Fear, in essence, begets fear. The loss of a job, or the worry that one might be lost, raises anxiety. This often plays out as increased suspicion of people who look different or come from different places. While times of robust growth and shared prosperity inspire feelings of interconnectedness and mutual gain, in times of worry, the picture quickly reverses. Views of the world turn zero-sum: If he wins, what do I lose? Any kind of change looks like decline -- the end of a "way of life."
One of the striking things about this particular shift is how quickly it has come about. Many expected racial tension during the 2008 presidential campaign, but it barely materialized. However, as unemployment and foreclosures have increased in the years since, so have trivial, race-based controversies, such as those surrounding the New Black Panther Party and Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod.
White conservatives are the only ones being accused of being suspicious of or hating foreigners, so how does the recession affect liberals, blacks, Asians, Latinos, socialists, recent immigrants from Hungary and others who aren't conservative and don't have white skin, but are Americans nonetheless concerned about and affected by the economy? Does this economic phenomenon affect only white conservatives? If not, then how does it affect white liberals out of work -- do they fear Muslims and blacks and browns and yellows? Does the socialist fear the moderate Democrats who are Latinos? How does this all work? Does the black liberal fear the Muslims or the white socialists? Yglesias must mean that a down economy generates racism only in white conservatives. That's a strange theory -- I didn't know racism was economy-dependent and only infects the hearts and minds of white conservatives when unemployment is high.