For all the attention paid to the politics of the far right in the Trump era, the biggest shift in American politics is happening somewhere else entirely.
In the past five years, white liberals have moved so far to the left on questions of race and racism that they are now, on these issues, to the left of even the typical black voter.
This change amounts to a “Great Awokening” — comparable in some ways to the enormous religious fomentin the white North in the years before the American Civil War. It began roughly with the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, when activists took advantage of ubiquitous digital video and routine use of social media to expose a national audience in a visceral way to what otherwise might have been a routine local news story.
Yglesias explains that polling shows the shift began before Trump, around 2014 — and possibly earlier. It has almost entirely been about white Democrats moving sharply to the left. This is how far to the left they’ve moved:
Zach Goldberg, a doctoral candidate at Georgia State University, observes that on key measures of racial attitudes, white liberals’ opinion has moved to the left of where black and Latino opinions are. White liberals are now less likely than African Americans to say that black people should be able to get ahead without any special help.
White liberals also have warmer feelings about immigrants than Hispanics do.
And, critically, white liberals are much more enthusiastic about the idea that diversity makes the United States a better place to live than are blacks or Latinos. Non-liberal whites are least enthusiastic of all, which is not enormously surprising, but Latino views of this are closer to those of non-liberal whites than to white liberals.
Yglesias, you may know, is very much on the left, which is interesting to consider when you read this:
A big part of what Trump did in the 2016 campaign was simply increase the salience of racial conflict themes, thus boosting his appeal to white voters who may have previously backed Democrats on other grounds. But it’s crucial to understand that, in large part because of the Awokening, Trump is not to blame: Democrats themselves have moved the goalposts in terms of what kind of racial views one is expected to affirm as a good liberal.
The growing racial liberalism of rank-and-file white Democrats now has party leaders talking about “systemic racism” and sending strong signals to the party’s base about what kinds of attitudes are appropriate for Democrats to hold.
Yglesias points out that whatever happens in 2020, these trends are so deep and so strong that the Democratic Party will not be returning to the status quo. Eventually there will be a Democratic president, and that person will lead a party that will undertake massive changes to institute left-wing racial policies.
(And do I need to remind you that Millennials and Gen Z folks are far more liberal on these matters than us older voters?)
I have a few takeaways:
You can’t blame Trump.You can’t pin this entirely on Trump. As Yglesias said, Trump has both driven some of this and benefited from it, but it didn’t start with him. The shift started in the culture, and is being carried in part by social media, and by changing demographics.
- This dramatically alters the tribalist narrative. We’ve all been talking for some time about how American politics are becoming more tribal, including more racialized. Well, if you subscribe to that model, now you see that half the white tribe aligns itself with the interests of the non-white tribes — even more than the non-white tribes do.
- White liberals in authority are bound to be especially hostile to white conservatives. Anyone who knows about how social psychology works can predict this. Intra-group hostilities are often nastier than hostilities between the group and outsiders. As the Great Awokening proceeds, look for liberal whites who are vastly overrepresented in certain institutions — academia and media, for example — to become even angrier and more vengeful towards whites on the right.
- White conservatives need to start long-range planning for a country whose laws and institutions formally embrace discrimination in the name of social progress. To be woke means to discard the color-blind vision of America. Whenever the Republicans lose power in Washington, it is clear that the country is going to swing sharply to the left on racial policy — by popular demand — and that this swing is going to last a very long time. This is why it is important to get as many conservative judges into the federal judiciary as possible, while there is time: because they will soon be the only line of defense of a color-blind America.
- The Republican Party will face a difficult choice. Will it be a party that holds on to the color-blind line — that is, the classical liberal line — on race, or will it embrace white racial politics in the same way the Democrats are embracing anti-white racial politics? To be sure, the Democrats will surely deny that they’re doing that, but it’s hard to see what else one could call their renewed push for egalitarianism of outcome, at any price. True, Democrats might say that Republicans, by holding to the color-blind line, are really embracing pro-white racial politics under the cover of color-blind justice. I think that’s wrong, but that’s what they’ll say. Similarly, we will say they’re embracing anti-white racial politics, but they’ll counter by claiming no, they only have a different idea of justice. Whatever. The fact is, in the near future, the Republicans will become a far more race-conscious party in response to the moves of the dominant left. What is yet to be determined is if the GOP will openly abandon the principled color-blind center — in which no one on the left believes anymore — and become consciously a party of racial interest, or whether it will keep up appearances? Complicating this problem will be the fact that the news media, which shares the Democrats’ politics, will not question the new woke Democratic narrative that its policies are about nothing more than justice. The media will not point out the inherent anti-white racialization of Democratic politics, and will simultaneously be quick to call out any apparent pro-white racialization of Republican politics, even if they are direct responses to the same moves among the Democrats.
There are depressing times. Did you see this Modern Love column in The New York Times the other day? It was, by the way, an example of why conservatives need to read the Times for the same reason US Kremlin watchers needed to read Pravda: to understand the thinking of the Party. (This is a great example.) Anyway, the headline of the piece is: “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White.” The author is of Dominican heritage. Excerpt:
It’s been a year since I broke up with my girlfriend, and I haven’t told her the real reason. I talked around it, mumbling about how I was trying to figure out who I was or whatever. She didn’t understand. I’m not sure I do either. There was nothing wrong with her at all.
I don’t really know what my tipping point was. It just kind of happened. At 30, I woke up one day, took a deep breath, looked at her and thought, “I don’t think I can date white women anymore.”
Maybe I wouldn’t have broken up with her if it hadn’t been for all the judgment coming my way. Over the years I have dated brown women and black women, but mostly white women. I hadn’t thought about why that was, but when some brown and black people in my community started giving me a hard time about dating white women, I sensed they’d be happier if I stopped.
It’s actually an interesting piece. The writer describes feeling racial pressure from all sides, though the pressure he got from the whites seemed fairly benign, though discomfiting. He talks about the anti-black racism within his own family, and the pressure to “Pick a side, Chris, pick a side.” I’m glad the piece was published, because it’s really honest and human.
That said, it grieves me to see the old color-blind ideal collapsing, the one we’ve been working towards as a society since MLK. It’s the center around which we might unite this diverse and fissiparous country, and it is not holding — indeed, I’m hard pressed to say that it has held.
We try to hold on to it in our house. We talk about racism a fair amount with our kids, and we’ve told our kids that we don’t care about the color or ethnic background of anyone they date, as long as their potential mates are serious Christians and have good character. We have also told them not to put up with being made to feel that they are lesser people because of the color of their skin, and how, if it happens (as it did to me once, when I was denied a professional opportunity because of my race), not to let it embitter them, or to let it cause them to be resentful of other races (in fact, it was a white liberal publisher who denied me). It is encouraging to see that Americans are becoming more accepting of interracial pairings. But it is extremely discouraging to think that going forward, racial differences within US society are likely to become more of a flashpoint — and that the newly woke Left, not the resentful Right, is going to be leading the charge towards a more conflict-ridden society.
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R.:
I was visiting family in liberal, wealthy, white Ward 3 in D.C. over the weekend, and I was surprised to see how many homes have these “HATE HAS NO PLACE HERE” yard signs with lengthy lists of beliefs about women, LGBT people, immigrants, minorities, etc. I walked past a local chicken restaurant that had a similar manifesto taking up most of its storefront window. I thought: Why virtue-signal so damned hard when everyone here already agrees?
I got to see firsthand why the Wealthy White Woke are more progressive on black issues than black people, more pro-immigrant than Hispanics, etc: because they don’t know any.The only Hispanic people they know are their maids and landscapers. The only black people they know are parents at their kids’ school who come from the African elite and work at an embassy or the World Bank. They sure don’t know any poor people: they’ve been resisting an effort to build a very small temporary shelter for homeless families in their neighborhood, even though the place would be literally right next to a police station.
I’d like to hear more about what minorities in America actually want, because they’re almost impossible to hear over the din of Wealthy White Wokeness. It’s blatantly a cover for the most privileged and powerful, and I suspect it’s distorting the real desires of minorities by giving platforms to a fringe of passionate activists rather than normal people who just want to live their lives.