Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bowling together: Commonalities vs. individualities among common folks

Below is one Q&A from an NPR interview with Mark Lilla, the Columbia University professor who has challenged identity politics as a basis for Democrats moving forward. (h/t Michele Manos)

NPR: So toward the end of the campaign, we interviewed some voters in Raleigh, N.C., which is a generally Democratic city, and I’m thinking of a young couple. They had two kids. They described themselves as Christian. They oppose gay marriage. And they were saying that even though they didn’t like Donald Trump, they were thinking of voting for him. And one of the reasons was they felt that they were - their very views were making them socially unacceptable. They were feeling a little alienated from the world.

LILLA: Oh, I’ve just been flooded with emails of people just giving testimonies of their lives, saying exactly this. I got an email from a guy who works for some sort of defense contractor, some lower-level job, served in the military. And he said,

look, I served in the military with black and Latino soldiers. My supervisor is a young black woman who’s smart as a whip, and I admire her, and we get along great. I belong to a bowling team with black and Latino coworkers. And when we get together and we talk about politics - I’m almost quoting him - he said, we don’t talk about Black Lives Matters. We talk about what matters to our families. We talk about jobs, and we talk about the fate of the country. That is America, and you can reach those people.

Here is another exchange.

NPR: Who were some of the groups that liberals have appealed to in ways you find to be counterproductive?

LILLA: To take one example, I mean, the whole issue of bathrooms and gender - in this particular election, when the stakes were so high, the fact that Democrats and liberals, more generally, lost a lot of political capital on this issue that frightened people. People were misinformed about certain things, but it was really a question of where young people would be going to the bathroom and where they would be in lockers. Is that really the issue we want to be pushing leading up to a momentous election like this one? It’s that shortsightedness that comes from identity politics.

NPR: I’m just imagining some of your fellow liberals being rather angry at you saying such a thing.

LILLA: Well, those are the liberals who don’t want to win. Those are the liberals who are in love with noble defeats, and I’m sick and tired of noble defeats. I prefer a dirty victory to a noble defeat. The president who did the most for black Americans in 20th century history was Lyndon Johnson, and he got his hands dirty by dealing with Southern senators, Southern congressmen, horse trading with them, cajoling them, learning what not to talk about. And he got civil rights passed and Great Society programs. That should be the model. Get over yourself.

For Lilla, it’s not a matter of being against civil rights. It is a matter of educating the public about them, in this case, transgender rights. But public education is a long slog. Consider how long it took to gain whatever rights gay people have. Consider how long it took to secure the vote for women. In the meantime, there are elections to win and we need to appeal to the commonalities expressed so well by the guy in the bowling league. We do not have to abandon our commitment to civil rights to do that.

Update: For another view, a kind of rambling confused one IMHO, check out Paul Krugman’s column.

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