In Vox, Matthew Yglesias comes around to largely agreeing with my interpretation of politics since c. 2012-2014: it’s driven by Democrats becoming more extremist on race. But, to Yglesias, that’s more or less a Good Thing. Or, to be precise, he subtly suggests he has some trepidations, but to spell them out would get him stomped by his own side, so whaddaya whaddaya?
A hidden shift is revolutionizing American racial politics — and could transform the future of the Democratic Party.
By Matthew Yglesias on April 1, 2019 9:25 am
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 foment in 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.
Of course, it turned out that The Establishment’s Ferguson Narrative was something between a Hate Hallucination and a Hate Hoax, but …
“If there had been no Twitter or Facebook,” Columbia University’s John McWhorter, an early and somewhat skeptical observer of the Awokening, tells me, “Trayvon [Martin] and Mike Brown would have had about as much impact on white thought as, say, Amadou Diallo did.”
A big part of what happened is that White Progressive Twitter assumed it must take the accuracy of Black Twitter about Trayvon and Michael Brown on faith — If you can’t trust random black people on the Internet to get the story straight, who can you trust? — which twice turned out to be a disastrous mistake.
But of course the complicity of the Obama Administration working with the tame Respectable Media in all this can’t be overlooked either.
Pollsters began to see a rapid, sustained change. White Democrats suddenly started expressing dramatically higher levels of concern about racial inequality and discrimination, while showing greater enthusiasm for racial diversity and immigration. (While political disputes around race are often found under the same umbrella as gender and sexual orientation, where attitudes are also shifting, the relatively recent, relatively sudden change that constitutes the Great Awokening is fundamentally about race and its relationship to national identity.)
There’s also a certain paradox to the Awokening. As white liberals became more vocal about racial inequality, more racially conservative Democrats left the party and helped power Donald Trump’s electoral victory. This backlash gives the impression that there’s a surging tide of white racism in America.
… But the fundamental reality is that the Awokening has inspired a large minority of white Americans to begin regarding systemic racial discrimination as a fundamental problem in American life — opening up the prospects of sweeping policy change when the newly invigorated anti-racist coalition does come to power.
After all, no other explanation for the continuing failures of black people — whether getting into Stuyvesant HS or the murder of Nipsey Hussle — than the systemic evilness of white people is conceivable. That’s Science!
What? You are saying that evil White Nationalists like Charles Murray have collected data pointing to an alternative explanation? Well, that just proves the scientific evilness of whites.
While opinion on LGBTQ issues has been evolving in a broad, steady manner for years, the shift on racial thinking that constitutes the Great Awokening is of more recent vintage. Trump’s presidency itself is probably a driver of this, since there is a tendency well-known to political scientists for public opinion to move in the opposite direction of the person who occupies the White House.
The change, however, appears to predate Trump and, in fact, to have relatively little to do with the calendar of presidential politics. Instead, polling from the Pew Center shows that as late as 2014, most Americans believed there was no longer any need for the country to make changes to address black-white inequality.
Consequently, few people believed discrimination was the main barrier to black upward mobility. These numbers then started to change rapidly, with the shift driven overwhelmingly by a change in the views of self-identified Democrats.
I call this the growing antiquarianism of the conventional wisdom: New Deal Redlining! Emmett Till! Liberals used to be obsessed with how everything changed in The Sixties, but now their leading intellectual, Ta-Nehesi Coates, can’t remember much that has happened since Emmett Till: All Is Fog.
The timing of this change suggests that the Ferguson protests were a key flashpoint in changing thinking about the discrimination issue. But Brian Schaffner, a Tufts University political scientist, says the beginnings of the shift were visible even during Barack Obama’s first term.
“I don’t think it’s just a reaction to events,” Schaffner says. Rather, “even prior to Ferguson, people take cues from elites,” and Democratic elites were beginning to signal to the rank and file that they should take systemic racism concerns more seriously.
Who could have predicted that after Obama’s 2012 re-election, his administration would start pushing the pedal to the metal on racial resentment?
Obama’s 2012 observation that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” is just one small example of how elite actors have helped push a shift in whites’ perception of race. And the shift, once underway, became mutually reinforcing. Liberal white audiences became increasingly interested in black intellectuals’ conceptions of race and racism in America. Back in April 2015, the social justice group Race Forward produced a series of videos starring Jay Smooth trying to explain the concept of “systemic racism” to a mass audience. Hillary Clinton used the term in a February 2016 speech.
Trump, of course, responded to this with his own racial discourse bringing white identity politics into play in a more explicit way than had been seen in a generation or two. But that evolution was two-sided.
In other words, Democrats were the aggressors, and some (but hardly all) Republicans responded with intellectual self-defense.
Schaffner observes that “Clinton talked a lot more about racial justice issues during the 2016 campaign than Obama did during his campaigns” — further priming the minority of white Americans who supported her to adopt a more sweeping view of racial justice. …
The extent to which that model has become mainstream among Democratic Party leaders is now evident. …
At roughly the same time, there has been a large increase in the number of Americans who express positive attitudes about immigration — driven almost entirely by shifting views of Democrats.
The sheer scale of this change is far too large to have been caused by the much-discussed rising Latino share of the electorate.
It’s almost as if the party that benefits from importing ringers to vote for it has decided that importing ringers to vote for it Is Who We Are.
The biggest change in attitudes on race has been most pronounced among white Democrats.
Opinion leaders often miss the scale and recency of these changes because progressive elites have espoused racial liberalism for a long time. Sean McElwee, of the left-wing policy organization Data for Progress, did an analysis of General Social Survey data, which shows that throughout the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s, most white Democrats thought African Americans’ lack of individual initiative was the main source of racial inequality in America.
The notion that Obama’s ascension to the presidency would usher in a “post-racial” era of American life, of course, proved false. And not just because of a white backlash to his administration or to the growing diversity of the American population, but because white Democrats dramatically shifted their views of the centrality of racial discrimination in American life after the election of a black man to the highest office in the land.
It’s almost as if as nonwhites become more powerful, more whites endorse the narrative of nonwhite powerlessness. (It might be interesting for somebody to do a Foucault-style analysis of white postmodernists’ shifting responses to shifts in power.)
Some of this is a compositional effect. As Obama pushed racially conservative whites out of the Democratic Party, the remaining Democrats are more racially liberal. But using Voter Study Group data, McElwee is able to show that people who consistently self-identified as Democrats changed their views between 2011 and 2016.
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.
The Awokening has driven big platform shifts
Back in 1996, the Democratic Party platform read like something out of a Trump campaign ad.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the shift, however, is the completely upturned politics of reparations….
And much more. You can read it there.