Book Profile

Steve Phillips: Putting Identity Politics into Practice


Steve Phillips—civil rights lawyer and senior fellow at the Center of American Progress, who has boasted about studying “Marx, Lenin, and Mao”—runs Democracy in Color, a 501(c)(3) political advocacy group “dedicated to empowering the New American Majority—multiracial, multicultural, and progressive—through media, public conversations, research and analysis on race and politics.” The group has a major focus on race and demographics, particularly their power to influence elections.

The New American “Majority”

Phillips’ book, Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, showcases this argument in full. The book’s central argument is that progressive candidates and Democrat Party outreach groups are wasting money “chasing white swing voters.” That is, they should not bother trying to achieve balance in the debate and appeal to the issues on the other side. This is because the “explosive population growth of people of color in America over the past fifty years” has created a “New American Majority.” This 51 percent majority of voters is comprised of progressive nonwhites (23 percent) and whites (28 percent), according to Phillips.

The book’s message evidently reached the ears of a lot of powerful people: Democrat operative John Podesta, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden, and CNN contributor Van Jones have all reviewed the book with praise.

Phillips hosts a podcast called Democracy in Color with Steve Phillips in which he discusses demographics with race activists like Tim Wise.

He is also the co-founder of PowerPAC+, an 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to influencing the outcome of electoral races in swing states by supporting candidates and targeting diverse communities with get-out-the-vote messages. The group conducted large voter mobilization efforts in 2014 for President Barack Obama, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

His wife, Susan Sandler, is the daughter of the late Herb Sandlers and board trustee to his charity the Sandler Foundation, a very wealthy organization involved in left-of-center philanthropy. Together they run the Sandler Phillips Center and are actively involved with Democracy Alliance, with Susan Sandler serving as a board member.

Democracy Alliance’s Minions

Democracy Alliance puts a lot of money into voter mobilization groups that seek to turn swing states solidly blue. It directly engages with the narrative of identity politics that demographics decides politics and election, and it uses social media and outreach to target specific segments of the population. The groups’ names—Black Civic Engagement Fund, Latino Engagement Fund, and Youth Engagement Fund—reflect this narrative, with one group using the same term that Phillips uses: the New American Majority Fund. (Learn more about Democracy Alliance here.)

The donors and members of Democracy Alliance—which count George Soros and Tom Steyer among their ranks—gathered in Hollywood in 2016 to discuss how they could use the movie industry to promote progressive ideals. Phillips and Sandler also attended the four-day event.

Weary Pattern

Phillips’ race-obsessed vision misses the idea that issues such as gun rights, property rights, and pro-life positions may not be exclusively “white” issues. He seems to understand this on one level because he states on his PowerPAC website, “Any person of color who’s ever had a Thanksgiving or holiday discussion with their relatives can confirm that not all people of color are progressive.” But he continues, this time in bold font, “In elections, however, people of color have fairly consistently voted to support Democrats and progressive issues.”

Steve Phillips’ life’s work rests in his faith that this “fairly consistent” pattern will continue indefinitely, so the Democratic party will never face a majority opposition again. A demographic transformation of America would essentially end history for Phillips and those who think like him, a fate that they vigorously assert will happen. But their assertion reveals their own desires and their weariness from fighting more than it reveals the truths of history and reality. Rather than articulate a defense of left-wing ideas, Phillips tiredly hopes the need to do so will soon disappear.

And being tired is never a good thing in politics.

Shane Devine

Shane Devine is a Research Assistant at Capital Research Center. Originally from New Jersey, he is a recent graduate of The New School in New York City.
+ More by Shane Devine