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Why the Politics of Grievance Is a Winning Strategy for the Democrats

On June 3, John Kline posted at the online magazine American Greatness a commentary on the institutional terror that “woke” America and its officials are visiting on hapless Americans. An example of this savage bullying is the treatment that New York Attorney General Letitia James is meting out to political journalist Peter Brimelow and his VDARE foundation. Although Brimelow’s institution operates in West Virginia, it is registered in New York State. Evidence that Brimelow’s foundation is violating the law, according to Kline, is still being hunted up or invented. But since Brimelow’s enterprise is associated with the political right and since James was elected as an avenging angel against the left’s opponents, she is terrorizing (a less graphic word would be inappropriate here) what she has decided is a politically unacceptable foundation.

This political style is not at all unusual in our time and place. A politician like James is popular, indeed a rock star among her voters, precisely because she runs as the nemesis of the right. In a commentary for City Journal, Craig Trainor, a former civil rights attorney in New York City, described James as a “left-wing activist, prone to rhetorical bomb-throwing.” In 2018, she was elected to her position as attorney general in a landslide, promising to go after Trump and his family for manipulating their financial holdings in New York State. Despite her ranting, James has not prosecuted Trump. Though she gave her findings to the Biden Justice Department, even that politically slanted agency  found little of value in what she provided.

Trainor views James as the perfect illustration of “the weaponization of government—to harass, punish, ruin, and, if possible, imprison one’s political enemies.” Yet her faithful electorate seem delighted with her behavior. Not incidentally, James polls exceedingly well among blacks, LGBT activists, and feminist voters. It would be fair to say that this is not the case primarily because of her Democratic label. Rather she does well as a Democrat because her party accommodates her politics of grievance. What Trainor calls her “personalized and prejudicial public sentiments” are not a hindrance to her work as a public official—in fact, they explain her appeal to her voters.

I would also defend James and the Democratic Party against a charge the conservative establishment makes against it quite ritualistically by now. Racial minorities and other Democratic constituencies are not the “victims” of their national party; nor have they allowed themselves to be corrupted by this supposedly demonic organization. To a large extent, it is actually the Democratic Party that is the deserving victim of those grievance groups with which it has made an unholy alliance. One of the most provocative parts of Benjamin Ginsberg’s still relevant work, Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (1993), is where the John Hopkins’ political scientist traces the reconstruction of the Democratic Party starting in the 1960s. What had been traditionally a party of Southern whites and blue-collar Northern ethnics was transformed into a culturally and socially leftist powerhouse. 

By the mid-1960s, Democratic Party leaders stood at a crossroads. They could either rally around their more conservative base in both the North and the South, or they could rebuild the party around its more dynamic progressive elements: black civil rights activists and progressive urban Jews. The Democratic Party, according to Ginsberg, chose the latter course, and those more traditionalist demographics that had played major roles in its operation, like Dixiecrats and religious Catholics, became increasingly marginalized. Nominally Catholic Democrats were allowed to have some presence in the party, but were epitomized by such go-along figures as Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Robert Casey, Jr. Conservative Northern Democrats like Richard Daley, Sr., Frank Lausche, or Robert Casey, Sr., together with Southern white Democrats, lost influence as the Democratic National Committee vigorously courted civil rights activists and feminists.

The new arrangement did produce tensions, according to Ginsberg. The Jewish and black architects of the new order didn’t always share the same sentiments or loyalties. While the Jewish Democrats were deeply devoted to an expanding public administration and at least the trappings of legality, the black representatives were more into direct action and public denunciations of alleged white racists. And black leftists in the party did not particularly like their Jewish collaborators, a problem that Commentary magazine as well as Ginsberg would underline in the 1970s and 1980s. 

One sees the continuation of this tension within the Democratic Party today, for example in the not-quite-natural cooperation between Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Hakeem Jeffries in the House. Despite their shared commitment to the present woke agenda, Schumer depends on the Jewish—even Orthodox Jewish—votes, which he has cultivated over the decades. Moreover, he takes strong Zionist positions, at least partly because he represents New York State, which has a large, influential Jewish electorate. Jeffries is the nephew of the black racial theorist Leonard Jeffries, whom he openly praises, and an admirer of Louis Farrakhan, who specializes in anti-Semitic remarks. Despite these ethnically rooted differences, Jeffries stands with Schumer in his invectives against “MAGA extremists” as the major source of American bigotry. But it may be fair to ask how deep the emotional bond between these two leaders really is, and whether the old tensions that Ginsberg pointed to in the 1980s still lie just below the surface.

Still, the Democratic Party must deal with the implications of the choice it made more than a generation ago, which was to become less and less the party of the working class and more and more the party of grievance groups. This did not happen overnight. There was a process of adaptation by Democratic operatives and Democratic politicians as they assumed their present identity. While in the old Democratic Party the stereotypical enemy was corporate management or a greedy factory owner, in the new party the adversary is the “MAGA extremist” or the white male heterosexual gun owner, whom all Democrats can agree to hate. The preferred foe may also be the white Southerner who shuns mandatory critical race theory training at his workplace and who describes the Confederate flag “as a heritage, not a hate symbol.”

Further, as the grievance groups from whom the Democrats drew votes became more vocally aggrieved, Democratic operatives were forced to keep pace with their electorate. It is simply not the case that these grievance groups became more antiwhite, anti-male, or anti-Christian because the Democrats pushed them in that direction. What may be far truer is that the party has moved with its constituents. 

In Chicago earlier this year a radical black Democrat, Brandon Johnson, won the mayoral race against Paul Vallas, a more moderate Democrat who seemed genuinely interested in addressing the city’s soaring criminal violence. Largely because of the black vote, Johnson won the mayoral contest to the consternation of less radical Democrats. Johnson seems even softer on crime than his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, who was also elected by a heavy black turnout. Democratic voters still receive choices in the Democratic primaries; and at least among blacks, those candidates who are the most indulgent of criminals, like Johnson, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, usually win. So, let’s not pretend the Democratic Party makes its black electorate vote for candidates who sympathize more with criminals than the police. These voters do that without prompting.

In the New York gubernatorial race, the liberal Democrat Kathy Hochul owed her victory to the fact that over 90 percent of the black vote in the greater NYC area went to her rather than her Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin. Although Zeldin necessarily ran in New York State as a moderate, his stand on fighting crime may have irritated black voters. Hochul’s reputation as being weak on crime hardly hurt her reputation with this key demographic. Most black voters support those who seek to disempower law enforcing authorities. They seem less critical of the criminals whom their elected officials are bailing out than those who ravage black neighborhoods. The Democratic Party did not produce that attitude; its politicians only exploit it. 

In my state of Pennsylvania, a brain-damaged, culturally radical Democrat in a hoodie named John Fetterman beat a very centrist Republican physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz, in the senatorial race last year. Fetterman achieved that goal because his handlers made unrestricted abortion rights a key issue. This attracted an overwhelming majority of college-educated women, who felt that the Republican candidate was committed to taking away their inalienable right to dispose of their unborn children. Fetterman won by a margin of 28 percent or more in the Philadelphia suburbs, thanks mostly to the female vote there. The efforts of The New York Times to attribute his victory to “working class support” verges on the hallucinatory. The attempt made by this unaccomplished heir to a vast family fortune to depict himself as a worker because of his hobo appearance and uncouth manner fooled no one. His white supporters came largely out of the woke affluent class.

Oz lost the Pennsylvania race because he was viewed as insufficiently sensitive to “women’s health issues.” It was not enough for him to express private reservations about abortion while also trying to run away from the issue. Winning the votes of indignant, suburban women required more: he would have had to have called for unrestricted abortion rights through the third trimester everywhere in the U.S., even in states that didn’t want to enact such rights. To be sure, a politician who appealed to this electorate also had to be enthusiastically in sync with the entire LGBT agenda. 

The Democratic Party grows by playing to such demands and to the groups that support them. It does not arouse woke rage by turning settled, happy people into embattled ideologues and antiwhite bigots. It woos those who are already predisposed in this direction. Where the Democratic Party bears some blame in this matter is by agglutinating the frenetically aggrieved and giving them collective representation. The party also keeps the retribution claimants off each other’s necks as they fight for government benefits.

We are dealing here with a culture war that would exist even if the Democrats didn’t exploit it for their own benefit.

I am certainly not absolving Democrats of all responsibility for what we see in our transformed political culture. But their role is quite different from that of other revolutionary parties, especially the Communists and Nazis. Unlike these other post-liberal parties, the Democrats have not invented or even greatly exaggerated animosities that existed in a weaker form before certain sinister parties gained influence and power. Rather the Democrats have built on existing cultural turmoil and have done so quite resourcefully. 

The efforts of our not-very-thoughtful conservative media to blame the other party for our social and moral disintegration is dangerously misleading. We are dealing here with a culture war that would exist even if the Democrats didn’t exploit it for their own benefit. This struggle would be going on, sustained by the passions of the aggrieved, even if the Democratic Party were not there to organize it. At times the Democrats seem to be taken unawares by their own crazed followers, for example, when BLM and Antifa unleash mob violence and start burning down cities. Democrats must then rush to explain that Antifa is just an idea. Given their base, what else should we expect Biden, Schumer, and Kamala to be saying?

If Democrats recently transferred criminal guilt from a deranged transgendered youth who murdered six people in a Christian school in Nashville to gun rights advocates, they were simply following the lead of network news commentators. The party was trying not to offend its major constituencies when it depicted the crazed murderer as a victim of white Christian prejudice and the NRA. Since both the LGBT lobby and enemies of gun rights are important allies, the DNC cannot afford to lose their support. 

When Joe Biden and Merrick Garland insist that white nationalism is the greatest domestic threat to the U.S., 47 percent of their party agree. The same percentage of Democrats favor allowing males who claim to have changed their gender to compete in female sports. Those who take such mind-boggling positions, it is safe to say, are party activists. They are the ones who mobilize the base and make generous contributions to the Democratic Party. Moreover, thanks to steady media instruction for decades, 62 percent of Americans surveyed in a Gallop Poll in 2021 favor the enforcement of quotas for blacks and other “historically disadvantaged” minorities. The Democrats have not exactly gone out on a limb when they call for systematic discrimination against white males. In present-day America, a centralized media and educational system prepared the way for what once seemed bizarre leftist policies.

Mind you, this is not a defense of Democratic politics. It is a recognition that the party’s actions are driven by the electorate it now embraces. The cultural and social radicalism of Democratic voters is a problem that conservatives will have to face, whether or not the other party is taking advantage of this situation. Nor have Republicans failed to follow the same course as the opposition. They too cater to the LGBT lobby and apologize for racist iniquities that neither they nor in all likelihood their ancestors ever committed. A longtime GOP hero and a Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012, Paul Ryan, can barely contain his enthusiasm when talking about transgendered advocates in commercial advertisements. Neither party has clean hands in trying to accommodate the woke or antiwhite left.

Finally, I am not denying that Democrats in power, all things being equal, are usually more socially destructive than their opponents. What I am arguing against is the simplistic notion that by voting out Democrats and replacing them with Republicans we can rid ourselves of a deeply entrenched and powerful left. Things are unfortunately not that simple.


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