The headline everywhere is that Whites have fallen to their lowest share ever of the U.S. population, from 63.7 percent in 2010 to 57.8 percent in 2020. It has happened for a number of reasons: an aging White population, higher birthrates among some minority populations, immigration and changing ways in which people think of themselves. Strikingly, the number of Americans who call themselves multiracial more than tripled in the past 10 years, from 9 million to 33.8 million.
The many nuances of these figures will not, however, be understood by most Americans. That’s in large part because on the right, the simplest version of the story — Whites are declining, minorities are increasing — will be used as fuel for a preexisting narrative and political project, both to generate anger and increase Republicans’ urgency to solidify minority rule.
That’s not all that will distress White conservatives: Most of the growth has been occurring in metropolitan areas, and a majority of those under 18 are non-White as well. The counties that are growing are mostly dominated by Democrats; the ones shrinking are mostly dominated by Republicans.
While we’ve known about these demographic trends for years, the greater specificity of the new data provides an opportunity for conservative media to refocus on the threat — racial, ethnic and political — posed to their audience by America’s changing identity. Within the larger narrative of conservative victimization is a specifically racial story: that people who look like you are surrounded, besieged, marginalized and threatened by hostile populations aiming to wipe you out.
That’s why Tucker Carlson, the most popular host on cable news, has been aggressively promoting “replacement” theory, the common white nationalist idea of a conspiracy to “replace” White Americans with dark-skinned immigrants. The country is changing, Carlson asserts to the cheers of white supremacists, because Democrats are importing “more obedient voters from the Third World.” The scheme, he says, is that to “win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country.”
In other words, it’s not just steady demographic change that your children are perfectly comfortable with and you might want to learn to live with, it’s a sinister conspiracy whose goal is the destruction of everything you believe in.
What do you do in the face of that threat? You put up walls and pass laws forbidding the classroom discussion of racism, of course, but you also use every technique you can think of to ensure that the party that represents you will be able to hold power for as long as possible despite being outnumbered. That includes aggressive gerrymandering, voter suppression and perhaps even an attempt to steal the 2024 presidential election, doing with more careful planning and execution what Donald Trump failed to accomplish in 2020.
Here’s where the cycle of anger really begins to spin, because Republicans aren’t the only ones getting upset. Democrats — members of the party that represents the diverse America of the present and future — are already angry about the success Republicans have had in solidifying minority rule, anger that will only increase over time.
Each Republican political success made possible by the system’s inability to translate majority opinion into a democratic distribution of power — for instance, Republicans winning Congress in the 2022 midterms despite representing a minority of voters — will increase liberal grievance. That will occur even as conservatives are being encouraged to nurture their own grievance and fear at liberals’ continuing hold on cultural power.
So the increasing diversification of the United States will give both sides reason to be angry: conservatives because they fear their continued decline, and liberals because they’re locked out of power commensurate with their numbers.
This is a long-term problem, but it could be particularly acute in the next couple of years. Already we’re seeing a rising tide of anger from vaccinated liberals at both unvaccinated conservatives and the Republican politicians who seem determined to prolong the pandemic.
Lurking in the background is one Donald J. Trump, who would love little more than to create a bonfire of rage that engulfs the entire nation. While his ability to do so right now is limited given his Twitter and Facebook lockout and the news media’s waning interest in his every utterance, that could change if he runs for president in 2024 — and there are some indications he’s seriously considering it.
Should he go through with it, there’s no mystery about what such a campaign would be about: white grievance. Nor is there any doubt what it would produce: Unending, boiling fury, directed from right to left and vice versa. In fact, that could be what we’re in for no matter what.