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The Minorities Within Minorities
And how they can help us revive liberal democracy
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of liberal democracy is that it cares about minorities.
But what of the minorities within minorities?
I’m talking about the lives and views of those who fit easily into neither the majority nor the dominant politics and culture of their own assigned group. I mean those who violate the conventional assumptions about their own sub-population: African-Americans, say, who want more funding for the police, Latinos who oppose mass illegal immigration, gay men and lesbians who believe that biological sex is real, Asian-Americans who oppose race discrimination in education, Muslims who voted for Trump, evangelical Christians who voted for Biden. You get the point.
In some cases, they really are a minority; in others, their views are merely far more common among their peers than the media or the spokespeople of the lobby groups tend to admit. Either way, they’re among the most interesting sub-groups in our society, because it takes a certain degree of gumption to stand out from the crowd — with all the social consequences that can follow — and a certain amount of humility in accepting their own complexities. They can be marginalized twice over — by outsiders and then their peers. And they can be invisible to those who have come to see demographic groups as political and cultural monoliths.
Maybe I see them more acutely because I’m one of them. My own vote was deeply conflicted. I see much of the woke left as deeply threatening to some of my core identities: their hostility to religious freedom, their redefinition of my sexual orientation into a gender preference, their instant judgment of a person by the color of their skin or their maleness. I still voted for the party most aligned with these fanatics, because of other, weightier convictions I have about liberal democracy, the rule of law, and the importance of democratic norms. Voting for Biden was, for me, an easy and yet also not-so-easy call. And for many members of minorities within minorities, these conflicts never end.
But this last election was, in many ways, theirs’. One of the things we discovered is not only that these people exist — but that they clearly played a critical, if limited, role in turning Biden’s coalition slightly whiter than in 2016, and Trump’s a bit more colorful. Democracy is an amazing thing — and a secret ballot turns out to be a better guide to what’s really going on than polls where people can dissemble, or even real life where the pressure to lie about your views or stay silent can be intense.
And what a turn of events! In an age when tribalism has run rampant, and seems inescapable, so many voters quietly but decisively rebelled against it. Many right-leaning white people voted for Biden. And more non-whites voted for a Republican candidate than in any election since 1960! Their political judgment over-rode their tribal loyalty.
And I think that’s what liberal democracy demands of us: a considered individual judgment, rather than a mere expression of group loyalty. In that respect, 2020 was a bit of an unexpected breakthrough. Collectively, we stepped back a little from tribalism, and we achieved a result — a divided government — that requires non-tribal compromise if it is to work.
The irony of this is rich. If there has been one, consistent elite narrative about this presidency, it is that it’s been the apotheosis of “white supremacy”: the most racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, anti-Black, transphobic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic manifestation of the American cis-hetero white patriarchy you could possibly come up with. And yet a critical segment of all these duly oppressed minorities voted for it to continue.
Yes, the exit polls need to be verified and may shift — but they’re the best data we now have. And across the surveys, Trump won 30 percent of non-white men, 32 - 35 percent of Latinos, 28 - 34 percent of Asians, 52 percent of Native Americans, 59 percent of Pacific Islanders, and 27 - 28 percent of gay men, lesbians and transgender people. 30 percent of Muslims voted for the president who initiated the “Muslim ban” in immigration — a big jump from last time. In 2016, only 15 percent of American Muslims said they were Republican; by 2020, 25 percent did. Or take the gays: the Republicans got the highest percentage of the gay vote this year since it was first recorded in 1992 while the Democrats slumped to an all-time low.
In its analysis of the result, the New York Times noted that “the only House seats Republicans picked up that were not in districts Mr. Trump also carried were in heavily Hispanic or Asian regions.” Outside the category of “minority” but well inside the woke category of “oppressed”, 60 percent of non-college white women voted for Trump, along with 21 percent of working class black women, even if it empowers the patriarchy.
While a liberal might celebrate all this independent thinking, the view of critical theorists and, tellingly, also of white nationalists, is pretty simple: this is simply race and gender treason. Here’s one ready-made woke analysis of white female support for Trump: “There’s a long history of white women needing and wanting to be ahead of Black people, Latinx people, Asian people, Indigenous people.”
Asian and Latino support for Trump is likewise seen as a mere attempt to co-opt the privilege of “whiteness”. (In some woke circles, Asians are no longer “people of color” at all, because they are now “white-adjacent”.) Gay support for Trump is also reflexively explained away as a function of gay male racism, sexism, and greed. The far right, in identical fashion, regard people like me or Trump-then-Biden voters as “cuckservatives” — lame surrender-monkeys in the face of the woke insurgency.
And you can see why the far right and the woke hold this view. Once you see everything through the prism of crude identity, and reduce everyone to socially constructed molecules in racial hierarchies of various kinds, this is the kind of analysis you get. But what these left and right-tribalists obscure or cannot see is we’re talking about a spectrum of countless, unique human beings here, with individual identities and views formed by a cascade of different life experiences and backgrounds. Things are far, far more complicated and interesting than these crude ideologies can explain.
It is perfectly possible, for example, that many more black men voted for Trump this time around because, before Covid19, they were making real economic gains, as the long Obama-Trump recovery lifted all boats; or because they were concerned about mass illegal immigration suppressing their wages; or because they liked the limited but real criminal justice reform passed under Trump’s signature, or were appalled by some white Democrats’ indifference to or even support of looting and rioting this past summer. It’s also possible that many white voters were more repelled by what they saw as Trump’s racism than some voters of color who rolled their eyes — and therefore voted for Biden.
It’s also very possible that some “Latino” voters are best understood, in fact, as Venezuelans, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Tejanos, rather than some amorphous bloc based on a ridiculously broad category. Many Cubans and Venezuelans have first-hand knowledge of what socialism can turn into, and were likely repelled by some Democrats’ embrace of the term. “Latinos” in southwest Texas along the border are concerned, as Patrick Hererra explained, with issues that many working class whites are: their jobs in the oil and gas industries, or gun rights.
The same can be said of every minority. They add complexity to America but America adds complexity to them in return. As a wonderful consequence, many Americans of countless complicated identities voted this year as individuals and as unhyphenated citizens. And Joe Biden deserves some credit for helping make this happen (even if he did make that hideous “you ain’t black” crack). He never gave in to the Hillary Clinton vision of maximizing the turnout of demographic groups as a path to victory. It’s not that he ignored turnout — but his campaign was based on persuasion as much as mobilization, on the argument that Biden was a return to normality and civility, rather than a huge shift leftward. In this, he was more successful than his party. But the result is a small opening for liberal democracy in its classic form.
I don’t mean to imply that voting against the prevailing orthodoxy in your tribe is somehow inherently superior. But it sure isn’t inherently inferior either. And perhaps those with more complicated identities — sometimes at war with themselves — have something particular to offer our super-complex democracy. We live with apparent contradictions, but we find a way to make those apparent contradictions coherent in a single life. Instead of trying to simplify our identities, we’ve learned we’re better off accepting our multiplying complexities, and embracing them all. America as a whole might think about doing the same.
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What you’re missing this week, if you’re not a subscriber: my latest take on Trump’s deepening assault on our democracy and the alternate reality of his cult, my responses to readers criticizing my views of the election and Rachel Maddow, more window views, gobsmacking Quotes for the Week, a big list of recommended reading, a psychedelic Mental Health Break video, a Hathos Alert — something so hilariously awful you can’t look away — and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest. Subscribe for the full Dish experience! If you are still undecided, join our mailing list to get the free version of The Weekly Dish emailed to you every Friday.)
Kevin Drum, the old-school blogger at Mother Jones, laments the loss of link culture and worries about the semi-private nature of Substack — a successor in many ways to the blogosphere:
This ecosystem began to break down when newspapers started going behind paywalls. For example, I now pay for subscriptions to the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. That comes to over a thousand dollars a year, and I’m not really willing to cough up any more than that. This means that I constantly run into paywalls that prevent me from even reading potentially interesting pieces. And my readers, unless they also shell out a thousand dollars a year, are likely to be unable to ever read the news pieces that I link to.
Now, with Substack, the same is going to be true of an increasing number of writers. I’m not really willing to rack up a whole bunch of $60-per-year subscription fees for individual writers, which means I’ll never know what they’re saying. And even if I did, you’d never know what they’re saying unless you’re coincidentally a subscriber too. This means we have a growing circle of writers who are influencing the political conversation but doing it semi-privately.
The free version of The Weekly Dish will always contain my main argument of the week, and our new podcast is free for everyone, and you can always challenge my points via email: email@example.com.
A reminder from last week: If you are not white or not straight and voted for Trump, please share your story or views on our reader forum (which we just unlocked from our paywall because stories are scarce). Here’s the best example from a reader so far:
My family immigrated to the US from Bangladesh when I was 5. This country has given us boundless opportunities. Not only that, but people have embraced me. I grew up in Virginia when it was a red state, in a county that voted Republican until after I left for college. I went to school in the South and have been to rural places all over the country. I live in a precinct that voted for Trump 2:1 in 2016. And in all of these places, I’ve been warmly embraced.
I married into a family that went over to the West Coast on the wagon trains. Plenty of my family live in rural areas and plenty support Trump. And yes, each one has warmly embraced me and our mixed kids without a second of hesitation. Four years of hearing Democrats slander and libel half the country — including members of my family — was too much.
I did support Biden this election, solely because of Trump’s immoderation and lack of temperament. But I supported Republicans everywhere else down the ballot (after spending most of my adult life as a registered Democrat).
Increasingly, I am unable to square progressive ideology with what Democrats would call “my lived experience”. I think we should help the needy, but I’m not okay with socialism. I think we should help groups that have been historically disadvantaged, but I’m not okay abandoning the idea of meritocracy. This past year, the Dean of my graduate school and a bunch of faculty declared themselves “gatekeepers of white supremacy” in a Zoom meeting. And at my magnet high school, they eliminated the admissions test because “standardized tests are racist.”
I don’t want my half-white kids growing up thinking “white supremacy” is out to get them. I don’t want people like Robin DiAngelo telling them to “be less white.”
Even my parents, who are stalwart Democrats, are alarmed and upset. They think Biden will usher in a return to normalcy, but they don’t realize how deeply these ideas have taken hold among progressives. This strain of progressive ideology is particularly alarming because I’m an immigrant. When I hear progressives like Ilhan Omar say “assimilation is racist,” or that “hard work” is “white supremacy” or devalue marriage and family as the bedrock of society, all of that flies in the face of what my parents socialized me to believe.
I watched the 2020 RNC convention. Yeah, it was pandering and over the top. But when I hear Nikki Haley speak about her American experience, it resonates. And if in 2024 I’m voting between that and what progressives have to offer, it’s not even going to be a contest.
Tell your own story here. (If you prefer to remain anonymous, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post it for you as “A reader writes.” It’s a safe space!)
New On The Dishcast: Matt Yglesias
The contrarian progressive and new Substacker joined me this week to discuss the 2020 election, wokeness and media, the cancel culture on the right, the progressives who find patriotism hokey, the black voters who support Biden more than white liberals do, Matt’s dissent over my use of “Christianists,” the importance of real diversity in newsrooms, and the lack of it in places like the NYT. If you’d like to listen to a few excerpts first, head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the full episode here.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where in the world do you think this window is located? Email your entry to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line, along with any details within the body of the email. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. If no one guesses the right location, proximity counts. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two years worth of TWD subscriptions.
The contest results, posted every Friday, can only be read by paid subscribers, but if we include your entry, we will send you a free subscription (though your entry needs to indicate you’re not a subscriber). Example of contest results here. Happy sleuthing!