Live by identity politics, die by identity politics. The Democrat party has always been an exercise in coalition building, as opposed to the Republican party which has usually had a more general ideological orientation, and usually those coalitions, in part, have been exercises in identity politics. After the Civil War the Democrats thrived in most of the South by not being members of the hated, courtesy of the Civil War, Republican party, and by being dedicated explicity to keeping blacks down and out of any political power. Beginning with William Jennings Bryan, Democrats would usually explore each election year class hatred, portraying themselves as champions of the poor and the common man against the Republican paladins of the rich. Since the sixties of the last century the Democrats have been increasingly race obsessed as their electoral fortunes became tied to non-white voters and lily white elite liberal voters, who patted themselves on the back for publicly hating only people with the right complexions. For generations this consisted of usually white liberal politicians exploiting racial paranoia among non-whites coupled with coded, or not so coded, attacks aimed at blue collar whites. Hillary’s deplorable remark during the last campaign, in which she decreed that 25% of the country was beyond the pale, was an especially self-destructive example of this type of politics. Since her loss to Trump a few liberal writers have begun to think. “Son of a gun, how can we get back the votes of those trailer trash whites we demonize every election year, without altering our politics one iota. ” Kay Hymowitz of City Journal takes a look at this exercise of liberals in “Lower Class White People in the Mist” stumbling over the obvious:
What’s missing from this list is the most important—and most challenging—item of all: solving the liberal “deplorable” problem. The white working class that hoisted Donald Trump to an unexpected victory may not always admire the man, but they know that he doesn’t hate “people like me,” in the pollsters’ common formulation. And they have good reason to think that Democrats, particularly coastal and media types, do hate them: consider Frank Rich’s snide and oft-cited article, “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly.” It’s possible that white working-class voters would back a party filled with people who see them as racists and misogynists, with bad values and worse taste, because they all want to raise taxes on Goldman Sachs executives, but it seems a risky bet.
So it’s worth noting that a few prominent liberal writers have been venturing out of the partisan bunker and calling attention to the “deplorable” issue over the past few months. In late May, for instance, progressive stalwart Michael Tomasky, former editor of Guardian America and now of Democracy, published an article frankly titled “Elitism is Liberalism’s Biggest Problem” in the New Republic. The West Virginia native called “the chasm between elite liberals and middle America . . . liberalism’s biggest problem.” The issue “has nothing to do with policy,” Tomasky writes. It’s about different “sensibilities;” “bridging the gulf is on us, not them.” To most conservatives, Tomasky’s depiction of Middle Americans will seem cringingly obvious. The group tends to be churchgoers (“Not temple. Church”), they don’t think and talk politics from morning till night, and, yes, they’re flag-waving patriots. Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum, an influential though occasionally heterodox liberal, seconded the argument.
A more complex analysis of liberal elitism comes from Joan Williams, a feminist law professor whose best-known previous book is Unbending Gender. In White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, Williams takes her fellow liberal professionals to the woodshed for their indifference to the hard-knock realities of working-class life and for their blindness to the shortcomings of their own cosmopolitan preferences. Married to the Harvard-educated son of a working-class family, Williams is astute about the wide disparities between liberal and white working-class notions of the meaning of work, family, community, and country. One of her proposals for solving class cluelessness is a conservative favorite: reviving civics education.
A final recent example of deplorable-détente comes from Atlantic columnist Peter Beinart’s “How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration.” Noting that the unofficial open-borders philosophy of the Democratic Party is far more radical than the restrictionist immigration policy it espoused just a few decades ago, the former New Republic editor acknowledges that there is more than nativist bigotry behind white working class immigration concerns. He concedes that mass immigration may have worked to the disadvantage of blue-collar America by lowering wages for low-skilled workers and undermining social cohesion. Beinart concludes by “dusting off a concept that liberals currently hate: assimilation.” Liberals should be “celebrating America’s diversity less, and its unity more,” he writes.
These writers are engaging in healthy critical self-reflection, but in the course of describing the Democrats’ class dilemma, the liberal truth-tellers unwittingly show why a solution lies out of reach. They understate Democrats’ entanglement with the identity-politics Left, a group devoted to a narrative of American iniquity. Identity politics appeals to its core constituents through grievance and resentment, particularly toward white men. Consider some reactions to centrist Democrat John Osoff’s defeat in Georgia’s sixth district. “Maybe instead of trying to convince hateful white people, Dems should convince our base—ppl of color, women—to turn out,” feminist writer and Cosmopolitan political columnist Jill Filopovic tweeted afterward. “At some point we have to be willing to say that yes, lots of conservative voters are hateful and willing to embrace bigots.” Insightful as she is, even Williams assumes that all criticisms of the immigration status quo can be chalked up to “fear of brown people.”