Two Glimpses into the Future

Will American democracy survive after Whites become a minority?
And will the super-rich care whether civilization survives at all?


Following 2020 and 2022 elections, a number of articles have suggested that Democrats losing their hold on Hispanic voters, a development portrayed in liberal circles as something ominous that needs to be fixed. For years, the increasing number of Hispanic Americans was thought to promise Democrats some sort of demographic inevitability, and now they seem to be blowing it.

I’m of two minds about this line of thought. On the one hand, no segment of the electorate should be taken for granted, so the complaints that Democrats are offering Hispanic voters “noble rhetoric but never a seat at the table” deserve serious attention.

On the other, the whole emerging Democratic majority argument now seems wrong-headed, for reasons that Yascha Mounk spells out in the The Great Experiment: Why diverse democracies fall apart and how they can endure.

Mounk is deeply worried about the possible future in which we have a White Party and a People of Color Party. If the major-party identities get fixed in such a tribal way, he has a hard time seeing how democracy in America avoids devolving into civil strife, as it has in, say, Lebanon. Democracy should be about voters who are open to changing their minds when the other party presents a compelling vision, not about rival blocs you are born into and never leave. In a racially-defined two-party system, neither party can hope to convince the other’s voters, so they will end up competing in less positive ways.

To the extent that the parties themselves believe in demographic inevitability, they start to take their own demographic groups for granted and cast the other party’s demographic groups as enemies. You can see this happening already among MAGA Republicans, who see the coming non-White majority as a “Great Replacement” of White people, and try to head off that threat by rigging the system so that the dawning non-White majority never achieves power: stop non-White immigration, stop non-White immigrants from becoming citizens, make it hard for non-White citizens to vote, herd them into gerrymandered districts that minimize their political strength, and so on. Some on the right are ready to jettison democracy entirely rather than face a future where Whites lose power.

Many Democrats, on the other hand, fail to see why they need to win Hispanic votes. I mean, they’re Hispanics. What’s wrong with them if they can’t see which party they’re supposed to support? Conversely, White Evangelicals get written off, and they shouldn’t be. There are good Christian reasons to support liberal policies, and that argument needs to be made.

But Mounk is an optimist in that he believes the melting pot is still bubbling, at least for some groups. The original ethnic majority in the US was English, then Northern European (minus the Irish), and then grew to include Eastern and Southern Europeans (plus the Irish). (Jews, I think, are a special case — assimilated in some ways but not others, and still a political identity in a sense that Italians and Poles no longer are. Jews are separate enough that Doug Mastriano would try to make an issue of Josh Shapiro’s religion in the 2022 Pennsylvania governor’s race. But they’re accepted enough that he failed by a wide margin.) So why couldn’t it also absorb Hispanics, Asians, and Muslims? He thinks that’s starting to happen, and sees it as a good thing: There should be no need for either a White Party or a People of Color Party.

When their race or religion stops being a defining characteristic, Hispanic, Asian, and Muslim political views may come to more closely resemble the rest of the country. Hispanic businessmen, for example, may start to vote like other businessmen, Hispanic Catholics like other Catholics, and Asian or Muslim professionals like other professionals. If Republicans stop casting non-Whites and non-Christians as enemies, people of any race or religion may decide that they prefer lower taxes, less regulation, and other traditionally Republican policies.

Mounk glides over what this means for Black people, whose path into the mainstream has always been more difficult. (To an extent, non-Blackness has been the unifying principle of America’s ever-expanding “White” majority.) Mounk doesn’t explain why this will change, which I think is a major hole in his argument. But I believe this much of his thesis is sound: It’s a mistake to think that people will or won’t vote for you purely because they belong to this race or that religion. There’s nothing inevitable about Democratic dominance in a post-White-majority America — and that’s a good thing for democracy. Both parties would do well to recognize that fact and compete to win the allegiance of the new voters.


Another interesting recent book is Survival of the Richest: escape fantasies of the tech billionaires by Douglas Rushkoff.

Rushkoff describes himself in the introduction as a “Marxist media theorist” and “a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives”. So he is “often mistaken for a futurist” and often finds himself at the same futuristic conferences as tech billionaires. One time he was paid to fly out to a desert compound, and discovered that the small conference he thought he would address was actually a handful billionaires who wanted advice on where to site their apocalyptic refuges and how to keep control of their mercenaries after the legal system collapses.

His book describes a fundamental change in capitalism and the capitalist mindset. Originally, the point of establishing some income-producing enterprise — a shop, a farm, a factory, or whatever — was to create something that could be passed down through the generations like a medieval fiefdom. (This is my interpretation of Rushkoff’s point, and the examples that follow are mine rather than his.) For example, I imagine Henry Ford would have been thrilled to glimpse a future in which the Ford Motor Company still existed 75 years after his death and was still a major source of wealth for his descendants. Some small-scale capitalist — let’s call him Jack — might well have a similar fantasy of a great-grandchild still owning and operating Jack’s Bar & Grill a century hence.

But recently, particularly in the tech world, the prevailing fantasy has shifted to one where you cash out. Elon Musk‘s original fortune, for example, came from co-founding Zip2 and then selling it to Compaq for $300 million. He then co-founded an online bank, which merged into PayPal, which was eventually bought by eBay.

These days, that’s what a tech entrepreneur hopes to do: turn an idea into a business that works, then sell that business and move on to the next idea. It’s as if, rather than open a Mom & Pop grocery and hope to pass it down to your kids someday, you started M&P Grocery Franchises with the idea of selling it to Walmart or Kroger in a few years.

The old model softened capitalism somewhat by connecting the capitalist to the community, because the community was the arena in which success would ultimately play out. Your shop might become a landmark, or your factory could make you a pillar of the community. Some rich families were easily identified with their cities, like the Pillsburys in Minneapolis or the Buschs in St. Louis.

The new model, though, is about transcending the community. You build a team to implement your idea. You hire workers to provide your service or build your product. And once all those relationships are established, you sell and move on.

Rushkoff refers to this as “The Mindset”, and he thinks it explains the wealthy’s disinterest in preventing possible future dystopias: My ultimate fantasy doesn’t rely on the world not going to hell, but on transcending Earth-bound society by colonizing Mars, or uploading my consciousness to the Cloud, or building my Bond-villain bunker in the wilds of Alaska (assuming I can figure out how to control my mercenaries after the legal system collapses).

[T]hese people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society. Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.

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Comments

  • reverendsax  On November 28, 2022 at 9:39 am

    I am concerned about the upper 1% but I fear that the larger problem is the privilege assumed by the upper 50%, those with household incomes over $70,000 and who own 97% of the wealth. They (we?) set the availability and pricing of nearly everything. An interesting phenomenon is our blindness to those below us. We need to be more conscious of wealth distribution in the US.

    • Dale Moses  On November 29, 2022 at 3:32 pm

      The upper 50% isn’t terribly an issue. One of the reasons that the “upper 50%” exists and owns 97% of the wealth is because wealth is a sum. And income tends to increase with experience. Two people making $20/hour make 80k household income and are in the “upper 50%” but i am not really worried about two 40 year olds who have worked low wage jobs long enough to now be making “decent” money. And the single person household of a person in grad school making zero dollars or the double person household with a person in grad school and one working at $20/hour is materially different than the two 40 year olds, despite probably having little to no wealth and and below median income.

      That is, the bottom 50% in household income, besides those in individual poverty, largely have little wealth because they haven’t had time to accrue any yet.

  • John edgren  On November 28, 2022 at 9:40 am

    You segue from Rushkopf to Coupland without any explanation, and the piece ends abruptly. Is there some glitch here?

    • Josh  On November 28, 2022 at 10:35 am

      I think it’s a typo- the author of the book being discussed is Douglas Rushkoff but Douglas Coupland has written books with similar theses and it looks like Doug just conflated them in his head.

      • Josh  On November 28, 2022 at 10:37 am

        And “theses” was my typo where I meant to say “themes”. Oops.

  • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On November 28, 2022 at 10:11 am

    The thought occurs that both parties for different reasons might start addressing our human concerns rather than manipulating tribalism.

  • Bill Dysons  On November 28, 2022 at 10:39 am

    I never understood the conservative resistance to Hispanic immigration from the Southern border. Consider the following….

    Imagine two possible immigrants coming to the U.S. The first immigrant is from Germany and is one of the brightest scientific minds of the 21st century. He has applied for legal immigration status to attend one of our top universities and will be sponsored by the government to do groundbreaking work in some high demand area (say biotech, medicine, or engineering technology). He will probably stay in the U.S. for his entire adult life.

    The second immigrant is from Mexico and is an unskilled laborer. He’s already in the U.S. working, but having arrived illegally. He will also probably stay in the U.S. for his entire adult life – eventually hoping to move his family here for better opportunities.

    Now ask yourself, which one of these immigrants is more likely to be woke? (Answer: the German scientist). Now tell me again why conservatives should prioritize white European immigrants from advanced economies?

    • Dale Moses  On November 29, 2022 at 3:34 pm

      Because they’re racist. (and because keeping the unskilled migrant labor as illegal makes it easier to exploit that persons labor by threatening to call immigration on them)

      • Bill Dysons  On November 29, 2022 at 6:22 pm

        Nonsense. I agree that conservatives are certainly bigoted against liberals, but not against minorities. Have you ever worked a working-class job or on a manufacturing floor – or attended an SEC football game in the South? Race relations are generally quite good.

        The situation we (as Democrats) face is that Hispanics and African Americans are (for the most part) socially conservative people. The main reason they vote for Democrats is that they believe Republicans are racists…so in that sense it’s in our best interest to repeat this trope.

        But it’s not going to work in the long run. We’re losing minority voters already because they’re slowly discovering that conservatives aren’t racists – especially those under 50 – and once they discover this they also realize they don’t like us. We *have* to get minorities to like us for who we are. If not, 30 years from now the Democrats will be the party of rich, white liberals and the poor while the Republicans will be a multi-racial working class party.

        Of course, maybe that’s the way it should be.

  • Neal  On November 28, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    Who is Coupland?

  • Daughter Number Three  On November 29, 2022 at 5:01 pm

    Anti-Blackness is at the root of it, and it’s not surprising that Mounk doesn’t deal with it given his general approach. Kind of undermines his whole argument.

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