How recession is linked to racism

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Pradip Rodrigues

The rise of ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ Donald Trump  who has floated to the top with the support of millions of Americans has prompted many to conclude that Americans are by and large racists. But that conclusion is wrong and simplistic. It is almost as foolish as people around the world concluding that just because millions of Indians gave BJP’s Narendra Modi a thumping majority proves Indians are basically communal and bigoted. People in India like citizens in many western countries are tired of politicians taking them for a ride. The economy was going south, corruption was at its peak. People wanted change at any cost. In every democracy, ethnic minorities are often valued as vote banks and used by all political parties. This sort of pandering has social and economic implications for the native-born, especially when economic times are tough. Trump, like PM Modi is widely reviled by the political and social elite and liberal-leaning media personalities.

When times are good

From about 1995 to 2005, Ireland which historically has seen millions of its people immigrate started to attract foreign workers, many of whom went on to become permanent residents. They were welcomed with open arms by Irish. Life was good, the Irish economy, then referred to as Celtic Tiger was experiencing an economic boom. It’s economy expanded 9.4 per cent annually, stabilized at a healthy 9.5 per cent before plunging into a deep and ugly recession in 2008 along with so many other western economies. Unemployment skyrocketed to 14 per cent and along with it came a spike in reports about racism. Suddenly, foreigners experienced hostility, verbal and physical abuse. The same immigrants who arrived during the boom experienced little or no racism.

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Elite need to listen to the middle-class

In the US, both the Liberal and Republican elite have been out of touch with reality. It is easy for the elite to be pro-immigrant because their minimum-wage and middle-class jobs aren’t being shipped offshore or taken by a new immigrant willing to work more for less. Neither are their exclusive gated community and multi-million dollar neighborhoods about to be invaded by immigrants.
Those whose lives are most impacted negatively by immigration aren’t concerned with Big Picture thinking, not if it is at the cost of their own precarious employment. Naturally then when Donald Trump threatens to deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall along the US-Mexico border to stop more from coming, he is playing to the gallery and tapping into a very commonly held sentiment among the shrinking middle-class . Even Indian immigrants in the US are afraid their jobs  could be shipped to India. If Trump stops that, they will be relieved. Not all Trump supporters are racist, they are worried and angry because they were promised that good times would come and good times never came. Do you think that if instead of Mexicans you had Europeans  flooding across the border,  Trump and his supporters would not be talking and supporting a wall? If that was the case, there would not be an outrage  in the UK over the Poles and Eastern European workers coming into the country.

Fascism and xenophobia rose around the Great Depression

The economic crisis that hit Europe not so long ago and the corresponding rise in xenophobia and racism led many commentators to draw parallels with the situation that existed around the Great Depression. That led to the rise of fascism across Europe and culminated in the Second World War.
Racism, Islamaphobia and xenophobia are once again rising in Europe as the continent struggles with the worst refugee crisis since World War 2. Across the pond, millions of American jobs remain threatened as the economy shifts. Smug Canadians who consider themselves high-minded and Liberal should not underestimate the possibility of intolerance and anti-immigrant/refugee sentiment taking root right here in Canada. If for example the housing bubble bursts or the economy slumps into a deeper recession, that will be the time average Canadians affected most by it will start paying more attention to immigrants in their midst. Under those circumstances there is a reasonable chance visible minorities could get the stink eye or receive verbal or physical abuse.

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It is said that the best weapon against racism and xenophobia is a good education, but what good is that if the economy fails to create jobs? These well-educated people faced with crushing student debt and no hope of decent employment will end up supporting politicians and political parties that promise to protect their jobs by limiting overseas competition. As one young Caucasian once told me, “Yes there are too many immigrants being let into Canada, but I have nothing against them, only the politicians who bring in such large numbers.”

The political and economic elite are petrified of populist leaders

Recently Silicon Valley tech bosses met with the Republican elite to plot a strategy to block the nomination of Donald Trump. Why are tech bosses so afraid of Trump? Because these companies like so many other industries have not only off-shored thousands of jobs to countries like Indian and China, but they have also brought in thousands of immigrant workers on work visas to replace American workers. The trade deals get rid of tariffs of goods brought into America from those countries. What do American corporations then do? They set up factories abroad, close down their factories in the US and bring in goods produced cheaply and the profits go into the pockets of the growing legion of the rich.

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With most companies in Canada and the US in cost-cutting mode, such a business model is threatened by Donald Trump. The business elite in cahoots with the political elite have allowed this model to bring in billions of dollars in profit for CEOs and shareholders while leaving the middle and working class worse off than ever before. Little wonder then Trump’s words is like music to the ears of those who find their livelihood and standard of living threatened.
It is easy for the elites to scoff at the fears and phobias suffered by those lower down the food chain. It is easy to dismiss them as racists who don’t speak for our lofty values, but by stifling their voices and dismissing their fears as irrational, you end up with a situation where the masses could one day vote into power irrational leaders who promise drastic solutions. It is likely Donald Trump could get on the Republican ticket, it is however unlikely he could win in a general election, but whoever wins will have to address some if not all of the issues raised by Donald Trump and that will not be easy.

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