Tuesday night’s election results were a major shot in the arm for the anti-Donald Trump resistance and a major slap in the face for all the Democrats who caterwauled last November about how the party had focused too much on courting women and minorities, and ignored angry white men.
After Trump’s election, there seemed to be a surge in coverage of these men, like The Guardian’s “Trump’s Angry White Men” and Time’s “The Revenge of the White Man.”
Mark Lilla, a professor at Columbia, lamented “identity liberalism” on the cover of The New York Times’ Sunday Review, writing:
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“In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing. One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.”
These angry white men – who have shown little strong allegiance to liberalism – were being prioritized above people who have shown an undying devotion to liberalism: college-educated whites (particularly women), people of color and passionate progressives, which of course can be overlapping labels.
These people take identity politics to mean recognizing, listening to and trying to satisfy the particular needs of particular groups of people who have very different lived experiences in this country.
Objecting to identity politics is just a guise for objecting to politics for and about people who are not white, because, as British feminist author Laurie Penny explained to Salon in August:
“All politics are identity politics, especially the politics of the far right. They’re about this idea of white identity, this idea of male identity that feels so under attack at the moment. When people attack identity politics, they are attacking politics that prioritizes or even includes women, people of color, queer people.”
That whole conversation about how we must reject “identity politics” left a lasting bad taste in my mouth. I will confess that I’m still smarting over the implication of those conversations, in part because as a black man in America, I have seen the corpse flower that can grow from that seed.
I am always reminded of when the Republican Party abandoned black people – who had been nothing but loyal to them – to pursue the very racists who hated black people. It was called the Southern Strategy, and it wasn’t that long ago. And black people, who have never forgiven that betrayal, now vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
But the fact that Democratic strategists were even thinking of actively courting voters who turn a blind eye to – or even actively cheer – Trump’s bigotry underscored for me the fact that for this party, principles can be situational.
This to me is not moderation but mollification. It is a crisis of conscience. I wrote in January that the Enlightenment must never bow to the Inquisition, and I hold fast to that position.
For me, there is no middle: If you are supporting Donald Trump, you are supporting Trumpism and all that goes with it. That means that you are supporting a modus operandi that attacks people of color on every term but keeps white supremacists safe. You are supporting Trump’s demeaning of women. You are supporting his bullying. You are supporting his corruption. You are supporting his pathological lying.
It is not the job of the resistance to drag you out of that. It is the job of the resistance only to be there when and if you tire of the darkness and crawl out into the light.
We can’t warp liberalism into some sort of big-tent utopia where the lion can lie down with the lamb. We should stop trying to placate those who chafe at the very values that liberalism espouses. We don’t bend; we become a beacon.
We slough off this silly, racial romance dream of chasing chimerical, oppressed, forgotten, aggrieved, angry white men. Stop trying to convince us that their American dream is now a pipe dream. Stop trying to tell us that they alone should be the focus of our pity and the subject of our weeping.
The moment you supported Trump, you forfeited access to my sympathies.
And now the resistance has flexed its muscle in Virginia and shown that the broad rainbow coalition that is America’s future doesn’t have to kowtow to those moaning about losing the privileges from America’s past. (According to exit polls, a majority of Virginia’s white voters – both men and women – still voted Tuesday for the Republican who channeled Trump’s worst culture-war stances.)
Playing to the identity politics of Trump-loving angry white men – a clear expression of white supremacist patriarchy – isn’t a panacea. It’s not even prudent. And conversely, inclusive identity politics isn’t a poison. White supremacy, and the panic induced when that supremacy is threatened, is the poison.