“For Democrats, the politics of race and class are fraught”

For Democrats, the politics of race and class are fraught. If you focus insistently on class, as Bernie Sanders did at the start of the campaign, you risk seeming to be concerned only with whites. Focus insistently on race, and the Party risks being seen as a factional coalition without universal appeal—the fate of the Democratic Party in the seventies and eighties. The new racial politics puts Democrats like Clinton in the middle of this dilemma.

The voices of black protest today challenge the optimistic narrative of the civil-rights movement—the idea, widespread at the time of Obama’s election, of incremental progress and expanding opportunity in an increasingly multiracial society. (“Rosa sat so Martin could walk so Obama could run so we can all fly.”) Many activists are turning back to earlier history for explanations—thus the outpouring of films, novels, essays, poetry, pop music, and scholarly work about slavery and Jim Crow, as if to say, “Not so fast.” The Black Lives Matter movement reflects this mood. It has achieved reforms, but it was conceived not as a reformist movement but as a collective expression of grief and anger, a demand for restitution of wrongs that go back centuries and whose effects remain ubiquitous. It tends to see American society not as increasingly mixed and fluid but as a set of permanent hierarchies, like a caste system.

George Packer, “The Unconnected”, The New Yorker (31 October 2016), 55-56.