In the thread the other day on race, class, and the Trump voter, some commenters were talking about Europe manages these issues better than we do. Others rightfully disagreed. Take Denmark, which is happy to have a nice liberal welfare state so long as there aren’t too many brown people around.
Yet many Danes I talked to are less concerned about terrorism than about the threat they see Muslims posing to their way of life. Though Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population, there is growing evidence that many of the new arrivals fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish, and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society. In 2010, the Danish government introduced a “ghetto list” of such marginalized places with the goal of “reintegrating” them; the list now includes more than thirty neighborhoods.
Popular fears that the refugee crisis could overwhelm the Danish welfare state have sometimes surprised the country’s own leadership. On December 3, in a major defeat for the government, a clear majority of Danes—53 percent—rejected a referendum on closer security cooperation with the European Union. Until now, Denmark has been only a partial EU member—for example, it does not belong to the euro and has not joined EU protocols on citizenship and legal affairs. In view of the growing threat of jihadism, both the government and the opposition Social Democrats hoped to integrate the country fully into European policing and counterterrorism efforts. But the “no” vote, which was supported by the Danish People’s Party, was driven by fears that such a move could also give Brussels influence over Denmark’s refugee and immigration policies.
The outcome of the referendum has ominous implications for the European Union at a time when emergency border controls in numerous countries—including Germany and Sweden as well as Denmark—have put in doubt the Schengen system of open borders inside the EU. In Denmark itself, the referendum has forced both the Liberals and the Social Democrats to continue moving closer to the populist right. In November, Martin Henriksen, the Danish People’s Party spokesman on refugees and immigration, told Politiken, the country’s leading newspaper, “There is a contest on to see who can match the Danish People’s Party on immigration matters, and I hope that more parties will participate.”
All these discussions of “Danish values” and the like are not that different than the fears of multiculturalism, diversity, and racial identity that are motivating many white American voters. The major difference seems to be that the Trump voter is seen as an idiot and yokel is probably missing teeth while the Danish anti-immigrant voter is seen as more class-respectable. But then Denmark seems to have adjusted better to the globalized economy with high rates of capital mobility thanks to that welfare state, and thus the economic desperation also driving white people toward a Trump vote isn’t nearly as profound there. Rather, in Denmark, the unemployed are also the immigrants.