Following Charlotteville’s disgusting display of bigotry,
Democrats can – and must – make identity politics more inclusive.
President Trump’s unacceptable equivocation of white supremacists and those that vehemently resist them provided an ugly glimpse of his true colors. For Democrats, the ensuing near-universal condemnation also provides a rare moment that, if properly seized, can result in a more inclusive brand of identity politics.
As a professional-class, white, heterosexual middle-aged male, I fill every column in the Left’s unofficial “Check Your Privilege” spreadsheet. Despite being passionately progressive, my voice is marginalized, seen as less significant because of my demographic. Though I understand the need to recognize traditionally oppressed groups, I fail to see how that translates into my experiences and opinions being less valuable.
I’ve been overcompensated out of the greater Progressive conversation and, since enacting truly meaningful social reforms requires winning elections, the result is harmful to Democrats of all colors, genders and orientations. As the New York Times’ Frank Bruni recently opined in an article of the same title: I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.
These frustrating intra-party prejudices help me empathize with less privileged, less educated white men who feel that society is drowning them out. In parallel, these same folks have seen their economic security threatened by automation and globalization. Trump’s populism and protectionism spoke directly to their anger and fears – a pivotal reason why he won and, conversely, Hillary Clinton lost.
That Democrats and progressives haven’t yet learned this lesson is entirely understandable. Upon taking office, Trump quickly proved himself a threat to all interest groups – women, minorities, LGBTQ people – on a level unprecedented in modern American history. If I fell into any of these categories, I’d be doubling the fight for my rights as well.
Blaming an historically oppressed group for playing lockdown defense against an obvious threat like Trump is silly. However, an unsustainable result has been the alienation of another important demographic: educated white men. Men like me. More importantly, men like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Identity politics is preventing Democrats from agreeing upon a winning strategy at the worst possible time.
Until Charlottesville, there didn’t seem to be a realistic path forward. But Trump’s disgusting excuse-making for the very worst forms of bigotry and hatred has, for Democrats, served as clearer-than-ever evidence of the President’s sincere racism. Trump’s insistence that “very fine people“ were among a crowd of neo-Nazis and Klansmen chanting “Jews will not replace us“ has unified and galvanized all those opposed to bigotry like never before.
Democrats now find themselves in a crucial moment: From the most moderate centrist to the frothiest, microaggression-shaming lefty, we’re in a rare period of total agreement. Nazis are bad; it’s amazing we even have to say that out loud in 2017 but, given the Democratic Party’s fractured state, doing so in unison can be far more than remedial.
Democrats should take advantage of this fleeting intra-Party camaraderie to build sturdier, more far-reaching bonds that reinforce one simple notion: We’re all on the same side. The time is now to embrace a more inclusive, goal-oriented form of identity politics.
At the risk of being labeled a “man-splainer,” identity politics have reached uber-niche, ultra-sensitive places that, so far as the rest of the country is concerned, might as well be Mars. The controversy that ignited Charlottesville – the push to remove Confederate statues from public spaces – exemplifies this.
Even after the day’s hideous violence, a post-Charlottesville Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 54 percent of adults said Confederate monuments “should remain in all public spaces,” while 27 percent said they “should be removed from all public spaces.” On the other end of the galaxy, fully deserving minorities and interest groups are fighting tooth and nail against the smallest of slights in a country whose citizens, by a resounding 2-to-1 margin, favor allowing pro-slavery rebels to continue gracing public parks. To say there’s a disconnect here would be the mother of all understatements.
Politics is the art of the possible, and if Democrats can’t bridge the chasm between the ideal and the achievable, the result could be reelecting a president with autocratic leanings and white supremacist sympathies. We can’t make meaningful progress without first regaining power. We need to coalesce.
For that to happen, we need to stop pushing reasonably like-minded partners out of the conversation. A rising tide should lift all ships, and increasingly folks like me – run-of-the-mill white guys – feel stranded on lifeboats, ignored by our own Party and lured toward the USS Republican. Exclusionary identity politics risks helping Donald Trump – a truly disgusting bigot, and one with the power to do outsized damage – rebound and, God forbid, get reelected.
All groups deserve to be empowered and equal, but we need to take a step back and recognize the current situation for what it truly is: a national political crisis. Before we can all move fully forward with our separate goals and agendas, we need to stop the bleeding. We need to band together and rid this nation of Donald Trump and his gang of White House Supremacists.