Liberals Need to Be Lincolnesque In Our Latest Race War

Seven years ago I wrote a piece for Democracy about where political trends would take us by 2024. Here’s one bit:

Trend #5: The Republican Party will continue to become ever more dependent on the white vote, while the Democratic Party will depend ever more on minorities.

….So what does this all mean? One: Certain aspects of the culture wars will heat up. In particular, thanks to the increasingly polarized demographics of the two main political parties, fights over immigration and race may well be even more acrimonious than they are today.

That’s all I said in that particular piece, but in other posts where I had more space I still mostly failed to grapple with the obvious conclusion of my own reasoning. I figured there was a limit to what Republicans could do. They could pack-and-crack congressional districts. They could squeeze a little more turnout out of evangelicals and older whites. Fox News could run its endless “scary black folks” segments. State legislatures could pass photo ID laws designed to suppress black voter turnout.

But they were running out of options. The last item in that list is a good example of what influenced my thinking. The truth is that photo ID laws have only a tiny influence on presidential elections. It turns out that most people who lack photo IDs aren’t likely to vote in the first place, and loud pushback from liberals offset some of the losses anyway. What’s more, photo ID laws were passed only in states with total Republican control, and by definition those are states that are mostly safe Republican havens to start with. The fact that Republicans put so much energy into this project only showed how desperate they were. There just wasn’t much left for them to do in the face of demographic changes that were reducing the size of their white base by a point or two every election cycle.

For what it’s worth, this was mostly the conclusion of Republicans themselves, too. The famous post-election autopsy written by the Republican National Committee after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, said this:

In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white….According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country….The Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.

But there was always a glaring problem with this strategy, one that everybody was keenly aware of: reaching out to black voters would only work if Republicans also ceased their tolerance of white bigotry. In other words, they’d almost certainly lose votes on a net basis at first, which would mean handing over the presidency—and maybe much more—to Democrats for upwards of a decade or so. That’s just too big a sacrifice for any political party to make.

So instead they took another route: they went after the white vote even harder. In Donald Trump they found a candidate who wasn’t afraid to appeal to racist sentiment loudly and bluntly, something that simply hadn’t occurred to other Republicans. They never thought they could get away with something like this in the 21st century, and normally they would have been right: it would have lost them as many votes among educated whites as it won them among working-class whites. But after eight years of a black president in the White House, racial tensions were ratcheted up just enough that Trump could get away with it. Only by a hair, and only with plenty of other help, but he did get away with it, losing 10 points of support among college-educated whites but gaining 14 points among working-class whites.

The entire Republican Party is now all-in on this strategy. They mostly stay quiet themselves and let Trump himself do the dirty work, but that’s enough. Nobody talks anymore about reaching out to the black community with a spirit of caring or any other spirit. Nor is there anything the rest of us can do about this. Republicans believe that wrecking the fabric of the country is their only hope of staying in power, and they’re right. If working-class whites abandon them even a little bit, they’re toast.

So all we can do is try to crush the Republican Party at the ballot box. What other options are there? Reactionary American whites, as always, won’t give up their power unless it’s taken from them by either a literal or figurative war. Liberals need to be as Lincolnesque¹ as possible in this endeavor—we don’t have to win the votes of unrepentent bigots, just the fretful fence-sitters—but we also need to be Lincolnesque² in our commitment to winning the Trump-inspired race war we’re now in the middle of.

¹That is, with malice toward none and charity for all.

²That is, with an iron determination to win.

UPDATE: I’ve made a couple of very slight wording changes to the last paragraph, just to make it absolutely clear what I mean here.

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