In WaPo, Carlos Lozada has a lengthy and representative overview of the work of the late great Samuel Huntington (“Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era”). While it’s got flourishes of Lozada’s liberalism (this is WaPo, after all), the piece is worth reading:
Huntington’s work, spanning the mid-20th century through the early 21st, reads as a long argument over America’s meaning and purpose, one that explains the tensions of the Trump era as well as anything can. Huntington both chronicles and anticipates America’s fights over its founding premises, fights that Trump’s ascent has aggravated. Huntington foresees — and, frankly, stokes — the rise of white nativism in response to Hispanic immigration. He captures the dissonance between working classes and elites, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, that played out in the 2016 campaign. And he warns how populist demagogues appeal to alienated masses and then break faith with them.
Huntington’s books speak to one another across the decades; you find the origins of one in the unanswered questions of another. But they also reveal deep contradictions. More than a clash of civilizations, a clash of Huntingtons is evident. One Huntington regards Americans as an exceptional people united not by blood but by creed. Another disowns that idea in favor of an America that finds its essence in faith, language, culture and borders. One Huntington views new groups and identities entering the political arena as a revitalization of American democracy. Another considers such identities pernicious, anti-American.
I’ve read Huntington’s excellent “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” (2004), which clearly expresses the latter. Given that Who We Are was the last major work of his career, it is Huntington’s earlier work that expressed the naïve concept of a ‘proposition nation’.
Over the subsequent two decades, Huntington lost hope. In his final book, “Who Are We?,” which he emphasizes reflect his views not just as a scholar but also as a patriot, Huntington revises his definitions of America and Americans. Whereas once the creed was paramount, here it is merely a byproduct of the Anglo-Protestant culture — with its English language, Christian faith, work ethic and values of individualism and dissent — that he now says forms the true core of American identity.
Threatening that core, Huntington writes, is the ideology of multiculturalism; the new waves of immigrants from Latin America, especially Mexico, whom Huntington believes are less able to assimilate than past immigrants; and the threat of the Spanish language, which Huntington treats as a disease infecting the cultural and political integrity of the United States. “There is no Americano dream,” he asserts. “There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.” …
The principles of the creed are merely “markers of how to organize a society,” Huntington decides. “They do not define the extent, boundaries, or composition of that society.” For that, he contends, you need kin and culture; you must belong. He claims that Latin American immigrants and their offspring do not disperse throughout the country as thoroughly as past immigrants, worries they seek only welfare benefits, and warns they’ll leave behind fewer opportunities for native workers. Huntington also trafficks in stereotypes, even citing Mexico’s supposed “mañana syndrome.”
Then there’s Huntington’s prescience today:
Huntington blames pliant politicians and intellectual elites who uphold diversity as the new prime American value, largely because of their misguided guilt toward victims of alleged oppression. So they encourage multiculturalism over a more traditional American identity, he says, and they embrace free trade and porous borders despite the public’s protectionist preferences. It is an uncanny preview of the battles of 2016. Denouncing multiculturalism as “anti-European civilization,” Huntington calls for a renewed nationalism devoted to preserving and enhancing “those qualities that have defined America since its founding.”
Little wonder that, long before Trump cultivated the alt-right and Hillary Clinton denounced the “deplorables” in our midst, Huntington foresaw a backlash against multiculturalism from white Americans. “One very plausible reaction would be the emergence of exclusivist sociopolitical movements,” he writes, “composed largely but not only of white males, primarily working-class and middle-class, protesting and attempting to stop or reverse these changes and what they believe, accurately or not, to be the diminution of their social and economic status, their loss of jobs to immigrants and foreign countries, the perversion of their culture, the displacement of their language, and the erosion or even evaporation of the historical identity of their country. Such movements would be both racially and culturally inspired and could be anti-Hispanic, anti-black, and anti-immigration.” The more extreme elements in such movements, Huntington notes, fear “the replacement of the white culture that made America great by black or brown cultures that are . . . in their view, intellectually and morally inferior.”
Yes, in 2004, Huntington warned of a racist tide focused on protecting that which makes America great.