The evocative sound of barriers falling was the signal note during the Democratic National Convention’s first two nights.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s riveting Monday-night speech condensed the centuries of racial pain and progress bound up in her husband’s two victories into a single indelible phrase: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” One night later, Hillary Clinton shattered another ceiling when she became the first major-party female presidential nominee.
The delegates have displayed understandable pride in these twin social milestones. But there is also an undercurrent of concern that something old is being lost in this celebration of the new. The fear among some is that this polychromatic Democratic Party, open to all races, both genders, all sexual orientations, welcoming to immigrants, and championing diversity, may not have preserved enough room for the working-class white voters who anchored the party from Andrew Jackson through Lyndon Johnson.
Those voters haven’t been the party’s center for years: except for Bill Clinton in 1996, no Democrat has won more than 40 percent of white voters without a college education since 1980, according to media exit polls. On a national basis, Democrats have largely replaced them with increased support from Millennials, minorities, and college-educated whites—while running just enough above their national numbers among working-class whites in the key Midwestern battlegrounds to retain the advantage in those pivotal states.