I’ve spent a lot of energy on this site detailing how underlying ideological assumptions — which I believe are necessarily driven by certain linguistic ideas (some of which have become so entrenched in our institutional rhetoric that they are difficult to discern, and even more difficult to weed out) — manifest themselves, in most cases, in predictable political affiliations.
On a more concrete level, this idea is fleshed out by attitudes toward such things as race and identity — and what one perceives is the government’s role or “obligation” with respect to the problems that arise from taking a particular view on such things — be that the classical liberal view, in which individualism is foregrounded, and government is to play a mediating role; or the multiculturalist view, in which group identity is paramount, and social engineering designed to “fix” perceived disparities by way of jerry-rigging outcomes by way of special dispensation to “underrepresented” groups is a sign of “progress” and progressivism.
From America In Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom:
In 1994, on the issue of government assistance to blacks, 74 percent of African Americans but only 16 percent of whites said too little was being spent. There is also a marked racial divide on questions such as: Would you rather have the federal government provide more services, even if it means more taxes? Is it the responsibility of government to reduce the differences in income between people> And, do you agree that the government has an obligation to help people when they’re in trouble? The affirmative action issues likewise splits blacks and whites — to different degrees, depending on how the question is asked.
A high degree of commitment to an expansive, protective federal government clearly separates blacks from whites. The historic sense of vulnerability continues to affect black political attitudes. Even the middle class views its hard-won status as fragile, with the consequence that individual blacks see their own fate as tied to that of race, the political scientist Michael Dawson has persuasively argued. In believing that the fate of the race depends on the helping hand of government — that only its forceful presence keeps the enemies of racial justice at bay — most blacks remain in the Democratic camp. Whites are all over the political map; blacks disagree among themselves, but generally vote left. “The perceived economic domination of blacks by whites became intertwined with a sense of political domination as well,” Dawson has suggested.
Perhaps it is the status of anxiety of African Americans and their unshakable commitment to big government and the Democratic Party that frees black elected officials (to an unusual degree) from concern about the views of their constituents. In the jockeying over the 1994 crime bill, when the CBC was working hard to soften hard-line provisions like mandatory minimum sentences, at least one member admitted that his “soft on crime” approach wasn’t necessarily that of his constituents. On the other hand, he said, “I would no more go to my constituents and ask how I would wage a war on crime than I would ask how I should wage a war internationally.”
It was a refreshingly candid admission. White liberals who need black votes assiduously court them; black liberals need to worry less about taking stands their constituents agree with.
Here, it becomes obvious, I think, that a sense of perceived “commonality” based almost entirely on skin color and the requisite party affiliation that marks one as “authentic” is what is, unfortunately, driving the voting habits of many blacks.
The Thernstroms, along with Michael Dawson, suggest that the reason for such an overwhelming degree of what amounts to political tribalism is tied to the belief that racial gains are fragile and tenuous, and that a big, active government is the necessary stopgap between tenuous protection and the wilds of racist America.
But the question that needs to be asked is, how, exactly, have blacks (to an unusual degree) come to believe such a thing?
I have argued that the foregrounding of racial issues is an oftentimes cynical and intentional strategy, on behalf of those invested in coalition politics, to keep particular identity groups on the political plantation. This is not always the case of course: many of those who agitate for racial justice do so out of pure compassion — the problem being, in my estimation, that their emotions run far ahead of their willingness to view the racial landscape dispassionately and decide upon a strategy for ending racial tensions that actually works.
To my way of thinking, foregrounding “race” — bad science that we should (and have) recognized as such — simply because, well, “race” has long been foregrounded, is precisely the wrong tack to take. In fact, in doing so, one is forced — given that “racial” breakdowns ensure division of the population into identity groups that are then tied to political movements — to adopt the kind of identity politics that sits well with leftist and progressive political thought, and that rubs uncomfortably against the classical liberalism that this country was founded on.
Which is why, I think, we find identity politics so often tied to the progressive movement, and ideas of individualism tied to the “right wing” (be those classified as such classical liberals, libertarians, or economic and legal conservatives).
To tackle the “problem” of racial tension in a way that might actually alleviate some of those tensions, we would have to, as a culture, decide to remove the bad science of race from the political equation. Which is not to say we need to forget about how important a role race has played to this point, but rather to acknowledge that part of the reason race has played so important a role is that we have given it a power it has never deserved. From there, it is a short step to deciding that in order best to push back against that history, we go forward with a project of delegitimizing “race” as it is currently understood.
Unfortunately, too much of party politics — and so, power — is tied up in these outmoded ideas of race. And there is no shortage of politicians willing to stoke fears of racial backsliding in order to keep their voting coalitions intact.
Thus, it is unsurprising, really, that those with leftist tendencies — those, that is, who rely upon a certain type of grievance identity politics to build their coalitions — are constantly trying to “remind” us how racist we still are, as a society, and how necessary, therefore, is government protection against the institutional racism that permeates every avenue of American life.
A move back toward individualism — a move back toward the founding principles of this country — is therefore anathema to progressive politics, particularly insofar as such a movement would weaken established coalitions; and this is why the most damage being done by progressivism takes place in the schools, where certain underlying principles and ideas are drilled into the very processes of thinking, making it not only difficult to identify those principles as one of many competing sets, but also making it difficult for those who’ve been indoctrinated thus to break free of the structural imperatives of the ideology in order to reason outside of its dubious truisms.