Monday, December 11, 2017

The End of Identity Liberalism


The article below first appeared in the NYT just over a year ago (Nov. 18), when it generated a furore among Leftists.  Why?  It is a very level-headed article and in fact hits on the very issues  which led to the triumph of Trump on Nov. 8.  He is essentially an old-fashioned Leftist who thinks that the Democratic party needs to stick to traditional Leftist themes if it wants to win power and do good.

It is what he criticizes that led to fury, however. He points out quite logically that the current Democrat obsession with identity politics cannot win a majority.  Focusing on homosexuals, feminists, blacks etc. simply leaves out the great majority of people who are not part of those minorities.  Mainstream people will tend to feel left out and will look to someone who includes them.

The Left talk about inclusion but their version of inclusion tends to exclude the majority.  Leftist "inclusion" consists of forcing minorities down the throats of the majority, with no concern about how the majority might feel about that.

As Lilla said, the majority did feel left out and looked for someone who spoke for them: Donald Trump.

So why did that very reasonable and much needed message arouse so much rejection among American Leftists ("liberals" if you like)?  I think a major reason is in the tone of the article.  There is no rage and hate in it.  It is just calm and considered.  It could mostly have been written by a conservative.

The Left feed on rage and hate and Lilla gave them not a skerrick of that.  In those circumstances what he was arguing hardly mattered.  He was not one of "us" to Leftist readers.  Every word of his was therefore suspect

It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. 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. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.” Fox News and other conservative media outlets make great sport of mocking the “campus craziness” that surrounds such issues, and more often than not they are right to. Which only plays into the hands of populist demagogues who want to delegitimize learning in the eyes of those who have never set foot on a campus. How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose the designated gender pronouns to be used when addressing them? How not to laugh along with those voters at the story of a University of Michigan prankster who wrote in “His Majesty”?

This campus-diversity consciousness has over the years filtered into the liberal media, and not subtly. Affirmative action for women and minorities at America’s newspapers and broadcasters has been an extraordinary social achievement — and has even changed, quite literally, the face of right-wing media, as journalists like Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham have gained prominence. But it also appears to have encouraged the assumption, especially among younger journalists and editors, that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.

Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.

But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.

Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension.

Some years ago I was invited to a union convention in Florida to speak on a panel about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941. The hall was full of representatives from local chapters — men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos. We began by singing the national anthem, and then sat down to listen to a recording of Roosevelt’s speech. As I looked out into the crowd, and saw the array of different faces, I was struck by how focused they were on what they shared. And listening to Roosevelt’s stirring voice as he invoked the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear — freedoms that Roosevelt demanded for “everyone in the world” — I was reminded of what the real foundations of modern American liberalism are.


Wisconsin AG recommends contempt charges against 'John Doe' prosecutor and his henchmen

About time

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker enraged Democrats and unions when he rammed a bill through the Republican legislature in 2011 that limited the power of public unions.  In response, Democrats gathered enough signatures on petitions to initiate a recall election.

Walker won that election handily in 2012.  But that was only the beginning of the story.  A Milwaukee Democratic prosecutor decided to build a case against conservative activists for illegally communicating and coordinating their political efforts.  The result was something straight out of a dystopian nightmare, as The Federalist describes:

In the predawn hours of October 3, 2013, armed deputies raided the homes of R.J. Johnson, Deborah Jordahl, and several others in a paramilitary style blitz across Wisconsin. The detainees weren't terrorists bent on mass murder or the overthrow of the government. The agents weren't looking for contraband narcotics or illegal firearms. In fact, no one was quite sure what they wanted, but agents got it all; computers, phones, business records, files, and communications dating back years. Deputies told the raided subjects to keep quiet or there would be consequences, as a pedophile might tell his prey.

The targets represent only a fraction of political activists sucked into Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm's "John Doe" – a grand-jury-type mechanism Wisconsin prosecutors prefer for its secrecy. Chisholm accuses them of "illegal talking" by coordinating messaging, which is supposedly forbidden under Wisconsin's prolix campaign finance code. The investigation, which Chisholm has expanded 18 times, has engulfed advocates, large and small, for years on end. His favorite tactic is bulk intimidation. Alongside raids and gag orders, he employs kitchen-sink subpoenas, many of which are eventually quashed at great legal expense. When he fails to get sufficient obeisance, he serves arrest warrants and sends people to jail on nonexistent charges. One judge reviewing a John Doe prosecutor's actions stated, "The conduct described is nothing that we as Wisconsinites should be proud of, bottom line . . . . Mr. Landgraf was behaving badly, probably for political reasons."

America had never seen anything like it.  Dozens of ordinary people, some of them unpaid volunteers, were swept up in a terrifying political dragnet.  But the "evidence" in the cases being investigated was so badly mishandled that key details were leaked about the prosecutor's methods.  The resulting outcry eventually led to the shutdown of the investigation by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who found no evidence of illegal activity on the part of the prosecutor.  But one justice, writing for the majority, said, "It is utterly clear that the prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing."

Chisolm's wife Colleen was a teacher union shop steward whose job was directly affected by Walker's curb on union power.  Both were Democratic activists.

Now, after an exhaustive investigation, the attorney general of Wisconsin, Brad Schimel, has issued a report that recommends contempt charges against the prosecutor and that professional sanctions be imposed on one of his investigators.

Milwaukee Sentinel:

In a 91-page report made public Wednesday, the Republican attorney general sharply criticized the probe's leaders for engaging in an overly broad investigation and failing to secure the vast amounts of evidence seized. He contended contempt proceedings should be initiated against special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and the team he led for how they handled seized material after courts told them they could not review it further or had to get rid of it.

Schimel also wants to seek professional sanctions against Shane Falk, who served as an attorney for the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, as part of his investigation into the leak of secret John Doe material to the Guardian U.S.

"The systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence likely resulted in circumstances allowing the Guardian leak in the first place, and now prevents prosecutors from proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt," the report says

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge William Hue made Schimel's report public Wednesday. Hue, who is overseeing the wrap-up of the Doe investigation, wrote in a brief order that he would consider Schimel's request for contempt proceedings.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Schmitz ran the investigation into whether the Republican governor's campaign illegally worked with conservative groups in recall elections. Chisholm is a Democrat and Schmitz has identified himself as a Republican.

The state Supreme Court shut down the investigation in 2015, finding nothing illegal had occurred.

What is truly frightening about this story is that the Democratic prosecutor apparently acted within the law when his goons rousted ordinary people from their homes at gunpoint.  As The Federalist's Paul Jossey points out:

"Chisholm's John Doe represents the worst kind of legal thuggery, rife with personal enmity, conflicts of interests [sic], and professional skullduggery. Unfortunately victims are left with little practical recourse. The laws, judicial doctrines, and disciplinary structures that shield Chisholm and his cohorts should be reformed to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again."

Prosecutors have been given enormous leeway to enforce the law.  But they are expected to behave within the bounds of propriety, non-partisanship, and common decency.  Chisholm not only crossed the line; he obliterated it.  The least that can be done to punish him is to try him for contempt.


Sweden's comversion to the religion of peace

The President of the United States made an announcement some people don’t like, so protesters in the UK and Sweden are threatening to kill Jews. Not Americans – Jews. Not Israelis – Jews

Twenty-one masked men have been seen throwing molotov cocktails at a synagogue in central Gothenburg.

'We are in place with a number of units,' said Peter Nordengard, police chief of the West Western region, told the Expressen newspaper.

Dvir Maoz, the World Bnei Akiva youth movement's emissary in Gothenburg, said the attack happened a little after 10 p.m. while youths from the local Jewish community were attending a party inside the synagogue complex.

He described looking out from inside the synagogue lobby area and from the corner of his eye seeing 'a ball of fire' approaching the building.

'The guards saw it in the security cameras and called police right away. The children were stressed, it was the first time they had ever experienced a terrorist attack near them.' 

Allan Stutzinsky, chairman of the Jewish Assembly in Gothenburg, witnessed the attack and he said: 'There were tens of masked people throwing burning objects into the courtyard.'

The attacked happened after several hundred people marched through the centre of Malmo on Friday night to protest against President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

According to local media some chanted: 'We have announced the intifada from Malmo. We want our freedom back, and we will shoot the Jews.'


The myth of Britain’s far right

Britain First is as insignificant as its racist and fascist predecessors

So, with a few retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda videos, US president Donald Trump did it again. He gave a bunch of irritants the oxygen of publicity. He gave them a platform. He gave them legitimacy. No, not the plums of Britain First, whose deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, originally posted the videos Trump retweeted, but those ever ready to tell us about the rise of fascism, those ready to warn us of the ‘the reach of far-right groups in the UK and Europe’, those ready to warn us that the spirit of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts is among us once more.

What’s odd about the dark mutterings of fascism’s rebirth is that in Britain there is simply not much to be reborn. The far right has remained, throughout its meagre British existence, a threat largely in imagination only, its overseas version treated with ‘derision and contempt’ according to Foreign Office minutes in the 1920s, and as no more than a public-order problem in the 1930s (they tended to provoke the left). Even when ex-Labour MP Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was literally on the march in the 1930s, the far right’s lack of traction was palpable. Such was its failure, that by the end of the 1930s, even Mosley himself was moved to complain that he was tired of ‘pouring money down the drain of British fascism’.

It is not an overstatement to say that the far right has never been able gain much of a foothold in British political culture. So while world war, fear of revolution and economic crisis in the interwar years were providing the social and political tumult in which fascism proper flourished in Europe, Britain’s political institutions, comprising in the main a mass Conservative Party, a highly reformist, social-democratic Labour Party, and a trade-union movement largely free of syndicalist elements, proved adept at preserving capitalism, rather than threatening its overthrow. This meant that, with no clear threat of revolution, no spectre of communism, there was little to frighten the ruling classes into the arms of fascism.

There was certainly anti-Semitism in British society, especially among its upper echelons, not to mention a fear of the Reds. But as opposed to the open class-based conflicts on the continent, the predominance of a reformist Labour Party – ready, if push came to shove, to ally itself with the Liberals and Conservatives ‘in the national interest’, as happened with the national government of 1931 – left the negligible British fascist movement stuck on the outside of political culture looking in.

Again and again Britain’s far right has found history repeating itself, always in farce. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the National Front, which was itself an amalgamation of various residual fascist and racist grouplets hanging around in the aftermath of the Second World War, found itself persistently marginal, standing in elections… and losing its deposits in elections. Not because of the innate virtue of British politics, but because the ground on which it wanted to make its appeal – race and immigration – had been already largely cultivated by the British party-political mainstream.

A Tory government introduced immigration controls in the early 1960s, and while Labour was initially pro-immigration, it too was soon making anti-immigration arguments. As Labour MP Roy Hattersley put it in 1965, ‘I believe unrestricted immigration can only produce additional problems, additional suffering and additional hardship unless some kind of limitation is imposed and continued’.

Moreover, it has never helped Britain’s tiny band of fascists and far-righters that British postwar nationalism has been dominated, ironically enough, by the so-called fight against fascism. Defeating the Nazis, indeed defeating the evil of fascism, has persisted as just about the only source of national pride for much of the past three-quarters of a century – ‘Why we have to cut off the head of fascism again and again’, ran a broadsheet headline earlier this year.

So important has the Second World War been to a sense of being British, on both left and right, that in a 2005 YouGov poll, ‘defiance of the Nazis’ was voted second only to ‘free speech’ as a defining characteristic of Britishness. Given the peculiarly anti-fascist flavour to a British nationalism long shorn of any attachment to Empire, it’s hardly a surprise that Britain’s far right, mired in a Nazi-invoking past, has consistently found itself unpalatable to the British public.

The National Front’s successor and Britain First’s seedling party, the British National Party, did have a moment in the sun, or more accurately, a moment on BBC’s Question Time, in the mid-to-late 2000s. But even at its height in the 2009 European Parliament elections, when it amassed 943,598 votes (6.2 per cent of votes cast), there was no real sense that those voting for Nick Griffin and his henchmen really supported them because they supported his (admittedly watered-down) views on bloodlines.

Rather, the BNP’s attraction was negative – it was not one of the three main parties; it was not part of the political establishment; it was not toeing the line of acceptable political discourse. Unsurprisingly, given its lack of real support, no sooner had it briefly flourished, then, almost overnight, it collapsed. By early 2012, the BNP had been obliterated as even a minor electoral irritation, and its side-parted caricature of a leader was on the verge of bankruptcy. Griffin was last heard talking earlier this year, with no little irony, of emigrating.

By comparison, Britain First, which was spawned by some disaffected BNP members in 2011 and named after an Oswald Mosley rallying cry, makes the BNP look like an electoral behemoth. Fransen, Trump’s newfound Twitter friend, stood in the 2014 Rochester and Strood by-election, and won a mighty 56 votes. Britain First leader Paul Golding tried his luck in the London mayoral election and picked up just 1.2 per cent of the vote. Its current membership is estimated to stand at around a thousand, and its public meetings, such as they are, would struggle to fill a curry house. Yes, it has 27,000 Twitter followers, but then @GrumpyCat, ‘The World’s Grumpiest Cat’, has over one million, and no one anticipates a downcast feline takeover anytime soon.

So why the constant trumping up of the threat of the far right despite its chronic insignificance? A decade ago, the fear of the BNP, this ‘evil, vile, fascist organisation’, as the Lib Dems’ former leader, Nick Clegg, called it, grew as the political elite’s estrangement from the public deepened. At the same time, bashing the phantasm of the BNP gave the political class some semblance of moral purpose, and a sense that its members were engaging with the public.

Today, the myth of the far right, indeed, the fear of the far right, continues to play on the political class’s fear of and estrangement from the public – fear and estrangement that has deepened in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. But it also allows the political elite to manage the explosive form that estrangement has now taken – to manage, that is, the very real threat to the status quo posed by the millions of people who forcefully rejected it last June. Because by saying, as one columnist does, that although ‘Britain First is tiny… some of [its] views are more mainstream than we feel comfortable acknowledging’, commentators both acknowledge that hitherto establishment views are no longer carrying the day, while reducing those anti-establishment views to something almost comically neo-fascist.

By equating Britain First with an anti-establishment mainstream, it acknowledges the threat, while simultaneously disavowing it, morally undermining it, delegitimising it. It allows supporters of the status quo to believe the threat it is facing is old and discredited, rather than new and as yet uncredited. It says ‘we, the good, the right, the pro-EU, are still battling fascism after all. We’re still fighting the good fight, still waging the war of the righteous.’ The rise-of-the-far-right narrative is, at the same time, a way of downplaying the rise of a new constellation of forces opposed to the status quo.

Facing down the far right, it seems, remains what it has long been: an elite displacement exercise.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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