A few years ago, Robert Putnam, a liberal sociologist, reported this finding: As racial and ethnic diversity increases, social trust and cohesion plummets. "Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer," Putnam found. "People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' -- that is, to pull in like a turtle."
The villain isn't racism or bigotry or anything so simple. The phenomenon is much more complex. Indeed, it's not clear why this happens, but it's clear that it does. Economic inequality and cultural attitudes do not matter much. "Americans raised in the 1970s," Putnam writes, "seem fully as unnerved by diversity as those raised in the 1920s."
Part of the explanation stems from the fact that people with shared experiences and cultures draw strength from working together, whereas with strangers, language often becomes guarded, intentions questioned.
The GOP is not a Christian club, but there's no disputing that Christianity is a major source of strength and inspiration for many Republican activists. This is nothing new and, generally speaking, there's nothing wrong with this. The abolitionist, progressive and civil rights movements were all significantly powered by Christian faith.
As someone who's long argued for theological pluralism and moral consensus on the right, it strikes me as nuts for the GOP not to do better with Asian Americans, particularly given how little religion has to do with the policy priorities of the day.
Twenty years ago, conservatives started referring to Judeo-Christian values in an effort to be more inclusive. The challenge now is to figure out how to talk in a way that doesn't cause decent and dedicated Christians to pull in like a turtle, while also appealing to non-Judeo-Christians and the nonreligious. That'll be hard, requiring more than name-dropping Confucius or Krishna.