As David Kurtz of _Talking Points Memo_put it two days later, “America is living through a reign of white supremacist terror,” and in a speech to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law on Monday, President Joe Biden reminded listeners that “the U.S. intelligence community has determined that domestic terrorism, rooted in white supremacy, is the greatest terrorist threat we face in the homeland–the greatest threat.”1
When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election, I breathed a massive sigh of relief, as I am sure many people did. I was certain that a 45 second term would be the end of our democratic republic. That we would descend into some form of authoritarianism or fascism. 45 came very close to seizing full control of the leavers of power. How close, we would discover in the many months that followed.
As relieved as I was, I also knew we had only stopped the advance of the threat of authoritarian rule at that moment. We had not turned it back. As has been clear for some time, hard right conservatives had no use for a democratic republic form of government. If it functioned properly, and they were trying very hard to make sure it didn’t, they increasingly could not win. Their policy positions were too unpopular, and they were refusing to represent the interests of people of color, youth, and women.
Conservatives have invested decades of disciplined work in gaining control of state houses and governorships, especially those in what have become known as battleground states. They used this control to gerrymander districts and pass laws that made it more burdensome for minorities and the young to vote, and therefore, certain that they would have complete control. They had also invested decades into getting a conservative judiciary in place, which culminated with the appointment of three very conservative Supreme Court justices during the Trump administration.
White conservatives have done all this because the demographic writing was on the wall. White people are loosing ground as a percentage of the population. Minorities are projected to outnumber them by 2046.
Indeed, today’s white supremacist violence has everything to do with the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protected the right to vote guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870 after white supremacists refused to recognize the right of Black Americans to vote and hold office. Minority voting means a government–and a country–that white men don’t dominate.2
From the data gathered in the last census, it has become clear that white population slippage is accelerating. For the first time, between 2010 and 2020, the white population has shrunk and minorities, principally asian and hispanic, have more than made up the difference, through both birth and immigration. In 1980, whites were 80% of the population. By 2020 that percentage had fallen to a little over 60%. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans identify as a race other than white.
By the end of the nineteenth century, white southerners greeted any attempt to protect Black voting as an attempt to destroy true America. Finally, in North Carolina in 1898, Democrats recognized they were losing ground to a biracial fusion ticket of Republicans and Populists who promised economic and political reforms. Before that year’s election, white Democratic leaders ran a viciously racist campaign to fire up their white base. “It is time for the oft quoted shotgun to play a part, and an active one,” one woman wrote, “in the elections.”3
For those to whom this decline matters—it doesn’t to me—the news is bleak. Not only has the white population shrunk for the first time, but its median age is the highest of all racial groups at 43.7, compared to 29.8 for Latinos or Hispanics, 34.6 for Black residents, 37.5 for Asian Americans. The younger the median age, the greater the fertility of the group.
Here is a list of the current demographic trends:
- Six states are majority-minority as of July 2019: Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Texas, Nevada, and Maryland.
- Washington, D.C., and all populated United States territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa) are also majority-minority. None of the current United States territories ever had a white majority.
- As of 2011, minority births (children under age 1) are the majority among births nationwide.
- As of 2017, minority children comprise the majority among children in fourteen states: the six that are already majority-minority, plus the following eight: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Delaware, Alaska, New York, and Mississippi.
- As of 2019, children are majority minority nationwide.
- Per the 2020 United States Census, the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents is below 60% in seventeen states: the six that are already majority-minority, plus the following eleven: Georgia (50.1%), Florida (51.5%), New Jersey (51.9%), New York (52.5%), Arizona (53.4%), Mississippi (55.4%), Louisiana (55.8%), Alaska (57.5%), Illinois (58.3%), Delaware (58.6%), and Virginia (58.6%).
- The whole United States of America is projected to become majority-minority by the middle of the 21st century if current trends continue. The U.S. will then become the first major post-industrial society in the world where the dominant group established in an earlier period transitioned from majority to minority under the influence of changing demographics. With alternate immigration scenarios, the whole United States is projected to become majority-minority sometime between 2041 and 2046 (depending on the amount of net immigration into the U.S., birth/death rates, and intermarriage rates over the preceding years).4
It’s important to emphasize the uniqueness of this situation. As the quotes I have shared from a recent Heather Cox Richardson post indicate, the specter of white supremacy has a long history. During that history, white people always had the demographic upper hand, until now.
This political side of white supremacy is all around us. As Democracy Docket put it last month, “Republicans have a math problem, and they know it. Regardless of their candidate, it is nearly certain that more people will vote to reelect Joe Biden than his Republican opponent.” After all, Democrats have won the popular vote since 2008. Under these circumstances and unwilling to moderate their platform, “Republicans need to make it harder to vote and easier to cheat.”
So, to me, it looks like 2024 is a pivotal year. The one that likely decides what kind of government we have going forward. The white patriarchal authoritarian play won’t be available much beyond that. If I were a card-carrying member of the white patriarchy, I’d be pretty desperate about this upcoming election. That is why it’s going to get even more wild and wooly in the coming months, in my opinion. If we can hold on to whatever is passing for a Democratic Republic right now, then we will likely get the chance to improve on it.
There are signs that the current conservative pendulum swing has overshot the mark and will start to head back in a more liberal direction.5 Conservatives have overreached. Women are upset with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Young people are upset about many things, but the evidence is that they will vote, and they will side with the more multicultural offering. Minorities have a long history of reasons to be upset and will vote, despite the hurdles put in their way. If the more liberal forces hold on and turn back the authoritarian gambit, it will be a long time before there is another opportunity, and by then, white supremacy won’t be the issue.
Will this swing away from white supremacy and towards a multicultural future mean that our societal woes will be over? I imagine we will have a transition period during which power is more equitably distributed among the races. During this period, there may be an opportunity. To me, there is the overarching problem of capitalism and its exploitation of everyone and everything to accumulate wealth and power. This period of equitable power distribution may allow us to find a new way of organizing ourselves and our behavior. At the same time, climate change will be applying enormous pressure on us to find that new way. Without finding our way to an economic system that isn’t about exploitation and power accumulation, we will continue to have issues of power abuse, even as the abused and the abusers change positions.
See this article by Ted Gioia for his interesting hot/cool culture theory that runs in 80 year cycles. According to his theory, we are reaching the end of a hot cycle and will start to move back in the other direction soon. We may already be. ↩︎