Donald Trump, Racism — January 3, 2017

Why Democratic politicians shy away from addressing race

by

Racism hurts everyone and until we start pointing that out, we can’t fix the economy

Donald Trump isn’t going to give up “identity politics” — but some on the left think Democrats should about a “post-identity liberalism” in order to focus on winning over those 70,000 mostly white voters who gave Trump his narrow wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, while presumably ignoring the many more non-white voters who sat home.

What drives me crazy is that we have the answer for how to address the right’s use of coded racial appears to turn white voters against their own interests — and no one is using it.

(Whereas we don’t have a great answer for how much the Koch network’s investments in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania may have given Trump the presidency.)

In January of last year, Ian Haney-López — author of the essential Dog Whistle Politics — and Demos’ Heather McGhee laid out a simple strategy for exposing how Trump’s on barely coded attacks on minorities were part of familiar right-wing strategy to generate “broad popular support for politicians and policies that transfer our nation’s wealth to the new robber barons.”

Here’s what the strategy sounded like:

The reactionary economic agenda made possible by dog-whistle politics is responsible not just for the devaluing of black lives but for the declining fortunes of the majority of white families. College costs have soared because anti-government dog whistling has mainstreamed extreme cuts to state budgets. Union busting, which drives down wages and benefits for all workers, has become popular because the image of the union worker has been tarred: now not a white man in a hardhat but a black woman behind a bureaucrat’s counter. When conservatives vilify every modest public benefit, from healthcare subsidies to unemployment insurance, as handouts to the undeserving, the social contract is shredded for everyone. By exposing how the political manipulation of racial anxiety has hollowed out of the middle class, Sanders can elevate a simple message: When racism wins, everyone loses.

What I’ve wondered is why no leading Democrat has sought to expose the scam behind Trump’s racial appeals in a way that doesn’t paint Trump voters as redeemable but victimized by policies that are encouraging class suicide.

I asked Professor Haney-López why he thinks this hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s his answer:

As to why progressive politicians shy away from race, I think the shortest answer is that politicians follow rather than lead, and progressives haven’t yet prepared the soil for a new conversation about race that focuses on how everyone, including whites themselves, lose when racial fear wins.

To be reductive, there are two dominant progressive lines in contest over race: racism is pervasive and hurts people of color, versus talking about racism does little to change things even as it alienates whites. Neither line responds effectively to the conservative attack that says progressives care more about minorities than about whites: the former plays into it; the latter effectively repeats it.

Progressive thought leaders–from journalists to unions–need to promote a new way of talking about race as a tool of economic elites that hurts everyone. Once that idea is out there, progressive politicians can pick it up and amplify it.

As always it comes down FDR’s legendary explanation of how politics works:

I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.

[Image by Evan Guest| Flickr]

  • Truth Hertz

    “As to why progressive politicians shy away from race, I think the shortest answer is that politicians follow rather than lead…”

    Some prefer to frame this as immoral and without integrity, however, it is the method employed by pretty much every politician since the inception of politics.

  • TranLongmoore

    Shy away from race because the Democrats don’t know how to talk about race. Everything about the Hillary Clinton campaign was like a daytime TV show, where everyone was a victim, and they were going to use the presidential campaign to air their grievances.
    Busy, active people don’t have time for all this.
    Wages. Health Care. Schools. Affordable College. Maybe free community college.
    Help people.
    Disband the MEDC on day one.
    When you do that, you’ll be helping whites, blacks, latinos, gays, women, lesbians … EVERYONE.
    If the Democrats don’t become the party of working people, regardless of color and gender and sexual preference, the Democrats are doomed to losing in Michigan.
    Everything about the Democratic Party needs to be about working people and taking care of the less fortunate. There needs to be instant association. Democrats = working people. Republicans = corporate ownership. Democrats serve regular people. Republicans serve the millionaire and billionaire class.
    Let the Republicans bleed themselves out on identity politics. They can’t win there. Unless that’s what people associate the Democrats are associated with.
    The Republicans can’t win on the economic message if we take the worker vote. Workers outnumber owners.
    I’m absolutely stunned by the way A2 Democrats look down their noses at union workers. “Come on, autoworkers make too much,” says a retired librarian who never experienced a hard day’s labor in her life and who drives around her Toyota.
    What does the Democratic Party stand for?
    Are you just going to be the pro-corporate party that isn’t offensive on issues of race, gender and sexual identity?
    Or are you going to help people.

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