Despite their ranks being decimated at nearly every level of government some true-believing Democrats continue to believe they are the “coalition of their ascendant.” Their thinking is that they are forming a coalition centered on millennials, minorities and socially liberal whites, each of which is a growing demographic group. Although Democrats are losing now, these ascendant groups will grow in size and strength and eventually will tip the scales in favor of a “permanent majority.”
This thinking appears to be hopelessly simplistic. As John Judis, the intellectual godfather of this theory, writes in the New Republic:
On one level, there’s no arguing with the math. If you take the percentage of Americans that the U.S. census defines as “minorities” and project their past voting habits into the next decade and beyond, you’ll come up with a very sunny version of the Democrats’ prospects. There are only two problems with this line of thinking, but they’re pretty big ones. For starters, the census prediction of a “majority-minority” America—slated to arrive in 2044—is deeply flawed. And so is the notion that ethnic minorities will always and forever continue to back Democrats in Obama-like numbers.
The deep flaw is the U.S. census’ flawed assumption that ethnic identities are stagnant, i.e. that someone who currently identifies as “Latino” will continue to do so in future generations. In reality, history shows that ethnic identities are fluid, especially as increasing amounts of time pass.
“Unless ethnic identification is defined in purely racial—and racist—terms, the census projects are straight-out wrong and profoundly misleading,” Judis writes. “So is the assumption that Asians and Latinos will continue to vote at an overwhelming clip for Democrats.”
The problem is that Democrats, either knowingly or unwittingly, have been building a political strategy on top of a foundation that defines ethnic identities in racial terms.
It’s an intentionally divisive strategy, one that intentionally dissolves any social solidarity in order to highlight the perception of an unjust hierarchy. Rather than unite behind shared principles, which naturally foster broad-based sympathy and empathy, they slice and dice society based on perceived slights. In so doing they bestow what Damon Linker has described as “counter status, earning the special privilege of getting to demand that those lower in the pecking order “check their privilege.”
The result is that everyone is left in a perpetual state of agitation. The concept of society no longer exists, replaced by a ever-smaller factions who are jockeying for position in what has been determined to be a zero-sum game. But ironically, the nature of identity politics and intersectionality suggests that as groups are displaced in the social hierarchy, they then, via their newly aggrieved state, become worthy of political consideration. Reaction. Response. Repeat.
And nowhere in that jockeying for position is there room for policy debates. When every ounce of political energy is spent identifying what separates groups, there is nothing left to devote to identifying unifying issues that motivate the electorate, there is no oxygen left in the room to make a broader economic argument. Ultimately, that is Judis’ point.
This thinking runs contrary to the “race-conscious” strategy touted by Democrats who believe that a majority-minority nation is a guarantee of victory. Sorry to say, but it’s not going to happen. The best way for Democrats to build a lasting majority is to fight for an agenda of shared prosperity that has the power to unite, rather than divide, their natural constituencies. There is no need, in short, for Democrats to choose between appealing to white workers and courting people of color. By making a strong and effective case for economic justice, they can do both at the same time.
They could, but they won’t. Liberals’ knee-jerk, often irrational response to President Trump has pushed them further away from policy discussions and more toward balkanizing racial debates. As a result, they’re winning the battle in the media, but losing—badly—the hearts and minds of Americans, who have felt left out of the new economy and are searching for solidarity, community and progress.
Democrats intentional abstention from the national policy debate gives Republican a tremendous opportunity to offer Americans a positive, unifying agenda. It’s up to us to deliver.