The first reverberations from the Paris attacks into the U.S. presidential campaign have focused on how to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But the terrorism is also pouring gasoline on the arguments already blazing over America’s identity in a time of rapid demographic change.
Even before Paris heightened fears of homegrown or imported terrorists, the 2016 election campaign had raised a series of issues that explosively mix national security with America’s changing racial and ethnic composition.
Illegal immigration, the debate over policing practices sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the uproar over admitting Syrian refugees have all divided the political parties along consistent lines. On each front, Democrats argue that inclusion and sensitivity to minority concerns will advance America’s values and interests. Republicans are warning that these Democratic priorities threaten public order and safety, and are raising those alarms in language that many whites may hear as promises to push their concerns to the fore.
These three issues—illegal immigration, policing, and Syrian refugees—raise distinct policy questions. But each connects through the same high-voltage current. On all of them, the conservative case implicitly presents a dynamic in which more diversity means less security. That contrasts starkly with Democrats, from President Obama down, who defend more diversity as a source of national strength.