WINNING an election doesn’t just offer the danger to control the rustic. It offers an opportunity to feel morally and intellectually superior to the party you’ve just beaten. That is an inescapable aspect of democratic culture: it doesn’t matter what reason tells us concerning the vagaries of politics, something within the American subconscious assumes that the voice of the folks really is the voice of God, and that being a part of a winning coalition should be an indication that you’re His chosen one to boot.
This means the losing coalition should be doomed to wander east of Eden, and liberals was having a great time with this idea of late. “Those poor, benighted Republicans!” runs the subtext in their postelection commentary. “They can’t read polls! They can’t reach Hispanics! They don’t understand women! They don’t have a team of Silicon Valley sorcerers running their turnout operations!”
Back in 2011, the Obama White House earned some mild mockery for its “win the future” slogan. But now that the president was re-elected, the liberal conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have done just that — that Republicans at the moment are Radio Shack to their Apple store, “The Waltons” to their “Modern Family,” a mediocre Norman Rockwell to their digital-age mosaic.
Maybe it’s too soon to pierce this cloud of postelection smugness. But within the spirit of friendly correction — or, O.K., maybe curmudgeonly annoyance — let me indicate some slightly more unpleasant truths in regards to the future that liberalism appears to be winning.
Liberals take a look at the Obama majority and spot a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason in place of superstition, tolerance in preference to bigotry, equality in place of hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to look a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.
Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they recommend a more welcoming face than Republicans do — yet another consistent with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to respire free? Yes, as much as some degree. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, way to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.
Likewise with the growing selection of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. However the more important explanation is that single life is normally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — that is now commonplace for ladies under 30 — is nearly impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.
Or consider the secular vote, which have been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is among the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the intense young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. However the typical unchurched American is simply as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community on the whole.
What unites all of those stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.
This is a crisis that the Republican Party often badly misunderstands, casting Democratic-leaning voters as lazy moochers or spoiled children seeking “gifts” (as a undeniable former Republican presidential nominee would have it) in preference to recognizing the truth in their economic struggles.
But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of religion and domesticity, the truth that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to simply celebrate the emerging America, to attenuate the prices of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to regard the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (just like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.
This is a brilliant flaw within the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments aren’t a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the commercial era that many liberals pine for — the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom — was an era that social conservatives remember fondly in addition: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.
No such renewal appears to be at the horizon. That isn’t a judgment at the Obama White House, necessarily. However it is a judgment on a definite roughly blithe liberal optimism, and the arrogance with which many Democrats assume their newly emerged majority is an indication of progress instead of decline.