Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving thoughts about unity and diversity

America is increasingly diverse, but celebrating its diversity has created rifts in our society. So says the author, Mark Lilla, of The End of Identity Liberalism, in the NY Times. (h/t Michele Manos)

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.

This is not a plea for the good old days of segregation and subjugation.

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. …

The practical consequence, as Lilla says, is that liberals lose elections.

… 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.

Here are anecdotes illustrating the divisions exacerbated by this year’s election.

Well over a year ago I was caught in the middle of a family shouting match. I kept my cool only by blogging about it as it occurred. Here is the re-post.

America’s tribal hatred transcends familial ties

This evening (April 21, 2015), we had an acrimonious dinner with my brother-in-law and his wife. It turned out to be a perfect example of what Dana Milbanks at the Washington Post writes about. (It’s continuing as I write this - yuk.)

We, as a country and society, have devolved and are continuing to devolve, into a tribal society. Think Waziristan. Our political divisions cross-cut familial ties. Mr. and Mrs. Scriber are aligned with FDR-type economics and social actions. Our in-laws really believe that the country is on a fast track to hell because of the gummint and Obummercare.

So we as a country have arrived at something akin to the war between the states. Now it is a war of ideologies. And that war occurs within family groups. There is no give on either side. Read Milbank’s column.

Our relatives no doubt are gloating over Donald Trump’s victory - even though he lost the popular vote by over 2,000,000. Scriber’s family is not alone in their combat triggered by ideological divisions.

The Guardian solicited stories from its readers about “how you’re planning to cope with the political divide in your family this holiday season.” (h/t Paul McCreary)

Thanksgiving is a time for Americans to come together and celebrate; it’s a holiday that many look forward to all year. But this year, some Americans are feeling more anxiety than anticipation, as fallout from this bitter and divisive election continues to create conflict between friends and loved ones all over the country.

The Guardian published ten of the very sad stories. Here are a couple of them.

‘I won’t be coming home for any holiday in the foreseeable future’
My parents voted for Trump. I spent a very emotional afternoon on the phone begging them not to. I am a sexual assault survivor and it made me sick that they would support a man who brags about assaulting women. I have told them that I will not being coming home for any holiday in the foreseeable future. We have not spoken since. – K, Georgia

‘I don’t think of my dad’s house as my home any more’
Last time I was home, my Dad looked me in the eye and said Trump wasn’t racist, and the “racist” things I accused Trump of saying were simply true. I knew then that I wouldn’t be coming home much any more. I won’t be going home for the holidays this year. In fact, I don’t know the next time I’ll visit him or the rest of that side of my family. To be honest, I don’t think of my dad’s house as my home any more. I’ve made my own home; I’ve made my own family with people who share my values and respect my voice. If I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that there is no room in my life for hateful people, no matter their blood relation to me. – KF, Utah

These are examples of profound, deep-seated differences in political, social, and economic beliefs. As I have said in recent posts, I do not believe that reconciling those differences by one-on-one “civil discourse” is possible. But I respect those of us who are trying and I wish them well on this Thanksgiving day. I’ll let Mark Lilla have the last words that might offer some hope for, and a strategy to implement, that societal healing.

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. …

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.

Universal realization of FDR’s four freedoms would indeed be something to celebrate on some future Thanksgiving day.

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