Race, Culture and Ideology

In a review of the book The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump,” Paul Rosen writes:

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz argues that Trump is the product of an ongoing multigenerational process that has reshaped American politics. In this view, Trump is a striking result of that process, but not a departure from what’s been happening for some time — and will likely continue along similar lines after he’s gone.

Most fundamentally, Abramowitz argues that the New Deal coalition “based on three major pillars: the white South, the heavily unionized northern white working class, and northern white ethnics” was eroded by post-World War II changes that have transformed American society. Those resenting the changes have become increasingly Republican, those welcoming them, increasingly Democratic:

This transformation has included the civil rights revolution, the expansion of the regulatory and welfare state that was first created during the New Deal era, large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia, the changing role of women, the changing structure of the American family, the women’s rights and gay rights movements, and changing religious beliefs and practices.

Three cleavages were most prominent in this process — race, culture and ideology — but they each had their own trajectories as well as interactions with the nation’s political geography.

You explain partisan polarization in terms of three main divides: racial, cultural and ideological, with the racial divide being the most important. What’s most important about the trajectory of change they’ve gone through, and what’s the most striking evidence to illuminate it?

I’d say what is most striking about the trajectory of change is that, at least with regard to the first two trends, they are driven by forces that seem likely to continue for some time. In the case of the racial divide, we know that the population, and therefore the electorate, will become increasingly diverse for decades. This is driven by the effects of differential fertility rates as well as immigration. As diversity increases, it is also almost inevitable that so will the negative reaction among a large segment of the white electorate.

With regard to the cultural divide, I see it likely to grow for some time due to the deep generational divide within the electorate. Young people in the U.S. are much less likely to be white and Christian than older people. So generational replacement will inevitably increase the proportion of the population who are non-Christian or secular in outlook, and this will almost certainly produce a negative reaction and pushback from those with more traditional beliefs

What can we do to bridge these divides? Shouldn’t our role as peacemakers be to work to break down racial, cultural and ideological divisions?

Nonviolence teaches us the way to address conflict is to deeply listen to everyone involved, and to understand that we ourselves must change if we expect others to change. How many of us have been willing to engage with those who are different from us racially, culturally or ideologically?

Personally, I have written and spoken a lot about how much I learned and was changed by my connections with the Kheprw Institute (KI), the Black youth mentoring and empowerment community in Indianapolis. And by opportunities to engage with Native Americans at the Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration, as well as work with Native Americans in Indianapolis as water protectors and our efforts to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. More recently I have had opportunities to work with the Poor People’s Campaign.

Quakers are familiar with the following story about Margaret Fell. “You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”  This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”

We have to look at our own lives and find what we ourselves can do to bridge the racial, cultural and ideological divisions in our communities. I believe this starts by looking for opportunities to be with and work with those who are different from ourselves.

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