We can’t give up our identity politics because the right won’t give up on theirs
Abandoning everything you believe about politics, culture and America based on about 100,000 voters in three states is probably a bit hasty. But there is a slight yet loud call the left urging give Democrats to give up on “identity politics” to focus on economic populism — as if we can’t do both.
One thought I want to add into all this treading water we’re doing as we prepare to fight to save what’s left of the middle class is that we can’t give up our identity politics because the right won’t give up on theirs.
Based on Trump’s choice of Jeff “I prosecuted a guy who marched in Selma” Sessions for Attorney General and potential appointment of Kris “Papers, please” Kobach, President Trump will likely pursue the fervent defense of whiteness that propelled his campaign beyond the normal bounds of “dog-whistle politics” that the right has been practicing for decades.
Meanwhile the Trump team will also be abetting the GOP Congress as it undertakes what it will likely be the largest transfer of wealth to the richest in American history.
This will probably include a license for polluters to increase their efforts to poison our air, water and climate in addition to massive tax cuts for the richest along with nearly as massive cuts to everything the government does that doesn’t specifically help the rich, including Medicare.
So Trump will be choosing identity politics over economic populism — with opportune head fakes on specific (possibly fake) plant closings and threats of tariffs to make it seem as if he does actually care about trade.
I give Secretary Clinton credit for making a brave stand against the outwardly racist and hateful “deplorables” who were backing Trump. And she’s been validated in many ways by the wave have hate that has cheered this Republican victory.
But I feel she made a strategic mistake when she called them “irredeemable” and not because of I believe all people are redeemable regardless of how deluded they’ve been by hate. I do. But there’s a bigger, more uncomfortable issue at play here.
Only by having empathy for those who have fooled by scam of racism and bigotry can we deflate its toxic force.
I can understand why neither Clinton nor Bernie Sanders attempted to connect economic populism to identity politics, attempting to expose how Republicans use racial appeals to cloak the miseries their policies inflict upon workers.
“Conservatives have been working hard to convince white people that addressing racism is itself anti-white discrimination,” Ian Haney-López and Heather McGhee wrote earlier this year, in a piece encouraging the mobilization a multiracial progressive coalition by demonstrating how racism hurts us all.
With one line from from one Martin Luther King Jr. speech as their shield, they’ve weaponized their attacks on government by making almost everything about race.
“Today’s right-wing, anti-tax, anti-spending agenda succeeds by stoking a deep distrust of the purported beneficiaries of government in thinly veiled dog-whistle language that is almost always about race, whether the conversation is about people who just want ‘free stuff,’ the need to drug-test welfare recipients, ‘illegal aliens’ as rapists and criminals, ‘runaway spending’ under our ‘Food Stamp president,’ or simply that our country is divided between makers and takers,” they wrote.
It’s them — the immigrants, the people on welfare, your Muslim neighbors — who are your problem, not the rich people who crashed economy destroying 8 million jobs and now want to turn your Medicare into a coupon.
“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,” Lopez and McGhee wrote. “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.”
The message they propose to rebut this is “When racism wins, everyone loses.”
In a way, the “deplorables” strategy is less risky because it doesn’t require you to take the leap to say “We also need to have concern for those who have been fooled by racism.”
That “outreach” could be off-putting to white voters indoctrinated by conservative posturing and even more offensive to minority groups for two reasons: it requires humanizing people who have dehumanized you and it suggests that the only way to get white people to care about racism is to show that it hurts them.
I can understand why it’s easier to fixate on the false choice between focusing economics or just identity. But our strategy will always be faulty if we don’t realize that this choice has already been made for us.
[Image by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr]