With progressive Democrats in almost total control of California, and easily winning the money race, there’s no compelling reason to expect that they will face much opposition soon. Yet at a hearing I attended last month, I may have gotten a glimpse of potential blowback against the party’s ever accelerating leftward lurch.
The hearing at the Orange County Board of Education was in large part to discuss the application by the Orange County School of the Arts, which my younger daughter attends, to extend their charter there. Santa Ana, where the charter now resides, will not renew unless the school, considered among the best arts schools in the country, drastically reforms its admissions process away from merit that has made it a magnet for students from as far away as Long Beach and the Inland Empire.
Yet before OCSA was discussed another series of speakers, mostly in Spanish, also attended. Their problem was of a very different nature. They protested the imposition of new state guidelines on sex education. Mostly conservative Christians, the speakers denounced what they considered the “sexualization” of grade schoolers.
The people concerned with OCSA’s renewal and those agitated over sex education are clearly two distinct groups, but both represent key parts of the Democratic coalition. The charter school advocates, although diverse in race and class, tend be social liberals. After all, their kids are studying the arts, where conservative ideas are a distinct rarity.
Yet in this case, these parents find themselves opposed by “progressives” like themselves who, since the union takeover of the state government last year, have been determined to undermine all charters, even one, like OCSA, that is unionized. This has forced progressively inclined parents to ally themselves with conservatives, some with very traditionalist social views but who also support OCSA’s charter.
In the past many Democrats and liberals supported charters, which have generally out-performed public schools, particularly in poor and minority districts. Charter backers have included such people as Barack Obama, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But as the party has moved toward the socialist left, most Democrats have adopted the teachers unions’ anti-charter jihad, despite the fact that these programs are supported by most Californians, including nearly half of all Democrats.
Nationwide support for charters is strongest in the African-American and Latino communities, the majority of which favor them. They also often earn far higher rates of satisfaction from parents than conventional public schools. Charters make up 10 percent of the nation’s public high schools but, according to US News, comprise many of the top public schools in the nation.
This may not be a decisive issue for most voters, but for parents (and grandparents) concerned with the failing performance of our public schools both nationally and particularly here in California, it constitutes a decisive one. The charter issue won’t turn them into Trump voters necessarily, much less Republicans, but these voters can, and should, feel abandoned by the Democrats, and may eventually feel compelled to find an alternative.
Issues of culture
“Liberalism is stupid about culture,” observes Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-born Marxist sociologist, and the ever more radical social views of Democrats illustrate this reality. Pushing such notions as gender fluidity, new pronouns and free sexual re-assignment surgeries are not issues of concern of working families, but the ever more bizarre priorities of overwhelmingly white, political correct factions that now represent arguably the least tolerant political tribe in American society.
The overall PC agenda, built around identity politics, is rejected by Americans by over 20 percentage points, according to a recent NPR poll, and even more so among Latinos. After all, both minorities such as African Americans, and even more so immigrants, tend to be more religious than many upper-class whites; new sex-education standards, which include some graphic representations of carnal acts of various kinds, has raised opposition among groups that represent recent immigrants, as well as people active in their faith, from the Latino, Asian. African-American and Muslim communities.
Overall, immigrants, according to one recent survey, are twice as conservative in their social views than the general public and much more so than second-generation populations of their own ethnicity. This does not imply minority support of the entire conservative agenda. Hispanics may not be the reliable social conservatives imagined by some Republicans, but they certainly seem unlikely to widely share the world-view of faculty-lounge feminists.
Abortion likely may prove more important in undermining Democratic support than sex education. As a group, Latinos are more likely to favor restrictions on abortion by a 10-point margin than other ethnic groups, notes Pew. This includes both Catholics and the rapidly rising Latino evangelical population.
To be sure, the Democrats have the majority with them on allowing early-term abortions. But they could be in danger of losing some of many immigrant and minority voters who have been reliable Democrats. These and other issues may help Trump, whose support among Latinos has been slowly growing, enough to put him ahead in some states, although certainly not California.
Economics and regulation
Social and educational are not the only factors that may drive some voters away from the Democrats. To be sure the socialist program proposed by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appeals to many poor working families, particularly Latinos. As Brookings recently demonstrated, even amid low employment and rising wages for blue-collar workers, roughly 44 percent of all workers can barely make ends meet.
But Democratic economic positions could also alienate some of these voters, particular in states like Texas. Overall 22 percent of energy workers are either Hispanic or African American. Other parts of the green agenda, as a new lawsuit demonstrates, have helped raise both energy and home prices, while seeking to make impossible the building of affordable single family homes. This issue particularly hits young, minority and poorer voters. Recently, some 200 veteran civil rights leaders sued state agency CARB, on the basis that state policies are skewed against the poor and minorities.
Ever more intrusive measures from Sacramento , such as Assembly Bill 5, which seeks to limit contract labor, directly impacts pro-Democratic constituencies, including people working in creative industries and media, two core industries for progressives, and independent truckers, largely Latinos and other minorities. The state also recently proposed to force porn actors, webcam girls and strippers to get licenses; one assumes this constituency is not made up primarily of social conservatives.
Even in a state as deeply blue as this, Democrats’ disdain for the basic values and interests of their own base could unravel their now seemingly unbridgeable majority. At some point, parents, artists, minorities, small businesspeople and even sex workers will not be mollified sufficiently by a fulsome expression of good intentions. If more voters begin to realize that many of the policies being adopted are injurious, they may even begin to look again at the Republicans, particularly once the toxic President Trump is no longer on the ballot scaring the masses to toe the line.
This piece first appeared on The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His last book was The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Agate, 2017). His next book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, is now available to preorder. You can follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin