A New Brahminism rots the Democratic Party

Partha Chakraborty-

Partha Chakraborty

Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain, and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.

Early in my life in the US, a well-meaning gentleman, rest in peace, commented that he was worried about Brahminism in this country. He was a Boston Brahmin himself, and a blue-blooded old-school Republican – how can I not be part of Lincoln’s party was his oft-repeated question to me. He, however, questioned the elite cohorts – connected by family trees, money and alumni relationships – that rule the Republican Party and pined for a day Brahminism was not its raison d’ê·tre.

Almost two decades since, I am offering the same prayers for the Democratic Party.

Unlike my friend, I grew up in a country where Brahminism was the rule of the land for centuries. It still is in parts of the land, diluted in others, and almost non-existent in a few. My father explicitly rejected being born a Brahmin, never wore a thread in his adult life, I was never threaded, neither is my son. My father was a union leader till he gave up to focus on raising two children and taking care of a sick wife, my mother. My own politics are opposite his, but the sense of belonging to the labor class – specifically, “jhee class” as the servant class was called in my part of India, Bengal – is a badge I wear as an honor and privilege.

In Bengal, I have seen Brahminism evolve and swamp even more as casteism lost its bite. A full deliberation is outside of the scope of today’s article, but it suffices to say that members of the old elite emerged as the savior and protector of Bengali identity, with a fondness for socialism-communism within electoral politics. They vilified most of the populace – the merchant elite was deemed crassly commercial, the professional aspirants were pooh-poohed as lacking breadth, …but the biggest burden was heaped on the working class. In their mind, those poor souls were too ignorant of their own plight to warrant a listen, too parochial in their words, too uncouth in their being – essentially too busy earning a living to be left to their own pursuit of happiness without the chaperone of the “cultured class”.

These new Brahmins, even when not Brahmins in caste hierarchy, are right in one fact – life is indeed unduly burdensome for the working class, urban or rural, but they overlooked the fact that their self-appointed chaperoning of what should make them happier is wiping smiles off their faces for real. This new class system retains one cruelty of the old (hereditary) Brahminism – that their appointment to the pinnacle is self-styled, and, not subject to any debate.

Last two decades have seen a tectonic shift in the support base of the two parties in the US. Working class voters outnumber the college-educated by 26 percentage points in the country, according to Catalist; the scales weigh even more on the side of working class for states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to AP/VORC VoteCast. For decades the working class was leaning away from the Democratic Party while college-educated population was leaning more Democratic, a trade-off that should work against Democrats.

Decreasing support in White working-class population, who voted against Democrats by 26 percentage points in 2020, faced a firewall in the form of higher representation of people of color in the voter rolls and voted more Democratic. That, however, is changing. Since 2012, Democratic Party lost 18 percentage points in a two-party match among non-White working class, and, in the latest Monmouth poll for Asians and Hispanics, Democrats have 59 percent disapproval among the non-college-educated while still maintaining a slim 52 percent favorability rating among the college-going. For Democrats, erosion of support among the working class – the card-carrying union member in the tool shop who were the backbone of the Party – is universal, and, fatal.

Democrats have changed by themselves. According to Gallup, since 2001, Democrats self-identifying as liberals increased by twenty percentage points, taking support away almost equally from moderates and conservatives. Overwhelming gain (34% increasing to 54%) in White Democrats identifying as liberals explained most of the rise, the increase for Blacks was less than half as much (25% increasing to 33%).  The percentage of college-educated in the Democratic Party make-up has swelled from 27% to 35%, they are much more likely to self-identify as liberals (43% jumped to 58%). Meanwhile, the percentage of college-educated among White Democrats jumped by a whopping 13 percentage points. All in, Democratic Party is becoming increasingly more beholden to the whims of the White college-educated voters who, admittedly, delivered the 2020 victory. White college-educated voters are also the single biggest contributor to the jump in Democrats self-identifying as liberals. It is happening even as an increasingly bigger part of the Democratic Party is made up of non-Whites.

What that is doing to the rhetoric of the Party is more problematic when it comes to its reception by non-Whites. Take law enforcement, for example. According to Pew Research, since 2020 the share of overall population asking for more spending on police, “by a lot”, almost doubled – from 11% to 21%, and those calling for higher spending increased from 31% to 47%.  Among Black adults share of “Net Increase” went up by 16% in a single year (from 22% to 38%), while share of “Net Decrease” went down from 42% to 23%; similar trend among Hispanics. Even among Democrats, Black and Hispanics support increased spending in local policing more (about 38% for Blacks and Hispanics to 32% for Whites).

At the national level six in ten Americans say violent crime is a big problem. But you’d not get the impression if you hear the most vocal Democratic members of the US Congress where strains of “Defunding the Police” still resonate. Interestingly, Defunding was put to vote in Minneapolis where voters resoundingly rejected the motion, thanks, largely, to non-White working-class voters. The dissonance from Black experience to Democratic party position was so much that San Francisco Democratic Mayor London Breed, who is Black, accused the liberal District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is White, of not growing up in poverty and in “war zones similar to the Tenderloin” and thus projecting their own beliefs on African American residents. She’s not the only one.

Take other Democratic hobby horses – the “Build Back Better” Bill or the Voting Rights Act. Only 20% of working-class respondents thought the Bill should be a top priority in the latest Monmouth poll A recent AP-NORC poll found only 6 percent voters placed voting rights among their top five issues. In a recent Morning Consult poll 41% of Black respondents found voting is too hard already as opposed to not restrictive enough, number for Hispanics is even lower at 34%. A Monmouth poll found 84% or non-whites supported requiring photo-IDs at the voting booth. Democrats are missing both the working class and the non-White voters. Polls and anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly suggested Democrats should have focused on getting to normalcy and bringing inflation down, when it spent months squabbling internally on these non-issues.

Few things rankle non-Whites and the working class more than the thought and language police warmly embraced by the vocal Democratic Party apparatchik. Anybody who schlepps for his next meal and two shekels more, especially among people of color, will find it offensive to imply that their victim status is preordained; in effect what you are saying is no different than slave-owners who identified people as inferior because of color of their skin. If you are forcing us to use a made-up term like “Latinx”, you are insulting the language that makes us as much you are pooh-poohing our upbringing. If you identify all white people as racists, supremacists, and perpetual beneficiary of in-born privilege, you are asking us to ignore our lived experiences every day, and invalidating the very reason people still willingly spend decades working within the system before they get citizenship in this country (yours truly was granted citizenship twenty-three years after landing here).

In the name of God and humanity, please stop layering your own ill-gotten ideas and ideals on the defenders of the black-sooted.

It is (not) funny that these college-educated mostly White liberals defining the ethos of the Democratic Party do so, ostensibly, in the name of championing interests of the oppressed class, whose life they most likely have never lived. It is a romanticized view of other people’s struggles that drip out of their latte. It is their aspirations they ridicule so they can be smug in their own ineffectiveness in pursuing the good and the great. They see nothing wrong in lumping peoples throwing non-terms like “intersection” (a verbiage that gets a rise out of me), and real epithets like “toxic this and toxic that”, thus explicitly undermining everyday lives of families and communities in harmonious co-existence. They are Puritan responding to the slightest slippage in virtuous thoughts, even if decades in the past, while they’re unabashed in calling people names of the worst kind, even breaching their safe spaces in private and in public.

That brings us back to those New Brahmins of Bengal. Just like reigning liberals of the Democratic Party, they professed progressiveness, were self-appointed as champions of the oppressed class. They were thought and culture police too, “jhin-chak” dance of Bollywood was verboten, and those who danced so in public were persona non-grata. They too identified pursuit (and purveyors) of commerce as objects of loathing as well as beneath their being, and by extension ditto for the oppressed. Self-styled “Bhadralok”, they were, however, quick and merciless to bring down others for perceived acts of omission and commission, especially when it came to thoughts and language, while turning a deaf ear to their own acts of aggression. They found willing compadres in the producers and distributors of content in literature, music, dance and the movies – just like here.

In the process, they all but killed most dialects of Bengali language, decimated industry and commerce in the state, forced out vast majority of native-born aspiring youngsters while refusing to accept newcomers. In all reasonable readings of history, the new Brahmins of Bengal engendered, or at least exacerbated, state’s victimhood they professed to rail against.

My fear is that history repeats itself eight thousand miles away. The New Brahmins of the Democratic Party – those liberal mostly White, very vocal, and overly puritanical self-styled protectors of the “oppressed” people of color – will end up decimating the Democratic Party as the last defender of the working class in the US. Not that they lose much by themselves in the process, as they never were meant to be part of the unwashed toiling masses in the first place.