Hello, 21st Century Yellow Peril

10/29/2010 04:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

First a black President, next the Chinese overlords.

Last week, a conservative organization called Citizens Against Government Waste unveiled "Chinese Professor," a peculiar attack ad shot almost entirely in Mandarin with subtitles.

The commercial, set in "Beijing, China 2030 A.D.," depicts a futuristic American dystopia where, as a cocky economics professor explains, the United States has fallen victim to a brilliant Chinese plot to erode American sovereignty -- a fear all too familiar for the majority of Republicans who aren't convinced Obama didn't forge his birth certificate.

"Why do great nations fail?" the Mandarin-speaking professor asks. "The Ancient Greeks... the Roman Empire... the British Empire... and the United States of America." Spooky, right?

"America tried to spend and tax itself out of a great recession," the professor continues. "Of course, we owned most of their debt."

Then a sinister laugh, a smirk into the camera: "So now they work for us."

Dun, dun, dun! And the students go wild.

The anti-Obama coalition, no strangers to fear-mongering, have outdone themselves. For the sake of a Congressional majority, the conservative movement in America has exploited the anxieties of white people who cannot cope with the changing demographics of their country.

There is now, in the minds of many, an established correlation between the decline in prominence of (white) America and the rise in prominence of (yellow) China.

Hello, 21st-century Yellow Peril.

The facts: By 2012, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority for the first time in U.S. history. As early as 2030, China is projected to overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world. By 2042, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, people of color will account for a majority of the U.S. population.

Indeed, the demographics are shifting everywhere but in the Republican Party. The political right -- particularly the Tea Party, where nine in 10 are white, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll -- is the last refuge of the much-romanticized white America of yore.

This misplaced nostalgia does little for the fearful white person but put him out of step with 21st-century America. If it had been up to white men, for example, Sarah Palin would be in the White House.

Just in this election cycle, another conservative group sent out robo-calls to Michigan residents warning about a vague but terrifying "homosexual agenda." Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle ran a highly controversial ad where scowling Hispanic-looking people take university spots from cheery white kids.

Nor is it the first appeal to Yellow Peril: at least half a dozen other ads have run, many featuring gong-hits and cheesy Chinese string music, accusing Democrats of giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs to China -- a practice that the Democratic President has fought with congress to end -- without support from Republicans.

But the "Chinese Professor" ad is still a watershed moment. It takes xenophobia from dirty backwater politics to front-and-center of the 2010 Republican ideological platform. If there is anything positive to come from the ad, it is the YouTube parody videos are already surfacing.

One begins with alternate subtitles: "So I was told I'd be speaking to Latinos, but you look Asian to me" -- borrowed near-verbatim from Senate hopeful Angle speaking to a classroom of Hispanic students earlier this month. Another: "Yo. I am the Evil Chinese Professor."

One hopes more moderate thinkers use their humor to combat conservative fear. For every Republican rallying to restore fear, let another thoughtful American join the Stephen Colbert March to Keep Fear Alive. It's better than empathy.

The Republicans of fear are engaging in a futile struggle against the tides of change. Statistically speaking, their disproportionate dominance of America is coming to a close. But until then, Republicans are afraid enough to go to the polls next Tuesday and vote against their own better interests -- unless they are among the richest few percent of the population who might actually benefit.

On the other hand, if predictions are correct, young people and people of color won't bother to vote on Tuesday, despite the fact that minimizing Republican wins is directly to their advantage. And that self-defeating apathy is something that's really worth being afraid of.