For those who believe in the “great replacement” theory, I can affirm: Yes, today’s Americans are going to be replaced with people very different from us. They are called descendants, and they will turn out in such ways that we would barely recognize them.
My Confederate forebears would be displeased to find that I would sooner burn a Confederate flag than fly one — and that I live in the Land of, yes, Lincoln. My agrarian ancestors would lament that I couldn’t farm my way out of an NPR tote bag.
Present-day white supremacists and others who believe there is a master plan to change America, of course, are not focused on how little their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will resemble them. They are obsessed with racial identity and the prospect that whites will see their dominance erode. One adherent is the man accused of targeting and killing 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
But the gravity of his alleged crime should not obscure the howling idiocy of the theory that inspired him. Demographic shifts are hardly at odds with our national history and character. In fact, nothing could be more quintessentially American.
The settlers who first came to these shores to displace the original inhabitants were overwhelmingly from the British Isles, but it didn’t take long for migrants from elsewhere to show up uninvited.
There was a time when other Europeans were seen as alien, indigestible and not white. Benjamin Franklin objected that “the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted.” Today, their descendants are deemed part of the same race — because race is a social concept, not a biological fact.
Later, it was widely feared that Roman Catholics could never be loyal Americans. Today, prominent Catholics include the president of the United States, the speaker of the House and six members of the Supreme Court.
The Great Replacement theory posits that evil elites are bringing in dark-complexioned immigrants to take power away from whites. But the vast majority of African Americans didn’t immigrate in the last few decades; they arrived centuries ago against their will. Even if the fantastical plot were real, African Americans wouldn’t be part of it.
Why whites should worry about the foreigners who come here is a mystery. Without the many-hued immigrants who have streamed in over the past two centuries, America would be far less populous, innovative and rich.
Immigration is a big reason that the U.S. has long been one of the fastest-growing nations in the industrialized world. Contrast it with Japan, which is largely closed to immigration and whose population has steadily shrunk over the past decade.
Innovation? Since 2000, 39% of the Americans awarded Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics have been immigrants. Foreign-born inventors are overrepresented among new patent holders.
Asian Americans, who are just 7% of the population, make up 17% of all practicing physicians. Immigrants are crucial to a host of vital industries, from computers to meatpacking to long-term care.
White supremacists fear that immigration will make the country unrecognizable. But the America they know would not exist if not for immigration. Our music, movies, cuisine and literature have been shaped in countless ways by the customs and creativity of foreign-born people and their offspring. America without immigrants would be the equivalent of Colorado without mountains.
Republicans fear that immigration will work to their political disadvantage. But demography is not destiny. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act overhauled our immigration system to admit far more people from Africa, Asia and Latin America. That led to a demographic transformation — which happened to coincide with the Republican Party’s ascendance to power in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Back then, Asian Americans mostly voted Republican. Cuban Americans and Vietnamese Americans still lean that way.
The GOP’s problem is not that immigrant communities are inherently hostile to free markets, tax cuts or school choice. It’s that the party has embraced Donald Trump, whose transparent racism alienated virtually every minority constituency. Their alienation makes Republicans even more inclined to cater to white paranoia and write off people of color.
We don’t know what complexions will be most common among the people who will inhabit this country 50 years or 100 years from now, or how they will vote, or how they will judge us. But we know the one crucial thing they will be: Americans.
Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveChapman13.