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Our Democracy Isn’t So Democratic for Everyone

“The African American community has been let down by our politicians. They talk good around election time, like right now, and after the election they said see you later, I’ll see you in four years […] they have been abused and used in order to get votes by Democrat politicians.”

Donald Trump had some harsh words for his Democratic opponent on the debate stage about her party’s reliance on the black vote without actually doing much to warrant it. But was this a typical politically charged insult, or could there be some truth to it? Paul Frymer would tend to agree with him (but probably not for the reasons Trump would list) explaining that African Americans are under “electoral capture,” where “they have no choice but to remain in the party” (8). In America’s two-party system, the Republicans have done nothing to attempt to make forays into the black vote, so Democrats are able to take it for granted. Black leaders can’t challenge Democratic politicians for failing to address the group’s issues because they have nowhere to go.

The most glaring reason why Democrats have failed to make appeals to the issues about which black Americans care is the fair that doing so will alienate “important blocs of white voters [who] oppose the political goals of African Americans” (10). Due to this fear, and due to the fact that Democrats know they can reliably expect the vast majority of the black vote, “roughly 80 to 90 percent of campaign resources” are spent “in pursuit of ‘persuadable’ voters” (127). Unfortunately, as a result of such tactics, African Americans that might be included in electoral processes are left uninterested, and this perpetuates the low rates of voter turnout, and the stark proportion of blacks who believe that “political officials do not care about their concerns” compared to whites (136). To explain the unique situation of the black vote, Frymer also mentions the gay vote (and the Christian right as an example of a group that is not captured), and generally claims that if pursuing the vote of a non-majority group doesn’t alienate significant voter blocs, a party will make appeals to that group as long as it’s politically convenient.

Where Trump wouldn’t agree with Frymer is in the latter’s evaluation of how America’s two-party democracy has contributed to the marginalization of blacks under electoral capture. He argues that we’re missing the point if we simply argue that Democrats should be better representing their black constituents. Instead, we must comprehend the actual characteristics of our political system that incentivize the Democrats to ignore black political interests and pander to other groups instead.

Ryan • September 27, 2016

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