Panelists discuss shifting demographics at AJC discussion

by Haya Luftig

ajc

From left, Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition; David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist and senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings Institution; Wesley Lowery, Washington Post reporter covering law enforcement and justice; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform listen as Dr. Sampat Shivani, founding member of the Republican Hindu Coalition, speaks during an AJC panel discussion regarding the political implications of changing U.S. demographics July 19 at The City Club of Cleveland.

The Pew Research Center projects that by 2055, the U.S. won’t have a single racial or ethnic majority. And in terms of religion, Pew reports the religiously unaffiliated have surged seven percentage points in that time span to make up 23 percent of U.S. adults – a trend driven in large part by millennials, 35 percent of whom are religious “nones.”

These matters have wide-ranging implications, including political implications – which made them ripe for discussion during a Republican National Convention-week panel discussion hosted by the American Jewish Committee, in conjunction with the Cleveland Jewish News, July 19 at The City Club of Cleveland in downtown Cleveland.

Making up the panel were Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition; David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.; Wesley Lowery, Washington Post reporter covering law enforcement and justice and a Shaker Heights native; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; and Dr. Sampat Shivani, founding member of the Republican Hindu Coalition. The discussion was moderated by Richard Foltin, AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs.

Among the topics covered:

• Whether a diversifying population will affect the two-party system. Bernstein suggested that soon people will vote less on whether government is too big or too small and more on whether it’s open or closed in terms of immigration and economic policy;

• The way in which Norquist says “vote-moving” issues, or issues that mobilize various demographics to vote in large numbers – and often passionately – about single topics, impact elections. Norquist said vote-moving issues that have arisen due to shifting demographics include concealed carry/Second Amendment, homeschooling and independent contractors in a “gig economy” (Uber, Airbnb, etc.); and

• The role an increasing distrust in institutions – including law enforcement, government, media and religious institutions – perceived by Lowery will play in terms of how people self-identify and vote. To that point, Dionne suggested that as Americans associate less with institutions, particularly religious ones, society on the whole is searching for the kind of “civic glue” that seemed to keep intact previous generations.

Prior to the panel discussion, Bernstein, a Columbus native, told the CJN that shifting demographics are “changing everything” in the Jewish community.

“One, the Jewish community on a national level is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of American society, and two, the shifting demographics are disruptive to the current sociopolitical scene, which has a risk of increasing bigotry,” he said. “Three, shifting demographics provide an opportunity for American Jews to build bridges to other ethnic communities to strengthen our collective voice.”

Cleveland, like many other major cities, will experience both the opportunity and challenges of an increasingly diverse society, he added.

“The Jewish community in Cleveland, through its various community-relations organizations … must be extremely nimble and pay very close attention to population and geographic trends and continue to build strong connections to these communities,” Bernstein said. “We have to be willing to work in the trenches with other ethnic and religious communities on social issues that go beyond our immediate agenda. If we want to influence newer communities, then we have to systematically engage them.”


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Haya Luftig