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The Democrats Must Appeal To Rural Whites Without Abandoning Everyone Else

Yes, white people are important. No, they're not more important than minorities.
rural america

Matthew Yglesias takes aim at the renewed push for the Democratic Party to become more centered around white people because that's how Trump won:

For as long as I can remember, white male left-of-center intellectuals have made opposition to “identity politics” a core part of their identity. When the Democratic Party wins some elections, this opposition usually takes the form of dark warnings that “identity politics” constitutes a form of creeping totalitarianism, whereas when the Democratic Party loses an election, it takes the form of a dark warning that identity-based appeals are the cause of the loss.

This, sadly, is the kind of soft bigotry that was all too prevalent during the primaries. When you heard Bernie supporters, and Bernie himself, talk down at Southern red states going to Hillary Clinton, what they were (inadvertently) saying is that the Democratic voters in those states, overwhelmingly black, weren't as important as the white Democratic voters in blue states. Black voters heard that message loud and clear, helping Bernie lose the primary by 3 million votes.

Abandoning minority voters, or at least putting their concerns on the back burner, is tempting. Just look at what Donald Trump did by appealing only to white voters' "economic anxiety"! But that's a fundamental misreading of what happened in the election. Donald did not win by selling economic progress to the white electorate, he won it by selling permission to be racist to the white electorate.

A lot of people want very badly to settle on the "economic anxiety" story but, as discussed previously, it's just not true. That hasn't stopped the same (mostly white) liberals who were so contemptuous of the black vote from trying to push the narrative that we need to speak to the poor, oppressed white voter. It's all about the economic inequality afflicting them as opposed to the social and economic inequality affecting us all.

In other words, your social justice movements need to take a seat at the back of the bus.

To say this is a disastrously wrong-headed move is an understatement. First, if throwing marginalized groups under the bus is your idea of being progressive, there's a good chance you don't actually understand what being a progressive means. Second, as Yglesias explains, identity politics cannot be wished away, "People have identities, and people are mobilized politically around those identities. There is no other way to do politics than to do identity politics."

An example of how ignoring identity politics fails is Bernie's free college pitch. That sounds great to white Millennials in cities. They're facing huge college debt and would like very much to avoid it. But what does it say to black people living in severely economically depressed communities? Not much, really. They're too busy worrying about putting food on the table and not being beaten/arrested/killed with impunity by the police.

It also says little to nothing to white rural voters who are not interested in higher education. So even without the context of race, identity politics still matter. Quite a bit.

Going forward, the Democratic Party has to find a way to convince the white working class that they can fulfill their needs without rejecting the minority voting blocs that are just a decade or two away from parity with the white vote. Over the next four years, Republicans are going to explode the deficit, crash the economy and make things worse for the working class while blaming anyone with brown skin because that's what they always do. That's not a bug, it's a feature of their economic and political philosophy. That means the Democrats will have to sell their workable version of a better tomorrow in a way that overcomes the racial resentment baked into the white vote. No small order.

Hopefully, Trump's over the top racism will wear out its temporary welcome and white voters will remember that voting to destroy the economy just to spite Those People isn't really a smart strategy. In the meantime, Democrats have to refashion their message without going all in on whiteness. They'll never beat the GOP at its own game of mobilizing white resentment and minorities deserve a party that speaks to us all.