Froma Harrop: Democrats must drop identity politics

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

 

What follows here is remarkably similar to what I had planned to write after an expected and prayed-for Hillary Clinton victory: obsessive appeals to racial, ethnic, sexual and gender identity groupings are bad politics. That’s because at a certain point, “inclusivity” takes on the air of exclusivity.

Clinton’s fervent messaging to Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, Muslims, the LGBT community and women went beyond the usual targeting. It drowned out her economic platform, which would have done so much more for the struggling white workers who chose Donald Trump than the Trump presidency is about to do.

In the election post-mortem, Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, put it well: “I think there is a common interest in our economic policies between the laid-off white worker in Flint, the African-American and the Latino in Phoenix.”

One could argue that Trump played white identity politics. The history of white nationalism is ugly, to be sure. But people get confused when “Black Lives Matter” is deemed as acceptable and “All Lives Matter” as racist.

Recent media attention has centered on the extraordinary policing of speech on college campuses — from strict rules on what one may say to appropriate dress for Halloween. I find a lot of it bizarre, but many take it personally.

Consider the concept of “white male privilege.” I know what they’re getting at — that well-to-do white students often have access to contacts and investment money that poor students of color do not. But try to explain “white male privilege” to less educated white males suffering severe economic loss.

The idea that a female student can be as drunk as her male partner, say yes to sex but then charge rape the morning after is incoherent. Every charge of sexual assault should be investigated and only then judged valid or not. And when rape does occur, women should call police, not the dean of student affairs.

A backlash was inevitable, and it came from many college-educated white men resenting the double standards and their near demonization. Too bad the vehicle for the reaction had to be a repulsive candidate for president.

Immigration. When Democrats don’t take a firm stand against illegal immigration, they leave a wide-open highway for figures like Trump to push cruelty as the only solution. Today’s immigration laws were not designed to ensure racial purity but meant to provide labor where needed and protect vulnerable workers.

Why, when Clinton called for giving legal status to most undocumented workers, did she fail to emphasize that comprehensive reform also means strengthening enforcement to stop future illegal immigration?

Heaven knows Trump’s vicious attacks on Mexicans gave Clinton plenty of room with Latino activists to talk up enforcement. And wanting an orderly immigration system does not make one a racist.

Canada and Australia have big, generous immigration programs. Neither tolerates illegal immigration, and they don’t apologize for sending home those who enter without papers.

With Trump, poor whites got validation, but at the price of less security. Trump now insists that folks using Obamacare will not lose coverage. But if he lets healthy people opt out of participating — currently his and the official Republican position — the insurance pool will collapse. Guaranteed coverage will disappear or become wildly more expensive. Or coverage for the working and middle classes will be turned into a shabby welfare program.

It will never be forgotten that Clinton won the popular vote by well over 600,000 votes. Had the votes been distributed a little differently across state lines, she’d now be president-elect and I’d be delighted. But this critique would still stand.

It should have been obvious before. It’s obvious now. Identity politics are not good for the country. They’re not even good politics.

Email: fharrop@gmail.com

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