The United States has never had a social revolution in its history, but it may be in the process of getting one at long last. That would make America a true latecomer to the game of revolutions — 225 years after the French, a century after the Russians and over six decades after the Chinese. In true American style, writes Stephan Richter, it will be a truly novel form of social revolution.
What lies ahead in the United States, by force of demographics as well as a highly imbalanced income distribution, is a dynamic shift away from a political and economic power structure that has been amazingly white and male-dominated to date.
In its place, we will see a multiracial society emerge that makes the most of its diversity. The social innovation lies in effecting that takeover of the country in a peaceful, non-bloody manner.
Contrary to political folklore, the so-called American Revolution did not do any more than replace a foreign king. The country's social structure essentiallyremained the same.
There have also been many arguments about why there would never be a need for a European-style revolution (or, in the milder form, no socialism) in the United States. Count on that entire literature being revised now.
The supposed reason for the "no revolution" scenario was that the benefits of economic growth in the United States were always distributed broadly and fairly enough so that there was no need to topple the established social order. That was basically true at the time of America's founding, when the country's income distribution was significantly more balanced than it is today.
But at a time when 93% of the growth in nation's income in 2010 went to the richest 1% of Americans, according to economist Emmanuel Saez, and when average household incomes have been stagnant since 1988, it is clear that the economic balance sheet of U.S. society needs to be structured differently.
That is the very scenario the Republican coalition, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, have ardently sought to prevent.
No matter how desperate they may become, Republicans are fighting a rearguard battle. They can seek to delay the inevitable and, in the process, become an increasingly party of true believers, mostly based in the American South and gated communities elsewhere.
But even that is not a sure thing. With shifting demographics, reliably Republican states such as Texas and Georgia could be in play for the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election.
What this means in practical terms is that Barack Obama's second term will put the Republicans into dire straits politically compared to his first term.
From 2008 onward, they seized on the argument that Obama was a "socialist." That may have been an absurd proposition, but at least it was not politically suicidal.
In the 2012 and onward rendition, the Republicans will be forced to broaden their argument to establish a line of defense. Their argument is going to have to be that almost the entire Democratic Party coalition is "socialist." Talk about insulting your potential voters.
It is one thing to denigrate the party's standard-bearer, but it is an entirely different matter to address that charge to half of the electorate. But that is essentially what the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, did in his (in)famous remarks, caught by a hidden camera, about the "47%."
The overwhelming majority of the 47% are students, retirees — including military retirees — and people earning less than $20,000 a year. That includes plenty of Republican voters.
Even worse for Republicans is that they appeal to all the shrinking segments of the electorate. Nonwhite voters make up 28% of the electorate, and Obama won 80% of their votes in the 2012 election.
This included not just 93% of the African-American vote and 71% of the Hispanic vote, but crucially 73% of Asian-Americans. And 55% of the female vote.
The Republicans are trying to comfort themselves with two different scenarios that they see as a way out of their predicament. The first is the Marco Rubio option, a messianic, quasi-Obama savior that will help them transcend ideological boundaries and tap deep into the minority voting pool.
The problem with that option is not just that it's old hat ("Obama's done that, we have been there as a nation"). It's that a Rubio candidacy runs counter to the long-standing Republican criticism of Obama as a neophyte president with no executive experience and only a few years of service in the U.S. Senate. (Rubio has served in the U.S. Senate since January 2011.)
Also, tapping a standard-bearer who happens to be minority without publicly throwing the most vocal firebrands from the Republican Party (e.g. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh) won't change the GOP's image. Few minorities would feel comfortable in a party that tolerates, and is afraid of offending, those types of spokespeople.
The second scenario is that those minorities are essentially social and fiscal conservatives in the GOP mold and can thus be tapped into as a reliable voting bloc if only the Republicans focus on that a bit. In other words, "it's communications, stupid."
That argument overlooks one important fact — that immigrant communities, as their economic status improves, lose much of their traditional conservatism and are keen to develop their own modern, open-minded lifestyle.
But the biggest hurdle for the Republicans is that the entire narrative of the nation is changing in front of their own eyes. The United States is moving to a racially integrated society that, unlike all other major economies, is amazingly diverse in character.
That trend is no longer limited to major metropolitan areas, but increasingly affects smaller towns in predominantly rural areas of the country. Moreover, in those areas, the only sense of economic and social dynamism that is to be had, given the slow-growth economy, stems from making the most of the underlying ethnic diversity.
In other words, as it comes to terms with being a post-racial society, the United States can finally reconnect to its true birth potential — of being, by its very nature, the most globalist society on earth.
That will also have economic advantages, as the home countries of many of these immigrants to the United States are going through a period of resounding growth (just think of Mexico).
And while charting that course will be difficult, it is clear that values such as education and inclusiveness, rather than religion and military security, are going to carry the day.
Broadly speaking, the latter two "values" have traditionally been associated with socially and economically insecure communities. That used to be the immigrants. But they are seeing a new morning in America — and it is definitely not Ronald Reagan's morning that they have in their sights.
In contrast, whites without an excellent education are liable to see nothing but stagnation, stagnation and stagnation. That is very demotivating — and stands in stark contrast to the sentiment in the large U.S. immigrant community that still remembers the lesser prospects they had in their home countries.
They are determined to make the most of their new life on American shores. In the process, they are bound to give America a healthy new dose of its belief in its future potential again — but it is definitely a nonwhite, non-Republican vision they have in mind.