Trading Places

A recent Vox article made an excellent point about identity politics. Although those on the Right use the term to label and dismiss what they scorn as special pleading by minorities, Vox’s definition is far more accurate.

Virtually all politics is identity politics, and the most powerful political identities are the biggest political identities — Democrat and Republican, which are increasingly merging with our racial, geographic, religious, and cultural groups to create what the political scientist Lilliana Mason calls “mega-identities.”

As political scientists all attest, those identities are not only stronger than they have previously been, they are also significantly different than they used to be. Thomas Edsall has taken to the New York Times opinion page to confirm those differences.

Edsell cites several research studies that show America politically divided “by levels of diversity; the emergence of an ideologically consistent liberal Democratic Party matching the consistent conservatism of the Republican Party, for the first time in recent history; and a striking discrepancy in the median household income of white-majority House districts held by Democrats and Republicans.”

Those of us of “a certain age” remember when it was the Democratic Party, then strong in the South, that resisted racial integration and civil rights. Back then, the GOP took pride in being the party of Lincoln and emancipation. Today, the parties have traded places sociologically, philosophically and geographically. As Michael Podhorzer has noted, during the first half of the 20th century, Democrats were solidly the party of the bottom of the income distribution, and Republicans were solidly the party of the top half of the income distribution.

No longer.

Podhorzer finds the parties have become “mirror images” of themselves. At the same time, America has seen a deepening of the urban-rural partisan schism.

“As recently as 2008,” Podhorzer writes, “40 percent of the Democratic caucus represented either rural or sparse suburban districts, and about a fifth of the Republican caucus represented majority-minority, urban or dense suburban districts. Now, the caucuses are sorted nearly perfectly.”

At the same time, divergent economic trends are compounding the urban-rural split.

In 1996, Democrats represented 30 percent of the majority-white districts in the most educated and most affluent category; by 2020, they represented 86 percent. At the other end, in 1996, Democrats represented 38 and 42 percent of the districts in the bottom two categories; by 2020, those percentages fell to 12 and 18 percent.

In examining these trends, political analysts have cited a growing educational divide, with better-educated — and thus more affluent — white voters moving in a liberal Democratic direction while white voters without college have moved toward the right.

Despite the significant educational divide, scholars persuasively argue that education is not the reason for our polarization. Racism is. The data shows that, as Podhorzer puts it, “racial resentment, does a much, much better job of explaining our current political divisions than education polarization.”

Podhorzer provides data showing that from 2000 to 2020, the Democratic margin among white people with and without college degrees who score high on racial resentment scales has fallen from minus 26 percent to minus 62 percent for racially resentful non-college white people and from minus 14 percent to minus 53 percent among racially resentful college-educated white people.

At the same time, the Democratic margin rose from plus 12 to 70 percent over those 20 years among non-college white people low in racial resentment and from 50 to 82 percent among college-educated white people low in racial resentment.

In other words, in contradiction to the education divide thesis, non-college white people who are not racially resentful have become more Democratic, while college-educated white people who are racially resentful have become more Republican.

Today, Republican districts are among the least ethnically diverse, despite the fact that   voters within those districts are quite diverse when it comes to policy preferences–especially economic views. Democratic districts tend to be ethnically diverse–but with voters who mostly agree on social and economic issues.

In today’s GOP, the remaining members of the older, pro-business elite share the Republican label with a white working class that is disproportionately rural and racially resentful. The question is, how long can that uncomfortable partnership last?

Everyone who harbors “racial resentment” doesn’t identify as a White Supremacist (which is fortunate, since 80% of ideologically-motivated mass murders last year were committed by White Supremicsts.)

)In the absence of other shared goals, how strong are the bonds forged only by hating the same people? 

I guess we’ll find out.


  1. Republican campaigns have always excelled at finding an “other” to hate. Remember 1988 Bush: Willie Horton? Gays? Immigrants? China? Science/Truth? Women? They are really good at this hate stuff

  2. “The question is, how long can that uncomfortable partnership last?”

    It will last as long as as they operate under the misconception that each is the “real” Republican party. The current MAGA Republican House majority is releasing its flying monkeys to maintain Trump control, with or without Trump. They are wasting time and tax dollars investigating the investigators who investigated them during Trump’s administration and are now fully armed with all 40,000 plus videos of their January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt to overturn the presidential election (and hang their own vice president) which they continue to claim is their victory…as Republicans.

  3. Patmcc- That was certainly my experience while growing up in rural Northern Indiana.

  4. I wish the rise of Trumpism was just about racism. That would make it easier to understand and deal with. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. After all, a lot of Trump supporters voted for the first black President, not once but twice. There is a lot of racism motivating Trump supporters, but there are also a lot of Trumpers motivated by other things.

  5. Sheila writes, “How strong are the bonds forged only by hating the same people?”

    I believe as Paul does, that there is more racism than anything. As MLK once mentioned, the “silent majority” reap the benefits of blacks struggling at the hands of the more racist MAGA crowd. They remain silent from the 60s through today.

    As a truth seeker, I research and print the truth. What I have learned in our racist community is that both the whites hate you, and so do those of color who sold out to the oligarchs running the community. There is a division between the black sellouts and the blacks who keep their integrity and fight for all blacks, immigrants, poor whites, etc.

    The media oligarchy peddles so much propaganda that they fight against themselves, just as whites do. Lawsuits are emerging from blacks and poor whites across the Southern States against companies hiring poor white immigrants on Work Visas in the fields.

    All of us have resentments, and oligarchic media can push the right buttons to get people ignited over them.

  6. My post above was meant, “…poor immigrants on Work Visas…”

    Not sure how Grammarly added, “white.” LOL

  7. It’s always been about race. The nation was founded with slavery legal. It became the underpinning of the economy and culture of the southern states. As migration and the Civil War proved, racism was easily transmittable. Now, it’s everywhere in various degrees irrespective of the particular political identity.

    LBJ predicted the loss of the south to the Republicans when he and the Democrats finally did the right thing with civil rights legislation. The south, of course, rejected that notion and have fought it ever since. That’s why they’re staunchly Republican. It was the Nixon strategy, one might remember, that exploited that cultural imperative of racism. Why? To win elections, that’s why.

    Ever since the “Nixon strategy” was put in place, the racial divisions among non-thinking people – irrespective of their education – have deepened. Our original sin continues to plague us with the echoes of its horrific past.

    As Todd likes to blame everything wrong on the oligarchs, we might start extending that back into the history of the southern, slave-holding oligarchs who, incredibly, convinced thousands of poor white people to hurl themselves into cannon fire so they could keep getting richer.

    I think that sums up the illness that continues to impact the divisiveness of our nation.

  8. As long as Fox Spews and the radio hate show hosts are on the air I believe their listeners will keep hating for as long as they are alive. They have been completely brainwashed and will never willingly change their hate-filled minds.

  9. Today’s debate is very interesting. I have many anecdotal observations without facts to support any significant conclusions. But the argument in these posts seem to lean towards hate and racism to define political divide. So I wondered if crime statistics on a national scale is a measure of hate or racism in a moment of rage in a homicide. Here are the FBI statistics:

    You be the judge.

  10. Racism is a big part of the problem. The question is what do we do about it? I know many people who would be appalled if they were labelled racist, but who, by their actions and their expressed fears, can’t be considered anything else, even after getting permission from the Orange One to be as openly racist as possible. We are mostly what we were “carefully taught” to be when we were young (Kudos to Oscar Hammerstein). We need, I think, to carefully define what makes racism, racism. Everyone needs to understand that having a black, Asian, Hispanic, or white friend or two doesn’t make you not a racist. The questions we need to ask ourselves are, “How do I respond to people of different races, colors, or creeds? Do I smile and say hello or do I turn away and pretend I didn’t see anyone? Do I automatically think those who are different from me are suspicious?”

  11. Repeat, rinse…at least 40% of eligible voters do not “identify” as DEM or GOP and have low trust of parties and politicians. Hard to believe that is “racist”.

  12. Norris. Interesting question. Since the chart gives no information about motives, whether the murders were premeditated or crimes of passion or how many were prosecuted as hate crimes, I’m having trouble drawing any conclusions pertinent to your question. I’m interested in knowing your conclusions.

  13. Sharon …a respected judge was part of a similar conversation during a pregnant moment at which time we had exhausted all arguments we could muster upon review of huge amount of data on motives for heinous crimes. It was time for happy hour and his honor concluded: “statistics are like bikinis … what they reveal is interesting … what they conceal is vital.”

  14. All searches for “root” cause have trouble with knowing when the search is over. Is racism the root of our political divide?

    My thinking is that it’s more effectively described as acceptance of our common need and ability to maintain adaptation to changing reality versus belief that humans define reality and can choose to change or not to.

    The former is Democrat left wing liberal go with the flow, and the latter is Republican right wing authoritarian use as big a hammer as necessary to get it your way.

    One reason that I believe that is the fact of anthropogenic global warming, the science of which is immutable and unambiguous. We have to adapt because the combined effects of human population and life style distribution are changing the nature of our home planet and the more we resist change as a reaction to changing reality the more reality will change.

    One of the effects of earth changing is migration out of equatorial and coastal regions by packing more people into northern latitudes. In other words more racial population mixing. Equatorial darker skin migrating and intermixing and compacting into white skin territory.

    Authoritarians are strongly intolerant of those changes to maintain adaptation to the geographic reality of AGW.

  15. I have often written that had I been on the scene in Lincoln’s day I would have been a Republican. I have instead been a forever Democrat, though not always in line with some Democratic perogatives. I well recall when I was a senior in law school and Justice of my law fraternity (1954-5) that my Vice-Justice and I (both Democrats) wanted to initiate a black student into the fraternity. To my surprise and chagrin we were asked to visit a delegation of practicing attorneys who were members of our fraternity when in law school and asked “if we were sure” we wanted to go forward with this. We held firm, initiated him, and he graduated and went into a successful practice. My vice-justice and I were the “liberals” of that day, I suppose, as measured by the obvious racism of our more mature and practicing fraternity brothers.

    I think Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was an official wartime statement designed to catch the sentiment of the moment, but one that needed to be played out in the real world by everyday citizens from that day forward, a rocky journey still in flux. I have not forgotten Lincoln’s earlier stand that “the war” was fought not because of slavery but because of the Confederate states’ withdrawal from the Union. Whether defined sociologically or economically or by any other such yardstick, I think the Civil War was fought over slavery, whatever the political clothing.

    Democrats and Republicans exchanged positions during the Teddy-Wilson era and FDR cemented a further change with his New Deal (the deal Newt Gingrich says he was born to destroy). My vice-justice and I were New Dealers and as for racism, I was once in a law firm where one of the lead partners (a former judge) was black and sported members such as a UCLA-educated lawyer of Japanese parentage, a Rutgers-educated Jewish lawyer, and a Korean-speaking white lawyer from Texas. We had no problems.

    Perhaps such daily exposure to other people of different races and religions in the workplace and elsewhere over time is the answer to our race problem, assuming we don’t come unglued by the rabid right before such a hoped-for outcome.

  16. Norris. Amusing anecdote! What do you think the statistics in the chart conceal?

  17. Pete. I agree completely. As I like to say, reality exists independently of our ability, or lack of ability, to perceive it.

  18. Sharon, we honor the title we gave to ourselves as “alpha” species too much. It’s like the Academy Awards. We are an insignificant spec of dust to the Universe.

    If we earned any title at all it was alpha adapters.

    Now though we’d rather watch on big and small screens our own equivalent of Stupid Pet Tricks. Adapting is too hard.

  19. Pete. Again, I agree and would only add that the alternative to adaptation is extinction.

  20. I guess I have always leaned towards Democratic and liberal policies. As a college freshman, in a writing composition class, I penned a paper describing how many white folk spend their summers trying to tan their skin to those beautiful shades of brown that so many of the African Americans and Latinos were born with. My theory was that all white folk must drive black cars, have black telephones and black appliances and marry a black person; that all Black folk must drive white cars, have white phones and white appliances, and marry a white person. In that innocent exuberance of my youth, I thought within a generation , everyone would become a gorgeous shade of brown in their skin color. Then we would ALL look alike. This would have ended any and all race discrepancy among us.

    I went to a Catholic high school that had one Black family in attendance with two brothers who excelled in multiple sports through their 4 years and were the heroes in many of their games, thereby making them beloved by the entire school.

    As the years have progressed, having worked with and begun to know many Black people, oh my, was my idea not a practical one. But I still had hopes that we would/could all get along, have all the same opportunities, and live good lives. As I have seen and learned, racism still reigns in our society.

    This ignorant form of White Supremacy in every form, from minimal to the extreme, that exists primarily within the GOP as we know it, is an abomination of everything that my God stands for. I have nothing but pity and disgust for the things that those people eschew these days.

    We must stop with the political parties of either kind. We need to vote out the despicable ones and vote as independents and select only the candidates who are truly by the people, and for the people, ALL the people, period, end of discussion!

  21. I like the concept that Trump became THAT popular, because he hated the same people
    that those who blindly became his followers hated, and still do. “Grandma” wearing the
    ‘Happy Deplorable” shirt on her way to shopping, in 2020, was proudly advertising her

  22. Paul – You also have to remember what the non-MAGA Trump voting electorate saw.
    A women – some amount of sexism was at play.
    Comey saying “Although this violates all the normal rules, we’re investigating Clinton -Oops election is over – there was no there, there, sorry.”
    Clinton ran a poor campaign, acting like she was a shoo-in.

    Some of those people returned to vote for Biden.

    So, yes, it is more complicated than “just racism”, but life always is. That being said, racism is a big, big part of Trump’s appeal. Just FYI, in my 73 years of life, we never needed guards where I attend religious services — until Trump. Just saying.

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