Blacks and Hispanics are on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. They face subtle — and not so subtle — discrimination. They are the most likely to be mistreated by the criminal justice system. And, in the case of Hispanics, they are the most likely to see a relative deported.
And yet, in this year’s election, it is white voters who are in open rebellion. Go figure.
The non-Hispanic whites who make up the bulk of the Republican electorate are on the brink of nominating Donald Trump, a cultural naturalist who bases his candidacy heavily on hostility to immigration, trade and foreigners in general.
If white Democrats had their way, the party might end up nominating Bernie Sanders, a socialist who says that his election itself is be enough; the nation needs a “political revolution.” Sanders took a majority of the white vote in Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri, three of the five big states that voted March 15, and more recently has won lopsided victories in mostly white states, including an 82% to 18% throttling of Hillary Clinton in a lightly-attended Democratic caucus in Alaska.
All this poses an interesting question: Just how did we get to a point where racial and ethnic minorities are the middle while many whites are rushing to the extremes?
One likely answer is that politics is an expectations game — for voters just as it is for politicians.
Many in the Sanders and Trump camps have had working lives that haven’t been as fulfilling or remunerative as they would have hoped. Their politics are often colored with nostalgia for better times and resentment over the way things are now.
Among them are the nearly 5 million people that the Labor Department says have lost jobs in manufacturing since 2000. Also among them are white collar workers who have found that their employers are keen to replace them with younger, more tech savvy, workers. Nearly half of the male population has left the workforce by age 62, sometimes voluntarily, often not.
Black and Hispanic voters, in contrast, are much less likely to have had these well-paying jobs to begin with. Over the last several decades, the median household incomes for African Americans and Latinos have been about $20,000 and $15,000 less respectively than in non-Hispanic white households.
A second explanation for the relative moderation of voters of color is in America’s changing demographics. Not only do black and Latino voters embrace a shift that they are very much a part of, they see it working to their political advantage over time.
The Latino vote doubled between 2000 and 2012 and is set to double again by 2030. The ranks of Asian Americans and African Americans are growing as well, largely due to immigration. It doesn’t take a genius to see that much greater political influence will be theirs if they are patient and don’t splinter.
It is not as if minority voters don’t have things to be upset about. African Americans are up in arms over income inequality and police shootings of unarmed black men, among other things. Latinos are angered by deportation raids undertaken by the Obama administration and calls for even tougher policies coming from Republican candidates.
But at the ballot box these voters are remaining calm and confident, perhaps born of having one of their own in the White House and knowing that the demographic tables are turning in their favor. They have overwhelmingly sided with the more moderate of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton.
It’s a new political era that America is entering. One of the best signs of that is that racial and ethnic minorities are becoming something of a new establishment.
Dan Carney is a USA TODAY editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter @dancarney301.