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Journalism's Glaring Class Problem
Why so much reporting on working class immigrant communities is terrible.
The New York Times published not one, but two articles today about how Asian Americans in New York City are rapidly shifting from Democrat to Republican.
In Jason Kao’s Where New York’s Asian Neighborhoods Shifted to the Right, he writes
In last year’s governor’s election, voters in Asian neighborhoods across New York City sharply increased their support for Republicans. Though these areas remained blue overall, they shifted to the right by 23 percentage points, compared with 2018, after more than a decade of reliably backing Democrats.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, won even though almost the entire city moved to the right. Among that wave of red shifts, one set of voters had the largest movement of any racial or ethnic group: residents of Asian neighborhoods.
Some Asian neighborhoods, like Chinese enclaves in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, had shifts so big that they flipped to support a Republican candidate for governor for the first time in at least a decade.
It was accompanied by this graph showing the rapid change:
Of course, the article then had the standard usual blaming of Donald Trump as an inciter of violence against Asians, and not actual quotes from working-class Asian Americans on why they shifted so hard toward Republicans. Donald Trump may live rent-free in the heads of the journalistic class, but the immigrant Asians of Sunset Park hardly ever think about him. Not to mention that most people beating up Asians in NYC aren’t exactly the type to be Trump supporters.
The second article, David Leonhardt’s Asian Americans, Shifting Right, examined some reasons for the shift.
The Chinatown area of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was long a Democratic stronghold. The party’s candidates would often receive more than 70 percent of the vote there. Last year, however, the neighborhood underwent a political transformation.
Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor, managed to win Sunset Park’s Chinatown, receiving more votes than Gov. Kathy Hochul. This map, by my colleague Jason Kao, shows the change:
Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals. This development has had some benefits for Democrats, helping them win more suburban voters and flip Arizona and Georgia in recent elections.
To a growing number of working-class voters, however, the newly upscale version of the party has become less appealing. The trend has long been evident among white working-class voters, and many liberal analysts have claimed that it mostly reflects racial bigotry. But recent developments have weakened that argument. Class appears to be an important factor as well. Since 2018, more Asian and Latino voters have supported Republicans, and these voters appear to be disproportionately working-class.
The Pew Research Center has conducted a detailed analysis of the electorate and categorized about 8 percent of voters as belonging to “the progressive left.” This group spans all races, but it is disproportionately white — and upper-income. True, a large number of Democrats, including many Black voters, are more moderate. But the progressive left has an outsize impact partly because of its strong presence in institutions with access to political megaphones, like advocacy groups, universities, media organizations and Hollywood.
Leonhardt’s class analysis rings true, and it’s something I’ve discussed on my Substack before. I am a Sunset Park native. I walk around my neighborhood every day. I know these people. These people know me. I know exactly why Asians in Sunset Park have increasingly become Republican. I talked about this in an on-the-ground article of mine.
But you know who doesn’t know these people? Most journalists.
Why? Because journalists are mostly college-educated professionals in urban areas. This also happens to be the demographic that dominates the Democratic Party. As Jamie Paul astutely puts it in his excellent takedown of the journalistic class:
One area that deserves a longer individual treatment is the lack of diversity in journalism, and in the intelligentsia more generally. In particular, socioeconomic diversity: the diversity of class.
The reason why journalists come off as so astoundingly out of touch with society, or why they fundamentally don’t understand Trump voters, isn’t because of politics. Talk to any working-class high school grad Democrat about why many folks in their neighborhoods and communities voted for Trump, and they’ll make a thousand times more sense than their more articulate and well-bred horn-rimmed bespectacled brethren from the New York Times or Washington Post. Why? Not because of any major political difference, though their politics likely do differ in some meaningful respects, but because they actually know these people. They live with and among them, work with them, and are friends with them. They are not a distillation of voting records and imprecisely-worded interview quotes. They are whole people.
The major problem with “experts” on minority communities is that they don’t come from the communities themselves. When legacy news outlets need an Asian face to talk about “Asian American issues”, the person chosen is usually someone in their own coterie of professional-managerial journalists. They will claim to speak for Asians when in reality they only speak for affluent coastal liberals.
Many people are unable to separate their own views when trying to speak for a community. That’s how you get clueless Democrats using “Latinx” for their Latino outreach programs. Sure, their Harvard-educated coastal liberal Latino friends say it, and those friends will act like they represent all Latinos when they only represent a small portion of Latinos educated at America’s most elite institutions.
A good journalist should actually tell the truth and be a voice for the people they claim to represent. For example, I personally believe that the war on drugs has been a fruitless endeavor that has done little to combat drug use while wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on enforcement and incarceration. But I’d be lying if I claimed the majority of Asians in Sunset Park shared this view. So if anyone asks what most Asian Sunset Parkers want in terms of drug policy, I’d say that they want tougher sentencing policies and for marijuana to stay banned, even though I personally don’t agree.
Over the next few years, Asians in New York City will likely tilt more and more Republican. This is especially true for working-class Asian immigrants, as their children often go to college and suddenly adopt different class interests. You will hear garbage takes from journalists scratching their heads on why screaming “BUT DONALD TRUMP!” isn’t working on these working-class immigrants. You will hear garbage takes about how apps like WeChat and KakaoTalk are “spreading disinformation”. You will hear garbage takes about how Asians are trying to be “White-adjacent”. You will hear these garbage takes because we in America have a journalistic class that skews heavily left, affluent, and college-educated. We have a journalistic class that loves racial diversity, but without political and class diversity. Without a true diversity of class and of viewpoints, mainstream journalists will be left scratching their heads for a long time.
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