Listen to this story
In March 2018, the United States saw teenagers take to the streets to protest against a political generation that refuses to take steps that would stop them from being shot at school. Then, in the past month, we saw Latino and South American migrants and refugees treated terribly as they crossed the Mexican border into the United States. Trump’s actions caused both crises—the first by refusing to ban or limit the sale of guns, the second by calling for zero tolerance on illegal migration, which translated into state-sponsored cruelty against families. In both cases, the victims were children.
These two episodes are examples of how Trump is effectively legislating himself out of power. Demographic trends show he is ruling for a base that will soon be an electoral minority, while alienating a demographic that will soon hold the balance of power. Trump and his acolytes are facing a demographic time bomb, and the more he does to alienate everyone except his base, the worse it will get for everyone. The United States is governed today by a generation of politicians who are at the end of their careers and reflect a political era that is drawing to a close. In them, we are seeing the last gasps of 1950s America, as the baby boomers come to the end of an era in which they were the political majority and in control of industry.
In the 2016 election, a majority of young voters (people under 50) and Hispanic voters voted against Trump. That’s not including the current wave of teenagers who are organizing a political movement in response to mass shootings in schools, many of whom will be voters by the next election.
In the United States, around 2.7 million people who are old enough to vote die every year, and around 3.8 million to 4 million people turn 18. In the last presidential election — and research since then suggests that this trend will continue — younger people were more likely to vote for Democrats, and older people were more likely to vote Republican. It is more complicated than that in detail, but the basic trend is there. This means that by age alone, between the 2016 and 2018 elections, more potential non-Trump voters will join the electorate, while more potential Trump voters, or non-Democrat voters, will depart from it.
The changing demographic balances of the electorate already manifested in the 2016 election, when millennials and Gen Xers outvoted the baby boomers for the first time, but only by a small margin. That margin will grow in the midterms and become a clear lead by the next general election.
Additionally, Hispanic and Black voters are more likely to support a non-Trump or Democratic candidate. They are also becoming an electoral majority. A 2015 study by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that “the Hispanic population in the United States has lower overall mortality and higher life expectancy at birth than the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations.” This gives Hispanics what is called a “mortality advantage,” which translates into a demographic, and electoral, advantage over time.
More specifically, white Americans will become a minority over time, starting with younger generations as demographic balance changes through both births and deaths.
Because minorities as a group are younger than whites, the minority white tipping point comes earlier for younger age groups. The new census projections indicate that for youth under 18—the post-millennial population—minorities will outnumber whites in 2020. For those ages 18 to 29—members of the younger labor force and voting age populations—the tipping point will occur in 2027.
History has some lessons about all this. When a country is run by a tiny minority of rich and powerful people who demonstrate little care for the rest of the population, they are overthrown. Look at pre-revolution France and Russia. Both were run by a small, fantastically wealthy aristocracy who were totally cut off from the rest of society. Both fell to violent revolutions. The oppressed masses always rise up in the end.
Like pre-revolution France and Russia, the United States now sustains a class of rich people who are inconceivably wealthy. Their wealth no longer makes sense in a human context—they have amassed more money than they and their entire extended families for centuries ahead could ever spend. This becomes wealth for the sake of wealth — or wealth for the sake of power. That power is working, evident in the tax breaks Trump just granted billionaires, especially for inheritance. When a country has people that wealthy living alongside people who are mortally poor, it has never ended well.
History also shows that countries and societies cannot stave off large-scale societal change. Societies, cultures, and languages are always in a constant state of transformation. This is the state of humankind, and trying to stop it is like trying to stop time. Many ruling cultures have fought against their demise, and they’ve always lost. Look at the white minority rule of apartheid South Africa. Look at the horrendous death rattle of the racial purists in 1940s Europe.
The truth is that Trump’s base essentially represents an older, English-speaking, white, evangelical Christian society whose supremacy is in its final throes. Soon these people will be outnumbered by Spanish-speaking Latinos, and they will be pushed aside politically by younger whites who are less religious and more liberal. They will be a minority in a country in which they were born the dominant culture. That is hard, and the pain and fear such a transition creates should not be dismissed.
Trump’s entire campaign reflects that fear: Build a wall to stop the Hispanics from migrating to the United States; gerrymander electoral boundaries to stop Democrats from voting out old-school Republicans; try to consolidate media to manage the message; suppress voters who will vote against you. All of this is about trying to preserve a status quo against the inextricable tide of change. The more they are losing the historical fight, the dirtier that fight will become.
The big question is not how it will end, but how it will play out. How bad will the battle be, and how much damage will Trump and his base do before they lose? Every time a small group of people have run a country just for their personal gain, they have been kicked out, and every time a diminishing minority has turned to nationalism and populism to fight against their inevitable demise, they have lost. It’s just a matter of how and when.
The United States will become a more multiethnic country. Trump may delay it a bit, but he can’t stop it. He may manage to stall the change during his presidential term, but in the end, he and his supporters will be seen not only as the losers, but as having been on the wrong side of history. In the meantime, Trump will continue to rule for a dwindling minority of Americans, angering more and more of the growing majority who will, by the next election, hold the balance of power.