The Corner

Politics & Policy

Equal Justice, White Identity Politics, and the Battle for the GOP’s Future

I’m delighted that my most recent article on white identity politics, Trump, and the GOP drew responses from Jonah Goldberg (whose fine initial piece prompted me to write) and the equally prolific and incisive Avik Roy.

Even better news is that I certainly agree with the core assertions exemplified by the titles of their pieces  “The Folly of White Identity Politics” and “Up from White Identity Politics.“ Avik is absolutely right when (echoing Jonah’s own position) he said that if the GOP embraced white identity politics as a core strategy it would be both a moral and political error. But I think Avik misreads my piece fairly fundamentally in several respects.

First, I don’t make the case “that white identity politics is justified.” In fact, the entire point of my article, starting from the headline, is to separate “white identity politics” — which has both the moral and practical problems that Avik outlines nicely, with the advocacy around legitimate interests and concerns of the GOP’s white voters — what I call “justice-seeking.” The Left is very much eager to heap those two disparate categories together so that it can bash the right with its usual cudgel of racism, but there are only a very small number of Trump voters who are writing about (((Jonah Goldberg))) and creating Pepe the Frog memes. Most of them simply want justice, fairness, a level playing field, and respect for America’s historic culture and its traditions. Many would also like the end to mass immigration of unskilled and low-skilled workers, who will receive explicit racial preferences over them and their children as soon as they touch American soil. The GOP has failed to deliver that, and has not even, as a unified party, seriously made the case for it. Instead the GOP, and to a lesser extent the conservative media, is, when push comes to shove, all too willing to play by the Left’s racist double standards.

Avik does not make the case why it is acceptable for the GOP not to forthrightly and strongly condemn racist attacks on whites when they would certainly do so for racist attacks on other groups. (If for no other reason than that the liberal media would demand it.) To the extent there is even anything implicit in my argument, I would argue that the GOP should certainly not defend the interests of people who actually vote Republican less energetically than they defend groups who do not. 

Nor does Avik make any argument for why the GOP should not energetically oppose the entire system of racial preferences that are not just unjust in a moral sense (which they are) but certainly particularly unjust to the GOP’s predominantly white voter base. Again, there’s a difference between opposing such things rhetorically, and being willing to wade into battle against them and spend serious political capital to achieve victory. The GOP has shown no willingness to do so. I agree with Avik that the GOP shouldn’t focus its efforts on defending white communities. But they should stop making white communities the only ones they won’t defend, simply out of fear of the Left calling them racists.

In advocating that the GOP not abandon the legitimate interests of its white voters, the GOP does not cede any moral high ground. There may be a lot of genuinely high-minded opposition to engaging in this struggle but there’s plenty of “conservatism of convenience” there as well. Challenging the Left’s privilege and double-standards on race is going to get blowback. It’s far easier to sit back and talk about high principles even when this talk is utterly disconnected from the reality on the ground.

With respect to Jonah, I think he’s right that we don’t really disagree on all that much. And indeed, in reading his responses about the interrelationship between nationalism and patriotism, the importance of classical liberalism at the heart of conservatism, and other issues I found myself nodding my head.  But I would emphasize the following: If our purity extends so far that we refuse to defend the legitimate interests of our own voters in fear that in any way we could somehow suffer the taint of identity politics, then I think that is a bridge too far. In politics, people care about group identity, much as we might wish otherwise. While the GOP shouldn’t become the mirror image of the Left’s malevolent racial conceptions, we should also not be forced to fight the Left with both hands tied behind our back. As William F. Buckley famously said, “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”

Jonah writes that “conservatism is about more than classical liberalism, but a conservatism that doesn’t conserve classical liberalism isn’t worth conserving.” I agree with that one hundred percent, and Trump’s seeming disinterest in classical liberalism is one of the core reasons I can’t conjure up much enthusiasm for his candidacy. But I equally believe that no American political movement that calls itself conservative can simply sit there mute when their current core voters are targeted for racial violence, falsely smeared for racism, and discriminated against on everything from employment to university admissions solely because of the color of their skin. In the face of the lies and distortions of groups like Black Lives Matter, La Raza, and the rest, both justice and practicality demand that the GOP offer a robust rebuttal to Left’s perverse racial politics.

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