When he’s not being a troll on Twitter, Vox’s Matt Yglesias occasionally writes something sensible. Today he published a piece pointing out that election results show Democrats have a problem with minority voters, particularly with Hispanic voters.
While Cuba-specific issues are tactically central to electoral battles in Florida, the fact is that even before all the results are in, it’s clear Biden’s weakness with Latino voters was broader than that. In South Florida, Biden lost ground with a diverse Hispanic population that includes many families from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, or Colombia, as well as Cuba broadly.
More to the point, Democrats turned in extremely disappointing performances in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, even in the context of a large overall improvement in the state. Trump actually won Zapata County, for example, a small border jurisdiction that’s 84 percent Hispanic and which Hillary Clinton won by 30 points in 2016.
So what exactly is the problem here? Why would Hispanic voters gravitate toward someone the left has universally condemned as a racist? Yglesias says the problem is deeper than tactics. Instead, he argues it’s about a difference between how progressive thinkers view racism and how actual minorities view it. He then points to one specific example where the left’s academically oriented racial politics comes into conflict with people’s actual culture: The use of the word “Latinx.”
For the past several years, the term “Latinx” has been gaining momentum in progressive circles, even though only 3 percent of US Hispanics actually use it themselves.
The word originates in academic and activist circles, having been coined in 2004 and only gaining popularity about 10 years later. The term is meant to solve two problems. One is that the Spanish language uses the masculine term “Latino” to refer not just to men but also to mixed-gender groups, implying a kind of problematic privileging of the male gender. The other is that the binary nature of grammatical gender — Latino men and Latina women — is a poor fit for the needs and lives of nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. In academic and activist circles, “Latinx” suggests itself as an elegant gender-neutral solution.
The message of the term, however, is that the entire grammatical system of the Spanish language is problematic, which in any other context progressives would recognize as an alienating and insensitive message.
Yglesias isn’t claiming that the use of this word is causing people to vote Trump. He calls it a “symptom” of a broader problem with how the intersectional left addresses racial issues. As he puts it, there’s a “tendency to privilege academic concepts and linguistic innovations in addressing social justice concerns.” There’s a reason for that which involves the nature of far left politics, which believes everything is essentially a social construct mediated by words. Words are literally seen as holding power over social change. You change the words to alter the construct. That’s why the far left insists on “Latinx” even though Hispanic people don’t like it.
In any case, the left’s problem isn’t just with Hispanics. Black voters, especially black men, are also shifting gradually away from the Democratic Party. Again the issue is that black voters don’t appear to be quite as racially motivated as white progressives think they should be.
Among self-identified Democrats, for example, a Pew survey this summer showed that African Americans were slightly less likely than whites to favor cutting police spending, while Hispanics were much less likely…
Self-identified white liberals report warmer feelings about immigrants than do Hispanics…
To say that working-class nonwhites don’t care about racial justice would be absurd. But many of them may not accept the academic constructs of what these things mean.
To put it simply, woke white progressives are more racially sensitive than a lot of minorities. That’s potentially a big problem if your politics is founded on the idea of calling out racial grievances as a path to utopia. It potentially messes up the left’s whole vision of where the country is headed.
For many years the left has been pitching a theory of “demographic destiny.” The idea is that as the country becomes less white, as black and Hispanic voters become a majority, the country’s politics would naturally slide to the left. That has happened to some degree in California, where Hispanics are now the largest percentage of the population. The state is entirely controlled by Democrats. And you could look at the Squad as another example of leftists politics coinciding with minority representation in Congress.
But this election shows that there’s nothing essential about that leftward drift. Just as Hispanics are becoming a larger portion of the population, they also appear to be moving right. And while the shift is more subtle with black voters, it’s happening there as well. Demographics don’t necessarily mean leftists will assume control of the country. On the contrary, it might even be the case that the Democrats’ claim over these voting blocks is falling apart because the left is so extreme. Black voters may decide they don’t want to defund the police even though the Marxist-led BLM is pushing that.
If the Hispanic vote continues to shift right the left may soon have to either reconsider its commitment to identity politics or find fresh ways to denounce the GOP as racists. I guess Yglesias’ piece is evidence the former is being considered but then there’s also evidence the latter path is being taken as well.
One day after this election is over I am going to write a piece about how Latino is a contrived ethnic category that artificially lumps white Cubans with Black Puerto Ricans and Indigenous Guatemalans and helps explains why Latinos support Trump at the second highest rate.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) November 4, 2020