What will democracy look like?

Photo: Mario Tama for Getty Images

Alexa Ayala Salgado and her brother Edgar, originally from Mexico,
became U.S. citizens this weekend during a Constitution Week naturalization
ceremony for about 50 young people at the L.A. Public Library. On one hand, Alexa and Edgar are going to change America in ways we can’t even imagine. On the other hand, America is changing in completely predictable ways.

Way back in 2011, when we launched our strategy to engage conservatives and moderates, we looked at four maps: December 2010 Senate DREAM Act vote; number of adults who identify as evangelical Christian; density of state and local law enforcement; and, growth in the foreign-born population.

We saw that the Southeast, Midwest and Mountain West had the least amount of support for immigration reform, the largest number of evangelical Christians, the highest density of local law enforcement and the fastest growth in the foreign-born population.

From these maps, Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform was born. (Some yahoo even wrote a book about the strategy.)

But, what surprised people (then and now) was the last map: the growth of the immigrant population in the Southeast, Midwest and Mountain West.

These changes came into clear relief last week with new Census data that found the US has the highest share of foreign-born since 1910. And, as Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times wrote, “Some of the largest gains were in states with the smallest immigrant populations … foreign-born populations rose by 20 percent in Tennessee, 13 percent in Ohio, 12 percent in South Carolina and 20 percent in Kentucky [since 2010].”

Looking at this data through an electoral prism, the Washington Post’s Philip Bump found, “If we consider the change in the foreign-born population, particularly the change in noncitizen foreign-born residents per county from 2008 to 2016, the places with the biggest increase in that population since 2008 were more likely to vote Republican.”For the most part, the 2016 Republican vote was a vote against immigrants and immigration.

In fact, in his column this weekend about a new book, Identity Crisis, Dan Balz writes, “[The authors’] conclusion is straightforward. Issues of identity — race, religion, gender and ethnicity — and not economics were the driving forces that determined how people voted, particularly white voters.”

The concept of “racialized economics” emerged over the election. Which the authors defined as, “’the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while your group is left behind.’”

Or, as I have put it in recent Sunday notes, the question is, are immigrants are giving or taking? That, along with questions of culture and security are what we have to address in the time ahead.

So, whether you are a Democrat, a NeverTrumper, or a WhenWillMyGOPNightmareEnd?, it is appealing to think that the 2018 election will change the course of history. Or, as Mike Allen, wrote, “This election could echo long from now. Republicans seem certain to end this election even more defined as the party of white men, a group slowly but surely shrinking in power.”

But that may not be the case.

As Bump wrote earlier this summer, by 2040, “Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent.” In fact, “The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans.” Which leaves 30 percent of the population spread over 34 states.

Philip Bump for the Washington Post

What is striking is that the map (above) of the nation’s population distribution in 2040, looks almost exactly like the maps we looked at in 2011: The Southeast, Midwest and Mountain West will, in essence, have the power to control the US Senate. And, while their immigrant population will grow, these will not be culturally diverse states.

So, as global migration continues at an unprecedented rate, the divisions we see today may seem quaint come 2040 — and will play out in the very same regions that are least welcoming to immigrants.

What will democracy look like?

Will it be Webster City, Iowa, where a changing community (in a red state) bands together to save the local theater? Or, Burien, Washington, where the city’s first Latino mayor (in a blue state) was attacked?

In order to address the tension and sustain our democracy, policymakers from either side need the space to compromise.

Easier said than done, today or in the days ahead.

  • PS. A quick reminder that we are now publishing a daily tip sheet, Noorani’s Notes, laying out the handful of immigration stories to pay attention to. You can subscribe here.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.