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Demographics Cannot be Destiny
The interpretation of the results of the November 6th’s election, from triumphant victors to over-analyzing pundits, appears to suggest that the fate of the United States going forward will be determined by one factor – the hurtling demographic train.
Pundits, analysts and politicos assert that the U.S. is on a linear trajectory where rapid growing minority populations will overtake the nation’s traditional white majority whose beliefs will be atrophied and continue to display voting patterns observed in the recent past. This assertion creates an inevitability of political outcomes with the nation drifting leftward, uninterrupted by the influence of ideas and intellectual discourse.
The modern belief that progress is based on the pursuit of education and knowledge, and the subsequent evolution of beliefs has shaped the choices people have made including the political ones.
Are we at a point where we are going to write off all the minority groups as having formed their own beliefs purely derived from their ethnic or racial identities, and never subject to change? Do we expect that future politics will only be determined by the minority population numbers relative to the white population? Will minority communities with pre-formed, identity-based beliefs follow issues and take sides to conform to those beliefs?
As a member of one of those minority communities, I am offended by assumptions based on such low expectations. But unfortunately the reality I observe in my own community appears to reinforce the paradigm.
I grew up in India, but like most of my compatriots who have migrated and settled in the U.S., I was fortunate to share the economic prosperity furnished by my education and advance my political beliefs through open discourse in the battlefield of ideas. I would have expected to observe the differing opinions and political stands commensurate with the independent thought and confidence that pervades the Indian émigré community resulting from high educational achievement and significant prosperity. That does not appear to be the case though.
A culturally rich and diverse community with long standing traditions of debate in most aspects of life, displays an overwhelming skew when it comes to American politics. Indian Americans tend to favor the Democratic Party, by four to one. This preference is consistent with other minority groups in the U.S.
Should we then conclude that this preference is in response to complete alignment on economic, social, and foreign policy issues to left of center ideas and the Democratic Party platform?
A close examination of all the cultural apects, however, reveals widely differing views on issues with anecdotal evidence even pointing to a rightward bias.
Starting with economic issues, most Indians fervently adhere to free-market principles with a strong belief in individual and a limited preference for government and its redistributive policies. For example, ask any Indian about the role of unions in the economy and they will bemoan their role back in India where they destroyed sectors of the economy where they enjoyed large influence. On social issues, education is somewhat of an obsession in the community as all parents aspire to see their children continue their ascent socially and economically. School choice is another important issue, as is evidenced in the choices Indian Americans make in sparing no expense to reside in the best school districts and even send their children to private school if they can afford it. India Americans show very little appetite for left-leaning agendas that shape today’s public school curriculums and would likely prefer to see increased emphasis on science and math. On the issue of foreign policy, the community is very mixed in opinion with no clear pattern or preference.
All of the evidence would at least support expectations that the community is fairly evenly divided between Democratic and Republican beliefs. However, when headed to the voting booth, the Indian community appears to step back from the issues and regress to a self-prescribed ethnic identity and make an emotional choice to assert an independent identity from the majority population, although this choice may be in conflict with their own interests and beliefs, as well as the interest of the wider community.
This is an act of intellectual laziness, very much at odds with the intellectual rigor the Indian community has displayed while participating in the economy and adherence to strong social values and family life. Similar patterns of thought and behavior also apply to most other minority groups in the U.S.
The political discourse in this nation has been enriched by a multitude of luminaries and thought leaders tracing back to the founding fathers. Intellectual giants have clashed on the predominant topics of the day and have taken widely differing positions starting a tradition with Jefferson and Madison opposing Adams and Hamilton. With evolving times and challenges, the electorate has shifted loyalties based on the force of ideas and performance of leaders while remaining anchored to the political center. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has swung wild and unpredictably, experimenting with political extremes.
The challenges of the Great Depression in the early twentieth century saw a leftward shift with President Roosevelt rallying the country towards New Deal programs. The country then moved quietly towards a more conservative phase after the second World War in the Eisenhower era, only to swing leftward as the Vietnam war raged and President Johnson introduced the Great Society programs. A series of right and left lurches followed under Presidents Nixon and Carter, and the more enduring President Reagan.
We experienced more centrist or right of center regimes, up until the entrance of the Obama Administration and movement leftward. Notwithstanding shifting political preferences in the last hundred years, major political choices have been made by an overwhelming white electorate, under which the extent of voter divide between the Democrats and Republicans has fallen within the 45 percent and 55 percent range. However, more recently the non-white population has shown an 80 percent preference for the Democrats. There may be historical and emotional reasons for this preference, but now we are at a tipping point when that choice will shape the nation’s destiny.
Are we going to throw away the long tradition of political discourse and diversity of opinion and let choices based on ethnic and racial identities determine our future? Was it only the burden of the white electorate to debate and influence each other while all non-white groups remained complacent in their unchanging beliefs? Many political pundits appear to imply that the endurance of a left-leaning nation can be expected in the not so distant future.
The Republican Party is torn with debate, both from within and from the outside, about the necessity of either a re-evaluation of principles or of better outreach to the various minority groups. While the Republicans are engaged in any combination of tactics, there is a bigger need for soul searching and more enlightened leadership within the minority communities. We must be capable of debating those principles on our own and re-evaluating our positions based on the strength of ideas and the performance of our leaders. Do we have to wait for outreach from the white leadership in the GOP to inform us of the strength of certain principles that may have withstood the test of time?
History has imposed a tremendous burden on our minority groups as the future of this nation will be shaped by their political choices. In the past, the majority, through its control of political outcomes, has navigated the country through various challenges and maintained a certain skill for dealing with problems in contrast with the rest of the world, and created opportunities, hope and prosperity for all.
As the various ascendant ethnic and racial groups contemplate a future in the U.S., it is contingent on them to fully appreciate the responsibility that changing demographics has imposed on them and realize that the foundation of a modern, advanced, prosperous and diverse society cannot bear the crushing weight of individual identities primarily defined by race, ethnicity or religion.
Manoj Singh, Associate Director
Office of Strategic Initiatives
Federal Housing Finance Agency
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