Mass immigration, cries of racism and political polarization. It’s not just happening in the U.S. — it’s the story across Europe where western societies are faced with a sudden influx of immigration and refugees. Eric Kaufmann is studying the global trends. He’s a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London..And his book is: “White Shift: Populism, immigration and the future of white majorities.”
Sharyl Attkisson: If you could describe in really simple terms to perhaps a young person who has no global view of what's happening demographically, politically with immigration, how would you synopsize it?
Eric Kaufmann: Well, essentially we are going through very rapid demographic transformation in the West; ethnic change. For psychological reasons— some people are fine with that and some people find that to be unsettling. And that difference between the people who embrace and like are those who find it unsettling is reshaping politics. Some people just prefer stability, continuity and other people prefer change. And that's kind of reordering our politics.
Sharyl: You don't think that attachment to one's old own culture equates to racism against another?
Kaufmann Correct. Yeah. So I think that attachment to one’s own is not the same as feeling superior or hating the other, which I think is racism. Now it’s, of course it is possible to be attached to your own group and therefore discriminate in favor of your own in hiring, which is racism. So I'm not discounting that, but I think they've been mistakenly squashed together partly because the definition of racism I think has been expanded to encompass things such as wanting less immigration, for example.
Sharyl: What is the result of that? How does that play a role in the divisiveness of politics today?
Kaufmann . I think it has played a role because by expanding the definition of racism to include discussions of immigration levels, it's made it very difficult for mainstream politicians and parties until recently to address the immigration reduction issue. And that's left the field open to populist right parties or in the US, say, a figure like Trump, who was the only one of 17 primary candidates willing to actually take that on in a direct way.
Sharyl: What percentage of the population is concerned about immigration in a way that's not necessarily racist?
Kaufmann: So what we know is that the proportion of wanting to reduce immigration as a majority in all western European countries..
Sharyl: You don't get that sense if you're watching the news or reading social media
Kaufmann: No, so there's two questions. One is: What proportion want less immigration? The second is how big an issue is it? So you want less immigration, but do you care more about healthcare or the economy or do you care more about immigration? What's happened in Europe since about 2012-13 is that the number of people saying “immigration is the number one issue facing my country,” that percentage has really risen. And when that percentage goes up, the populist right goes up. And in Europe, what we find again is with the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015, you had, you know, almost 40% of Europeans saying immigration is the number one issue. That was true also in Britain just prior to Brexit. So those conditions are ideal really for the populist right to do very well.
Sharyl: Is there a message in your book or did you try to leave with some sort of thought or overarching theme?
Kaufmann: I do think there will have to be some acknowledgement that a part of the population wants slower ethno-cultural change. Part of the population is happy with the current rate. There has to be an accommodation between these two. We can't have a situation where one side stigmatizes the other as racist and the other side stigmatizes the other as kind of traitors or unpatriotic or anywheres who don't care about their country or so called anywheres.
Sharyl: Looking at the next couple of years, do you see this as getting more fragmented and more polarizing or do you see more solutions?
Kaufmann: Unfortunately, I think that the drivers are towards polarization.. The problem I see is that the sort of progressive size response to the populism has been very negative and very much accusing this side of being racist, fascist, whatever, a threat to democracy. And that of course sets off this ratcheting spiral, one side accusing the other side, And I think it would just be better if each side could try and get inside the head of the other, so that we can move towards some kind of moderate medium position on this.
Sharyl: Think that'll happen?
Kaufmann: There's no signs so far. And, in a way, this is part of what my book’s trying to get at is to say, “Well, we're going to have to have some immigration. We're not going to have an open door.” So it's not about open versus closed. It's about how fast. We can’t go quite as fast as we would like and there has to be some slowing down of migration and change. And maybe a different narrative from the one that's just about diversity and change to one that's saying, “Okay, well, it's okay to identify with diversity and change, and it's okay to identify with stability and continuity. That's fine too. I think if we can get to that place, then we can start to sort of let some of the steam out of this debate.
Kaufman describes himself as a liberal and is himself an immigrant to the UK... He was born in Hong Kong, and raised in Japan and Canada.