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  • Race, Populism, and Immigration: The Transactional Partiality Problem

    Rebecca H. Smith

    Chapter from the book: Whyte, A et al. 2024. The Long Walk to Equality: Perspectives on Racial Inequality, Injustice and the Law.


    This chapter analyses the phenomenon of ‘transactional partiality’ in populist political ideologies. Using the recent Trump Presidential Administration in the US as illustrative, the chapter suggests that the term transactional partiality may be used as a way of describing the rise in tolerance of racial injustices as a price willing to be paid in return for the promise of political action on specific, single-issue, partial beliefs, e.g., bringing manufacturing jobs back to the Mid-West; protecting Second Amendment gun ownership rights; strengthening immigration laws; or repealing access to abortion under Roe v Wade. The idea of transactional partiality suggests that as long as populist political voters secure one or more of these deeply held, partial interests they then become willing to overlook serious political injustices elsewhere, e.g., family border separations; increased police brutality against vulnerable ethnic minorities; and unacceptable racial slurs in political speech. The chapter puts forward a Rawlsian critique of the legitimacy of partial self-interest in political voting on the grounds that it illegitimately trades-off competing individual claims which ought to be kept morally discrete. It concludes by arguing that the real problem with populist political ideologies could therefore be described as one of a failure in moral reasoning.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Smith, R. 2024. Race, Populism, and Immigration: The Transactional Partiality Problem. In: Whyte, A et al (eds.), The Long Walk to Equality. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book63.i

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    Published on Feb. 20, 2024