Donald Trump’s victory has been ascribed to the anger of the white working class in the US over the discontent caused by globalisation because of the curtailment of job opportunities.
The same explanation has been offered for the success of the pro-Brexit group in Britain and the rise of the far-right parties in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
But there are deeper reasons. First, the discomfiture of the white Europeans over the ascent of the black and brown nations after the end of colonisation was compounded by the need for the immigration of these very same ‘coloured’ people to make up for the shortfall in the working population in Europe caused by the two World Wars.
As long as these new citizens performed menial jobs and looked upon their stay in their adopted countries as a temporary sojourn that would end as soon as they had made enough money to go back home, the British or the French reluctantly accepted their presence in their midst.
But the newcomers never returned home. Moreover, the second- and third-generation immigrants were no longer as subservient as their parents to the whites or willing to do lowly jobs. Then came the new laws on racial equality, which meant that they could no longer be discriminated against at the workplace or elsewhere. As a result, the white man’s country was becoming multicultural or “multi-culti”, as the brown sahib, Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, ruefully said.
In the US, the scene was different — but only slightly. There, too, the civil rights movement sought to give equal status to the blacks. But racism persisted, as is evident from the recent ugly episode of Michelle Obama being called an “ape in heels” by a Trump supporter who expressed relief at the possibility of the First Lady in the White House again being “classy” — and white.
As the blacks remained an unassimilated group in the US more than a century-and-a-half after the end of the Civil War, the racial problem was exacerbated by the influx of the light browns — the Mexicans and Latinos.
These “aliens” might have continued to live as second-class citizens in the US and the UK if globalisation and automation did not ensure that factories could operate anywhere in the world where the wages were lower than those in the “advanced” countries of the West.
The relocation of the industries and the outsourcing of service sector jobs meant that, for the first time in living memory, the whites were at the receiving end.
To make matters worse for them, the new-fangled concepts of human rights and open borders meant that asylum-seekers from war-torn countries of the Middle East — “cockroaches” as a writer in the pro-Brexit Daily Mail called them — would have to be given shelter in the white countries of Europe and North America, thereby further skewing their colour composition and bringing in new cultural and religious practices.
As Brigitte Bardot said: “My country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims.” It is not surprising that Bardot has called Marine Le Pen the “modern Joan of Arc”, for the leader of the National Front in France fears that immigration is an “organised replacement of our population”, threatening “our very survival”.
In the US, the leader of the white supremacist National Policy Institute has noted that “America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us”. The ideas of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” have gone for a toss, therefore, in France, as has the Magna Carta in Britain along with the stirring words of the Statue of Liberty near the New York harbour: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...” These reflected the views of the enlightened whites. But, now, old-fashioned racism, which had simmered below the surface, has come to the fore.
But even as a majority of the whites turn to racism and xenophobia, India has shown that “multi-culti” is not a dirty word. Indeed, the values of pluralism are so deeply ingrained in India that even the right-of-centre Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has become moderate under Narendra Modi, who, in the words of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, has changed from being a “hate figure to an avatar of modernity and progress”.
Unlike the preference of the whites to either exterminate or subdue the indigenous populations — the Native Americans in the US, the Aborigines in Australia — India has always been a land of assimilation with its 4,635 communities and 22 constitutionally recognised languages.
In contrast, Europe and the US have been conflict-prone with the “enemy” ranging from blacks to Jews to Muslims.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.