A New Left Majority Is Possible,... Maybe

Can a new left majority arise from the 2016 Presidential Election, the oligarch and alt-right takeover of our government, and the chaos of the Trump Administration?

The country is in the midst of its most turbulent period since the Vietnam War, Watergate and the “rights” movements of the 1960s. This post is partly inspired by events from yesterday. Saturday afternoon, anti-Fascist protesters clashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, with Fascists – partly emboldened by the Trump presidency – who had organized a demonstration to protest the planned removal of a statue honoring the leader of the Confederate army, General Robert E. Lee.

I was shocked by yesterday, and like most people in America and around the world, I am still in shock that Donald Trump was able to defeat Hillary Clinton to become the nation’s 45th President.

Trump is, without a doubt, the most unfit person to win the White House in modern times and is perhaps the least prepared leader the nation has ever seen. In addition to being unfit to lead, a megalomaniac and a pathological liar, the President is a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and authoritarian.

A new left majority is possible. For it to happen, people of color will need to lead a takeover of one of the two major political parties.

Given that elections for national office are winner-take-all, our political system favors the two dominant political parties, Democrats and Republicans. One of the two political parties must be taken over by a left majority in order to seize political power. While elected officials in both political parties are beholden to their corporate and uber-rich benefactors, the Republican Party has shifted so far to the extreme right that it cannot be seriously considered for a takeover led by people of color.

It will not be easy, but, a left takeover of the Democratic Party is a possibility for at least 3 reason.

Demographic Changes

The Republican Party is a mostly white political party. Non-Hispanic whites account for roughly 90 percent of Republican self-identifiers. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is much more racially diverse. About 4 out of 10 people who identify themselves as Democrats are people of color. More than one-fifth of Democratic self-identifiers are black.

The potential leverage people of color have within the Democratic Party is that Democrats are not likely to win the presidency or regain control of Congress without the enthusiastic support of people of color, especially black voters. The reason for this is because the Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging whites for close to five decades now. "There goes the South for a generation," President Lyndon Johnson is said to have predicted while signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. Johnson was wrong. It has actually been two generations and counting.

The Democrats need people of color to win. The last time the percentage of the white vote earned by a Democrat exceeded 50 percent was 1964. According to national exit polls, Barack Obama won the White House in 2008 with 43 percent of the white vote. In 2012, he won with 39 percent of the white vote. Had there not been record turn out by blacks and other people color, Barack Obama would not have won the White House in either 2008 or 2012.

According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won just 37 percent of the white vote. Clinton’s campaign was doomed in part by a smaller turnout of people of color for her (she did worse among black, Latino and Asian voters than did Obama). In addition to a smaller than expected growth in turnout by Latino voters, her hopes were dashed by lower than expected turnout by blacks. Some 12 percent of the electorate was black in 2016 compared to 13 percent in 2012.

As people of color become an even larger share of the nation’s population, whites will account for a smaller share of the total electorate. With the browning of the country, for Democrats if they want to win national offices and especially the presidency, capturing the votes of people of color will become even more important in the future than it is today.

The Billionaire Class Grip on the Republican Party 

Members of both political parties are shills loyal to the billionaire class because they depend on them for campaign dollars. The donor class has a tighter grip on the Republican Party and has pushed it to the extreme right. As a consequence, the leaders of the GOP seem hell bent on destroying our nation’s institutions, or at a minimum, change them so radically that they became shadows of their former selves. If they succeed with their right-wing agenda, they will greatly limit the power of organized labor, suppress the voting rights of people of color through procedures such as photo ID and proof of citizenship, roll back regulations on corporations and the financial sector, shift the tax burden from the rich on to the less well-off, gut the social safety net, and continue to deny the science behind climate change and global warming.

The donor class has a tight grip on Democrats also, but, working to transform the Democratic Party makes a lot more sense given that the party has been a more reliable ally on a range of issues important to people of color, including support for social welfare spending, investments in the nation’s infrastructure, and the expansion and protection of civil and voting rights.

People of Color are Progressives

Public opinion polls show that when it comes to support for programs and policies that promote social and economic justice, blacks are the most politically progressive group in the country and Latinos are not that far behind. Both groups are to the left of most whites, especially when it comes to support for policies that promote racial equality like affirmative action and policies that promote economic equality such as a guaranteed minimum income. By comparison, a large number of whites believe that social welfare programs do not benefit them directly and yet they are made to pay for them. A majority of whites also believe that they now face the most racial discrimination in society, and that programs designed to promote racial and ethnic equality are simply forms of reverse discrimination in which people of color benefit at the expense of whites.

As people of color continue to become a larger portion of the nation’s population, the electorate, and a larger share of the base of the Democratic Party, the pressure for the party to be politically progressive and move further to the left will increase.

Of course, the Democrats can move in the opposite direction. But, the only way they can win the support of, for example, working-and lower-middle class whites seduced by Donald Trump’s Make America Great white identity movement is to shed its “image” as a party that favors the protection of the rights of marginalized groups and the expansion of social safety net programs like Obamacare that disproportionately improves the socioeconomic wellbeing of people of color. This kind of shift would be disastrous for the party. People of color would abandon them, and there is no guarantee enough whites would support the Democratic Party brand to make up for the loss of support by blacks and Latinos.

The results of the 2016 Presidential Election, the chaos of the Trump Administration, and the events of yesterday should leave no doubt about the need for a new left majority as an organized progressive force to take over the Democratic Party and put this country on a different course than the one it is currently on.


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