Thomas Edsall has an interesting piece in today’s NY Times titled “The Mess in Los Angeles Points to Trouble for Democrats.” His argument, which he supports with opinions from various professors, is that scarce resources are responsible for the most explosive racial clash in recent history over leaked audio of Latino members of the city council.

Political tensions between African American, Hispanic American, Asian American and white communities in Los Angeles are now on full display as a result of the publication of a secretly taped conversation that exposed the crude, racist scheming of three Hispanic City Council officials and a Hispanic labor leader — who were, in the main, angling to enhance their power at the expense of Black competitors.

These zero-sum conflicts epitomize the problem for liberals struggling to sustain a viable political alliance encompassing core minority constituencies.

“In general, conflict among groups is more likely to emerge when resources are scarce,” Vasiliki Fouka, a political scientist at Stanford, and Marco Tabellini, a professor at Harvard Business School, said by email, in response to my inquiry about Democratic intraparty tensions. “This is especially true when groups perceive each other as different and have different priorities and preferences.”

The conflict over scarce resources isn’t limited to seats on the city council but operates at other levels as well. David Sears, a UCLA psychologist pointed to other conflicts currently playing out among these same groups:

Centrifugal pressures include upward mobility among Latinos, who are rapidly moving into being small-business entrepreneurs. The younger generation is getting a lot better educated: e.g., the numbers of Latinos admitted to U.C.L.A. are rising rapidly. And intermarriage with whites is very common in post-immigrant generations…

The fragmentation of neighborhoods leads to fragmentation in the schools. Many lighter-skinned Latinos have an easier road of it than African Americans in terms of upward mobility. I believe that broken families are still much more common in the Black community, which has its costs.

In short, there are reasons to think this conflict will increase over time. Edsall also notes some social science research which seems to support that this has been happening in Los Angeles over the past several years:

A series of public opinion surveys of Los Angeles residents conducted by Loyola Marymount University in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2022 suggested a recent deterioration in race relations in the city.

The Loyola study found a sharp drop in optimism concerning race relations in 2022. For example, from 2017 to 2022, the percentage of Los Angeles residents saying race relations had improved fell from 40.6 to 19.3 percent. The percentage saying relations had worsened grew from 18.0 to 38.5 percent.

Where I think Edsall really falls short is in his conclusion where he looks for some explanation beyond competition for scarce resources to explain the sudden and recent change.

The controversy in Los Angeles raises a key question: Is the City Council debacle an exception or is it a warning sign that the bitter, if often submerged, battles involving intraparty competition — part of the package of tensions continually inflamed by Donald Trump — will further endanger Democratic prospects this year and in 2024?

I think he’s right that Democrats have reason to be worried. What I think he’s missing is the reason. Rather than pointing to Trump I would suggest taking a look at the rise of identity politics on the left. As many of us have pointed out over the past five years or so, identity politics intentionally puts a focus on one’s belonging to a racial group and how that makes one automatically distinct from people who are in other racial/ethnic groups. It seems to me that’s also a possible driver of the feelings reflected in those polls mentioned above. If you tell people their identity is connected to their race that’s bound to exacerbate tensions over time.

Some of Edsall’s commenters pointed to this as well. The top comment suggests that the focus on “white supremacy” recently has been an attempt to retain the coalition by uniting various groups against a common enemy.

The sun is setting on the Democratic Party’s coalition.

At the end of the day, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians are very different: different languages, different histories, and different viewpoints. And they don’t care for each other as much as progressives would like us to believe.

After George Floyd, the Democrats tried to double down on the notion that white supremacy was the common enemy of all minorities, thereby pushing the Pollyannish narrative that all minority groups live together in perfect harmony.

The Los Angeles city council scandal has reminded the most naive among us that it’s not quite that simple.

Here’s one more:

I’ll say it again – the “big tent” we so often laud as our key advantage over Republicans is getting much much harder to maintain and govern as our Party splinters from within. Driving this conflicts is the Progressive wing’s pull toward Socialism and advocacy for identity politics, which is in direct conflict with Traditional and Moderate Democrats adherence to compromise and iterative change.

It wasn’t that long ago that AOC went on national TV and proclaimed that she and President Biden weren’t even in the same political Party. This is the same Representative that we can thank for hypocritically going to the Met Ball, for arguing that we eliminate the Dept of Homeland Security, for empowering the “Abolish ICE” crowd, and for throwing her support behind “Defund the Police”. Is this the kind of voice we want representing Democrats? How many elections nationwide have we lost as a result of Progressive radicalism giving Republicans the perfect foil to run against? The answers are “no” and “many”.

In this piece Edsall is pointing out what many of us already know, that our so called “inevitable electorate majority” based on changing demographics is anything but inevitable. Hispanic and Latino voters are shifting to the Right in growing numbers. Tribalism is rampant. Unless we return to a solidly center-Left party, either by expunging the Progressives or muzzling them, we risk a GOP resurgence.

Again, I think there’s lots of evidence that identity politics, call-out-culutre, whatever you want to label the thing that has taken over the left and started marching through our culture over the last 5-10 years, is ultimately destructive of coalitions. Just look again at that Ryan Grim report on what has happened to progressive institutions who were the first to be occupied by this new agenda. They have largely stopped functioning. There is too much internal fighting (about scarce resources) to allow much of anything else to get done. These groups can’t fulfill their organizational goals because people would rather fight internally about their woke ideology.

“To be honest with you, this is the biggest problem on the left over the last six years,” one concluded. “This is so big. And it’s like abuse in the family — it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And you have to be super sensitive about who the messengers are.”…

“So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullshit that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” said one organization leader who departed his position. “It’s been huge, particularly over the last year and a half or so, the ability for groups to focus on their mission, whether it’s reproductive justice, or jobs, or fighting climate change.”…

“My last nine months, I was spending 90 to 95 percent of my time on internal strife. Whereas [before] that would have been 25-30 percent tops,” the former executive director said. He added that the same portion of his deputies’ time was similarly spent on internal reckonings.

It may take a while but there’s no reason the same thing can’t happen to the entire Democratic Party. So, again, I think Edsall is seeing the problem but I think he’s missed the major cause completely.

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