Tamara Draut

Tamara Draut is Vice President of Policy & Research at Demos and the author of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.

Recent Articles

Democrats Misunderstood Racial and Class Divisions but Cannot Reject Inclusiveness Now

As we wrestle with the consequences of a Trump presidency, Democrats, especially progressives, risk whitewashing the American electorate. In a blind rush to appeal to the voters the Democrats lost, we risk not comprehending and embracing the experiences of the millions of people we won. It was not Hillary Clinton’s message of inclusiveness that cost us the White House, but a major miscalculation of the depth of America’s racial and class divide.

This white identity crisis, tied to a newly ascendant white supremacy, is a psychic struggle that is as old as this country. Our insistence on downplaying this struggle fuels our misunderstanding of the politics of race and racism. For the past 240 years, we have assumed that white men are at the center of the American experience—and as a result, we treat everyone else as a deviation from this “norm.”

Yet ignoring our differences won’t grow the Democratic Party contrary to what Columbia University political scientist Mark Lilla suggested in his recent New York Times piece, “The End of Identity Liberalism.” Instead it is imperative that we, as Democrats, examine whites’ fears of no longer being the default “majority” and their assumptions of what it means to be a minority.

Does minority status for whites mean their voices no longer matter? My nine-year-old daughter has never been asked to reflect on her identity as a white person, nor on her identity as a girl in our society—as Lilla claims is common even among preschoolers. Yet, many people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities live their lives as “the other” and get treated poorly at times as a result. The reverse won’t necessarily be true when we become a “majority-minority” country, but based on the current treatment of Americans who are not straight white males, that is the fear.

Seizing the mantle of white male identity politics, Trump won by stoking those fears and by blaming immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, and women for the struggles and alienation of white men. Given this message, it is not surprising that Hillary Clinton was the one whose rallies resembled America today, attracting men and women of different races and ethnicities, people who indeed believe their commonalities are more important than their differences.

Republicans, not Democrats, have convinced white Americans that they are now a disadvantaged group. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Republican Party leaders have been on a mission to convince white people that the government overwhelmingly benefits people of color. They have relied on subtle feints, and then, more overt appeals to racism to unravel the New Deal coalition and its programs—even though most of the beneficiaries are white.

As my Demos colleagues, President Heather McGhee and Senior Fellow Ian Haney Lopez, pointed out in "How Populists Like Bernie Sanders Should Talk About Racism":

Conservatives have been working hard to convince white people for decades that addressing racism is itself anti-white discrimination. For 50 years, conservatives have hammered the message that liberalism is excessively sympathetic to people of color, claiming that major institutions—from the Democratic Party to the federal government, from universities to unions—care more about people of color than about white people. In this context, when [Senator Bernie] Sanders repeats the refrain that Black Lives Matter, many white people hear him as kowtowing to a powerful special interest, or even engaging in a form of racial betrayal.

We cannot fully understand the progress that still needs to be made without fully appreciating how deeply embedded racism, sexism, and homophobia is in our country’s political systems. To pivot to a conversation about our nation’s economy—which both Democratic and Republican leaders aim to do—we must recognize that our identities are often the very reason why class divisions grow by the day.

In these volatile times, we should not try to sell the idea that whiteness is equal to or the same as being an American—and Democrats cannot afford to buy that vision as they find a new path forward. 

The Millennial Squeeze

It's not Social Security deficits that are destroying the life chances of the young but a prolonged slump confounded by bad policies. 

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin Generational fairness has been a big theme of the austerity crusaders, whose most strident advocates tend to be financiers and business titans of substantial net worth. Yet their calls to radically reduce social investment out of a sense of generational equity diminishes the prospects of young people. The true generational injustice has little to do with the projected public debt and everything to do with the real crisis going on right now. Today’s young adults—especially 20- and 30-somethings with young children—face shrinking opportunity and growing insecurity. The fate of today’s infants and toddlers is inextricably connected to that of their millennial--generation parents. Two-thirds of children under the age of 5 are raised by parents younger than 34. The true generational injustice is a threadbare to nonexistent social contract that has made it harder than ever before for the young to either work or educate their way into the middle class—and stay...

Subprime Students: How Wall Street Profits from the College Loan Mess

(rollingjubilee.org)
Five years after Wall Street crashed the economy by irresponsibly securitizing and peddling mortgage debt, the financial industry is coming under growing scrutiny for its shady involvement in student loan debt. For a host of reasons, including a major decline in public dollars for higher education, going to college today means borrowing—and all that borrowing has resulted in a growing and heavy hand for Wall Street in the lending, packaging, buying, servicing, and collection of student loans. Now, with $1 trillion of student loans currently outstanding, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of the same problems found in the subprime mortgage market—rapacious and predatory lending practices, sloppy and inefficient customer service and aggressive debt collection practices—are also cropping up in the student loan industrial complex. This similarity is especially striking in the market for private student loans—which currently make up $150 billion of the $1 trillion of existing...

The Investment Deficit

An economic recovery will bring down our fiscal deficit -- but the more important deficit is the shortfall in our commitment to the future.

Over the last 50 years, our nation's productivity tripled. The Dow Jones industrial average ballooned over the same period, growing from an average of 1,000 in 1970 to between 10,000 and 14,000 over the last decade. There are more billionaires and millionaires alive today than there were during the last 100 years combined. We can process, send, and retrieve information at a speed unthinkable even two decades ago. The typical middle-class family can point to more than one car in the garage and multiple television sets in the house. We have more stuff, and more people have this stuff than ever before. Yet most Americans are losing ground in the areas that really count: Median income has declined, particularly for a new generation of workers; job quality too has suffered, with new workers less likely to have health care or retirement benefits; poverty remains stubbornly set above 10 percent; high-quality child care is unaffordable for most low- and middle-income families; air quality is...

Financial Product Safety

The case for a new agency to put the needs of consumers first

As our nation's economic crisis spreads and trillions of dollars are disbursed to keep the banks afloat, it's easy to forget that the catastrophe began with the peddling of a toxic retail-credit product: adjustable-rate sub-prime mortgages. Fueled more by demand from Wall Street than by demand from homebuyers or homeowners, a vast army of unregulated mortgage brokers barreled through down-on-their-luck neighborhoods offering salvation via cash-out refinancing in the form of exploding adjustable-rate mortgages. Contrary to popular perception, the majority of these mortgages weren't taken out by speculative investors or even by middle-class families fulfilling their aspirations for ever-more home on an ever-shrinking income. In many cases, the mortgages were sold to existing homeowners, who were duped into trading their affordable fixed-rate mortgage for an ultimately unaffordable adjustable one. According to The Wall Street Journal , more than half of all sub-prime loans went to people...

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