Today a friend of mine sent me a piece by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic. In the piece Foer gives some thought to what ails the Democratic Party, and he comes to a constructive conclusion–the party needs to reach out to the white working class. But the way Foer gets there troubles me. Too many liberal commentators don’t quite understand the division within the Democratic Party, even the ones who are actively trying to understand that division. Let me show you what I mean.
Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been some renewed interest in striking as a form of political resistance. Just this week, many women participated in A Day Without a Woman, a strike during International Women’s Day, and a general strike was held on February 17 to oppose Trump. These strikes have divided the left, with some arguing that they are not true strikes because the participants are primarily members of the professional class rather than the working class, while others argue that they play an essential role in mobilizing dissent regardless of which classes primarily participate. This debate over strikes is muddled because the two sides are using the word “strike” to refer to two very different kinds of political action.
In radical left wing circles, there’s this notion going around that the right can be intimidated into going away, through no-platforming and physical violence. “Bash the fash,” they say. “Make racists afraid again.” “Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face.” In the past I’ve argued that this kind of censorship turns right nationalists into martyrs and generates public sympathy for them. But today I want to make another, related point–the left is structurally physically weaker than the right and cannot prevail by force.
I ran across a Samantha Bee clip in which Bee attacks Bernie Sanders and others members of the left who believe the Democratic Party needs to get away from “identity politics”:
In the clip, Bee explains left-wing opposition to identity politics by having a right-wing Fox news presenter misexplain the term. She then asserts that identity politics is synonymous with civil rights, claims that “white men” are an identity, and accuses the left of abandoning its principles. This is a reductive straw man argument. It collapses important distinctions in the way the left and the right criticize identity politics.
In the wake of the Trump victory, some pundits have written pieces arguing that Trump’s win was not down to economic distress, but instead due to hostility to immigration, diversity, and social change. In some cases these pundits explicitly call the election result a “whitelash” and accuse Trump supporters of racism and xenophobia. Unfortunately the dichotomy they are drawing between economic explanations and racial explanations is deeply misleading, and stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the ways class and race intersect, both in America and throughout the western world.