Trumpism Is ‘Identity Politics’ for White People

After Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election, a certain conventional wisdom congealed within the pundit class: Donald Trump’s success was owed to the Democratic abandonment of the white working class and the party’s emphasis on identity politics. By failing to emphasize a strong economic message, the thinking went, the party had ceded the election to Trump.

.. the meantime, Trump’s administration has seen that economic message almost entirely subsumed by the focus of congressional Republicans on tax cuts for the wealthy and plans to shrink the social safety net. But even as the message has shifted, there hasn’t been a corresponding erosion in Trump’s support. The economics were never the point. The cruelty was the point.
.. Nevertheless, among those who claim to oppose identity politics, the term is applied exclusively to efforts by historically marginalized constituencies to claim rights others already possess. 
.. Trump’s campaign, with its emphasis on state violence against religious and ethnic minorities—Muslim bans, mass deportations, “nationwide stop-and-frisk”—does not count under this definition, but left-wing opposition to discriminatory state violence does.
.. A November panel at the right-wing Heritage Foundation on the threat posed by “identity politics,” with no apparent irony, will feature an all-white panel.
.. But the entire closing argument of the Republican Party in the 2018 midterm elections is a naked appeal to identity politics—a politics based in appeals to the loathing of, or membership in, a particular group. The GOP’s plan to slash the welfare state in order to make room for more high-income tax cuts is unpopular among the public at large. In order to preserve their congressional majority, Republicans have taken to misleading voters by insisting that they oppose cuts or changes to popular social insurance programs, while stoking fears about

.. In truth, without that deception, identity politics is all the Trump-era Republican Party has.

.. Trump considers the media “the enemy of the people” only when it successfully undermines his falsehoods; at all other times, it is a force multiplier, obeying his attempts to shift topics of conversation from substantive policy matters to racial scaremongering.

.. The tenets of objectivity by which American journalists largely abide hold that reporters may not pass judgment on the morality of certain political tactics, only on their effectiveness. It’s a principle that unintentionally rewards immorality by turning questions of right and wrong into debates over whether a particular tactic will help win an election.

.. In the closing weeks of the campaign, the president has promised a nonexistent tax cut to the middle class after two years in which unified Republican control of government produced only a windfall for the rich
.. Trump’s nativism, and the Republican Party’s traditional hostility to government intervention on behalf of the poor, have had a happier marriage than some might have expected.

.. But that wasn’t what Trump promised—rather, his 2016 campaign pledged both generous social-insurance benefits for working-class white Republicans and cruelty for undeserving nonwhites.

.. Republicans are scrambling to insist that they will cut taxes on the middle class, offer robust health-care protectionsand protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, even as GOP leaders in Congress plot to slash all three to cut the deficit created by their upper-income tax cuts.

.. When armed agents of the state gun down innocent people in the street, when the president attempts to ban people from entering the U.S. based on their faith, or when the administration shatters immigrant families, these are burdens that religious and ethnic minorities must bear silently as the price of their presence in the United States.

And in the impoverished moral imagination of Trumpist political discourse, any and all white Americans who also oppose such things must be doing so insincerely in an effort to seek approval.

.. America is not, strictly speaking, a center-right or center-left nation. Rather, it remains the nation of the Dixiecrats, in which the majority’s desire for equal opportunity and a robust welfare state is mediated by the addiction of a large chunk of the polity to racial hierarchy. It is no coincidence that the Democratic Party’s dominant period in American history coincided with its representation of both warring impulses and ended when it chose one over the other. The midterms offer a similar choice for the American voter, in rather stark terms.

Democrats Haven’t Turned Back From 1968

The politics of identity and attack have supplanted the old liberal tradition, which favored national unity.

The next big change came in 1992 with the nomination and election of Bill Clinton. His moderate platform was similar to his peers’, but his political style was a departure. The concept of a permanent campaign came to the White House. Every move was measured against its short-term political value to the president. The Clinton team launched personal attacks against policy dissenters and against women who brought charges of sexual misconduct against the president. In 1996, Mr. Clinton accused Republican nominee Bob Dole of “trying to destroy Social Security and Medicare” through his support of a bipartisan entitlement-reform effort Mr. Clinton himself had previously praised. By 2001, when Mr. Clinton left the scene, say-anything attack politics had become the normal order of the day in the Democratic Party.

President Obama brought hope of a more tolerant, less deeply partisan politics. But he was surrounded by Clinton alumni who, for the most part, kept on as before. His signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, was introduced and passed only by Democrats—a sharp contrast to the bipartisan approaches taken by Johnson with his Medicare and Medicaid proposals, and by Ted Kennedy with his Medicare prescription-drug legislation. To pass ObamaCare, the White House and its allies launched a full-court press against all House Democrats, including moderates with doubts about its cost and coverage. The legislation passed narrowly, but 63 House Democrats lost their seats in the 2010 midterm elections. That left the body sharply divided between Republican and Democratic partisans, stalling the administration’s legislative agenda for the remaining six years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign labeled his opponent, the temperate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as antiminority, antiwoman, anti-middle-class and a financial predator. The theme continued against Republican congressional candidates in 2014. Hillary Clinton tried to replicate it in her campaign against President Trump but did not comprehend the electorate’s determination to reject political establishmentarians, including herself.

Democrats and many in media now accuse Mr. Trump of totalitarian methods and objectives. There is much to fault in the Trump presidency, but the totalitarian tendencies appear to flow from our own party. Its present presidential aspirants appear to be emulating Robespierre in their over-the-top denunciations of Mr. Trump and all others they deem unworthy.