Nancy LeTourneau explains as Dem strategist Mark Lilla has a new book out on how Dems need to drop "identity politics" and embrace "electoral politics", which is apparently "attempt to win by being realistic about a 75% white electorate that doesn't think it should have to deal with race right now or ever, thanks."
There are a lot of other portions of Chotiner’s interview with Lilla that are interesting. But for right now I’d like to jump to the end of the transcript because I think it sheds light on where the differences among liberals right now are grounded. It starts when Lilla says that “there’s been a kind of slightly hysterical tone about race that leads us to overestimate its significance in particular things.” Chotiner questions whether it’s an overreaction when we now have a president who won’t condemn neo-Nazis, and Lilla responds with this:
No, no, overreacting in the sense that we are thinking that it’s moving more than it’s moving. That’s psychologically not how it works. Marxists are much more on-point here. Their argument has always been that people become racist—and there are lots of reasons why they do, but the people who might be on the edge are drawn to racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant rhetoric because they’ve been economically disenfranchised, and so they look for a scapegoat, and so the real problems are economic. I think they’re closer to the truth right now than to think that somehow just some racist demon is directing everything in this country. It’s just not where the country is.
That is the classic split between those on the left who are socialists vs. the anti-racists. It is also the kind of thing that got Bernie Sanders into trouble in the Democratic primary before he got schooled by people in the Black Lives Matter movement and stopped making overt statements about how classism is what undergirds racism.
Let’s be honest. In a rational world it is hard to come up with a logical reason for racism—especially if you are looking for one true explanation. A lot of (mostly white) people solve that problem by suggesting that it is a result of economic disenfranchisement. There is a layer truth to that, especially since Republicans have been dog whistling that message to white people for decades now.
But a lot of the current disagreement among liberals is based on the fact that there are those who don’t buy that argument and see it as a rationalization for back-benching the very real issue of racism. There are a whole host of questions that such a view doesn’t even begin to address. For example, how does it explain racism among the upper classes? How does it explain the persistent discrepancy of outcomes in everything from criminal justice to employment to education to health that tend to be systemically rooted and persist regardless of the economic plight of white people?
Lilla gives a nod to the idea that are a variety of things that cause racism, but he seems to think that there are those who are racist only due to economic disenfranchisement. Then he steps all over that concession by making a grand dichotomy between the Marxist view and a “racist demon that is directing everything,” making it seem like we have to chose one or the other.
Things like racism are social constructs that, over the decades, have built up via factors that are irrational as well as systemic. They become cultural norms with feedback loops that are self-reinforcing. As I have attempted to study this issue, I find that identifying one expression of racism is like peeling back one layer of an onion—only to reveal the next one, and the next one, and the next one.
All of this is to say that Lilla has identified but one layer on which the construct of racism has been built. If he stops there and assumes that enough white people will dispense with racism when their economic plight is improved, he is very badly mistaken.
And this is the argument I keep making: racism keeps happening in good times and bad, in war and in peacetime, in boom times and in bust, and I'm tired of people saying "Well if we just addressed economic inequality for all then racism would take care of itself" when that's never going to be true and we have 400 years of evidence to the contrary (and that's just in America).
Nancy is 100% correct here. The possibly hurt feelings of white Obama-Trump voters are somehow the most fragile, important things Democrats need to protect rather than the lives of the people who have stuck with the party for decades.
"But you'll never win without white voters like meeeeeeee" they scream, "so listen to meeeeeeeee".
That's not how it works, and I really hope we're able to prove that in 2018.
Unfortunately, that midterm is looking so gerrymandered that even with a nearly ten point generic ballot lead, Dems basically have no hope of winning the House back.