How to Talk about a Changing America

After the election revealed the central demographic problem the GOP faces—it is emphatically the party of white people in a country that grows more diverse by the day—there was some triumphalism among liberals about this state of affairs. But the always humane and thoughtful Harold Pollack reminds us that we should reserve some sympathy for the people who feel unsettled by the rapid pace of change in 21st century America:

These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that's a lot of change to accept within just a few years. I met some others, too. Consider the liberal Jews of my parents' generation who sense—accurately, I think–that the coming generation of liberal politicians can read from the hymnal but don't sway with the music about Israel the way the generation of 1967 and 1973 once did.

It's an irony of recent history that the conciliatory and calm Barack Obama exemplifies in his person some inexorable and potentially scary political and demographic trends. Some would exploit the accompanying anxieties by challenging the President's birth certificate. Most people fear the "otherness" of our coming 21st-century America, not the alleged inauthenticity of our president's initial paperwork fifty years ago. Whatever your ideological stance, however you might disdain birthers such as Donald Trump, you'd have to be tone deaf not to sympathize at some person-to-person level with millions of people who feel left behind and a little lost. We liberals would be wise to reach out, not in a spirit of triumphalism but in a more embracing and human way, to simply reassure people that the planet will still rotate despite all the changes we see in American society. Many of our best values and most important interests are being advanced, not undermined, by the coming of a more liberal and inclusive society.

That's good advice on both a personal and political level. Consider the success of gay marriage initiatives in Maryland, Maine, and Washington in 2012. It happened because the marriage equality forces crafted a campaign aimed at persuading people uncomfortable with same-sex marriage that they shared values with the gay couple down the block, values like family and commitment. Instead of saying, "You're just being bigoted," that campaign acknowledged those voters' misgivings and essentially led them on a path from opposition to support of marriage equality.

Something similar may be possible on issues like immigration. When Democrats are arguing for immigration reform, for instance, they can say, we understand that it can be disorienting to walk into a store and hear everyone speaking Spanish. And it's true that America is changing. But America has always changed, and one of the things that is remarkable about this country we share is its ability to take each new generation of immigrants, weave them into the American story, and emerge with our values not only intact but strengthened. That message would be not only true but politically effective, and if the other party offers fear and resentment as an alternative, they'll lose.

But maybe they won't offer fear and resentment. Maybe they'll offer something that helps people feel better about the evolution of our society. If they do it well, perhaps the enormous advantage that Democrats now enjoy among young people, non-white people, and secular people will be weakened. That might end up being good for everybody.

Comments

Or, you know, it could be possible that many of these people have an innate need to fear, and therefore are vulnerable to [fascist] manipulation. At least for this subset, no amount of reasoning or sugar-coated messaging can change their psychology.

The article covers some points about changes in America, but nowhere does it address the foundation. Sure the cover may be evolving, but who cares about the trivial nature of flesh tones and hues. The meat is under the skin, and it's very rotten and diseased.

The meat is the federal and state governments being driven by ill thinking politicians from the two-party rulers. From 1945 on, their dual abuse alone finished the transformation of the USA into a highly centralized dictatorship 'democracy'. With National Security concerns building most of the nanny / surveillance state, the USA is now occupied by the federal government and its associated bureaucratic agencies who operate with little supervision. This occupation is illegal and a direct threat to the USA and its people. This invasion by a hostile enemy government is an attack on each citizen and each person in the USA. However, seems no one cares. Everyone is happy to be safe from the invisible enemies we hear about, but can't see.

Since Congress marginalized the People in 1929 with Public Law 62-5, the People are irrelevant except to rubber stamp 1 of 2 people for most federal offices. Wow, a taxing choir on the backs of 'hard' working Americans, to think what would happen if there were 3? But, there are more than 2 per office, however, who bothers when 2 is hard enough to contemplate.

Both major political parties and their backers are bankrupt of thought and reason by preferring an nice and safe dictatorship to what is still our supreme document, the Constitution. These people and parties are more than bankrupt, they live in a make believe framework which is incapable of honesty, because they simply will not get rid of the Constitution they continually usurp.

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