Talking Points

The census is about to set our politics on fire

Get ready for a new round of "white replacement" tirades from Tucker Carlson.

The Washington Post reports that when the first demographic breakdowns from the 2020 census are officially unveiled later this week, they'll show that the number of white people in the country is shrinking. White people will still command a majority, but by thinning margins — making up less than 60 percent of the population, and composing less than half of the under-18 population. By 2045, it's expected that whites will lose their majority status altogether.

The news is likely to have terrible effects on our politics.

It's not a new observation that the dwindling power of white Americans has driven the anti-democratic radicalization of the Republican Party. Conservatives' recent fascination with Viktor Orbán's rule in Hungary can be explained, in part, by that country's ethnic homogeneity, as well as Orbán's fierce efforts to maintain it by crusading against immigrants from Asia and Africa. Donald Trump's rise was enabled by right-wing intellectuals who lamented that "the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners" made the country "less traditionally American with every cycle."

"Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter," Carlson grumbled on his Fox News show in April.

But immigration doesn't explain why the number of white people is getting smaller. One demographer told the Post the phenomenon has been accelerated both by the opioid epidemic and lower-than-expected birth rates among millennials following the Great Recession. The latter development, of course, has also sparked angry culture war posturing by Republican politicians.

To the extent that these developments are rooted in despair and economic hopelessness — and not, say, the predictable effects of affluence — Democrats and Republicans both should be prepared to offer solutions. (Democrats are already arguably doing their part, with tax credit payments to parents, and by driving the new infrastructure bill that should create a ton of new jobs for workers of all races.) If recent history tells us anything, though, it's that the census news will create a fresh wave of right-wing anger, and that much of it will be directed against America's minority populations. Our ugly politics are probably going to get uglier.