Last week Tucker Carlson did what Tucker Carlson does so well. He sparked an online firestorm (and yet another attempted sponsor boycott) by touching a third rail in American politics — this time aggressively questioning the phrase “diversity is our strength.” Here’s the key part of the segment. Note the millions of views:
Tucker Carlson really really really really does not like living in a diverse country pic.twitter.com/iLpMr6QrNV
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) September 8, 2018
Quite a few people interpreted Tucker as racist. I did not. I interpreted him as raising an important question, and then torching a straw man. His core point was summed up in just a few sentences:
How precisely is diversity our strength? Can you think of other institutions, such as marriage or military units, in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are? Do you get along better with your neighbors and coworkers if you can’t understand each other, or share no common values? And if diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender our freedom of speech to just a handful of tech monopolies?
But is Tucker really taking on today’s diversity ideology, as practiced? The institutions in American life that claim to value diversity most — higher education, progressive corporations, and the military (yes, the military) — aren’t Towers of Babel, where people can’t comprehend each other, much less share any common purpose. Instead, each one of these “diverse” institutions is remarkably uniform in its own way.
The diversity that’s the alleged “strength” of higher education all too often manifests itself as a community where people of every race, religion, and gender all think alike on the core political and cultural questions that matter most on campus. A community that allegedly celebrates diversity relentlessly enforces ideological uniformity.
The same problem manifests itself in corporate America. The free-speech challenges that Tucker rightly decries in big tech often mirror the intolerance of the American academy. Silicon Valley employers will spend tens of millions of dollars attempting to create a workforce that “looks like America” yet at the same time foster a workplace culture that makes, for example, Christian conservative employees believe there is a real risk in speaking freely at the workplace — a risk their more secular and progressive colleagues don’t share.
The military — perhaps the most successful diverse community in America — welcomes men and women from every walk of life and then relentlessly enforces uniformity. Language is clipped down to a highly technical version of English. Everyone dresses alike. Everyone swears the same oath. Everyone adopts the same Soldier’s Creed. While there is enormous diversity in color and faith, when it comes to the core functions of military life, there is a uniformity that by necessity exceeds anything we see in civilian life.
In their own ways, American universities, progressive corporations, and the U.S. military have created functioning, diverse communities that depend on a core commonality. And if you share that common purpose, then diversity is an immense blessing. Among other things, it enhances your numbers, it increases the breadth of experience, and it fosters cultural adaptability.
If you’re a progressive, university towns such as Cambridge, Mass., or Boulder, Colo., are (weather excepted) truly lovely, welcoming places to live. If you’re a progressive tech nerd, Silicon Valley is your Vatican. If you’ve bought into the military ethos, you feel at home the instant you pass through the gates of a military installation. Everything outside feels just a bit alien.
But here’s the problem. When conservative Americans hear progressive Americans say, “diversity is our strength,” they filter those words through the prism of progressive communities, where “diversity” often either excludes conservatism or is barely tolerant of its existence.
Yes, there are rightists who reject diversity on purely racist grounds. But there are more people who instinctively recognize that diverse communities still require at least a degree of common purpose. Tucker does ask a key question: “How does a nation of 325 million people hang together?” And the answer isn’t that we hang together because we’re different. And our differences alone don’t make us stronger.
As Jonah Goldberg and others have explained so eloquently and urgently, in the absence of a transcendent, unifying American idea, tribalism reasserts itself. People seek common purpose and — once that purpose is found — can be remarkably welcoming of people from all walks of life who share that purpose. The ancillary diversity amplifies the strength of the unifying purpose.
The question of our time is whether Americans still share enough of that common purpose — and whether that common purpose is wide enough — to maintain the shared national bond. Or do we now have a red purpose and a blue purpose, and diversity is a “strength” only to the extent that it enhances our chosen tribe?
In other words, it would be easier to believe that diversity is our strength if the people who advance that idea weren’t also often among the most intolerant people in American public life.