In a recent piece at the Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum meditates with candid urgency on the consequences of the demographic elephant in the room: America, within our lifetimes, will become a majority-minority nation.
According to Applebaum, Christian anxiety over this trend has led a Republican Party he sees as stubbornly wedded to racial heritage into the arms of the strongman Donald Trump. In the long-term, he explains, this status anxiety threatens to destroy American democracy itself. When things are good, democracy allows for an elastic give-and-take between parties and powers; but a party that senses permanent defeat in the offing will embrace authoritarianism to cling to power, Applebaum insists.
The only hope for America, says Applebaum, may lie with the center-right, which alone can act as a bulwark to white authoritarianism. He cites with approval the postmortem analysis by the Republican party after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, which counseled opening up the party to women and minorities by shifting positions on many issues, or risk permanent defeat.
“A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up,” Applebaum writes. Only if the GOP expands its coalition and “crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle,” can it stay alive.
Backing the Right into a Corner
Like it or not, events have thrust this conversation into our laps. But the dialogue on demographics is shot through with an increasingly obvious double standard—one which forms the basis of Applebaum’s piece. While Democrats respond to demographic shifts with open celebration, Republicans are prohibited even from acknowledging that these trends are real, let alone acting in their rational interest to reverse them. In fact, Republicans are enjoined, in the name of saving “democracy,” to abscond any partisan loyalties whatsoever.
At this rate, it’s plausible to expect that Republicans, if only out of defense and partisan self-preservation, will sooner or later feel backed into a corner of white identity. Some, Applebaum included, seem to think that has already happened. If the other side is going to embrace identity and demographics, the question will inevitably arise, then why shouldn’t—why can’t—white Republicans do the same thing?
Contrary to Applebaum’s simple-minded notion that Republicans only care about identity, Republicans have long been supportive of high minded and universal principles of right. But politics, thanks in large part to the Left and its identity politics, has largely ceased to be a game of persuasion. An intuition of this fact fuels the tribal warfare we do have, in which people increasingly live in unshakeable, parallel realities. As the Left embraces identity, openly celebrates demographic change when it favors them and bashes whites for the sum of history’s evils, it’s disingenuous to lay the blame for our present crisis at the Right’s feet.
Ironically, the Left has done far more than anyone on the Right to create a space for white identity politics. The Left’s identity politics makes a common American identity virtually impossible, in the first place by rejecting the historic American nation but also by redefining America as nothing more than a fractious coalition of ascendant, “marginalized” groups, which themselves do not comprise a coherent alliance. Under this multicultural regime, democracy is a mere unruly ship, in which various identity-based factions fight for power and prestige. Given the current state of tensions, there are few reasons to feel optimistic that conflict will recede when the new majority arrives.
The Left’s and its identity politics have created conditions inhospitable to American nationalism and unity, but ironically quite auspicious to the development of a politics of white identity as a kind of backlash. We now find ourselves in a place where white identity politics begins to look rational, even like an inevitable response, for white Americans who have been made to feel like strangers in their own country.
A Double Standard
It is rather ironic that a piece titled “How America Ends” blames Republicans for national decline, even as Applebaum acknowledges demographics is probably the core reason for the deep polarization of this era—an “epochal” change unlike anything in America’s history, “a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced.” If this change is so profound, aren’t the concerns of the anxious majority justified?
Can millions of whites be deluded in thinking that white Americans face some form of discrimination? Occam’s Razor may help here. Maybe these aren’t delusions? In a time when Democrats talk openly about taxing churches that don’t respect gay marriage into oblivion, when Democrats blame white people en masse for all historical evils, blame them for destroying the planet and pen calls for poor white communities to forcibly accept more refugees from Third World countries, the idea that the Republican party remains wedded to identity, while the Democrats are “principled” and accepting of outsiders, is simply balderdash.
Applebaum attacks a conservatism reducible to an “arithmetic question” of identity, but are the Democrats not rather openly embracing the arithmetic, when it favors them? We find ourselves in a strange Twilight Zone in which acknowledging demographics is at one and the same time a racist “conspiracy theory” but also something very good that all decent people should celebrate. When Democrats boast about flipping Virginia blue, everyone, most of all them, knows exactly what they mean. It’s bad to express concern about it; in that case, it isn’t actually real. But to acknowledge that it is happening and that it’s a wonderful, long-overdue correction? Different story.
While Applebaum describes an embrace of diversity as a necessary concession for Republicans to make—for the survival of American democracy, as well as their own party—in truth it comes across as more of a plea for the opposition to surrender to their politics.
Particularly as the Left acknowledges that demographic shifts will “doom Republicans,” it is by no means obvious that consigning the core Republican constituency to permanent minority status is fair, or even simply the best way for the party to remain viable. No political movement that gives up on changing minds can expect to thrive, of course, but there comes a point where outreach can turn into self-sabotage. The demographics that the Romney-ites and Jeb Bushes would like Republicans to reach are solidly Democratic, and given the status of our educational system and much else, there’s not much that can change that, short of liberalizing the GOP until it becomes derivative of the Democratic party itself.
The larger point is lost amid the analysis of “outreach”: nowhere is the scenario considered in which Republicans are simply allowed to act in their rational self-interest.
Applebaum saddles the Right with the burden of keeping things from falling apart, but nowhere does he rebuke the Left for embracing favorable demographic shifts and encouraging the divisions they portend; to the contrary, he criticizes President Trump for wanting to recognize only citizens on the census. The Left is not expected to dial down hate towards white Christians who may feel discriminated against and besieged, and who have a special responsibility to “eschew” identity that is never, in turn, imposed on other groups. Ideally, politics should focus on the common good, not abstract group categories, but under the present conditions one could hardly call this a fair shake.
The Left is giving the Right rational reasons to embrace identity and demographic thinking, if only out of self-defense against a hostile opposition. In effect, they are saying, “your party is doomed, you’re required to play by unfair rules of engagement, and you have no right to complain about hatred directed towards you based on your skin color. If you don’t like that, then too bad. Get used to it.” But when Republicans notice this, they’re “conspiracy theorists.”
An Uncertain Future
Applebaum holds out the disingenuous promise that the white Christian majority will, at the very least, retain a co-equal status when the new majority arises. Just as Anglo-Americans were not threatened when the Irish and Italians “became white,” once again, the majority can and will “[enlarge] its boundaries” and continue prospering in a new American future.
Again, particularly set against the backdrop of leftist hostility towards white Americans, this proposal looks like bad faith.
Past majorities “avoided displacement” by redefining themselves, and presumably they can do so again, Applebaum suggests, but his entire piece rests on the assumption that the white Christian majority will be displaced. “If,” he writes, “America’s white Christian majority is gone, then some new majority is already emerging to take its place—some new, more capacious way of understanding what it is to belong to the American mainstream.”
More capacious, how? Will this more capacious majority reduce conflict and tensions? Will it actually be more capacious, or will it further abstract what it means to be an American, to the point that it ceases to mean anything at all? What makes this new majority more “capacious,” of course, appears to be simply the fact that it excludes the historic white Christian population. What’s capacious about exclusion?
If Republicans “can’t be convinced that democratic elections will continue to offer them a viable path to victory, that they can thrive within a diversifying nation, and that even in defeat their basic rights will be protected,” then they will cling harder to Trump-ism. Why would they believe any of those things, when the Left preaches open hatred towards them, their rights, and their place within the American nation? And why would Republicans think they can win in a “democracy” that is rigged to import a foreign voting population that will replace them?
Under ideal circumstances, American politics would be centered on the national common good of all citizens. But instead the Left embraces illegal foreigners as the moral superiors of American citizens, indeed as the rightful heirs of the historic American nation—people who have little understanding of American heritage or history, and little desire to preserve it, to say nothing of the small-government, anti-abortion values of the Right. It is hypocritical for the Left to blame the Right for America’s present crisis after rejecting the very notion of a core American identity and replacing it with ethnic Balkanism.
It is hard to survey the present circumstances and be left with a sanguine impression of America’s future. But it is disingenuous for the Left to charge the Right with averting the regime crisis that they have spurred and welcomed themselves, by crippling American pride, tearing down American institutions, discrediting American history, and welcoming demographic changes that will permanently alter America’s culture and national character—all while excluding a significant segment of the population from their ideal American future.
Applebaum has rather transparently justified something that many leftists clearly feel and even say openly, but which conservatives are not allowed to acknowledge. Many liberals sincerely believe that Republicans are doomed, that white Americans must tolerate hate directed towards them because of their race, and that they just have to get used to it. If that’s what Democrats really think, then let them say it openly. But don’t dress it up in the rhetoric of saving our Republic.