If Demography Is Destiny…

White America is aging.

I know that won’t come as a huge surprise to many of the readers who comment here–a number of you reside in my own age cohort, and–shocked as I am by how quickly it seemed to happen–I have to admit that I’m pretty old.

I posted a while back about America’s changing electorate, and the fact that some 4 million Americans turn 18 –voting age–every year. Also every year, two and a half million older Americans die.

I recently came across yet another article considering America’s ongoing age shift; this one was titled “White America is Getting Older.” Here’s the lede:

A news release from the Census Bureau published on Thursday morning summarized three-quarters of a century of American history succinctly. It was titled, “America Is Getting Older.”

This is the Census Bureau, so the assertion was backed up with data. The median age in the U.S. rose to 38.9 years in 2022, up 0.2 years from 2021. Over the past year, 46 states saw increases in their median ages. Four states (and D.C.) saw no change.

This isn’t surprising but is, instead, a continuation of a long-standing trend. But there is an important detail that’s easy to overlook here: The increase in age is largely a function of White Americans getting older — a distinction that itself helps explain an awful lot about American culture and politics in the moment.

As the article explains, the Americans who are beginning to die off were part of the post WWII “baby boom.” That boom began at a time when immigration was constrained,  and as of 1970, about 84 percent of the country was non-Hispanic White, and the median age was just over 28.

A few years ago, the Census Bureau released data showing the age of Americans by race. At that point, the most common age for a White American was 58. The most common age for a non-White American — Black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed-race, etc. — was 27. For Hispanics, the most common age was 11.

The charts accompanying the article show that most White residents of the U.S. are older than the country’s median age, while most Asian, Black and Hispanic residents are younger. “Whites make up 52 percent of the population under the median age — and two-thirds of the population over it.”

The article notes–almost gratuitously, since most of us know it–that the people who are aging are those most likely to be voting Republican. As the report concludes,

It’s easy to see how this percolates into the political and cultural conversations. We have a heavily White older population that is competing for power and resources — like funding for schools or senior centers — with a more-diverse younger population. We have a partisan divide that overlaps with the age divide. We have explicit and implicit political appeals that center on the country’s changed demography.

In other words, we are at a point in America’s trajectory where demographic change is too obvious to ignore. That awareness helps explain the eruption of more explicit racism, as an older White age cohort tries frantically to hold onto its diminishing social dominance.

If we step back a bit to view the ebb and flow in historical context, it seems very likely that–once these older White Americans have passed away–our politics will calm down and settle into a new, (hopefully more equitable) normal. The danger, however, lies in what we might think of as the “death rattle” of an aging and angry elderly White Christian cohort.

The 2024 elections will tell that tale. If the nearly departed can install Trump and his ilk–in Indiana, Braun and Banks (both of whom have enthusiastically endorsed Trump)–they will continue on their merry way: arming the unhappy, forcing women to give birth, and  awarding judgeships to partisans who will cheerfully dismantle the protections of the Bill of Rights. Embedding those policies for yet another term will make it difficult if not impossible for demographics to save us. If there is no Blue wave in 2024, demographic “destiny” will take a lot longer–assuming it can be achieved at all.

I sure hope the Democrats are working  hard on getting out the vote……


Why The Right Won’t Win The Culture War

The term “culture war” is shorthand for the increasingly frantic effort of America’s White Christian Nationalists to turn back the clock–to return “uppity” women and Blacks to their prior, subordinate positions, stuff LGBTQ citizens back in the closet, and make it clear that respect for “religion” extends only to Christians (and really just certain Protestants).

The ferocity with which they are waging that battle can make our lives chaotic and dangerous. Bizarre accusations leveled at school boards and teachers are accompanied by voucher programs intended to destroy the schools that create a democratic polity; rogue Courts ignore longstanding jurisdictional rules in order to accommodate anti-gay religious bigotry; a contingent of Congressional mental cases has now gone beyond their effort to defund the FBI by refusing to fund the military if the Pentagon doesn’t eliminate what they call its “woke” policies.

Rational people are understandably depressed and/or frightened.

I don’t know who first uttered the phrase “this too shalll pass,” but it definitely applies to the culture warriors’ current eruption of fear and hate. What we are seeing is a tantrum triggered by subconscious recognition that the America they are fighting so hard to prevent is inevitable.

Why do I say it’s inevitable? Because it is already here.

A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a local church’s Sunday school class about anti-Semitism. It was a good discussion (they were members of a denomination that I categorize as actually Christian), and as I was leaving, a lovely lady stopped me to say she’d appreciated the conversation, because her grandchildren are Jewish.

She has a lot of company. A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 42% of all currently married Jewish respondents had a non-Jewish spouse. (I’m obviously one of them–in case you were confused, Kennedy is not a Jewish name.) For that matter, the high rate of Jewish intermarriage is of great concern to the Rabbinate and to Jewish organizations; to the extent intermarriage reduces the number of people identifying as Jewish, we may disappear entirely. After all, there weren’t that many of us to start with.

Of course, it isn’t just inter-religious marriage. It’s also interracial and same-sex unions.

America is experiencing the demographic “mixing”that so terrified Southern slaveholders (at least, when they weren’t engaging in some of that “mixing” themselves, with slaves who couldn’t refuse…) The most recent data I could find from the U.S. Census Bureau was from 2019; at that time, about 11% of all marriages in the United States were interracial. Even more significantly, in 2021, according to Axios, approval of interracial marriage in the U.S. hit a new high of 94%, according to Gallup polling.

The article noted that the prevalence of intermarriage continues to increase. In 1967, when Loving v. Virginia was decided, just 3% of married couples were interracial. In 2021, Pew estimated it at 20%.

Numbers and percentages can change, depending upon the definitions used, but whatever the “accurate” percentages, the rate of demographic inter-mingling continues to rise, and to affect the social context within which increasing numbers of Americans live.

It isn’t just increased acceptance of opposite-sex intermarriage. A poll conducted by the Trevor Project found that two-thirds of American adults report personally knowing someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, and nearly two-thirds of them (62%) said they would be comfortable if their child came out to them as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.(Only 13% would not be comfortable–a huge change from past attitudes.) Approval of same-sex marriage is now at 71%.

Dobbs was also too late to re-stigmatize abortion. Researchers tell us that one in four American women have terminated a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Gallup tells us that 85% of American women support reproductive choice–and that 45% would impose no restrictions on the procedure.

We now live in a society in which a not-insignificant number of older White Christians have Jewish, Black, Latino or gay grandchildren. Some number of those people react by rejecting those grandchildren, but a larger number will fight for a world that treats them fairly.

It isn’t just our friends and families. Increasing numbers of Americans go to jobs every day where their colleagues and co-workers are “diverse.” We have doctors and lawyers and CPAs who come from backgrounds different from our own.–and increasing numbers of those doctors, lawyers and CPAs are female.

In short, the world has moved on, and most of us prefer its current contours to the bigotries and caste-like social structures of the past. The exceptions are very angry and very loud, and they can do a lot of short-term harm. But their time has passed–and the tantrums they are throwing are evidence that–deep down–they know it.


Telling It Like It Is

Sometimes, a single observation accurately explains an otherwise confounding situation. Such an observation was included in a guest essay in last Wednesday’s New York Times.

The author began by citing survey results showing that Republicans are far more unhappy with their party’s lawmakers than Democrats are with theirs.

He then wrote:

The problem isn’t that Republicans don’t win legislative victories. It’s that legislative victories can’t answer the party’s underlying discontent, which is less about government policy than about American culture. Democrats worry about voting rights, gun control, climate change and abortion — enormous challenges, but ones that congressional leaders can at least try to address. What Republicans fear, above all, is social and demographic changes that leave white Christian men feeling disempowered, a complex set of forces that Republicans often lump together as “wokeness.”

When Donald Trump won the Presidency, those of us who attributed his support to racism were excoriated for oversimplification–characterizing all Trump voters as bigots was clearly unfair! Suggesting that votes for Trump and embrace of his MAGA message were evidence of White Supremacist attitudes oversimplified a complicated landscape and overlooked the impact of economic factors!

In the years since, however, numerous studies have confirmed that the single most reliable predictor of a vote for Trump was “racial resentment.” (As my youngest son has put it, only two kinds of people voted for Trump: those who agreed with his racism, and those who did not consider that racism disqualifying.)

The essay also cited to research identifying the GOP base as the population most upset by the current state of American culture.

Despite Republican power in Washington, these shifts have produced a deep gloom among the party’s base. A 2021 poll by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found that white evangelical Protestants — the heart and soul of the modern Republican Party — hold a bleaker view of America’s future than any other major racial or religious group. They’re more than 30 points less optimistic than Black Americans, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc. As the conservative writer David French noted in 2019, “one of the most striking aspects of modern Evangelical political thinking is its projection of inevitable decline.”

This pessimism is inextricably bound up with demographic change. A poll last year by the University of Maryland found that more than 60 percent of Republicans want to declare the United States a Christian nation. But according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped to 64 percent as of 2020 from 90 percent in the 1970s. Almost 60 percent of Republicans believe that “American customs and values” will grow weaker if white people lose their demographic majority. But non-Hispanic white people now constitute only about 60 percent of the population, down from around 80 percent in 1980, and already make up a minority of Americans under the age of 16.

It is no secret that the frantic opposition to immigration–especially immigration from the country’s Southern border–is an expression of racism.But as the essay points out, even if the United States totally stopped all immigration tomorrow, legal or illegal, the White share of the population would keep declining, because White Americans are much older than the population at large.

And the Court decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade–a long-held aspiration of the hard Right–will not and can not reverse the changes in the gender norms of American society, changes that have empowered women and infuriated the MAGA base.

 A 2020 survey by the research firm PerryUndem found that Americans who oppose abortion rights are also deeply hostile to the #metoo movement and believe that “most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.” Overturning Roe won’t change the fact that most Republicans think American society discriminates against men.

Bottom line: Looming over all of the other problems faced by a self- emasculated Kevin McCarthy is the real nature of the GOP’s discontent. McCarthy can’t return America to the 1950s or even the 1980, but ultimately, that’s what the MAGA warriors want. The impossibility of that demand is why today’s GOP has no agenda, no philosophy and no platform. The (very slim) Republican House majority can only continue to engage in performative antics, throwing tantrums and acting out.

For today’s GOP, nostalgia for lost privilege is everything. Governing is entirely beside the point.