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Recently, James Carville, the unfrozen Clintonite of Democratic politics, sparked predictable controversy by complaining about the “awakening” in an interview with Sean Illing of Vox. Everyone has a different definition of the term, but Carville’s is the one you hear a lot from strategically-minded Democrats: Wokeness is the rhetoric of the “professors’ lounge,” the language of hyper-educated, elitist progressivism, entering the world. mass politics in a way that changes a lot of normal people off.

Framed in this way, intra-democratic debates about the new progressivism often boil down to word choice and emphasis. Do you sound inclusive or out of touch if you say “Latinx” instead of “Hispanic”? Do you gain more support for anti-poverty policies if you talk about racial reparation or pan-racial redistribution? Do voters really care about the cancellation of culture, or are figures like Carville taking the Fox News bubble for reality?

In these debates, I am on Carville’s side: indeed, I once wrote an entire column titled “The Latinx Problem of Liberalism,” on the political costs of the new style of progressive discourse.

But at the same time, I think the problem he describes might be manageable for Democrats, because their primary voters have already found a way to handle it: don’t name Elizabeth Warren, instead name Joe Biden. Or to depersonalize the strategy: don’t name a candidate who speaks like a Harvard faculty member, name the candidate who can speak like an old-fashioned Democrat and, when elected, shovels money.

This approach does not completely solve the problem of being seen as “an urban, coastal and arrogant party” in Carville’s formulation, but it mitigates it – this is how Democrats won both Congress and the White House in 2020, even as elite institutions. were drawn to the left by the Great Awakening. Maybe Biden’s successors won’t be able to be successful, but his model is pretty clear: if you don’t look like a very online liberal, voters won’t punish your party nationally just because the Poetry Foundation is self-immolating. or the preparatory schools of New York reconstruct scenes from Saint Petersburg in 1917.

If the new progressivism becomes truly politically disastrous for Democrats, on the other hand, it is likely to involve not only off-putting or elitist rhetoric, but dramatic political failure related to social justice politics.

The two places where this seems most likely are crime and education. Crime is the most urgent case: 2020 saw a major spike in the homicide rate, returning to levels of the late 1990s, which so far continues through 2021. Biden’s speech to Congress Last Wednesday made a vague connection between the ongoing “bloodbath” and the pro-Liberal debate over a ban on assault weapons, but it was not the AR-15s that did most of the damage in the wave of assault. current murders. Instead, demoralization and police withdrawal in the wake of protests and riots appear to be a crucial factor – along with (more speculatively) coronavirus school closings, widespread hiding, and the general suspension of normalcy. in the Covid era.

We may return to pre-2020 trends with the return to normality. If we don’t, however, the Democrats’ problem won’t be the off-putting rhetoric of abolishing the police; this will be the reality of a growing body count as liberal politicians struggle to negotiate between activists, protesters, progressive prosecutors and cops. And that kind of failure could take what is, for now, the modest tendency of some conservative-leaning Asian, Hispanic, and African-American voters to drift to the right and make it an existential issue like white ethnic abandonment. Democrats under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

In education, the stakes are not so deadly, but the dynamics could be similar. In the best-case scenario for Democrats, Blue State public schools will reopen without incident this fall, and anti-racist programs promulgated by progressives are becoming like a religion class in a parish school around the world: a pinch of incense for a faith that doesn’t. make a big difference in everyday education.

In the worst-case scenario, however, the reopening goes wrong even as activists alienate Democratic but not particularly awakened voting parents by wiping out gifted and talented schools and programs in the name of anti-racist fairness. In that case, you could have both an institutional crisis, with more engaged parents dropping out of public schools, and a political backlash, with parents of more recent immigrants in liberal towns and suburbs right following their Italo background. – Americans.

I have liberal friends who worry about these possibilities but take comfort in seeing them as local challenges, internal to liberalism, concentrated in regions where there really are no Republicans.

It seems like wishful thinking. Crime rates may have seemed like a local issue in the early 1960s, but they quickly became key to the emerging Republican majority, and the issues are even more easily national today. Donald Trump increased his vote in many unlikely areas in 2020; there is no reason to assume that other Republicans cannot do the same.

The central question for Democrats, therefore, is not how the rhetoric of professors-salons plays out with today’s swing voters. This is how left-wing policymaking could create the swing voters of tomorrow, should the liberal city become ungovernable again.

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