The Singapore Example and the Limits of Multiculturalism in America

“In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their [the British] system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore 1959-1990

 

The tiny island nation of Singapore, located between Malaysia and Indonesia, consistently ranks among the top 10 countries in development and economic strength, even beating out the US in some measurements. In less than 50 years, Singapore transformed from a third-world British colony and World War II conquest of Imperial Japan to a glistening, highly-developed economic giant. Singapore is one of the “Four Asian Tigers,” powerhouse Asian economies also including Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Singapore’s astonishing success has been the subject of many a book and white paper.

 

Lee Kuan Yew was independent Singapore’s first prime minister. He governed for three decades, and occupied various governmental and political positions afterward until his death in 2015. He governed in perpetual fear of the collapse of the society he had built, and believed to his death that his People’s Action Party (PAP), which still governs Singapore as a virtually one-party state, needed to rigidly maintain power and often suspend democratic norms in order to keep the society together. Lee was often condemned for autocratic rule and even human rights and press abuses.

 

What was it that Lee feared so much, causing him to govern this way? Identity politics.

 

In 1963, Singapore, still loosely under British control, merged with Malaysia due to strong ties between the two nations and the hope of economic benefits. However, the first year of the new union was marred by conflicts between Malaysia’s (the name of combined Malaysia and Singapore) dominant political party, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and Singapore’s PAP party, as well as deadly race rioting between Singapore’s Malay and Chinese populations. The central position of Malaysia’s prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and his party was the need to fight for the rights of ethnic Malays, including those in Singapore. In fact, from the outset of the union there was considerable concern that the inclusion of the Singaporean Chinese population would alter the ethnic proportions of the voting base upon which UMNO depended to maintain dominance. Lee Kuan Yew’s consistent theme, on the other hand, was that the new Malaysia needed enforced racial equality in order to survive. Lee held a meeting with prominent Singaporean Malay organizations and leaders to assure them they would not be discriminated against, but throughout 1964 Malaysia’s PM and UMNO politicos made multiple incendiary moves and statements that increased suspicion among Singaporean Malays toward the Singaporean Chinese population. Two sets of deadly race riots broke out in Singapore that year, and negotiations between UMNO and PAP on various issues were making little progress.

 

In 1965, less than two years after unification, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that Singapore needed to separate from Malaysia to avoid further conflicts. Negotiations to achieve this went on in secrecy between the two sides, with Lee Kuan Yew and other Singaporean officials negotiating with the Malaysian government after it was made clear there was no way Singapore would be allowed to remain in Malaysia. The move to separate Singapore from Malaysia required an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution in the Malaysian Parliament, and PM Abdul Rahman introduced a resolution on August 9, 1965, which was passed by a vote of 126-0. That day, Singapore became independent and Lee Kuan Yew gave an emotional speech explaining the break-up to the people of Singapore.

 

This is the only incident in modern history that I know of in which one country has been voted out of another against its wishes. While there were economic and political issues at play, it is inescapably clear the racial conflict was a linchpin in the desire of Malaysian leaders to expel Singapore. It was negotiated and communicated in ways that made it look like something other than an expulsion, but for all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it was since Singapore didn’t want to separate. The entire episode profoundly affected Lee Kuan Yew’s political philosophy and only further strengthened his belief that Singapore could not last as a multiracial society if identity politics were allowed. Being Chinese himself, he walked the talk by making English the official language of Singapore (to this day), not Chinese which was the language of the Chinese majority (although English was actually his first language). This move earned him many critics, but he believed that giving a clear demographic advantage to one group would eventually tear the country apart.

 

There were additional race riots in 1969, but over the next several decades Singapore grew into a peaceful and stable economic titan. The People’s Action Party maintained a veritable stranglehold on national politics, as it does to this day. However, Lee Kuan Yew’s quasi-autocratic methods and the PAP’s dominance are not the reason I write this essay.

 

Multiculturalism has probably never been a more hot-button issue in America than it is right now, and I don’t see it getting better any time soon. Lee Kuan Yew’s quote about people voting based on race and religion in a multiracial society has nary proven truer than in America today. Even the most novice student of politics understands which groups vote for which political parties, sometimes in staggeringly high proportions. Blacks and Hispanics vote heavily for the Democratic Party. Most whites vote Republican, although by a lesser volume. Even different Christian denominations tend to vote for different parties. Non-Hispanic immigrants are believed (the data is difficult to decode) to vote Democrat. Asians generally vote Democrat, although there is a growing trend among Indian Americans of voting Republican.

 

Democrats have aggressively courted the immigrant vote over the years, especially in the 2016 and now 2018 election cycles. The word “xenophobia” was practically unknown to the public until Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton popularized it to mean irrational fear of immigrants, using it to galvanize the Hispanic segment of the Democratic voting base. The Democrats have carefully constructed a constellation of various ethnic groups in order to counter the steadfast strength of conservative white voters. Never before the 2016 election have the charges of racism and other, similar forms of acrimony flown so freely across the airwaves, including Hillary essentially calling Donald Trump a racist during a presidential debate televised around the world when she condemned his “racist lie” that Obama wasn’t born in the US.

 

The Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauled the American immigration system by removing restrictions on national origin which had basically preferred European immigrants beforehand (think waves of German immigrants in the early 1900s). This change occurred during the height of the Civil Rights Movement era and was viewed as further dispelling racism in society. Although Senator Ted Kennedy assured the public that the bill would not substantially alter national demographics, that is what ended up happening.

 

But this essay is not about the past, it is about the future. Given the demographic changes in the US over the past 50 years and the ever-increasing tension in our society regarding race, immigration, and even religion, we must step back and look at the course we are on. How much worse will the tensions get? Is there a breaking point, and if so when is it? We’ve already seen race riots—those are nothing new. But could there be something more drastic ahead?

 

I’m of the belief that race matters way less than people think. Race is just the ways that some human bodies are different than others, but all are human bodies. Race obviously is most noticeable in the way someone looks as compared to someone else, but this is a surface level characteristic. What really matters is culture, and that’s why I titled this essay with “the Limits of Multiculturalism in America,” not “the Limits of Multiracialism in America.” Our policies toward multiculturalism are what will determine our national future probably more than anything else. Currently, we are doing an abysmal job of assimilating new immigrants. In fact, until this process is righted and strengthened, we should greatly reduce immigration because we’re accepting immigrants faster than we can assimilate them. Sure, we have a citizenship test, but that is laughably insufficient for assimilation. Since we have been doing such a poor job, we have become what some describe as a “tossed salad” instead the traditional metaphor of a “melting pot.” But unless you’re in an international airport, putting multiple distinct cultures with little to nothing in common next to each other tends to bring rivalries.

 

I say all this not because I dislike immigrants. It’s normal for a country to have an immigration policy, and every country has at least some immigration (beyond tourism). I’m pretty sure even North Korea has Chinese guest workers (could be wrong). But our system is out of control and we have no good method of assimilation. No other country except the currently beleaguered countries of Western Europe approach immigration this way. Other countries expect you to assimilate—to “become similar” to the population. Obviously you cannot racially assimilate, which is why this is not a racial issue. But you can culturally assimilate, and in other countries you are expected to do so. You are viewed as a guest in other countries, with a highly limited ability to make claims on your host country until you’re a citizen.

 

The Democrats have known for years that they are struggling to keep the white vote. There are multiple reasons for this, but one factor is the falling white birth rate. The Democrats know that the next generation will have fewer whites in proportion to other ethnicities, particularly Hispanic Americans. The black population has remained about the same proportion for years, and Asians, while a fast-growing population due to immigration, are still too small of a constituency for the Democrats to make much of a national appeal to. Their sights are firmly set on the Hispanic vote as the key to electoral dominance, which is why the Democrats fight any attempts to reduce either legal or illegal immigration. Additionally, most immigrants to America come from political traditions similar to the big-government policies espoused by the Democrats, which is another way they court the immigrant vote. The minimal-government model of our Constitution is a rare animal indeed, and were it strictly enforced there would be less draw for immigration because the government would be much smaller and could provide far fewer social services.

 

So where does all this lead? What I’m concerned about as a very real possibility is a future break-up of America along ethno-cultural lines. If, for example, the Mexican-American population becomes the majority in California, then California’s politicians could simply focus (openly) on appealing to Mexican-American concerns. Just like Malaysia’s UMNO party focused only on Malay issues, Democrats only need to pick the largest group and pander to them to stay in power.

 

Additionally, as long as the Democrats successfully conflate Trump’s tough stance on immigration with racism against Mexicans and others of Central American descent, he cannot effectively make an appeal, as Lee Kuan Yew did, for a multiracial society in which no race is given priority over another. Trump repeatedly emphasizes in his speeches that we are all Americans, not whatever the color of our skin is. He is right, and America’s experiment as a multiracial society can succeed, but only if we stop being such a multicultural one. Do I think Trump has some racist beliefs? He might. But what matters is how he governs, not what his inner beliefs are. The vision of America that he enunciates is one not of a country of “hyphenated Americans” but of all one people, known simply as Americans, no hyphens needed.

 

But imagine any one of the following scenarios. In the future, California secedes as a majority Mexican-American state that wants self-determination in accordance with its ethnic identity. I’m a big believer in self-determination and the right to secede, but although I wouldn’t miss uber-liberal California, I don’t want America to break up. Or if not California, maybe the same thing happens with Texas or a section of it. Perhaps California or part of Texas joins with Mexico, like Singapore joined with Malaysia. Or what if, a few decades from now, today’s minorities are large enough to create a permanent voting majority and dominate Congress? If they dominated Congress, could they vote out “white” parts of the country that resisted ethnic transformation out of the US, just as Malaysia expelled Singapore? Or what if the poor white regions like the Appalachian states were deemed a “drag” on the national economy while simultaneously accused of incurable racism? Or if they resisted affirmative action policies, which was another bone of contention between Malaysia and Singapore?

 

A staple of American consciousness is the belief that “it can’t happen here,” but to me, these scenarios are not as far-fetched as they sound. The Democrats are examples of politicians who will say or propose virtually anything to maintain power. They will always “go there,” wherever “there” is, if they think they’ll come out on top on Election Day. This is a sad state of affairs, because national preservation through a unifying culture, something even a country as tiny as Singapore knows is necessary for survival as a political unit, should always trump identity politics. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t care about healing old wounds; they’re only interested in winning, even if it means ripping off bandages (sometimes while calling it “healing”).

 

I write a lot about the need to not get upset about politics. I am not writing this essay to stir emotion. When I first read about Singapore’s history and how they were expelled from Malaysia because of, among other factors, racial tensions and bloodshed, I thought I might be seeing a future break-up scenario for America. I wanted to share this because too many people in politics today don’t have a long-term view with regards to immigration and culture, and don’t focus on what all other countries know—that a divided populace means a divided country, and sometimes that division becomes literal.

 

And if you were offended by this essay, I suggest reading the previous one about how to free your mind from political correctness.

 

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” – Lee Kuan Yew

 

Sources for Singapore history: Wikipedia and the National Library of Singapore website

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