How to look at the bizarre turn our political life has taken.
Senator Kamala Harris is a rising star in the Democratic Party, frequently mentioned on the short-list of contenders for the next presidential race. In a recent commencement speech at Howard University Harris issued a call to arms, urging her audience to rally behind the Democrats’ resistance to the Trump administration: “Graduates, indeed we have a fight ahead. This is a fight to define what kind of country we are, and it’s a fight to determine what country we will be.”
Ignore for a moment the impropriety of addressing a class of students as though they were Democratic Party operatives. Focus instead on the statement itself. The call “to define what kind of country we are” is an ominous agenda for America. Compared to other nations, America is absolutely unique in one regard: it is a country defined in its creation. Normally, nations have been formed on the basis of common origins, ethnicities, and languages – a modern form of tribalism. In contrast, America was created by peoples of diverse origins and ethnicities and on principles that were universal. The American union was forged in a set of founding documents that insisted on the equality of citizens – regardless of origins. The idea that creates the identity “American” is summarized in America’s official motto: e pluribus unum – out of many, one.
It took a Civil War and two hundred years of sacrifice and struggle to achieve a polity that approached this ideal. If one political faction is now able to redefine the ideal to conform to its own sectarian beliefs, the country we have known will cease to exist. But that is just what the current creed of the Democratic Party - “identity politics” - entails, and is why the current divisions in our political life seem so intractable. Identity politics is, in fact, the antithesis of the American idea. It is a reversion to tribal loyalties. It regards diverse origins – colors, ethnicities, genders and classes - as primary, and proposes a hierarchy of privilege based on them, which it justifies as a reversal of past oppressions.
It is not the proper role of an opposition party in a democracy to mount a “resistance” to a duly elected government and press for its overthrow at the very outset of its tenure. But that is precisely what the Democrats have done in the first months of the Trump administration. For the second time in its history, the Democratic Party has opted to secede from the Union and its social contract. This time there is not going to be an actual civil war because the federal government is now so powerful that whoever controls it will decide the outcome. The passions of an irreconcilable conflict are still present but they are channeled into a political confrontation over the executive power.
In launching their resistance, Democrats rejected the honeymoon normally afforded to incoming presidents. Until now this tradition has functioned as something of a sacred political rite. Campaigns are by their nature divisive, and they inevitably exaggerate the differences between factions of the electorate. The presidential honeymoon is designed to reunite the contending factions as constituents of a shared constitutional republic. It allows an incoming president to take his place as the chief executive of all the people, to have his cabinet confirmed, and to launch his agendas before the normal contentions of a democracy resume. It ratifies the peaceful transition of power and reasserts the principle that as Americans we are one.
According to the Gallup organization, the normal duration of a presidential honeymoon in recent times has been seven months. The Democrats didn’t give Trump seven seconds. While he was president-elect, they were already attacking him as a racist, a “white nationalist,” anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim; also an anti-democratic “fascist”- a would-be dictator. His election was called illegitimate, the alleged agent of a Russian conspiracy. This meme swiftly metastasized into one of the most bizarre witch-hunts in our political history, a “red scare” without actual reds, in which Democrat after Democrat stepped forward to allege that Trump had colluded with Vladimir Putin to steal the election.
Trump did not get confirmation hearings for the team he was hoping to put in place. He got a witch-hunt instead - a series of attempted character assassinations directed at his nominees. Most outrageously, his candidate for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, was smeared as a “racist” by one Democratic senator after another beginning with Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer. Yet, Sessions’ public career reflected values that were quite the opposite. It included service as the attorney general of a deep south state, in which capacity he had prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan and desegregated the public schools. These acts reflected his actual commitment to civil rights. Schumer and his colleagues had served alongside Sessions for ten and twenty years, and knew very well that their accusations were defamatory and false. But they persisted in them anyway.
So that no one would mistake their hostile intent, the Democrats’ attacks were accompanied by calls for Trump’s impeachment, despite the fact that he had hardly been in office. These were echoed in massive street demonstrations, organized and funded by core Democratic groups, which featured chants of “Not My President,” claims by celebrity speakers that Trump’s election was “worse than being raped,” and addled wishes to “blow up the White House.” Each protest – no matter its official organizing premise - was orchestrated to underscore the identity-driven accusations that the Trump regime was anti-woman, anti-black, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant. Trump and his supporters were in turn anathemized as members of a hostile tribe – “white nationalists.”
Behind this Democratic rage is the conviction that the Trump administration represents a reactionary throwback to the status quo ante before Obama began “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” as he promised on the eve of his election. The new order towards which progressives think they are marching is called “social justice.” To Democrats the hierarchy of privileges they offer groups on the basis of ethnicity, skin color, and gender is “social justice.” It defines the society they intend to create, which in their eyes is mortally threatened by the Trump regime and its conservative supporters.
During the second presidential debate, there was a seminal moment illuminating this conflict. It occurred when Trump turned to the fifty million viewers in the television audience, and said, “You have to understand, Hillary has tremendous hatred in her heart.” He was referring to Clinton’s campaign remark that her opponents belonged in “a basket of deplorables – irredeemables,” whom she went on to name: “Racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, xenophobes…” Trump, she said, had “raised them up,” and that made him “unfit” to be America’s president.
The condemnation of her political opponents is not unique to Clinton but is shared by Democrats generally. There is hardly a conservative in the country who has been in an argument with a so-called liberal who has not also been called a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc. - terms designed to drum them out of decent society. They are expressions of the hatred progressives feel towards anyone who opposes their crusade to re-define America’s identity in the interests of “social justice.”
The theory behind “identity politics” is an ideology the political left refers to as “cultural Marxism.” This is a perspective that takes Marx’s view that society is divided into warring classes, and extends it to encompass races, genders, and ethnicities. It is a vision that regards one group’s success as another group’s oppression. “Social justice” - the proposed remedy for inequality and division - punishes oppressor groups by redistributing their incomes and privileges to the “under-represented,” “marginalized” and otherwise oppressed. It is a vision that disregards the accountability of individuals and ascribes to group identities the inequalities that are allegedly unjust.
The left has created a term of art – “people of color” – to promote its collectivist views on ethnicity and race. “People of color” is not grammatical English - we do not refer to “crayons of color” or “televisions of color.” It is a French construction, reflecting the way French people speak (personnes de couleur). “People of color” is an invention of ideologues to serve an ideological purpose, which is to organize the world into the categories of cultural Marxism - into oppressors and oppressed. To understand its usage one has only to look to Mexico, a country whose illegal migrants have been one of the flashpoints of the war against the Trump administration, as Democrats have rallied to their defense.
Mexico is composed of two main ethnic groups: the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors who enslaved and slaughtered the indigenous Indians, and the descendants of the Indians. In other words, actual oppressors and actual oppressed. When members of these two groups cross into the United States, however, they both become “people of color,” therefore oppressed; therefore, deserving of special sensitivities, special allowances, special privileges – all without regard to their individual histories and merits. That is why criminal migrants from Mexico, who are here illegally, can commit felonies against Americans, including rape and murder, and become a cause for progressives and Democrats, who create “sanctuary cities” and policies to protect them. Because they are people of color and allegedly oppressed.
Maharajahs in India are also “people of color.” Islamic beheaders and crucifiers in Syria are “people of color” too. The whole world is people of color except … white people – the designated oppressors. Identity politics is both racist and totalitarian. It obliterates the individual in favor of the group. It removes the agency of individuals as subjects and turns them into objects. After this is understood, there is no longer any mystery as to why advocates of identity politics should come into existential collision with the American framework and its defenders, personified by President Trump.
The 2016 platform of the Democratic Party vows “a societal transformation” that will “end institutional and systemic racism in our society.” This is the ideology of cultural Marxism. “Institutional racism” as a systemic American problem is a political fiction. Americans outlawed “institutional racism” half a century ago with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Any incidence of institutional racism today is actionable in the courts – the utra-liberal courts that threw out Trump’s executive orders on extra-legal grounds because of off-the-cuff remarks he made on the campaign trail.
“Systemic racism” and “institutional racism” are anti-American mythologies that drive the Democratic Party’s political agendas. The Democratic platform and Democrats generally, regard every social disparity as prima facie evidence of racial or gender oppression, and attribute such disparities not to individual decisions and performances but to un-named “policies,” which if they actually existed would be illegal. Consider this plank in the 2016 Democratic Party platform:
Closing the Racial Wealth Gap
America’s economic inequality problem is even more pronounced when it comes to racial and ethnic disparities in wealth and income. It is unacceptable that the median wealth for African Americans and Latino Americans is roughly one-tenth that of white Americans. These disparities are also stark for American Indians and certain Asian American subgroups, and may become even more significant when considering other characteristics such as age, disability status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The platform then explains: “The racial wealth and income gaps are the result of policies that discriminate against people of color and constrain their ability to earn income and build assets to the same extent as other Americans.” But if such policies existed they would be illegal under the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. The disparities, on the other hand, are realistically explained by individual details, for example the presence (or lack) of two-parent families, the degree of education, or whether (in the case of Latino Americans), English is spoken in the home. More generally, the ability to accumulate wealth is determined in large part by genes and by cultural attitudes that guide the choices families and individuals make. Otherwise Japanese Americans, who are people of color, would not be among America’s richest (and therefore most privileged) economic groups.
The same mythology characterizes the Democrats’ claims about gender disparities. The Clinton campaign presented itself as a quest for equality for women. According to candidate Clinton, women across America were being paid only 76 cents on the dollar for the same skills, job experience and work as men. But if this were so, it would also be illegal under the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act passed as long ago as 1963 by a Congress dominated by men. After the election, the New York Times published a column inspired by studies that ratified what conservatives had been saying for a generation: “The Gender Pay Gap Is Largely Because of Motherhood.” The disparity exists because child-rearing takes women out of the work force for extended periods, and also causes them to seek flex-time occupations that pay less.
Similarly, the animus behind Democratic assaults on Republicans and their support for law and order as “racist” is the direct consequence of viewing all social disparities through the distorted lens of oppression politics. Thus, the “over-representation” of African-Americans in the prison system is not because of systemic racism. Police forces have been integrated for decades, along with the entire criminal justice system. African-Americans are “over-represented” in the prison population because they are “over-represented” in the commission of actual crimes. Democrats’ embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement and its efforts to cast career criminals as civil rights victims and law enforcement officials as villains is an inevitable consequence of ignoring the specific circumstances of the incidents under review, and forcing them into the melodramatic framework of “racism” and “oppression.” The “social justice” future to which these attitudes lead can be seen on college campuses, the experimental laboratories of the left, which are now characterized by privileged admissions and tuition scholarships distributed on a racial basis, “safe spaces” for people of color only, and, at Harvard, segregated graduations for blacks.
Trump and his followers not only understand the fateful nature of the conflict triggered by decades of these assaults. Their campaign to “Make America Great Again” is inspired by them. In his inaugural address Trump opposed to the progressive vision and its divisive consequences the American idea – e pluribus unum. Referring to those Americans who had been economically left behind, Trump said, “We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office, I take today, is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” Trump then elaborated on the idea that Americans are united as equal citizens: “Through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” And finally: “It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black, or brown, or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same, great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”
In spirit, this echoed the address by the last man to have war declared on his presidency by an opposition party even as entered the office. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war,” Lincoln said in his first inaugural. “You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it…. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”