“Diversity” and “Divisiveness” are perhaps our most important cant-words in both meanings of the word: “sanctimonious and hypocritical talk,” and “language peculiar to a specified group or profession and regarded with disparagement,” as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it. That certainly fits the political and media industries, which trade in duplicitous language that distorts the meanings of words in order to construct narratives that serve their ideological preferences and gain leverage over their political rivals.
For the “woke” Left, there are few goods greater than “diversity,” and not many worse crimes than being “divisive,” an offense limited to Republicans. But the abuse of these words reflects a misunderstanding of our political order, which is founded on the assumption that the young country’s complex diversity meant that diverse “passions and interests,” and a corruptible human nature would generate divisive factional struggles for power, the necessary corollary to genuine diversity.
Moreover, the “diversity” that progressives trade in is not real diversity, which comprises much more than superficial appearance. The American colonies were very diverse in ethnicities, religions, dialects, languages, folkways, cultures, and mores, the pluribus from which the American unum was comprised.
But this genuine diversity, which still characterizes the United States, is not what our “woke” institutions and ideologies mean by diversity. As David E. Bernstein writes in Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America,
“Modern America’s racial and ethnic classifications do not reflect biology, genetics, or any other biological source. Classifications such as Hispanic, Asian American, and white combine extremely internally diverse groups in terms of appearance, culture, religion, and more under a single, arbitrary heading. The government developed its classification scheme via a combination of amateur anthropology and sociology, interest group lobbying, incompetence, inertia, lack of public oversight, and happenstance.”
The purpose of these classifications was to determine which political clients would be eligible for set-asides in government contracts and later, admissions to colleges, universities, and professional schools. This expansion came by dint of the 1978 Bakke decision, which papered over affirmative action programs’ blatant violations of the Civil Rights Act by creating “diversity” as a “compelling state interest” that justified ignoring the illegality of racial discrimination in the Civil Rights act. In the following decades, nobody, including subsequent Supreme Court decisions, has been able to provide a believable definition of “diversity,” or any empirical evidence of its contribution to improving desired educational outcomes or inter-ethnic relations. Yet this simplistic, vague, concept has become part of federal law and enjoys its enforcement powers.
The result has been the monolithic “woke” orthodoxy now dominating our politics and public institutions––the opposite of the actual diversity of ethnicity, culture, region and, most important, minds and ideas, upon which our country was founded. No wonder we’ve been seeing for decades a growing tyranny of orthodoxy dominating our political and social life, as a powerful central government and ideologically uniform cognitive elite extends its intrusive reach across the country.
The simplifying of diversity is also expressed in the homogenizing of the “people” and their interests that can be served only by a technocratic, centralized elite, which demands a unity of beliefs and interests in order to run the country more efficiently and productively for their own interests. So we hear the endless laments about the “political polarization” that Potemkin conservative David Brooks has called a “major problem.”
In fact, the complex diversity of conflicting ideologies and “factions,” as Madison called them, explains our Constitutional order of divided, balanced, and limited government and powers. Human nature, as Madison wrote, is moved to action by “passions and interests” around which factions form, and which always seeks more and more power to realize their interests, and gratify their irrational passions.
Finally, these factional interests often collide and cannot be reconciled, for they are “sown in the nature of man,” as Madison wrote. These diverse beliefs and interests have “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to cooperate for their common good.” The danger lies in one faction or group of factions growing powerful enough to aggrandize enough power to limit the rights of other factions and create a tyranny. For, as Alexander Hamilton pointed out, “momentary passions and immediate interests have a more active and imperious control over human conducts than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice.”
Political division, then, is not a “major problem” in the system, but a necessary consequence of politically empowering diverse free peoples. It has characterized American history from the start. Colin Woodard, in his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, has documented this connection between the genuine diversity of the first settlers in America and its chronic divisions: “Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth.” In the Colonial period, these distinct peoples “regarded one another as competitors––for land, settlers, and capital––and occasionally as enemies.”
Subsequent history reveals similar conflicts, from the Constitutional convention and ratification debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists; to the Civil War and the conflicts over race and slavery; the challenge of communism, and disagreements over America’s role in the world as a global power. And it’s the diversity of these distinct cultures, mores, and world-views that lies behind all of these conflicts: “All of these centuries-old cultures,” Woodard writes, “are still with us today, and have spread their peoples, ideas, and influences across mutually exclusive bands of the continent. There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas.” That’s because, Woodard continues, “Each of these founding cultures has its own set of cherished principles, and they often contradicted one another.”
Finally, true diversity and open debates about how we are ruled and for what aims, impedes a technocratic elite that requires a unified consensus in order to grow and keep its dominance. That’s why so much of our policy debates involve the big-state progressives invoking the authority of science as a trump card meant to silence dissent, and why they treat America’s diverse peoples as an abstract, homogenize “people” whose job is to listen to their betters and keep their mouths shut.
That dynamic explains the extraordinary resistance and irrational hatred of Donald Trump, especially from Republican Trumpophobes. Once Trump won the nomination, and progressive Hillary Clinton would be his opponent, all the complaints about “decorum” and “norms” and “principles” and his “mean” Tweets were moot. Clinton’s long career of influence peddling, hinky business dealings, harassment of Bill’s paramours, failed tenure as Secretary of State, role in the Benghazi fiasco, and Leftist inclinations should have made the choice obvious for any conservative who could see how bad another four years of Obama’s policies would be. Just look at Biden’s first two years.
But for many anti-Trump Republicans, his braggadocios, crude, and blunt manner of speaking was redolent of the ignorant, uneducated masses who, unlike themselves, were easy prey for a populist demagogue who made his money in vulgar businesses like casino development, WWE bouts, beauty pageants, and lowbrow reality television.
Trump’s worst insult, though, was his open contempt for all the establishment political mavens who year after year practiced the preemptive cringe and let the Dems walk all over them, all the while they mouthed platitudes about “reaching across the aisle” and “bipartisanship,” which usually meant helping the progressives pick “living Constitution” judges and dismantle the Constitution’s limited government, federalism, and balance of powers.
In the end, all the NeverTrump Republicans achieved was to confirm half of American voters’ perception that Republicans were loyal to their fellow political guildsmen with whom they worked for Leviathan, Inc. The Trumpophobes never seemed to get that their missish attacks on Trump also insulted his 75 million supporters by implying that the cognitive elite’s way of being an American was the only legitimate one.
Any political system that empowers truly diverse peoples and gives them scope to speak their minds, whether decorously and politely or not, about foundational beliefs and interests about which they are passionate–– such a political order will necessarily be divisive and polarizing. Accepting both diversity and divisiveness is the price we pay for freedom.