Up From White Identity Politics

by Avik Roy

Jonah Goldberg and Jeremy Carl have had an interesting exchange this week on the role of white identity politics in Donald Trump’s coalition. Jonah rightly notes that to call Trumpian nationalism a purely economic phenomenon is to ignore that low-income non-whites are not voting for him. “Simply put, this so-called nationalism in the U.S. is really little more than a brand name for generic white-identity politics,” notes Jonah.

An important new study from Gallup, summarized here by Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo, buttresses Jonah’s case. It turns out that Trump supporters have median incomes that are no different from other Republicans; indeed, among white Republicans, “demographically similar respondents who were more affluent viewed Trump more favorably.” Trump support was strongest in communities with the fewest non-white voters.

Jeremy Carl doesn’t exactly dispute that white identity politics forms the core of Trump’s support. Jeremy makes a different case: that white identity politics is justified. “It is not at all clear to me,” writes Jeremy, “why the rules of U.S. politics dictate that my Asian-American and Hispanic neighbors can have interest groups representing them, but if my white neighbors express their interests, the Klan will be burning crosses on every lawn.”

Jeremy is entirely right that there is a double standard applied to calls for violence against whites and calls for violence against blacks. There is, in the liberal media, a hostility to the traditional American virtues and to Christianity. These phenomena, and many others, drive whites and Christians to defend themselves, and they are right to protest the double standard.

There are, however, three problems with Jeremy’s implicit argument that the GOP and conservatism are justified in evolving into nationalist vehicles for the defense of white interests.

The first problem is moral. A GOP that focuses solely or primarily on the defense of white communities is one that loses its moral authority to govern Americans of all races and creeds. Furthermore, there is an affirmative moral case for Republicans and conservatives to contemplate the significant long-term effects of slavery and segregation on African-American communities.

The second problem is political. A GOP of white identity politics will never again be a national electoral majority, as it will not only drive away ethnic minorities but also younger voters, who highly prioritize racial and religious inclusiveness.

The third problem, policy, derives from the first two. A GOP that is associated with white identity politics will never be able to make the moral or political case for, say, reducing illegal immigration, because the other side will be able to cry “racism” instead of taking the policy arguments seriously. Same goes for welfare reform and many other conservative policy priorities.

(I know what you’re going to say: they’ll cry “racism” regardless. Yes, but instead of being on defense against that charge, we will have the moral authority and political credibility to go on offense.)

In conclusion: the fact that Trump-supporting whites feel unfairly treated in 21st-century America is, at times, understandable. After all, most white Americans were born after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and feel frustrated that they’re being implicitly blamed for things they did not do. But as an engine for the Republican Party, white identity politics is a total disaster.

What should be done? A pluralist and inclusive conservatism would do its part to apply conservative ideas to all communities.

It would defend Christian cake bakers, but also bring its critique of self-serving government bureaucracy to police stations, and to blacks stuck unfairly in the criminal justice system.

It would seek to improve the fortunes of Rust Belt manufacturing towns, and also send representatives to every single naturalization ceremony in the United States, welcoming immigrants who Reagan called “Americans by choice” and introducing them to the value of limited government.

Most of all, a pluralist and inclusive conservatism would invest years of time and effort into building friendships and relationships with non-white communities, as the Conservative Party of Canada has, showing how conservatism can make life better for everyone.

It’s hard work—certainly, a lot harder than yelling about rapists and thugs. But it is necessary work, if our cause is to have a future, or even a present.

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