Monday, January 11, 2016

The Battle for the South

In an article suggesting that Donald Trump's support is more broad than is usually reported, Scott Bland noted this:
In the Civis’ model, Trump runs ahead of his 33-percent national average in 30 of the 40 districts where Kerry matched or exceeded Obama’s performance, even though Obama ran about 5 points ahead of Kerry nationally.
Those districts are largely contained in a band running through Appalachia, from Pennsylvania to Tennessee, and then across the Deep South to Arkansas and Oklahoma. Once Democratic strongholds, voters there have sloughed off the party in recent decades — a trend that accelerated rapidly under Obama. Now, Trump is giving a voice to some of their protectionist concerns about immigration and trade.
I often find this kind of reporting to be fascinating in that Bland makes no mention of the fact that this area of the country started to "slough off" the Democratic Party right after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Republicans initiated their Southern Strategy. And yet he implies that the acceleration of that change at the election of our first African American president has to do with their "protectionist concerns about immigration and trade." To the extent these areas voted in greater numbers for John Kerry than they did Barack Obama, does anyone think that is because of protectionism? Why can't reporters admit that racism is at least part of the mix? If I were into leveling charges of "political correctness," this is where it actually applies.

There should be no doubt that Trumpmania is at its peak among white people across the old South. But Michael Cooper suggests that in those areas, there is something interesting happening to the Democratic Party.
Progressive politics may work in a Seattle or a New York City, but they’re not supposed to win campaigns south of the Mason-Dixon. Southern states voted as one Democratic bloc for almost a century after the Civil War, until the landmark civil rights measures of the 1960s combined with Richard Nixon’s election strategy to coax “the old Solid South into the Republican South,” says William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Democrats in the South generally responded to this shift by leaning right and picking off conservative voters where they could. Think of centrist politicians like Lloyd Bentsen, Blanche Lincoln, Sam Nunn, or Bill Clinton. But the Blue Dog Democrat has been pushed to the brink of extinction in the era of President Barack Obama, in the South as surely as everywhere else, and a new coalition of unapologetically liberal Democrats like Roberts [Mayor of Charlotte, NC) have taken control of their party. They may be nearly powerless outside urban, cosmopolitan areas in the South, but these Democrats believe the demographics are on their side to build a liberal Southern majority in the future.
Cooper's analysis relies heavily on the work of demographers Ruy Teixeira and William Frey.
According to “States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974-2060,” a 2015 report coauthored by Frey and Teixeira, America will go from 80 percent white in 1980 to less than 44 percent in 2060, when Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida join Texas as majority-minority states. A change will be “fueled by a combination of immigration of Asians and Latinos and the reverse migration of blacks,” says Teixeira.
That “reverse migration” has been happening for decades now, but continues to accelerate. New York, Chicago, and Detroit are experiencing losses in their black population as “children and grandchildren move back to the South,” says Frey, noting a shift to cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, Houston, and Atlanta “that will affect the suburban South in ways we would never have understood 20 years ago.”
The changes the South in experiencing right now with respect to both demographics and reverse migration are part of what is fueling the fear/anger that Donald Trump is tapping onto. We are at the initial stages of watching that dynamic unfold. But as I wrote recently, the candidacy of Trump is likely to accelerate rather than ameliorate the battle for the South. The changes in the Democratic Party that Cooper has identified aren't creating as much noise as the screaming fear-mongering we're hearing from the Republican base. But they will be fascinating to watch nonetheless.


  1. I have a theory about pundits who refuse to acknowledge the role that racism has the South and Appalachia and elsewhere (Thomas Frank of "What's the Matter with Kansas?" fame is another one): they want to ignore racism because they have no idea how to fix it. If you're, say, Thomas Frank, you sell more books and feel much smarter if you can say, "the problem is Democratic economic policy and the solution is increased wages". But if you're honest you are more likely to say, "the problem is varying degrees of racism -- from outright animosity at worst to a vague sense of us vs. them at best -- and I have no idea how to get people to change their minds about race". Good luck selling a book with a title like "What's the Matter with Kansas? Seriously, Somebody Tell me".

    1. I've always believed that Thomas Frank was on the right road when he wrote, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" He just didn't have the courage to drive further on. However, Frank has always been honest about not knowing how to fix these problems. He's always been the observer with a serious blind-spot when it comes to racism.

      As someone who spent part of their formative years in his beloved state, I can tell you that Kansas isn't immune from racism. If anything, many white Kansans use their state's abolitionist history to mask their racial prejudice. It's so convenient that they forget the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation originated in their state (and not the South).

    2. Funny you should mention Kansas's abolitionist history: I'm fond of this review, from which I shall quote:


      One of the more bizarre claims Frank makes is that of the "racial elements of modern conservatism" - playing on "white fears" by pressing "hotbutton issues like busing, welfare and integration" - "none ... is an important factor" in the story of the Kansas backlash. Indeed, he claims, "If anything, the conservative movement in Kansas is conspicuous for its tolerance on racial issues."

      His proof? Drawing on a historic tradition of Kansas abolitionism, Kansas conservatives accuse their opponents of being "bigots," or members of "hate groups"; Sam Brownback supports "open immigration policies"; and anti-abortionists delight in calling themselves "abolitionists." All and sundry conservative issues, he tells us, from anti-gay bigotry to fighting against a woman’s right to choose, are cloaked in the language of "civil rights." Here Frank is guilty of muddying the distinction between the appropriation and manipulation of the language of the Left and the civil rights movement by the conservative Right, and the reactionary positions they are harnessed to.


      In attempting to argue that race in Kansas was not a factor in the backlash, Frank offers an extremely selective history. Abolitionism and populism may have a place in Kansas history, but so does ugly Jim Crow racism. On June 10, 1882, a white mob in Lawrence lynched three Black men who were suspected in the murder of a white man. In the 1920s, the Klan chapter in Wichita was bigger than the total population of Blacks in the city (6,000 to 5,600).

      Though we can agree with Frank that Kansas was and is "not Alabama in the sixties," it imposed segregation in most public institutions, including elementary schools, theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, and high school sports teams, until a movement changed it. Indeed, the first successful student sit-ins at lunch counters took place not in Greensboro, NC, but at a drug store chain in Wichita in 1958.

      As Frank admits, the backlash since its emergence in the seventies has always used coded language to disguise its racism–crime (young Black men), welfare (young Black mothers). It isn’t as though the Kansas conservative movements in their various guises over the years have been somehow hermetically sealed from the rest of the country or have somehow been open to the ideology of the Right but have heroically resisted its central racist props.

      Just last September, Reverend Jerry Johnston’s First Family Church in Overland Park (he is a leader in the conservative’s anti gay crusade in the state) sponsored a meeting featuring the "iron-lady" of the right, Phyllis Schlafly, whose speech featured a pro-Buchanan rant against immigration. She was introduced by Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, a former aide to John Ashcroft who ran for Congress in Kansas’s 3rd District (he lost). He ran a campaign denouncing taxes, gay marriage, abortion rights, denying in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, and demanding 20,000 troops on the Mexican border. In the audience at that meeting were also seven members of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that contributed the maximum amount permissible ($5,000) to Kobach’s congressional run. FAIR’S leader, John Tanton, once argued: "Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?... As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?" Kobach also received campaign funds from Gun Owners of America, whose executive director is Larry Pratt, a man with known associations in white supremacist organizations.