Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Good Politics Can Be Smart Politics

As a scholar of ethnic outbidding, where politicians compete for the loyalty of a single group leading to ever more extreme promises to help that group against all others, I have found some solace lately.  The multi-group party facing the single group party often faces difficult temptations and stresses as appealing to many groups may lead to losing the support of the one larger group.

I could be speaking of India right now--the Hindu nationalist party competing against a multiethnic party. But, no, I am speaking of the US--the GOP having been so focused on white voters, while the Democrats have managed to keep together a multi-ethnic constituency.  This election has made this more obvious than ever, as we have one candidate who has been embraced most visibly by white supremacists.

What have the Democrats been doing?  Embracing pretty much everyone.  This is the right thing to do from a moral stance--that exclusion and alienation are simply wrong.  Being able to get votes from multiple groups is a sign of being better than a party that can only appeal to one group.  In this election, non-white groups that have vote for Republicans are tending to vote Democratic this time.  Asian-Americans have often voted GOP, but not for this white supremacist.  Latinos used to be divided, in part because Cuban-Americans were fiercely anti-communist, but most will vote for the Democrats this time.

The ads of the Democrats are so striking--with not just African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans but also LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and, most notably, Muslims Americans.  The Democrats are running directly against the wave of Islamophobia.  I have seen no fancy triangulating like Bill Clinton did back in 1992, who criticized a famous rapper (Sister Souljah) to prove to whites that he was not too sympathetic to African-Americans.

To be clear, it is easier for Hillary Clinton than for Bill Clinton to focus on minorities without qualification as the demographics have changed.  It is smart politics to appeal to those who have been targeted by Trump and the GOP.  But it is also the right thing to do.  I saw an ad this morning that was focused on the Democrats and what they (we) stand for.  And it is damned moving:

The party does not always live up to the ideals espoused here, of course.  But note who appears: Muslim-Americans, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ.  It would be easy and wrong to run away from these groups, to distance, to equivocate.  Instead, they are embraced. 

Which makes me both a proud Democrat and a happy scholar of ethnic conflict.  Why?  Fighting ethnic outbidding is hard but very necessary as it can destroy societies.  The GOP keeps learning the same lesson--that they need to change if they want to win the Presidency.  But change is hard so it will take another loss or two or three for the Republican Party to sincerely reach out beyond white people.  In the meantime, the Democrats can win elections by doing what is right and what is smart.  Stronger together? Indeed.

No comments: