Fractures in the coalition of the ascendant

Fractures in the coalition of the ascendant
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My close friend Andre is passionate about civil rights and is a scion of a Tuskegee University family.

He's also a Donald Trump voter.

Andre is a black Republican who, despite his deep misgivings about Trump's racism, misogyny, and myriad other character flaws, pulled the lever for the GOP nominee because of his deeper misgivings about Hillary Clinton. While we rarely talk politics (his wife Ashley and I are close friends and identify strongly as progressive Democrats), Andre's views are more complex than a simple left-right dichotomy. He's not a straight-ticket GOP voter, and if given the choice, he would have preferred Bernie Sanders in a heartbeat.

This is why Clinton's loss served as such a stunning and sobering reminder for those of us who fell into the mantra of believing the inevitability of demographics. The election proved that changing demographics alone can't sustain a Democratic coalition. Moreover, the coalition of the ascendant is probably more nuanced than what we originally assumed to be.

What's ironic is that, in an age of vast data collection technology and better abilities to predict people's behavior, we still have a tendency to overgeneralize broad swaths of population. As a liberal, I believed every poll that had Clinton winning, particularly among communities of color, even as eyes told me otherwise. Driving through the heart of my home state of Pennsylvania, and even in areas that were bordering big cities, Trumpism was alive. Yet polling data was telling me not to trust what I was seeing, or even what I was hearing in conversations.

Trump did more than rouse white anger against a changing America. He exploited the divisions among the coalition of the ascendant. Trump's comments about Mexican-Americans? They're not too far off from what you hear in some Dominican or Puerto Rican barbershops. His call for a Muslim ban or limiting illegal immigration? Music to the ears for some Indian-Americans and African-Americans.

Too often, we try to paint ideological and political struggles as black and white, when the vast gray area that exists in between is right before our eyes yet rarely seen. Both Democrats and Republicans believed a demographic firewall was forming in the wake of the election of President Barack Obama. Democrats too often presumed the manifest destiny of that firewall, while Republicans -- often at the state and local levels -- have worked hard to thwart it.

The GOP -- once left for dead as a national party -- systematically worked to restrict voting rights and gerrymander minority communities to dilute their voting power in the last six years. But they also worked to mobilize voters whose distinct self interests might align with their party ideology, even as they stirred white nationalism across the middle of the country and the South. As Trump's campaign lobbied for the Indian-American vote, the Clinton campaign assumed a uniform South Asian voting bloc would rise to the occasion, ignoring the very real tensions that exist among immigrant communities from the Indian subcontinent.

Just days after the election, my own family members (all of whom are staunch, straight-ticket Democratic voters) began to share stories of their friends (also Democrats) who voted for Trump because they perceived him to be pro-India. Some of my Latino friends said their family members voted Trump for myriad reasons, but their social conservatism played a similar role.

As much as we like to talk about terms like intersectionality, they are often unrelatable to our daily lives. This is why building a coalition of voters who have been singularly aggrieved, disenfranchised, or isolated takes more than assuming demographic inevitability or that your most loyal voters will stay the same. If anything, the 2016 election will hopefully end the politics of assumption and, in the words of Sean Combs (Puff Daddy/P. Diddy), the practice of making an ass of one's self for assuming.

For Democrats, four years can't come quickly enough. Making a concerted and systematic effort to understand (and speak to) the complexities of diverse groups would be a step in the right direction. While navigating through the tensions among diverse communities might not bring voters like Andre to vote Democrat in the next presidential election, it would make the party aware that waiting for the country (and the world) to change makes for bad politics.

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