The Atlantic
Immigration Election US Democrat Republican Image Credit: The Atlantic
Immigration Election US Democrat Republican Image Credit: The Atlantic

The Next Populist Revolution

Establishment Democrats believe that poor immigrants and their children will be part of an emerging majority. They could be very wrong.

Reihan Salam

Immerse yourself in the pro-immigration literature of Democratic Party thinkers, and you will notice a curious pattern of argument: High levels of immigration have awakened the racism and bigotry that have fueled the rise of right-wing populism, but it is nevertheless best to press forward with the policies that have ostensibly produced this fearsome reaction. Why? Because slowing the pace of immigration would be a callow surrender to bigotry. But also because, in the fullness of time, a united coalition of college-educated white liberals, African Americans, and working-class immigrants and their descendants will vanquish the aging rump of reactionary whites.

The dream of a so-called rainbow coalition has been part of the liberal imagination since at least the presidency of Richard Nixon, when the left envisioned it, albeit prematurely, as a counterpoint to his “southern strategy.” The term itself was coined in 1968 by the activist Fred Hampton, who hoped to build a multi-racial alliance devoted to revolutionary socialism, but it entered the mainstream in the 1980s, when Jesse Jackson endeavored to make racial justice a central tenet of the Democratic Party’s platform. Democrats have consistently been more supportive of social programs that benet low-income people of color, including immigrants, than have their Republican rivals, which has helped cement their minority support.

In recent years, meanwhile, the white working- class share of


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