“The most common basis of resistance to change is the fear that with your new learning will come a new position that will be lower in the status hierarchy or less powerful than the position you now hold” (Edgar H. Schein, “The Corporate Culture Survival Guide”).
This truism has recently been backed up by a new study. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson University and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper reported on by Noah Berlatsky in the May 27, 2017, NBC “Think” article entitled, “The Trump Effect: New Study Connects White Intolerance and Support for Authoritarianism.”
Their findings conclude that, “When intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.”
The authors found that when white people did not want immigrants or people of different races living next to them, they were more likely to support authoritarianism. Miller’s and Davis’ data goes back to the period 1995-2011, long before Donald Trump’s run for the presidency in 2016.
It’s a fact of history that blacks, Indians, women and other minorities were barred from voting for much of American history.
The framers of the Constitution supported representative democracy as long as only white, adult males had the power. That trend continued for the first 200 years of our nation’s history.
Black males did not win the vote until 1870 with the 15th Amendment. Women did not get the vote until 1920 with the 19th Amendment. Indians were given citizenship and the vote in 1924.
U.S. Census demographics spell the eventual end of white majority rule as minority populations continue to surge. It is projected that by 2045, whites will be in the minority. By then, whites make up 49.9 percent of the population, followed by Latinos at 24.6 percent, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.8 percent for Asians and 3.8 percent for multiracial individuals. After 2023, whites will start a decline as the aged die in contrast to the number of births.
Eventually, no political party will be able to win a national election without the aid of minority populations. “A party built on demonizing and attacking marginalized people is a party that will have to disenfranchise those same people if it is to survive,” according to Berlatsky.
If the Miller and Davis studies are correct, the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 should have come as no surprise. He won his election by appealing to angry whites who felt that too much of the nation’s wealth was going to illegal immigrants and not to them.
Trump’s preference for authoritarian leaders like Putin, Xi Jinping and Duterte of the Philippines reflects this attitude. As Berlatsky notes, “When faced with a choice between bigotry and democracy, too many Americans are embracing the first while abandoning the second… In embracing the politics of white identity, then, the GOP made a Trump possible – and is likely to make more Trump-like candidates successful in the future.”
Twersky and Kahneman’s studies bear this tendency out as noted in earlier columns. People will fight harder to avoid losing something than they will fight to gain something new. It’s human nature.
For some, but not all, whites, there is a fear of the loss of power as the dominant race. Many whites do not want to lose their status in the hierarchy, as Schein notes in the first paragraph of this column. Few willingly give up power.
On the other hand, in defense of threatened whites, one of their concerns over losing dominance is that with different races also come different values. This is a valid concern. American democracy was built based upon the beliefs and experiences of those who journeyed from Britain beginning in the early 1600s. That mindset helped to create representative democracy and the U.S. Constitution.
Changing racial and therefore changing cultural values may also pose a threat to this nation’s democracy. So, what does the future hold? Are Miller and Davis correct? Will whites become increasingly autocratic to preserve their power? Will changing demographics alter the values that made America the great nation it is today?
Is there a third way that can blend white cultural values with minority cultural values into something entirely new that maintains life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all races and cultures? In the U.S. Constitution, the founders created an entirely new government never before seen in the history of the world. Can we repeat that feat in the future? Only time, grit and intelligence offer us the hope that we can reinvent ourselves.