded journalist turned a singer-song-writer is poised to become President of Russia only to be assassinated during a concert.)


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