The responses / reactions to President Trump’s State of the Union address reflect a divided nation. Trump’s supporters loved the speech — and in all honesty, while it contained claims I found dubious, it was the most riveting State of the Union address I’ve seen in years.
On the other hand, the usual suspects hated everything about it, finding in it all manner of “racist” red flags, evidence of “xenophobia,” “white supremacy,” etc., etc., ad nauseam.
It may be that Trump exaggerated the performance of the economy, and that numbers he once decried as “fake” (e.g., the official, U-3 unemployment rate) he now accepts as givens. Every recent president, however, claimed the economy was doing better than it really was. Trump is no exception to this.
But from what I can gather, from keeping in touch with friends back home, the U.S. economy really has improved over the past several months! Trump was able to cite the lowest black and Hispanic unemployment rates ever recorded. No one challenged these numbers; major media and left-liberal black groups simply ignored them. Whether you credit Trump for this, for having encouraged a business-friendly environment able to create jobs for all Americans, or whether you think these tendencies began under Obama, appears to depend on which side of the divide you are on.
I don’t wish to talk further about economics here, though. I wish to discuss the continued allegations of Trump’s “white supremacy,” etc. I wish to discuss what I consider an ill-advised response to the situation white males now face, which is to be openly demonized in corporate media and in academia (e.g., most recently at length here).
Much of the prevailing discussion turns on identity politics. What, precisely, is identity politics? It is, in a word, the retribalizing of the West, with preferential policies (e.g., affirmative action) and unlimited immigration via open borders as its two main tools.
More specifically, identity politics means labeling persons as group members first, and everything else second, with one’s political interests tied directly to group identity. The original groups were racial/ethnic, but feminists soon embraced it; then came religious minorities (e.g., Muslims) and sexual minorities (homosexuals and now transgenders).
Only members of a group can speak for that group, and those who do so must tow an official line, such as playing the role of victim. Those who step out of line, even accidentally, face verbal attack and sometimes severe punishment. Think of black teenagers who study, make good grades, and then are beaten up on school playgrounds for “acting white.” Or think of this young woman, who appears to have weathered the storm that surrounded her last year — protected, somewhat, by the obvious circuslike ambience now surrounding academic leftism.
Identity politics has its roots in a 1965 essay by Frankfurt School educated cultural Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, Repressive Tolerance. (For a good recent overview of the historical roots of cultural Marxism, go here.) Marcuse argued in that essay that equal opportunity for black Americans required more than mere nondiscrimination mandated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. It required they be given special advantages. These included ensuring that their opinions be favored in the so-called marketplace of ideas while those of the majority group (i.e., whites) be actively repressed. “Repressive tolerance” in practice tolerated leftist voices but not conservative ones.
Feminists soon embraced the idea, and preferential policies quickly expanded to include women. They ceased merely demanding equal pay for equal work and started calling for special treatment, e.g., favoritism to achieve equal representation on university faculties, corporate boards, etc. Soon, treatises were appearing on “women’s way of viewing the world” as incommensurably different from that of men’s: kinder, gentler, more nurturing, etc. This became the root of today’s lamentations about “toxic masculinity.”
In some areas, of course, men and women do see things differently. I don’t believe men and women view relationships the same way. Women are probably more empathetic than men, because their capacity to nurture very young children depends on this. Radical feminists took a fundamentally sound idea and ran off the cliff with it. They began spreading claims, absurd on their face, that the sciences (especially biology!) contained built-in “sexism” because most famous scientists had been / were / are men. They saw “under-representation” of women in work forces as due to “gender discrimination” and “misogyny” instead of inherently biological and psychological differences of “wiring” that incline the sexes to different roles not just in family life but in their professional lives. Most nurses and other caretakers are women, because arguably more women have the relational orientation that makes one a good nurse or caretaker. Most engineers and programmers are men, because these disciplines require more abstract thought at which men tend to excel. (Do note: I said most, because obviously there are exceptions.)
Identity politics embraces that idea that all such differences are “social constructs,” not products of biology. The same for race/ethnicity: differences are cultural, with the presumption (for which there is no evidence) that since all groups are inherently equal, European whites soaring ahead in recent centuries can only be explained due to their racism and the slave trade, ongoing hate, and massive discrimination — exemplified today in criticisms of preferential policies such as affirmative action and resistance to open borders immigration policies. According to identity politics, differences exist because one group, “straight white Christian males” has enslaved, discriminated against, hated, etc., all other groups. This legacy shapes the other groups’ thought and identity. The solution, for leftists, has been to disempower white males.
Today’s divisions, including the Trump era itself, are explained in identity politics as panicked “white male backlash” in the face of white males losing their cultural and political power.
“Whiteness,” of course — white identity — is verboten except to be deconstructed in accordance with Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance” thesis. White males are still the “dominant group,” after all. “Whiteness” thus comes under attack within academia and related circles as equal to “privilege”; we are expected to ignore that most whites have no special privileges, and that as a whole they have lost economic ground as well as population over the past three decades or so while every other group has registered gains.
The alt-right rejects the idea of “white privilege” but not white identity. It advocates for whites / white males embracing identity politics, directly or indirectly.
I’ve discussed the alt-right’s Hegelian intellectual-cultural roots at length in this essay, so I won’t repeat those claims here. What I want to do is suggest a better solution for a divided nation than what the alt-right proposes.
Get rid of identity politics!
Acknowledge that it was a bad idea — not progressive but regressive.
From the day Herbert Marcuse put pen to paper, it was a guaranteed divider of groups and ultimately of nations, as it would foment resentments that would lead first to lawsuits (the first of which by a white male was Bakke in 1978), then to pushback of various strengths, and finally to the situation we have today, in which violence is breaking out between the preferred and their defenders, street-level cultural Marxists such as Antifa, and those which it is now acceptable to demonize as fascists or neo-Nazis (conservatives).
Thomas Sowell has documented at length (e.g., here) that explosive hostilities are inevitable whenever governments offer privileges to some at the expense of others, on whatever basis, for a sufficient length of time.
Today’s battles over free speech on campus, where efforts to suppress conservative speakers now erupt into violence and sometimes cost campuses as much as $500K trying to ensure security, offer one variation on this theme. What we see are leftists (e.g., Antifa) getting violent as they attempt to shut down conservative voices — in accordance with Marcuse’s call to repress such voices back in 1965. (It happened again at the University of Washington campus just the other day as I write this.)
This is going to continue, and probably worsen, until one of these melees gets sufficiently out of hand that people get killed. All it will take is one or two Antifa members showing up with handguns — or, for that matter, if one group of whites decides to take matters into their own hands and retaliate against a physical attack on one of their number with deadly force.
A rational view of our present situation therefore compels getting rid of identity politics, along with the policies of favoritism it tries to protect.
The present problems will not be solved simply by proclaiming conservative values, though. It is necessary to lay bare the roots of efforts to shut down conservative speech, and note that given those roots, pushback leading to the present stark divisions was inevitable.
What might seem surprising is that there is a sensible leftist argument against identity politics. A handful of voices (e.g., here and here) have noted that identity politics has not just demonized the right but divided the left, with each victim group pursing its own agenda. In his book Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (1998), center-left philosopher Richard Rorty (1931 – 2007) distinguished the reformist left (focused on the alleged failures of laissez-faire capitalism, on poverty, and on class-based inequality) from the cultural left (focused on race/ethnicity, sex/gender, abortion, homosexuality, etc.). Identity politics came out of the latter, of course. He criticized identity politics as having made the left less relevant in a broad sense, compared to efforts that achieved concrete results with staying power such as the New Deal. Rorty believed the cultural left’s swinging “white privilege” as a blunt club against whites en masse would one day generate a counterassault. He is thus sometimes credited with foreseen the rise of Donald Trump and of the alt-right (accessible summary of the basic idea here).
Rorty and others have noted, moreover, that as identity politics demands “equal representation” of every group on the boardrooms, etc., of the global corporatocracy, a credible left would challenge the legitimacy of the global corporatocracy itself. I pause here to note that a credible right should be doing the same thing, even if working from different premises. Identity politics effectively plays into the hands of globalists seeking to establish a world state that would serve the global corporatocracy’s interests. This explains why globalists by and large approve of identity politics: not because they care about blacks and Muslims and women and homosexuals, but because identity-political activists are perfect useful idiots in Lenin’s sense. They distract the masses with an endless parade of events such as campus disruptions and ridiculous nonissues such as which bathrooms transgenders should be able to use, all the while globalists get ever closer to their real goals (not to mention richer and richer).
Getting rid of identity politics won’t be as easy as arguing these claims, of course.
It is possible that some kind of tribalism is our human default setting. Only the Christianized West rose out of tribalism, having developed such Enlightenment notions as Universal Reason (based on Aristotelian logic) and Universal Human Rights (based on the Christian idea that all persons were created in God’s image). While numerous other cultures reached stability, sometimes lasting for thousands of years, practically none applied basic moral categories to peoples outside their tribe.
I’ve considered this problem previously, and found myself wondering if the conversation of the West, especially its deterioration into a dialogue-of-the-deaf, suggests that Enlightenment notions such as Universal Reason (based on Aristotelian logic) and Universal Human Rights (based on the Christian idea that we were created equal in God’s image) have run their course.
After all, as a reader once reminded me, whatever Western philosophers have had to say on these matters, the fact remains: the rest of the world does not think that way!
With rare exceptions (fully Westernized enclaves such as Hong Kong and Singapore), he was right. Western ideas, moreover, cannot be forced on peoples against their will.
Tribalism cannot be suppressed, but we surely do not need ideologies that encourage it, or to force together, into the same cities and onto the same streets, peoples whose basic worldview rejects tribalism (Europeans) with peoples whose worldview embraces it, at least by implication (Muslims are the obvious example in Europe; but think of Black Lives Matter in the U.S.).
Our present moment thus leaves us with a stark choice.
We either get rid of the cultural forces that are retribalizing the West, e.g., identity politics, or the West will pass into the history books. The foundational ideas that built Western civilization will not be sustainable.
European civilization is clearly in decline, courtesy of the unlimited immigration (colonization would be a better term!) of unassimilable Muslims, and the use of political correctness / identity politics to protect them even as they destroy the dominant culture while terrorizing local populations. These are official policies of EU power elites and a political class that is well protected from their stupidity and shortsightedness.
This trend is actually far more dangerous than just assaults on free speech. Native Europeans, for numerous reasons, are not having children, while Muslim immigrants are — at a rate likely to ensure that within 30 years, Muslims will be a numerical majority and Europe will be a Muslim subcontinent with a population likely to vote itself into Sharia Law! Europe is just a few years ahead of the Americas on this curve. American whites, withering under the dual assault of cultural Marxism and globalism, are also not reproducing at a rate sufficient to sustain themselves demographically, while again immigrants / colonizers are doing so. Had Hillary Clinton been elected president, the U.S. would have seen conceivably tens of thousands of Muslims settled on U.S. soil, ensuring that in just a few years, the U.S. would look like Europe does today! We can thank Donald Trump for at least trying to put the brakes on open borders (there’s a saying: if you don’t have borders and border protections, you soon won’t have a country)!
If this be “xenophobia,” make the best of it!
For it should be clear: unless all these tendencies can be reversed — and soon! — by 2050 the West will cease to exist in any meaningful sense, and Western Enlightenment philosophies and values will be gone except as historical curiosities. What will remain? We will likely have a world state, its global controllers able to do as they please, dining on caviar while the various tribes fight each other in the streets over any table scraps tossed down at them.
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