“What is at stake in the conflict over representations of the future is nothing other than the attitude of the declining classes to their decline—either demoralization, which leads to a rout….or mobilization, which leads to the collective search for a collective solution to the crisis. What can make the difference is, fundamentally, the possession of the symbolic instruments enabling the group to take control of the crisis and to organize themselves with a view to a collective response, rather than fleeing from real or feared degradation in a reactionary resentment and the representation of history as a conspiracy.”
Pierre Bourdieu, The Bachelor’s Ball (p. 189)
“We’ll let you guys prophesy/ We gon’ see the future first.”
Frank Ocean, “Nikes” (Blonde)
In 2008, Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama outperformed his predecessors John Kerry and Al Gore with virtually every single demographic group, handily defeating his Republican rival John McCain.
Many progressives came to believe that these results were not a fluke, that Obama’s coalition represented the future: an “Emerging Democratic Majority” that stood to reshape American politics as we know them.
The logic was simple: most of those who are young, college-educated, women or minorities lean left. Older white men lean right, but whites were declining as a portion of the electorate due to immigration and interracial unions. Therefore, as the older generation passes away and a younger, more diverse, and more educated cohort steps into the fore, America will become more progressive in an enduring way.
Right now, these predictions are not looking so good. In a virtual inversion of 2008 (only worse), Republicans comfortably control both chambers of Congress. They also dominate state legislatures and governorships nationwide —bodies which arguably matter more to people’s everyday lives than the federal government.
Meanwhile, Democrats lost perhaps their best chance in a generation to fundamentally reshape the Supreme Court. And the new Republican Administration seems committed to rolling back many of the signature accomplishments of the most impactful Democratic President since LBJ.
In the midst of such a bleak reality, it may be tempting to hold onto the faith that the Emerging Demographic Majority thesis remains essentially sound: Trump is an anomaly, certain to self-destruct, ushered into power as a final, desperate act of defiance by a segment of the population that knows its time is up.
However, in this instance, optimism would be ill-advised: the electoral trend actually seems to be going the opposite direction. If anything, it seems as though progressives may be on the “wrong side of history.”