Two topics jump out from the current news. One is the continuing Democratic Party angst over the 2016 U.S. election. The other is the recurrent propensity for independence movements to stir things up.
On the Democratic front, Hillary Clinton’s promotion of her new book What Happened is Exhibit A.
There’s nothing wrong with authors promoting their books and losing politicians are just as entitled to do it as anyone else. But it’s difficult to escape the impression that what we’re seeing with Clinton is an excruciatingly protracted therapy session.
Unable to come to personal terms with her electoral rejection of almost a year ago, she’s in extended denial. And rather than coping with her anguish privately, she’s doing it in public.
The reality is prosaic. Despite overwhelming financial and organizational advantages, and fervent support from the likes of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, Hillary failed. She lost the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump. But in her mind, it’s everyone else’s fault. So she’ll continue to hog centre stage and suck up the political oxygen.
The Democrats’ Exhibit B is less ostensibly dramatic but perhaps of greater long-term significance. It concerns what has become an article of faith over the last 15 years.
Since John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira published The Emerging Democratic Majority in 2002, political pundits have been enamoured of the thesis that changing U.S. demographics are setting the stage for a period of extended Democratic dominance. With whites on a path to minority status, it’ll become more difficult for Republicans to win national elections. Or so the argument goes.
Teixeira is apparently still on board with this idea. Judis, however, is having serious second thoughts.
In a recent New Republic article, Judis identified two problems with the thesis. First, “the census prediction of a ‘majority-minority’ America – slated to arrive in 2044 – is deeply flawed.” And second, “so is the notion that ethnic minorities will always and forever continue to back Democrats in Obama-like numbers.”
American immigrant groups have historically tended to self-identify as white, a process that’s already started with Latinos and Asians. For instance, “In the 2010 census, 53 per cent of Latinos identified as ‘white,’ as did more than half of Asian Americans of mixed parentage.” This calls into question the wisdom of extrapolating current census data into the future.
Similarly, the proposition that Asians and Latinos will continue to automatically vote Democratic is dubious. In some key states, Republicans are already voraciously eating into those votes.
Sen. John Cornyn in 2014 in Texas is one example, and Sen. Richard Burr in 2016 in North Carolina is another. In both cases, the Republicans won approximately half the Latino vote.
To be clear, Judis doesn’t see his change of mind as necessarily ominous for Democrats. But he now views the demographic inevitability hypothesis as more illusion than reality.
As for independence movements stirring things up, the circumstances surrounding both Kurdistan and Catalonia are very fluid and may well have changed between my writing this and it being published. Still, it’s worth paying attention.
For the Kurds, the story goes back to the break up of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the First World War.
Described by historian David Fromkin as “an ancient mountain people who have never known unity and whose energies have been channeled into violent quarrels with neighbours,” the Kurds missed out on the opportunity for an independent state in the post-1918 settlement. Whether this was a matter of their disorganization or the lack of committed major power support remains a subject of historical debate.
Now, though, independence is very much on the table, at least as far as Iraqi Kurds are concerned. On Sept. 25, a referendum is scheduled in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The central government in Baghdad is deeply opposed to this vote but powerless to stop it. The contiguous states of Turkey and Iran – with their own restless Kurds – are also opposed. And fearing regional instability, so are the Americans.
By definition, independence movements are always potentially destabilizing. However, they can’t just be wished away.
Then there’s Catalonia, which, despite the implacable opposition of the Spanish government, plans to hold its independence referendum on Oct. 1. And determined to prevent the vote from taking place, Madrid has started arresting Catalan officials.
Stay tuned for interesting times.
Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.