Here it is 2017, and inexhaustible black rage, a White House bathed in rainbow colors, glass ceilings and rape culture, Muslim injustice collectors, and weepy charges of white privilege seem so passé. The nation is on the threshold of something new. The hard left is in a state of narrative collapse and this-can’t-be-happening fabulation.
Whatever is to come, some of us feel profound relief that identity liberalism’s death grip on the polity is finally being contested. Many Americans must wonder, why did we put up with the shaming and contempt for so long? An equal number must be surprised they had so many compatriots in the voting booths. They couldn’t talk about it in mixed company, after all.
During the Obama years, the nation’s progressive elites morphed into a high-end religious cult. Full of self-adoration and brimming with faith, estranged from yeoman, paycheck, play-by-the-rules America, they declared doubters anathema.
The 2016 election did not stop the voodoo dead in its tracks. Media cling to fetishes that used to have big juju. But magic incantations like racism, sexism, and homophobia no longer automatically wound or destroy. Progressives are losing their federal imprimatur. Coercive multiculturalism is no longer the invincible political juggernaut it once seemed to be.
The esteemed Columbia humanities professor Mark Lilla argued shortly after the election in a widely acclaimed New York Times essay that identity politics had 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,” and ruling elites whose “obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored.”
Lilla’s colleague Katherine M. Franke, Columbia University law professor and director of its Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, instantly shot back with “Making White Supremacy Respectable Again,” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, accusing Lilla of accommodating white supremacism. Franke can make these gross accusations with nothing to lose institutionally. In fact, her moral position and institutional power rest on phantom conditions that she has a direct interest in maximizing. Los Angeles Review of Books editors have no clue how tedious their shock-jock opportunism has become.
Since the election, news outlets have served up editorial menus of right-wing hate crimes, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. “Donald Trump’s campaign for president and subsequent election victory ushered in an ugly new wave of hatred in America,” Racahell Davis at Essence avers. “Trump has made anti-Semitism an active force in American politics in a way it has not been in decades,” film writer Noah Berlatsky announced in the Los Angeles Times.
“The hatred that Trump has inherited, and which he fans, is what has forced people in America to be conscious of their political identities,” he added. “Which is why for me, as a Jew, as for many others, this is a cold holiday season.” Berlatsky’s “cold holiday season” makes of course a perfect example of Lilla’s “narcissistically unaware” progressivism. Needing to be “conscious” of political identity nonstop and forever is exactly what the left wants to force on the nation.
A fanatical struggle persists to redistribute power and benefit groups able to play one or another identity card. Berlatsky shares Franke’s animus toward Lilla’s essay, contending that Jews and blacks among others have no choice but identity politics. “Let’s not shift the blame for prejudice from those who hate to the target of the hatred,” he says, trembling at the dawn of fascism in the multicultural republic.
Striking a pose — identity-politics critics rightly label it virtue signaling — comes naturally to anxious souls. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, not to be outdone, declared the day after the election, “I Am a Gay Jew in Trump’s America. And I Am Afraid for My Life.”
Authors, academics, and news writers invested in the diversity project are distraught. Counterviews must be closed down as quickly as possible, by any means and language necessary. Stern, a 2016 graduate of Georgetown Law School, leaves nothing off the table. He begins with his great-grandmother, trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto, killed by Nazis, then goes on to exclaim:
I am a gay Jewish journalist who loathes Trump with a very public passion. Every week, I receive the emails, the tweets, the private messages: Kike. Faggot. F[—]ing Jew. Their leader deploys anti-Semitism as a dog whistle, but they hear it as loud as can be. I get death threats. They want to kill me, they explain; they have a plan. And not just me, but people like me. The Jews who want to ruin this country. The gays who defiled it. The journalists who committed treason. All of us will soon get what we deserve, they tell me. They have guns. They have a plan.
We don’t say things like butch up, Markie, because that might be construed as hate speech. But two all-important questions come to mind. Can Stern authenticate this flood of anti-Semitic slurs and death threats? Or did he, umm, exaggerate things to goose up his message, Rolling Stone-style?
During the Obama years, the triumphal left grew lazily skilled at hurling insults at anyone who didn’t play or at least fold in the identity game. The system had worked for decades. But increasingly bold power grabs offended struggling Americans who rebelled against the degrading labels thrust upon them.
The coastal beau monde still cannot grasp that residual yeoman values endure in North Carolina, Wisconsin, or Oklahoma, an America where family and work conventions remain strong, or at least are idealized, as are churches and military connections. In such backward places Eagle Scouts are revered, not treated as potential Trump toadies climbing the greasy pole.
Identity liberalism’s leaders sweep thousands of vanilla, non-rainbow, less than global places — and millions of respectable Americans who live there — into one disagreeable, normative “white nationalist” lump. It is not enough to find fault with an unseasoned, coarse President-elect. They ask Americans to affirm that something wicked this way comes or stand as moral lepers.
Despite national censure and 2016 election loss the diversity movement’s conviction that it’s on the right side of history remains unshaken. The takeaway is that “Hillary should have spent more time in Wisconsin,” rather than “we need to think about what we are trying to accomplish.” This absence of self-awareness and chagrin among identity liberals proves the power of faith over reason.
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