◆ The NFL players kneeling and Pres. Trump’s ferocious response have raised hard issues, once again, about race, class, patriotism, and other central questions of American life.
One of my lifelong friends–and someone who has devoted his life to helping others–read my previous posts on these issues and asked whether I was somehow excusing Pres. Trump for his role in the NFL controversy. Was I saying that Pres. Obama had started this divisive talk, shifting the onus from Trump’s speech in Alabama and his Tweets?
Short answer: No, I’m not. But let me share my other thoughts. I thank him for prompting this post.
It’s been a long time coming
This divisive talk didn’t start with Trump calling out the NFL.
It didn’t start with Obama calling out the Cambridge Police.
Both made things worse, but it didn’t really start with anyone.
It’s been bubbling up for a long time.
As I have made clear, I think Trump’s language about these issues is terrible and is beneath the office he holds.
Nor do I like the President of the United States calling for boycotts of private businesses, especially when people are invoking their free-speech rights.
On these issues, my complaints about Pres. Obama are relatively mild.
The Academy has Made Things Worse . . . Much Worse
My bigger complaint is with the academic left which, for years, has attacked the American Dream–in principle as well as in practice–and fundamentally undermined the very idea of E Pluribus Unum. If you say you favor an American Melting Pot, you would be laughed out of any top department of political science or sociology. You wouldn’t have ever been hired in anthropology or the humanities if the faculty knew those views in advance. They would consider you a troglodyte, and think you couldn’t spell the word. You would kill your job chances as surely as asking the Dean what his Zodiac sign was.
These educators have played ethnic-division and identity politics for decades, partly because they think these groups are victims, partly because they want to make sure these groups see themselves as victims, and partly because they want to mobilize them politically. One key point here is that they do not see people as Americans but as hyphenated Americans, and they do not see them as individuals but as members of groups–victimized groups.
The Democratic Party plays a pernicious role here. Their longtime strategy has been to appeal separately to each group and tailor policies to provide government largess for each one. That gives the Democrats a vested stake in seeing that Hispanics, Blacks, Gays, Public Sector Workers, and so on see themselves primarily as members of that beleaguered, victimized subgroup. (Of course, both parties provide largess to major contributors, and big business is at the head of the line.)
The intellectual backing for this Democratic Party strategy has been provided by the academic left. They see an America divided into victimized groups. What unites them, in this view, is that they face the same hegemonic oppressors. They say that in course after course, article after article, and its fruits can be seen in the coalition of progressive activists on campus. What else would bring hard-line Muslims and Gay Rights Advocates together, save a common enemy? This academic ideology of identity/victim politics dovetails with the Democrats’ strategy of sub-group appeals for votes.
Now Comes the Populist Pushback
What has been happening for the past few years is populist pushback against this viewpoint and against an elite political leadership grouped in a few enclaves and increasingly divorced from the broader population politically, socially, and geographically.
This popular pushback is not led by the rich–the alleged oppressors in the academic tale. It doesn’t come from established conservatives. They want predictable, center-right or center-left governance. Jeb or Hillary, not Bernie or Donald.
The pushback comes from an angry lower-middle-class, mostly white but with many others. They are patriotic to the bone. They don’t like people disrespecting their country, constantly running it down, or thinking that Washington always knows best. If Washington knows best, why are their lives so hard?
Trump knows that. And he is their tribune.