How the Democrats can Rebuild


Numerous commentaries from both the political left and right have expounded the parlous state of the Democratic Party. And, to be sure, the Democrats have been working on extinguishing themselves in vast parts of the country, and have even managed to make themselves less popular than the Republicans in recent polls.

Yet, in the longer term, the demographic prospects of a Democratic resurgence remain excellent. Virtually all of the growing parts of the electorate — millennials, Latinos, Asians, single women — are tilting to the left. It is likely just a matter of time, particularly as more conservative whites from the silent and boomer generations begin to die off.

But, in politics, like life, time can make a decisive difference. It’s been almost a decade since the Atlantic proclaimed the end of “white America,” but Anglos will continue to dominate the electorate for at least the next few electoral cycles, and they have been trending to the right. In 1992, white voters split evenly between the parties, but last year went 54 percent to 39 percent for the GOP.

Identity politics vs. social democracy

To win consistently in the near term, and compete in red states, Democrats need to adjust the cultural and racial agenda dominating the “resistance” to one that addresses directly the challenges faced by working- and middle-class families of all races. This notion of identity politics, as opposed to those of social class, is embraced by the progressives’ allies in the media, academia, urban speculators, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, since environmentalism, gender and race issues do not directly threaten their wealth or privileged status.

The rise of identity politics, born in the 1960s, has weakened the party’s appeal to the broader population, as Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla argued in a November New York Times column. But most progressives, like pundit Matthew Yglesias, suggest that “there is no other way to do politics.” To even suggest abandoning identity politics, one progressive academic suggested, is an expression of “white supremacy,” and she compared the impeccably progressive Lilla with KKK leader David Duke.

This hurts the Democrats as they seek to counter President Donald Trump. Americans may not be enthusiastic about mass deportations, but the Democratic embrace of open borders and sanctuary cities also is not popular — not even in California. And while most Americans might embrace choice as a basic principle, many, even millennials, are queasy about late-term abortions.

Democrats also need to distance themselves from the anti-police rhetoric of Black Lives Matter. Among millennials, law enforcement and the military are the most trusted of all public institutions. Rabid racial politics among Democrats, notes Lee Trepanier, political science professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and editor of the VoegelinView website, is steadily turning white voters into something of a conscious racial “tribe.”

Finally, Democrats have now embraced a form of climate change orthodoxy that, if implemented, all but guarantees that America will not have a strong, broad-based economic expansion. The economic pillars of today’s Democratic Party may thrive in a globalist, open-border society, but not many in the more decidedly blue-collar industrial, agricultural or homebuilding industries.

This piece first appeared in The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: Gage Skidmore


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Jobs and clean energy

It always bothers me to hear people just assume that fighting climate change automatically means killing jobs.

The solar industry alone has created one out of every 80 jobs in the United States since the Great Recession. When including wind, LED lighting, and other clean energy categories, that number could be as high as one in 33.

The oil industry and coal industry have pushed the lie that all good jobs are in dirty energy, while jobs in clean energy are uniformly terrible. The actual truth is much the opposite. For the solar industry, a majority of new employment opportunities are blue-collar construction and manufacturing jobs that pay an average of $21 per hour.

Although oil field workers make more (as much as $48 per hour) it is dirty and dangerous work. Coal miners make about $22 per hour, which is a pretty small reward for cutting 15 to 20 years off their life expectancy.

The Trump Administration also likes to repeat the lie that polluting the air and water is somehow a magical economic recipe to create jobs. It simply is not true.

Statistically, there are just as many jobs in clean energy as in dirty energy, and the jobs will still be around long after the coal and oil are gone. Maybe if "NewGeography" would report the facts, instead of continually turning the conversation back to "identity politics" then the voters would be better informed about the impact of their choices.

Climate Change

Climate change and to a lesser extent environmental policies are unpopular but imperative, and everyone will be much worse off if we don't try to fix the problem. To borrow a phrase, we can't keep robbing the future to create jobs today, especially the unnecessary, redundant and cannibalistic building out of sprawl. There's an article in the Chicago Tribune today about how 8 percent of Illinois' bridges are in desperate need of immediate repair (said to be below the national average!) but I won't be surprised either at Trump's "infrastructure" package going overwhelmingly to new development nor the housing industry and pro-suburban outlets like this one applauding the federal government's return to suburban subsidization (insofar as it ever really left).

And when the environment finally melts down I fully expect some new generation of Kotkin to successfully replay the strategy the Trump campaign used for free trade and the Iraq War: "Sure, the Republicans were the ones pushing the policies that caused this mess, but we expected it from them. The Democrats should have known better and opposed them more stridently. Since they didn't, they've lost America's trust and we need to keep voting for the Republicans to fix things!"