Opinion » Lead

Updated: November 12, 2012 00:16 IST

The rise of America’s ‘BRICS’

Francis A. Kornegay
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With the white population shrinking, the black-Hispanic-Asian coalition that powered Obama’s victory has the potential to set a new, more progressive American agenda

If Barack Obama’s election as America’s 44th President in 2008 was historic, as surely it was, with him becoming the nation’s first black head of state, his re-election marks an epochal transition in the political and electoral landscape of the United States. Demography indeed became destiny on November 6, 2012. America’s receding white electoral majority continued giving way to a new majority-minority ascendance. The historical significance of this transition and its implications for the future of America and the world should not be underestimated.

‘White nation’

The ‘founding fathers’ on up to even ‘The Great Emancipator’ Abraham Lincoln were so bent on the vision of America as a ‘white nation’ that uppermost on the agenda of solving ‘the race problem’ was: free the slaves and ship them back to Africa (which inspired Liberia’s founding, burdening the Mano River region of West Africa with an Americo-Liberian settler problem); and exterminate as many native Amerindians as possible. Meanwhile, the fledgling American political system became enthralled to a southern slavocracy, the legacy of which is only now being overcome through the Obama elections of 2008 and 2012.

Until now, the southern U.S. — Ol’Dixie — has been the tail wagging the dog of American politics. No longer. What was once a ‘solid South’ of racially-based, Christian fundamentalist-grounded, and pro-militarist reaction has eroded amid a major demographic transition that has been under way in the U.S. for decades beginning with the outlawing of racial segregationist Jim Crow in the 1960s. This happened as a result of a civil rights/black power movement that ushered in an era of national socio-racial and class upheavals and wrought profound changes in the American body politic.

President Obama’s ascendant black-Hispanic-Asian ‘rainbow coalition’ joined by women, younger age cohorts and university educated and professional classes is, in many respects, a legacy of the1960s-70s black movement (black activism having catalysed other American social movements, and the rise of ‘identity politics’: women’s liberation, anti-war protest, counter-cultural assertion). But this legacy has begun making itself felt in electoral terms only after an extremely costly but unavoidable interregnum of ‘white backlash’ political polarisation.

The partisan political identity reversals of the two-party system were a dramatic outcome of President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to commit the Democratic Party to regional political suicide in dismantling the South’s racial dictatorship. The Republican party of black emancipation from slavery grabbed the ‘Dixiecrat’ mantle from Democrats who became the party of civil rights and black political empowerment!

In this political transfiguration, other things happened. As the northern Catholic-southern Dixiecrat alliance underpinning Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal crumbled, Johnson ceded the South to a Republican party that was increasingly beating Democrats to the anti-communist punch while assuming the ideological mantle of ‘law and order.’ This was in the form of white backlash resistance to urban black protest and political assertion, counter-cultural New Leftism and perceived liberal elitism. Republicans discovered a ‘southern strategy’ to victory in presidential elections, reinforced by a power shift within the GOP — from Northeast-Midwestern Lincoln-Rockefeller Republicans to new elites hailing from the southwest in a ‘sunbelt’ rim extending from Orange County in southern California through Texas all the way to the Florida panhandle with its influx of anti-Castro Cubans.

The presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and those of Bush the elder and Bush the younger reflected this GOP ‘electoral lock’ on the White House. Democrats had to adapt to this new sunbelt regionalism in the ‘southern fried’ liberal presidencies of Jimmy Carter (Georgia) and Bill Clinton (Arkansas). Otherwise, the other part of Johnson’s legacy was the Democratic Party becoming the home of the politicisation of African-American ethnicity. This regionally polarised northern politics as whites fled the cities for the suburbs, taking their tax bases with them.

Republicans were able to successfully play a racial politics of isolating the black electorate while mobilising a conservative majoritarian white coalition. That is, until converging demographic forces of black migration back to the South (from where blacks had fled during the racist terror at the turn of the 19th-20th century) and Latino-Hispanic immigration gained momentum. This involved Puerto Ricans moving into the Northeast and Midwest interacting with Mexican immigration into the southwest and the Rocky Mountain west.

Altering social landscape

All combined, the social landscape upon which electoral strategies are built began to alter. This occurred to a point where Democratic strategists began taking another look at the South as a potentially competitive region that need not be conceded to the GOP; this was especially the case in the upper South of the Mid-Atlantic focusing on detaching Virginia (seat of the old Confederacy of Jefferson Davis) and North Carolina from the ‘Bible Belt’ of deep southern states: Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Overall, the white American population, in a mirror image of its European counterpart, is both ageing and shrinking. This is really what amounts to notions of ‘the decline of the west’ amid the ‘rise of the rest.’ The last census found that non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 per cent of all births in the U.S. while minorities — blacks, Hispanics, Asians and those of mixed race — accounted for 50.4 per cent of all births. This represented a majority for the first time in the country’s history. According to the U.S. Census, in the first decade of the new millennium, the Asian-American population rose 43.3 per cent, the African-American population 12.3 per cent, the Latino community 43 per cent — and the white population just 5.7 per cent.

In electoral terms, this demographic transition is accelerating exponentially with each national election. Thus, according to leading pundit Jonathan Chait, every year, the non-white proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point — meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 per cent, a huge amount in a closely divided country.

New ‘majority-minority’ ascendancy

Combined with the emergence of women and the most university-educated of all races, the new ‘majority-minority’ ascendancy within the electorate underpins increasingly prophetic projections of a Democratic Party comeback in what has now become the liberal guide to strategy formulation: The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira (2002).

A take-off on The Emerging Republican Majority by one-time Republican strategist Kevin Phillips (1969) upon which Richard Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ had been based, Judis and Teixeira were a bit ahead of their time given the defeat of Senator John Kerry’s challenge to George W. Bush in 2004. Even then, it was apparent that the white electoral base upon which the GOP was banking its fortunes was an eroding one. Yet, Mr. Obama, with his Muslim moniker, seemed an unlikely ‘young-gifted-and-black’ — in the lyrics of the late great jazz soloist Nina Simone — prince of prospects to suddenly shoot into the spotlight of Democratic political imagination as the party’s new lease of life against what seemed an interminable right-wing ascendancy in American politics.

What is particularly intriguing about Mr. Obama is that, with his focus on ‘community’ building in pursuing ‘nation-building at home,’ he transcends the African-American integrationist-nationalist divide that always retarded black political potential. Yet the black electorate has emerged as his ‘nationalist’ firewall at the core of the rainbow coalition he has constructed in reconfiguring the American electoral landscape. As a harbinger of things to come, this is where the new majority-minority underpinnings of the Obama presidency bear close watching as a sort of an ‘American BRICS’ of emerging non-white minorities setting what, over time, will be a new American agenda. For, herein resides the potential for a much less jingoistic and militarist foreign policy constituency.

After all, there are already burgeoning kinship ties binding this new American demographic with BRICS and other emerging economies in the world at large. As ‘White America’ fades into the sunset, metaphorically, a convergence of the American ‘BRICS within’ with the emerging ‘BRICS without’ may hold the keys to the future global order.

(Francis Kornegay is senior fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg, South Africa and alumnus of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and editor of the forthcoming volume: Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order.)

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There is one point i am not clear from this article is that
"The ‘founding fathers’ on up to even ‘The Great Emancipator’ Abraham
Lincoln were so bent on the vision of America as a ‘white nation’ that
uppermost on the agenda of solving ‘the race problem’ was: free the
slaves and ship them back to Africa (which inspired Liberia’s
founding, burdening the Mano River region of West Africa with an
Americo-Liberian settler problem);" Did Abe lincoln wanted to ship all
the Blacks to Africa. I didn't know that. I will be very glad if any
one of the readers throw some light on this piece of the article

from:  Amar
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 20:48 IST

First and foremost,there is no race called Hispanic.It is a term used
for Spanish speakers from Central America.Racially about 55 percent of
Hispanics are also whites. White in the American context means whites
who do not speak Spanish(It is a linguistic distinction not a racial
one). Second there is no coalition between Blacks and Hispanics.They
both compete for the same jobs and there is fierce animosity between
the 2 groups.Asians Americans(including Indians)have nothing in common
between the above 2 groups.Asian Americans have very high income and
will soon vote with the GOP when they try to see the Dems tax them
more.With some minor tinkering the republican party will drawn both
Hispanics and Asians into their fold.They belong naturally to the
GOP.The democrats can enjoy this moment,it just will not last.

from:  Radha
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 17:40 IST

The tapestry of the American society is getting more and more diverse as the minorities who are around 37% of the population gave 80% of their votes to re elect the incumbent President even as the unemployment and other economic issues remained an all time high . Demography has become an agent of change and the GOP has come to terms with this changing face of a new America if it has to save itself from becoming redundant , it has to make its tent bigger and do some real soul searching as to how 55% of woman, 60% of young and 53% of middle aged voted for Obama.

from:  vyjayanthi
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 11:48 IST

Please remember that US still has 72% of white voters and 39 % of White voters voted for Obama. The main card that Obama's campaign played is that they would protect the interest of 98 % of population based on Income and Tax the wealthy. It is a complex problem in the global world. US might loose to China as economic power sooner than Goldman sachs predicted. China has muti-tier system where they could allow a section of capitalism that could attract well educated individuals to perform in thier own country and yet make millions of Chinese work for poor wages in a factory. India has a fair chance in this environment with its diversed population. All they have to do is attract Indian Origin Professors and entrepreneurs from US on Science and technology and seed for next level economic drivers on Biotechnology, Nanotechnology and Information technology. Still we have a lot to harness in IT., but not with the outsourcing IT Biz., India is engaged now.

from:  Monisha
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 06:28 IST

The reality is quite different, when I view from the United States. The unique alliances in this election can not be projected as real alliances for a future election. The Republicans made a terrible mistake by openly taking on immigrants, young single women, gays and all groups different from traditional whites, and dared them to unite against a rock solid conservative agenda. The bullying tone of their racist attacks against the sitting president did not go well with the majority of the eligible voters. They even threatened that jobs would be taken away from them if Obama was re-elected. They questioned his citizenship and eligibility to become president. They repeated the mantra that Obama will be a one-term president. They really energized the progressive voters who voted in droves to make this victory for Obama. I do not believe that Republican will ever come back with the same messages of threat and intimidation in the future. They will change because they have to.

from:  Nathan
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 04:42 IST

The main reason for Romney's defeat must lie in his foray into too
many issues like women's pregnancies and such, which he couldn't
present well, and in his unusually bombastic style which ill befits a
leader in the climate the American electorate finds itself in. His
vote bases started eroded way back in 2008 with his article "Let
Detroit Go Bankrupt" (while the article made extremely practical and
constrictive suggestions for reform of governmental action in aiding
the ailing automobile industry, its name alienated the "common man"
from Romney). His "currency manipulator" threat to the Chinese was
admitted to have been bad in law as well as in intent by his own
campaign personnel (he wouldn't have been legally able to do it easily
and economy-wise it would have started a trade war with China which
could end up hurting the strained American economy even further).
Lastly, he didn't do enough to fling off the stigma associated with

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 00:24 IST

This article by a renowned scholar is a well balanced view of the American Political Reality of the past,present and future. The real political power is elsewhere and not in the hands of the President. The election schedule of the President, the Senators and the house representatives are so well skewed that at no point in time a 100% change of Total Government can occur. This is a constitutional mechanism so cleverly embedded to the benefit of the oligarchy. The changing pattern in the American demography and the spread of awareness among the American voters will break the present gridlock eventually. Nobody can block the march and spread of "Dharma".

from:  P.Ramachandran
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 00:15 IST

The election voting map that appeared in the media soon after the
results shows the US is in a civil war. The voting was clearly on
racist lines, with the whites voting for Mitt Romney and the non-
whites voting for Obama.

The red-and-blue map of the voting pattern is exactly the same as it
was in the 1860s, when the civil war had broken out.

Today there is a red America and there is a blue America; there is an
America of the Latinos and an American of the blacks; there is an
America of the rich and an America of the poor.

from:  Pradeep Engineer
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 22:37 IST

Obama still had a lot of backing from white voters, there are still not enough black or hispanic voters to bring Obama to power.
True that the history of North America involved the very sad decimation of the native Americans. The same with South America,
However in present day USA, you cannot be pleased that the white population is in decline. There is a high proportion of underachievement in the ethnic minorities, crime is also disproportionately high, higher numbers rely on the welfare state. So this is not something to be happy about.

from:  Vipul Dave
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 15:15 IST

“With the white population shrinking, the black-Hispanic-Asian
coalition that powered Obama’s victory has the potential to set a new,
more progressive American agenda” is a farfetched idealistic argument.
All through author talks of symptoms and not the cause. In reality
nobody, idealists, Democrats, Republicans and extremist Christian
evangelists or the Tea Party crazies have any control or power over the
fast developing circumstances in the American polity. Real power has
irrevocably gone in to hands of big business and its lobbyists. The
checks and balances have failed. And sick mix of irresponsibility,
greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion. Democracy means
giving choice to voters to choose from, but the President election did
not really give a choice, as both candidates were powerless with de-
facto power elsewhere. US elections mean nothing to the world. Total
capitalism is America's true ruler, with fatal potential to destroy the
country. Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have so
prophetically described the crisis tendencies of capitalism in terms of
"the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces", Hindu
incarnation lord Nataraja of creative destruction and Peter
Schumpeter’s theory of economics called “Schumpeter’s gale” all point
to creative destruction and no matter how hard Americans may try, they
will find themselves to be no more than a helpless spectators.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 15:03 IST

There is nothing like a coalition of Afro Americans, Hispanics and Asians. There is no doubt that Obama owes his victory to Hispanics and Afro Americans. The youth in both these communities are disappointed with Obama's performance but they are terrified of a Romney presidency. Unlike these two communities, there is nothing called a solid block of Asian voters. Asians are from different communities speaking different languages with no connect between them.

from:  Hilary Pais
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 14:08 IST

Good article. white america had been a reality and a bitter one for blacks as has been historically proven time and again by rise of leaders like Martin Luther King. There are some naives amongst Indians - as can be seen from two comments by Raghunathan - who would love to draw a picture of hunky-dory over the sorry figure that USA cut in front of the world. In their loyal-than-the-king kind of enthusiasm they blind themselves to reality which has been cleanly put forth by the article. It is most important to know America as the same people who now wants to leave-america-alone has been projecting American "values", especially the "market economy" variety ones, in India. It is to their chagrin that not only US economy but also the so called "values" are being exposed in front of the world. Kudos to The Hindu for bringing this to the attention of India.

from:  Madhu
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 13:17 IST

I think the author is neglecting the sharp and serious divisions
that exist between B-H-A, young women and LGBT peoples in America.
Blacks and Hispanics often have competing economic interests,
whereas Asians, especially Indians and new migrants from China,
Taiwan and Korea tend to be more affluent. Many Hispanics and Blacks
are also conservative Christians, so they may not agree with many
young women on abortion and with LGBT groups on same-sex marriage

There was a marked rightward swing among voters in this election,
and a stronger Republican candidate might have scripted a different
story. But many voters preferred the incumbent in an uncertain
economy and against a weak challenger.

The really interesting times will start once the Republican party
drops it strident opposition to gay marriage and moves to a platform
of fiscal conservatism and restricted abortion.

from:  Vikram
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 11:17 IST

K. Raghunathan philosophy may be good but its not true.i do not know about Africans nor Americans but i am pretty sure Asians or Europeans think the same.whites wont give up that easy.

from:  sharan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 10:56 IST

I am not a scholar.I want to put one truth for the reader of the hindu.The auther suggests that somehow the white voters have suddenly evoporated or moved to another planet.About five to six million voters mainly white christians did not leave their couches on election day to vote.They belied republican pundits.The blacks are historically democratic party faithfuls even though Abraham Lincoln was a republican president who ended the slavery.Obama is half white.Only eight years back Bush a white won.There is some truth in the fact that this trio of latinos,blacks and young voters offset the loss of five million white voters which gave obama the victory......

from:  kirubakaran
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 09:48 IST

This is NO black, hispanic, Asian coaltion in the U.S., unlike what the author envisons. Just because they are not white doesn't mean they think alike or even have shared interests. The only fact common to all is that they are all Americans and have American values. The values of Asians, blacks, whites and hispanics are all the same. Just because a black person is the president doesn't make any difference - he is as American as whites, or Asians, or hispanics or blacks.

from:  K. Raghunathan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 08:10 IST

I think it is time for The Hindu and other Indian newspapers to stop obsessing about America and start reporting on the problems in our own country. It is not like everything is perfect in India that we can spend issue after issue talking about America.

from:  K. Raghunathan
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 03:24 IST

Thank you Francis A. Kornegay for the brief history of American demographic politics.

from:  Anoop
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012 at 02:28 IST
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