Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Progressive Fatalism: Leftists Who Did Not Vote For Clinton Must OWN Their Decision and the Terrible Consequences

Since the election, a slew of post-mortems have appeared in mainstream and social media. One theme that has emerged, particularly among progressives who did not like Hillary Clinton, blames Trump's victory on the Democratic nominee and the DNC who "chose" her. This argument suffers from one obvious problem. Democratic primary and caucus voters--not the DNC--chose Clinton; in fact, she defeated Bernie Sanders by nearly 4 million votes. The argument also suffers from deeper problems that reveal disturbing perspectives among many self-identified progressives.

Candidates and their campaigns undoubtedly impact voters, but voters have agency, and they are free to respond to the competing messages they hear. Clinton offered multiple messages, including immense competence, antidiscrimination, economic support and stimulation for families, and national security. Some of Clinton's messages--antidiscrimination and economic support--reflect core progressive principles--even if the specific policies involve some compromise and tailoring for the shared political space that we occupy. Despite dramatic claims by some progressives who say Clinton failed to offer an economic agenda, she promised to fight for a higher minimum wage, free 2-year college education, free 4-year public college education for students from families with incomes up to $125,000, infrastructure investment, increased spending for cities, protect and strengthen Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and allowing states to develop a public option as a part of Obamacare exchanges.

Clinton also recognized that class and identity are intertwined. Thus, antidiscrimination measures formed part of her agenda, but these proposals had economic dimensions. Clinton promised to fight for gender wage equality, to expand access to educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, increase federal support for historically black colleges, protect immigrant families from the economic hardship caused by deportation, and to expand funding and staffing in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

Collectively, if one judges her as a whole using progressive values, Clinton was on the right side of history. Reaching this conclusion does not mean that Clinton has not taken nonprogressive positions in the past, including supporting the Iraq War, the 1994 Crime Bill (like Sanders), and welfare reform. But a comprehensive analysis of Clinton in the context of this election--when there were just two possible winners--shows that Clinton was, undeniably, the progressive choice. Donald Trump was not a defensible progressive choice. His campaign appealed to white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, distrust of science and logic, antisemitism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other harmful ideologies. Clinton, not Trump, was on the right side of history--from a progressive perspective.

But Clinton's leftist critics cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this important point. Doing so would undermine their boiling hatred of her. But this would also allow us to analyze more pressing questions for Democrats moving forward. For example, why did so many Americans vote for a candidate who openly represents bigotry, ignorance, and incompetence? Which Americans supported this candidate? Were those Americans on the right side of history from a progressive perspective? If not, how do Democrats move them to this position?

Social scientists have compiled decades of research that addresses these questions. Bigotry is pervasive in the United States--either as implicit bias or open hatred of the Other. Also, whites gave Trump the election. Had only persons of color voted, Clinton would have have won every state--a complete shoutout. This is consistent with every presidential election since 1964--the last time a Democratic candidate won a majority of white voters nationally. Race is a longstanding part of US election politics and voter behavior.

Some leftists, however, dismiss the operation of racism in Trump's victory, citing Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012 and his support from some white Trump voters. But this argument fails to appreciate the complexity of racism and Obama's performance of race. Unlike Clinton, Obama did not run a very openly antidiscrimination campaign. He appealed to race subtly and symbolically. Also, his two opponents did not make such blatant appeals to bigotry as Trump. The 2016 presidential election primed bigoted ideology almost continually. Moderate whites who backed Obama could easily have been seduced by this rhetoric. Implicit bias research demonstrates that priming of racism causes many whites to engage in discriminatory behavior--including whites who view themselves as egalitarians. Furthermore, many progressive whites have written about their own ongoing struggles to disown white privilege and unlearn racism. If people who are knowledgeable of the subtlety of racism must struggle against it, then folks who lack information about these issues certainly need to--but are less likely to do so.

Although Trump's voters were on the wrong side of history, many progressive critics of Clinton and the Democrats have expressed sympathy for them, mistakenly believing that they are largely poor and economically subordinate whites. Trump, however, won wealthy and middle-class whites. He won college-educated and noncollege whites. Clinton won the poorest Americans and persons of color. She won young whites and white liberals. A significant amount of white progressives, however, voted for Jill Stein (or stayed home). Although it is still unclear what affect their decisions had on the election, Stein captured enough votes in states that Clinton lost to shift the victory to Trump. So, like Trump's white supporters, white progressives who voted for Stein (her voters were overwhelmingly white) or who stayed home (or picked Johnson) were on the wrong side of history--from a progressive perspective. When presented with the opportunity to stop Trump and his reactionary agenda from winning, they chose another route. They must own this decision. Instead of doing so, they want to relitigate the Democratic primaries. On November 8, only two viable candidates were on the ballot--Clinton and Trump. Only one of those candidates offered a message and concrete policies consistent with progressive values. If you did not vote for her, you betrayed the millions of vulnerable people who rely upon decent decision making by progressive voters. It takes a village to elect a president. In other words, election outcomes depend upon choices that candidates and voters make. You must own your choice and the results.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Recent Critics of Identity Politics Are Clueless About Identity Politics

Many political scientists and other experts contend that reliable demographic information regarding the 2016 election does not yet exist. The scarcity of definitive data, however, has not deterred commentators from delivering election post-mortems.

Although various strands of analysis have emerged to explain the election result, a troubling account of Hillary Clinton’s loss has gained traction. According to this narrative, Clinton lost because she did not promote an economic agenda to attract working-class voters. Instead, identity politics occupied center stage in her campaign.

The lesson from Clinton’s loss is clear to the post-identity commentators. Identity politics cannot win elections; therefore, Democrats must discard this message and emphasize economic and other concerns. This argument, however, grossly distorts the content of Clinton’s campaign message and the substance of identity politics.

Clinton touted her economic agenda on many occasions. Her numerous economic proposals include increasing the minimum wage, infrastructure investment, tuition-free college for 85% of US households, paid family medical leave, permitting states to pursue a public option under the Affordable Care Act, pay equity for women, increasing funding for Head Start and early preschool, and expanding the Earned-Income Tax Credit. Also, while Clinton extensively detailed her proposals, Donald Trump provided little information about his economic program—which undermines arguments that working-class voters flocked to him due to economic anxiety.

Whites overwhelmingly voted for Trump, and no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white voters since 1964. On the other hand, vast majorities of blacks and Latinos—two of the poorest populations in the US—cast votes for Hillary Clinton. When critics observe that Clinton failed to attract working-class voters, they actually mean whites. Failure to interrogate the differing responses of working-class whites and persons of color to Clinton and Trump obfuscates the relevance and ubiquity of racialized voting in the US.

Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla has published one of the harshest assessments of Clinton’s campaign and identity politics. Lilla accuses Democrats of embracing “identity liberalism”—or a “rhetoric of diversity” that encourages people to “celebrate” their “differences.” Lilla argues that diversity politics fragments society, detracts from more important issues—like economics and war—and has caused poor rural whites to view themselves as a disparaged minority group. Lilla suggests that modern diversity movements are analogous to the Ku Klux Klan, which he describes as “the first identity movement in American politics.”

Like Lilla, other post-identity critics describe identity politics as an empty aspiration for diversity. Bernie Sanders, for example, offers the following flawed analysis:

“It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me,’ That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country, and is going to take on big money interests,” he said. “This is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’ No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

If Sanders’ reasoning accurately described progressive identity politics, the Congressional Black Caucus would have endorsed Ben Carson rather than Clinton. Identity politics actually refers to liberation movements that seek to eradicate systemic inequalities caused by historical and contemporary discrimination against blacks, LGBT individuals, women, and other disparaged groups. Sanders’ statements evince a disturbing ignorance regarding the complexity of identity politics.

Clinton’s identity politics emphasized diversity, inclusion, antidiscrimination and economic uplift. Clinton promised to combat women’s pay inequity, racism in the criminal justice system, mistreatment of Muslims and other religious minorities, and to strengthen federal funding of education for persons with disabilities. These issues are very compelling for a nation in which racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and transphobia continue to impose economic hardship upon substantial portions of the population. These concerns are not the empty diversity that Sanders and other post-identity critics describe.

The post-identity critics fail to appreciate the complexity of Clinton’s deployment of identity politics because they do not comprehend the interrelatedness of identity and class concerns. Numerous studies demonstrate the negative economic impact of discrimination upon people of color, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBT individuals. The post-identity critics, however, depict identity politics as an elitist obsession with irrelevant socially constructed traits. These constructs, however, have material consequences. Dissecting identity and economics, a common theme among many progressive economic thinkers, obscures the concrete harms of discrimination and inherited inequality.

Critics, such as Lilla, also contend that diversity is fragmenting and thus harmful to democracy. According to some academic research, multiculturalism erodes social capital and causes individuals to go inward and disconnect from other individuals or out-groups. The weight of academic literature, however, qualifies or rebuts these findings.

Many social scientists have found that racial and class inequality, rather than multiculturalism and diversity, reduces political and civic engagement. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, whose pioneering research is widely cited for the proposition that multiculturalism erodes social capital, concludes that the societal benefits of diversity—which include creativity and economic growth—outweigh the possible harms from cultural fragmentation. Social psychology research also finds that diversity and equality lead to innovation and robustness within institutions and societies.

Academic research, however, lends credibility to one of claims made by recent critics of identity politics: whites often believe multiculturalism excludes them. Clinton’s campaign theme, however, was “Stronger Together,” and she included whites under her large umbrella (notably, she and her running-mate are both white). 

Studies also show that antiracism and feminism, not simply racial and gender diversity, threaten whites and men, who think of antidiscrimination as a zero-sum game. Clinton did not cause this irrational thinking. On the contrary, group panic in response to a perceived loss of societal privilege has fueled organized backlash to freedom movements throughout US history. Southern whites believed that emancipation of slaves and Reconstruction oppressed them, so they used the law and extralegal violence to maintain white supremacy. White southerners engaged in similar tactics in response to efforts to dismantle Jim Crow. They also complained that the Civil Rights Movement oppressed whites. Today, policies designed to ameliorate racial and sexual inequality, such as affirmative action, voting rights, and social welfare measures, receive similar criticism.

Eventually, political scientists will conduct empirical research and make more informed conclusions regarding the factors that led to Trump’s victory. These factors might include third-party candidates siphoning support from Clinton, James Comey’s shocking late-October letter, Trump’s open appeal to white nationalism, or Clinton’s condemnation of bigotry. The researchers’ ultimate findings certainly will not validate simplistic portrayals of identity politics as external to class concerns or the position that antidiscrimination discourse harms society. An abundance of research already refutes these contentions.

The Democratic Party has made antidiscrimination a central theme in its platform, along with economic betterment of subordinate classes. By contrast, the Republican Party has become a party largely of white voters because it opposes the themes of inclusion, antidiscrimination, and economic justice championed by Democrats. During the campaign, Clinton argued that the election would test the nation’s true commitment to the values it claims to cherish. If Clinton was correct, the US has failed, once again, to live up to its most exalted values. If the Democratic Party discards strong support for antidiscrimination, tolerance, and inclusion in order to appease white voters, it too will fail.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson
Professor of Law and Stephen C. O'Connell Chair
University of Florida Levin College of Law

The views expressed in this essay are my own, and they do not represent the position of the University of Florida or the State of Florida.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Voices: Why Do White Male Progressives Hear Things That No One Else Can?

Eight years ago, the Democratic presidential primaries had already begun. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive frontrunner, suffered an upset defeat in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton lost the caucuses because Obama had a very well organized operation. Clinton did not devote much attention to on-the-ground strategy.

Obama also prevailed in Iowa because he was able to electrify self-identified progressive voters. For months ahead of the Iowa caucuses, progressive media described Obama in the most glowing terms possible. Whatever Obama said during a stump speech, press conference, stadium-filled forums, or casual moments on-camera, progressives inevitably heard a commitment to radically transformative policies. By contrast, even if Clinton made the same or similar statements as Obama, progressives heard something completely different. To progressives Clinton always expressed conservative and backwards politics.

Although progressives invariably deemed Obama a leftist and Clinton a conservative, most other Democrats did not share these views (or if so, this was irrelevant to them). Take blacks—for example, the voting demographic that most faithfully supports progressive economic agendas. Blacks overwhelmingly voted for Obama during the primaries, but before he won the Iowa caucuses, a majority of black Democrats supported Clinton. Blacks rapidly shifted to Obama in order to support a viable black Democratic candidate—not because they viewed him as more progressive than Clinton.

Opinion polls of the 2016 primaries show a similar pattern and provide greater support for my analysis of black votes. Progressives (at this point, it should be clear that progressives means white progressives) have anointed Bernie Sanders as the leftist; Clinton is still a conservative. Although white progressives appear solidly behind Sanders, opinion polls show that Clinton has overwhelming support among Blacks and Latinos. Although white progressives tout Sanders as the best candidate for economic issues, the voting blocs that have the most at stake with respect to economic issues—people of color, the elderly, women, and poor people—support Clinton more than Sanders. By contrast, Sanders polls well with white college students, white college-graduates and graduate-degree holders, white professionals, and white men. In other words, Sanders supporters tend to have more social and economic privilege than Clinton supporters, despite white progressive depiction of Clinton as a conservative. Sanders’s revolutionaries, on average, are not socially subordinate.

Despite pegging Obama as a leftist, white progressives’ admiration for him plunged after he became president. This trend was especially true among young persons. Young white voters cast more votes for Romney in 2012 than they did for Obama, a dramatic turnaround from the 2008 election. For years, they had accused him of betraying his campaign promises. Few progressives, however, were willing to admit publicly that they heard something in Obama that never existed: a narrative of leftist heroism.  Obama campaigned as a moderate, and people who actually analyzed the substance of his proposals—such as Paul Krugman—wrote about this frequently. Progressives, however, argued that Krugman, the liberal Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist who writes a column for the New York Times, was a corrupt corporate media spokesperson. These same patterns have taken hold in the 2016 primaries. Persons who find little differences between Clinton and Sanders—or who find that Clinton has better policies—receive blistering criticism from white progressives, even though their misjudgment of Obama is very recent history.

On the other hand, Sanders perpetually makes illuminating and radical statements, or at least that is what the voices tell progressives. Progressives hear leftist radicalism in Sanders even when he says things that are arguably sexist and homophobic. Recently, for example, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton. Rather than acting gracefully and diplomatic, Sanders dismissed the endorsements as coming from organizations that are “part of the establishment” that he is “fighting against.” While HRC, NARAL, and PP are among the most established and influential social movement organizations, no progressive movement has ever identified them as institutions to defeat. Sanders has, however. Rather than condemning or even questioning him for these comments, many of his progressive supporters have defended him. Some have even offered conspiracy theories to explain the endorsements. They contend that a very conservative, but powerful, Clinton coerced all three organization into endorsing her. The voices are screaming.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson


If white progressives were so blatantly wrong about Obama’s progressivism, why should we accept their analysis of Sanders?

Can a progressive revolution take place if it is led predominately by young white men—with women, people of color, and poor people looking elsewhere for solutions? Is such a movement actually progressive?

If a woman candidate says similar things as male candidates, but her comments are condemned, while the males’ comments are praised—largely by other men—when do we get to call this disparity sexism?

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