It is easy to believe that Black power and influence is growing in America, and that the logical conclusion is that a set of policies favoring the Black community in America — a so-called Black agenda — is growing more likely as the years pass and the percentage of nonwhite Americans rises.
This election alone, the vice president is a first in several ways — not only the first Black person in that role, but also the first woman and the first person of South Asian descent.
Black people played an indispensable role in key states to deliver the White House to President Joe Biden and control of the Senate to Democrats, including in Georgia, where Black voters were the majority of the coalition that turned the state blue.
Furthermore, an analysis by the Pew Research Center pointed out Thursday:
“About a quarter of voting members (23%) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are racial or ethnic minorities, making the 117th Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. There has been a long-running trend toward higher numbers of nonwhite lawmakers on Capitol Hill: This is the sixth Congress to break the record set by the one before it.”
Pew reported that “13% of House members are Black, about equal to the share of Black Americans.”
But some of what we see may be illusory and in some ways the passing of a Black agenda may become harder, not easier. The window that could allow the passage of such a slate of policies may be closing as we speak.
As Norman Ornstein tweeted in 2018:
“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: By 2040 or so, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30% will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70%. Unsettling to say the least.”
The Washington Post checked this claim and found that “In broad strokes, Ornstein is correct.” The Post continued:
“The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia analyzed Census Bureau population projections to estimate each state’s likely population in 2040, including the expected breakdown of the population by age and gender. Although that data was released in 2016, before the bureau revised its estimates for the coming decades, we see that, in fact, the population will be heavily centered in a few states.”
If you think it has been hard to get this Senate to embrace policies like reparations or voting rights that stand to benefit Black people, imagine how much harder that task will be before a Senate that continues to tilt toward smaller states.
This is why I think Mitch McConnell was playing sly when he demanded that Democrats maintain the Senate filibuster as part of a power-sharing agreement.
He tweeted Jan. 26:
“Today, I made clear that if Democrats ever attack the key Senate rules, it would drain the consent and comity out of the institution. A scorched-earth Senate would hardly be able to function. It wouldn’t be a progressive’s dream. It would be a nightmare. I guarantee it.”
He then dropped that objection without getting any concession in return. I believe he is playing a Brer Rabbit-style trick with the ultimate goal of creating a nightmare scenario for progressives. While abandoning the filibuster would indeed be advantageous to liberals in the short term, in the long term — when it may become harder and harder for Democrats to maintain control of the chamber — it could be a disaster, allowing the minority in America to say what becomes law and which judges get confirmed.
Republicans will look back on these days and say that we begged the Democrats to keep the filibuster, but they wouldn’t listen. Now that Democrats have gotten rid of it, we Republicans will play the game by the rules they established: “Scorched-earth.”
Furthermore, a Pew demographic analysis has found that by 2065, Hispanics in America will nearly double the population of Black people, and Asians will overtake Black people as the nation’s second-largest minority.
Each of these groups have their own specific legislative agendas. How high on the list of priorities will be the agenda of the third-largest minority group at that point?
Furthermore, if Hispanics and Asians vote then the way they vote now — a third of each group voted for Trump — their combined votes for Republicans will eclipse the Black vote for Democrats.
In a book I published Jan. 26, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto,” I argue that it is urgent that Black people consolidate political power now. In my view, the acquisition of Black power has reached a level of urgency rivaling that of the climate crisis: Immediate action is required, but it may very well already be too late.