“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
One of the things for which conservatives have criticized liberals and Democrats is what they call “identity politics”. Some maintain that “identity politics” rather than a focus on the economic realities of the heartland is what cost the Dems the election.
But the fact is,”identity politics” is the on-going struggle for our nation to realize in reality what the Declaration of Independence stated in principles. When the document was written, it didn’t cover women, it didn’t include blacks or native peoples. Over time we have as a society recognized that other groups were not included. LGBT communities weren’t even acknowledged to exist when that document was written. Hispanics didn’t factor in. Large numbers of indentured servants were not equal participants.
When this document was authored, its provisions largely meant white men of property. In the next almost 250 years we have steadily enlarged our notions of who is included in “all men” to actually mean “all people”. At every step, some portion of the previously “included groups’ resisted the addition of other new groups as belonging to “all men”. The have, at every step, have tried to keep the club small and exclusive.
The fact that we, in 2017 are still grappling with women’s issues, racism on a large scale, an anti-LGBT backlash, anti-immigrant hysteria, and so on simply makes “identity politics” inevitable and essential. It is the on-going battle to realize the promise of that original document.
What does the unalienable right to liberty mean in a society which imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world?
What does the right to the pursuit of happiness mean when economic class division condemns a significant proportion of our society to stultifying poverty with little or no opportunity to move up the economic ladder?
The Declaration of Independence set out the ideals of the nation, however imperfectly realized at the time. Later, the Constitution of the United States delineated the legal framework upon which this dream would be based. The provision for amendments recognized that this was a living document, that the future would require that we update the document to deal with realities not envisioned by the framers.
But the dream remains the same. And it is an unrealized dream. The unalienable rights defined in the Declaration of Independence are unequally available to our citizens. Vast economic inequality simply makes anything like an “even playing field” that affords equal opportunity a bad joke in our society.
So while conservatives try to pretend that we are in a post racist society, that no special protections should be afforded vulnerable groups within the larger society, “identity politics” will continue to be an essential part of the on-going fight to realize the original promise of our formation as a nation.
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Much of the conventional wisdom since the disastrous electoral loss in Nov 2016 is that the Democratic Party lost because it had become too focused on identity politics and the educated liberal urban bastions on the two coasts. Bernie Sanders has maintained that a lack of an economic agenda that clearly benefits the working and middle classes was what turned voters away from the Democrats.
But a recent article in Vox provides a very different take on this issue. It points out that populism is on the rise all over the world in democracies which have far more socialized economic systems than what we have.
This had occurred to me a while ago. I had been trying to envision what possible Democratic / Progressive platform would have brought any significant number of Donald Trump’s supporters to our fold. My answer was, there isn’t one.
The whole basis of the Democratic / Progressive liberal agenda is diversity. It is about championing the rights of minorities and vulnerable populations. It is about LGBT rights, It is about a woman’s right to choose. It is fundamentally about ensuring that all Americans have a level playing field when it comes to economic opportunity.
Of course, as Bernie Sanders has so aptly demonstrated, liberals have fallen far short of achieving this level playing field. But the Vox article is fairly convincing in maintaining that this wasn’t actually the reason we lost the election.
The fact is that I cannot envision what agenda would both preserve the fundamental focus on civil rights, minority rights, women’s rights, maintaining the social safety net, and be based on the philosophy of mixed public / private management of the country’s economy. It is fundamental to Liberal and Progressive philosophy that the government has a crucial role in managing those things which we determine to be “public goods” on behalf on the American people.
These include clean air, clean water, the environment in general, our rivers, the ocean, endangered species, fish runs, and the social safety net (sometimes called the welfare system). Health care has, since its inception, been a mixed bag. The government has policies which heavily “regulate” the industry, and via medicare, medicaid, and the veteran’s administration covers some financing, but the majority of our system is private. It is an “employer based” system and insurance is provided by private insurers.
So, what do we see on the right? It certainly is not a monolithic group. The GOP base is made up of a disparate groups and philosophies. But one unifying element is an almost visceral dislike of the Federal Government. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, which has hijacked the Party’s agenda, wants to see smaller government, less regulation, a strong focus on property rights (as opposed to the public good), and far less Federal civil rights interference in state and local matters.
It is impossible to separate our current “populism” from “nativism”. The core demographic supporting Donald Trump and the farther right politicians is non-college educated whites. And they are Christians.This group is adamantly opposed to immigration. It wants to see deportation of undocumented residents. It wants to see a Wall built on the Mexican border. It wants to see an almost total ban on immigration from Islamic countries.
This group has gradually been influenced over a period of decades to become an anti-diversity, increasingly white supremacist group. They are convinced that diversity is a war against our Eurocentric values and heritage. They are xenophobic and more isolationist than we have seen for many years.
My point here is that these people are rabidly opposed on a very fundamental level to almost EVERYTHING we liberals and progressives stand for. They do not believe that the government should have much of a role in anything beyond defense and law enforcement. They believe that the social safety net is a giveaway of public money to undeserving minority moochers. They are made uncomfortable by cultural values different than their own, especially when they are introduced into their previously homogeneous communities.
So, I would ask, would an vehemently anti-abortion person be persuaded by an economic program designed to benefit their demographic to vote for a Party that is firmly committed to “choice”? I would say nothing would do that.
I would ask what would persuade a voter who hates the Federal Government, is convinced that all politicians are corrupt, and feels that just about everything the government does that he sees is bad, to vote for a candidate that believes in a single payer, national health system administered by the government? I would say nothing.
I would ask what would persuade a voter who is fundamentally frightened by minorities and immigrants, who wishes to see the clock turned back to when white exceptionalism was the rule in our country and minorities just had to go along, to vote for a candidate from a party that is fundamentally associated with equal opportunity and rights for all… that has made “inclusion” the basis of its philosophy? I would say nothing.
I think it is time to understand that the country is polarized between extremes that really are not going to be reconciled. One side is not going to be persuaded to join the other side. This is a conflict that is going to have winners and losers. The losers will not be happy. And nothing we can do as liberals and progressives will change that fact.
So, no, the Democratic Party does not have to abandon its focus on diversity and identity politics. What it needs to do is incorporate a more progressive agenda into a plan that targets it liberal / progressive base. It isn’t about winning over the Tea Party folks in the heartland, or the uneducated workers on the rust belt. It is about finally coming up with a program that actually does improve the lot of the folks that have been Democratic supporters all along.
Let’s make it clear to our minority populations that we have a real commitment to ending the war on drugs, shifting decriminalization to support via education, rehabilitation, mental health services, business development in the urban centers, etc. Let’s have a comprehensive plan to provide economic incentives and create educational / vocational alternatives for our workers who will be increasingly replaced by the robotics revolution.
To take back the country we need to motivate the folks that have traditionally been our base of supporters, not try to win over a group of folks that isn’t going to be won over no matter what we do. Instead, we need to maintain the focus we have had but actually start to deliver the goods. It was disinterest in our base this election that gave us Donald Trump, not a huge mandate.
Check out the article on Vox No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism
Really worth reading and its points are quite valid. But it did get me thinking about the issue of outrage fatigue. I asked myself, aren’t we stronger than that?
This is a war. It is a political war, but it is also a culture war. As much as we find Trump repulsive, it is a fact that the GOP as a political party is backing him 100%. We cannot separate Trump from the Tea Party hi-jacked GOP itself. Every time they vote to support a Trump nominee, every time they overlook the conflicts of interest, every time they allow him to not release his tax returns, when they overlook the outrageous way he is conducting what could only generously be described as foreign policy. they are “enablers”. They must take equal responsibility for this atrocious man.
But we are also forced to admit that not a one of these people would be in office… not the President, not the Senators and Congressmen, none of them, without having been voted into office. It is simply the case that a really significant section of the American public has a very different vision of America that is in many ways diametrically opposed to the Liberal / Progressive vision. In other words, this is a fight that has existed since the start of our country and continues to this day. It isn’t going away. It will still be going on long after Donald Trump is disgraced and leaves office.
So, I find myself thinking about outrage fatigue and the issue of “staying power”. I think about the battle that the Labor Unions fought for decade upon decade in the face of black balling, assassination, strike breaking, state sanctioned violence… Most of us are currently facing nothing like that.
The women warriors who fought for suffrage faced social ridicule, isolation, arrest and imprisonment had to sustain that effort for years and years. For many it was a life long battle. Most of us are not even close to putting ourselves on the line to that extent.
The Civil Rights Movement literally lasted generations. It accelerated after WWII and seemed to peak in the 1960s with the successful fight to end segregation. The movement activists faced beatings, even death at the hands of the reactionaries. People were lynched, shot, simply disappeared. Marchers were fire hosed, had the dogs turned on them, were attacked by the white crowds. This happened over and over for years. Are we as Liberal / Progressive citizens facing anything like that … Yet?
What I am saying here is that if we are in this for the long run, it is certainly true that we need to pave ourselves. We also need to perform concrete actions along with being outraged to give that energy an outlet. All true. But at the same time, when I look at our nation’s history of activism and resistance, at what a monumental effort it has taken to get where we are, the sacrifices made by the culture warriors who have fought the battle to make this country a better place for all, I think that holding onto to my outrage is a small price to pay.
Are we not strong enough to sit with our outrage every day? Are we REALLY allowing ourselves to be “fatigued” after a few months of the political wars? I think we should think about the strength required to sustain this battle until we can turn this country around. The folks who went before us faced far greater challenges. The folks out there at Standing Rock, the Black Lives Matter protesters, the Occupy movement folks, the environmental activists, all the other fighters on the front lines are really putting themselves out there for all of us. I think maybe the least we can do is maintain our outrage and not shy away from it.
If it is too much for some, I understand that. You do what you can. But I think that the vast majority of us are strong enough to hold that outrage, to wake up every day and feel it, to express it publicly, loud and strong. Because that is what is required to not allow what is happening to be “normalized”. I think this is how we honor the generations of labor leaders, women’s rights activists, civil rights fighters, and so on who have gone before us. We have to maintain and feed the outrage. It is the motive energy that feeds concrete action. It is required to get marchers on the streets, not just once but over and over. It is what is required to get us writing our Congressional leaders, not just on one issue, but continuously until they can’t ignore us. It is what is required to produce record turnout at the mid-term elections rather than the dismal 50% of the Presidential election that is typical.
So, don’t do yourselves harm. Take care of yourselves. But if you can hold your outrage, if you can feed it, communicate it, keep it steady, then by all means do so. I think we can be tough enough to do that at least. The war is going to demand much more from some. A few will find themselves out in front for the rest of us. It has always been thus. But we can stay strong and outraged at a minimum, acting in the various ways that we each find for ourselves. Personally, I think my outrage is making me stronger. As my wife, who was a nation champion fencer used to say to herself when competing, “Be tired later.”
“Political Correctness: how the left invented phantom victimization.”
Phantom victimization? Seriously? It’s impossible to understand how any citizen of this Republic could POSSIBLY think that anyone needed to invent the concept of “victimization”, to pretend that there are no groups who have been systematically “victimized”.
Let’s try to sum up where we are at with the left and the right. In a nutshell, the left has decided to represent the victims, the marginalized, the minority members of our society. They have fought for civil rights, they have opposed exploitation and discrimination. Historically, they have stood on the side of Labor, fighting for better wages,. conditions, etc.
Our nation has historically been and continues to be dominated by the tensions between our white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, majority and our various minorities. Since the great social upheaval of the 1960s we have seen an almost continuous movement forward in political organizing, and a successfully fight for equal rights.
What we have now with the political right is the backlash. In fact, the Republican Party is virtually the party of backlash. One of the ways that the right resists is by rewriting history. This is easily done in a country in which few study history. The focus of this effort is to create a view of the country in which there are no victims. There might have been at some point in the past, but that was all long ago and now it’s all ok.
There has been a concerted effort to white wash slavery. It really wasn’t so bad. Most slave owners treated their slaves well, and blah, blah, blah. There has been complete silence on the subject of our record rate of incarceration, which dis-proportionally effects minorities. And any mention of multi generational poverty in our minority populations is made to appear as lack of ability, lack of drive, dependence on welfare and so on. Black Lives Matters, a group fighting a multi generational problem of law enforcement violence against minority communities is depicted as a anti-law enforcement terrorist organization. It’s simply one big stream of denial that there is an issue to be addressed.
At the same time, on the right you will have absolutely no mention of multi generational wealth and power. It is a fact that the upper middle class and upper class perpetuate themselves. They have the means to weather economic downturns, they can afford to have their children receive the finest education money can buy. While it is true that most people work hard to get by, people from these upper classes, who are, by the way, mostly white, do not start at the same starting point that the rest of the citizenry do. But you will NEVER hear a word about that from the right. Any mention of the lack of an even playing filed or the notion that wealth and power do perpetuate themselves engenders screams of class warfare and those doing this mentioning are attacked as pursuing the politics of division… a big no, no.
The new narrative has worked to discredit Labor Unions. We no longer need them, they cost jobs, etc. The movement of jobs to the non-Union South has led to an economic boom for corporations in the Sun belt while these same states require more Federal payments via the safety net to keep the working poor from starving. They get less pay, worse conditions, less protections. Essentially, the destruction of the Unions has moved the burden of supporting the work force from the employer to the tax payer. The employees of a company like WalMart require billions of dollars of public assistance in order to maintain even a minimal standard of living.
Yet the narrative of the right has been to say that focusing on the worker, his rights, his conditions, his wages, hurts business and costs jobs. The new narrative is a variation of the trickle down theory. What is good for the corporation, what benefits management and the stock holders is what creates jobs and prosperity for the worker.
This is a fiction. What is happening is that the worker is receiving proportionally less of the total income from our businesses. Non-Union wages are down yet top ,management salaries and benefits are at record levels. They are at record levels when compared to businesses world wide. A CEO of an American corporation can be making 400 times the wage relieved by the worker in the factory. This divide is greater than in any country in the world by magnitudes.
But the focus in the right is devoted entirely to distracting the working man from understanding this. Unionization is resisted at all costs because Labor organizers will be the first to demonstrate to the workers where the inequities lie.
The tried and true strategy of playing the different parties off against each other continues unabated. The right has the working man focused on all those immigrants and illegals, all those foreigners taking their jobs. All to distract them from the fact that the most wealthy are getting steadily wealthier. That isn’t something the right wishes the worker to focus on.
So, when the left talks about marginalized groups, it is pursuing the bugaboo of identity politics. But when the right talks about the problem with Muslims, the undocumented workers, the war against Christmas, even the war against men, or the war against white people… that isn’t identity politicos, that’s fighting for traditional values.
And in the non-economic arenas like women’s rights, LGBT rights, special needs, etc the right wing strategy is once again to deny that there even is a problem. No new legislation is needed to protect women against sexual assault, no new laws are required to prevent hate crimes against gays. All of this is already covered by our existing legal structures. Of course this ignores the fact that if the existing structures were working, we wouldn’t have endemic rates of sexual assault, we wouldn’t behaving a stream of hate crimes against LGBTQ people.
All of this is about a concerted propaganda effort to deny the experience of our marginalized communities. When people describe the many ways they are made to feel excluded, undervalued, discriminated against, and even assaulted, the narrative of the right is to deny the validity of their experience. Complaining about being victimized is just an excuse not to knuckle down and work as hard as the rest of us (is being the folks who are already doing just fine than you).
Attempts to afford legal protection to our marginalized groups are attacked. The new code word which the right uses to oppose equal rights for our various minorities is to describe them not as “equal rights” but as “special rights”. These people are just asking to not be discriminated against, to receive the same treatment that everyone else gets. They are asking for “special” treatment. They are asking for something the rest of us don’t get. It is an insidious form of double speak, a cynical attempt to invalidate the daily experience of marginalized populations within our country.
The Liberal Left may have been guilty of focusing more on applying band aids to the results of our economic inequality rather than finding solutions, but they at least deal in the reality zone with our problems. The right consistently denies that the issues are even issues and then turns around and portrays the very people who are the most entitled in our society as the true victims. That is what backlash is all about and that is what the right currently represents.
We talk a lot about polarization in American society today as if it is something new. But in fact polarization has existed since the founding of the country. Historically the social tensions involved tend to build over time until some cataclysmic event erupts and serves to temporarily relieve the pressure.
The American Revolution wasn’t just a war for independence from Britain. It was essentially a civil war between the Loyalists that wished to stay with the Crown and the colonists that wished to go their own way. Some even call it the first American Civil War. The colonial population was polarized in the extreme at the time and when war broke out, it was as much a civil conflict of neighbor against neighbor as it was a conflict of armies. When Cornwallis surrendered and it was clear that the English had truly lost the war, a period of what we might call ethnic cleansing took place but it was political rather than ethnic in nature. The colonists that had stayed loyal to the crown mostly lost everything. Their lands were stolen, they lost their livelihoods, and most were forced to flee and leave the newly formed country. So, via the war and the “cleansing” that took place in its aftermath, the social tensions around the issue of loyalism or revolt were resolved by force.
Once the United States were formed, attempts to write a Constitution revealed that the next major fault line that existed, on either side of which we began to increasingly polarize was slavery. Polarization became so severe that pro and anti slavery militias terrorized the disputed territories in the West and a member of Congress was literally beaten with a cane on the floor of the Senate by another member of the Senate during a debate.
Eventually this polarization became so severe that the slave states seceded and our Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression) resulted. While the victory of the North did not at all remove the tensions that had caused the rift in the first place, the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the total devastation of the Southern economy made large scale resistance to the Federal Government impossible. Instead, from the moment the war ended, another war, fought as a virtual terrorist resistance to Reconstruction was waged. Assassination of Northern officials, lynchings of freed Blacks attempting to enter leadership roles, burning of churches, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan as a powerful underground resistance showed a South defeated in war but collectively unwilling to submit to the kind of social change demanded by the North. With the Presidency of Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, the occupation of the South was ended and any real attempt to enforce the reforms of the Reconstruction Era were over.
In the post Civil War period, we have continued polarization along racial lines. Klan membership peaked in the late 1920’s declining only after scandals among the leadership lost them support, not because racial tensions were any less. Additionally, the rapid industrialization that took place after the Civil War coupled with the huge growth in our urban areas began to make the polarization between rich and poor more obvious and increasingly erupted into violence. The Robber Barons and the corporations they owned had their own private armies to break strikes and violently oppose Union organizing. The government functioned almost as an arm of these private interests with local and state law enforcement and even Federal military personnel being called in to break strikes and arrest and sometimes even kill Union strike organizers.
Throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s repeated financial collapses created untold hardships for the unemployed and working poor. By the post WWI period there was real fear that this economic social polarization would erupt into outright revolution. With the total collapse of the international economic structure that began the Great Depression, it was only radical action by the Federal Government and FDR, the President, that saved the country from outright revolution.
Once again, it took a cataclysmic set of violent events to temporarily relieve the pressures of both racial and economic polarization pulling the country apart. WWII was a hugely unifying event. Perhaps the greatest on in US history. It was really the only truly democratic war our country has fought, with the sons of the rich fighting alongside the sons of the poor. The unifying effect of the war combined with the GI Bill and tremendous economic growth after the war pushed economic injustice temporarily to the back burner but Black GIs returning to the South encountered a concerted effort to put them back in their place and the Civil Rights Movement was the result of their unwillingness to do so.
For a time, “the Movement” lead by Dr Martin Luther King allowed these racial tensions to express themselves non-violently. But progressively he moved towards a more radicalized position in which he viewed the Vietnam War, the class based economic injustice inherent in the system, and issues of racial equality as being completely intertwined. J Edgar Hoover called King the most dangerous man in America.
Racial tensions and a growing awareness that they could not be considered separately from issues of economic injustice combined with raised expectations on the part of minority veterans who had served in Vietnam radicalized many minority young men and women leading them to feel that Dr. King’s non-violence was too incremental, too slow, to deliver real equality and social justice. With the assassination of Dr King, a seismic eruption took place. Every major city in the US was burning, you had barbed wire and machine guns on the Capitol building steps. Within a couple of years, the leaders of the major radical groups like the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, etc were all underground, dead, or in jail.
The end of the Vietnam War signaled the end of mass protest in the US. The pressures for social upheaval were diminished for a time once again. Nothing like the scale of the old civil rights and anti-war protests was seen until the WTO protests in 1999 and the Occupy Movement protests of 2011 and 2012. Now the Black Lives Matter Movement is growing and seem to be the latest iteration of a movement geared towards civil rights and social justice for our minority community.
One can see the social and economic tensions of all of these unsolved issues creating polarization and a movement away from the political center on both the Left and the Right. The pressure for another seismic social upheaval are mounting. The 2016 election has revealed the fault lines in both political parties and no one can really tell what the outcome will be. The campaign will inevitably escalate the the tensions and the polarization.
What is certain is that the forces of wealth inequality, institutionalized racism, religious intolerance, bias against LGBT persons, fear of terror, and nativist anti-immigration are forming a reactionary movement fighting to undo virtually all of the social progress the country has made since the 1930’s. Donald Trump has managed to make himself into the spokesman and Presidential candidate for these forces.
The Progressive wing of the Democratic Party has proven to be such an unexpected powerhouse of a movement that only its carefully engineered primary system with its control of the super delegates has given them the ability to place the candidate of their choice, in this case Hillary Clinton, in the nominee spot at the upcoming convention.
While liberals are largely focused on having a Democrat win the election. It is important to realize that the social tension, the increasing polarization that has created our political climate of the moment will not go away; that regardless of which candidate wins, the culture war continues and will most likely escalate. In American history, the kind of polarization that we see has always resulted at some point in some sort of cataclysmic event that once again dissipates that pressure. The normal political process doesn’t do so, incremental change never does so. It is almost always some sort of massive eruption like war, or riots, some sort of violent upheaval, or perhaps the fear thereof, that dissipates these tensions and restores some measure of balance to the system.
So, no one should think that this election is a solution of any kind, that it is the end of some effort to create change. Instead, I believe it should be viewed as spark that will produce some wild fire of violent upheaval between the polarized forces of Right and Left. The tensions have been building for some time. We are overdue. The American Revolution and our Civil War both represented cataclysms that dissipated our tensions for a time. The New Deal and WWII both served to dissipate these tensions as well. But the unresolved social and economic issues that have existed since the founding of the nation are still unresolved. The Red State Map (of the Red / Blue State geography) still closely resembles the map of the Confederate States and the disputed territories from before the Civil War.
While we see developing activist movements on the Left like the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, etc we also see membership in white supremacist organization on the rise. Participation in right wing militia groups, the so-called Patriot Movement, is also at a peak. It looks as if we are headed for some new cataclysm of conflict that will once again restore some balance. This election, which ever candidate wins, will not do so.