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SEBRNIK: Is 'wokeness' leading America into political turmoil?

The Democrat donkey and Republican elephant represent the two political parties in the United States.
The Democrat donkey and Republican elephant represent the two political parties in the United States. - 123RF Stock Photo

The Republican Party in the United States emerged in 1854 to combat the expansion of slavery.

Founded on abolitionism, in 1856 it contested its first presidential election. As the political system disintegrated four years later, Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in a four-way race, precipitating a southern secession of slave states and a terrible Civil War.

Today it is the Democrats who are moving into uncharted left-liberal territory. The force driving this change is the style of moral politics known as “wokeness,” a phenomenon that has become pervasive.

In the past five years, white liberals have moved so far to the left on questions of race and racism that they are now, on these issues, to the left of the typical African-American voter.

White Democrats started expressing dramatically higher levels of concern about racial inequality and discrimination, while showing greater enthusiasm for racial diversity and immigration.

A large minority of them now regard systemic racial discrimination as a fundamental problem in American life.

During roughly the same time, there has been a large increase in the number of Americans who express positive attitudes about illegal immigration.

The Democrats have adopted a radical new framework that treats any restrictions on immigration and enforcement of current laws as immoral.

Indeed, on key measures of racial attitudes, immigration, health care and other issues, white liberals’ opinion has moved to the left of where Blacks and Latinos are.

Zach Goldberg, a graduate student in political science at Georgia State University, has tracked partisan ideological trends in great detail.

He found that white liberals recently became the only demographic group in America to display a pro-outgroup bias, meaning that among all the different groups surveyed they were the only one that expressed a preference for other racial and ethnic communities above their own.

They think white people have “too much” political influence.

These very liberal voters stress the environment, protecting immigrants, abortion, and race and gender. They support banning private health insurance, providing insurance to the undocumented, and decriminalizing border entry.

Moderate to conservative Democrats, who are majority non-white, are more concerned with job creation, lowering taxes, and a less totalizing vision of health care reform.

The left-wing Democrats are the most engaged and play a disproportionate role in setting the political agenda.

These white liberals, who now constitute about 40 per cent of the Democratic Party, are the critical drivers of Democratic politicians’ leftward shift on race and identity issues.

Mainstream Democratic Party politicians are beginning to take for granted that their constituents will embrace the more institutional understanding of racism.

And, to the extent that white liberals now see racism as a looming challenge in a way they did not in the recent past, Donald Trump has become for them a loathsome enemy.

It seems the country now faces a situation similar to the 1850s. Slavery was America’s original sin. It became the chief rallying point for abolitionists determined to uproot it, and civil war engulfed the country in 1861. Today, racial issues are again leading to political chaos.

This time, it won’t be a case of specific states seceding, but rather an upheaval encompassing the whole country.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.


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