In the days following Donald Trump’s surprise election win, progressive Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla published a thought-provoking, viral essay that took direct aim at identity politics:
In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
Lilla’s essay became a book that has sparked debate, withering reviews, and general disdain across wide swathes of the political and academic Left. Yet as I read the attacks on Lilla, I was struck by the extent to which his critics were either ignorant of or indifferent to the way in which conservatives and many moderate white Americans experience identity politics. They do not know the face that identity politics presents to Americans outside the progressive bubble.
To Lilla’s critics, minority identity politics is a defensive response to white identity politics (sometimes outright white supremacy) that is necessary for achieving a measure of justice and fairness in society. Sure, there are excesses, but they’re mainly confined to the fringes of the academy, where outrages are exaggerated by the likes of Fox News. Here’s the New Yorker’sDavid Remnick making that case in his interview with Lilla:
And one of the things right-wing media does is take some examples of exaggerated identity politics, in your terms—cartoonish moments—and blow them up on Fox or Breitbart or the rest, and make it seem as if every student at Columbia or Oberlin or the University of Chicago is inflamed with this. Am I wrong?
When I read words like that, I think they just don’t know. Or maybe they know — but don’t care — the extent to which a hostile, illiberal brand of identity politics has seeped into every nook and cranny of American culture. It’s not the case that conservative Americans sit ensconced in their immense privilege, raging at an irrelevant fringe hyped up by Fox News. Rather they experience identity politics at their jobs, hear their children and grandchildren describe experiencing it at school, and find it so omnipresent on television and online that they can’t seem to find any space (aside from conservative media) where someone isn’t mocking their values or accusing them of being complicit in historical atrocities.
At colleges, immersion in identity politics begins on Day One, when countless students start their orientation-mandated “privilege walks” designed to teach white kids who don’t have a racist bone in their body that there is something inherently wrong with them. People are treated as members of groups, not individuals, which leads to the absurd spectacle of poor kids’ being mocked as “privileged” by the wealthy, powerful children of doctors and lawyers.
Oh, and the outrages are not limited to the very few cases that make Fox News. For every embattled student group we hear about, there are dozens more that suffer in obscurity. Would you know from watching Fox that hundreds of Christian student groups have been forced to fight for their campus lives simply because Christian organizations want Christian leadership? For every incident like the one that derailed Charles Murray’s speech at Middlebury, there are countless unreported shout-downs, cancellations, and acts of petty censorship at universities across the U.S.
Then, students graduate and work for companies that have jumped with both feet into the sexual revolution — to such an extent that Christian Americans are terrified of openly discussing their views of religion and morality at work. Diversity trainers and human-resources departments set the rules, and the rules increasingly say that dissent from identity-politics orthodoxy represents “discriminatory harassment.” This isn’t just in Silicon Valley or in Manhattan. It’s in Nashville. It’s everywhere.
Conservative Americans aren’t making up the fact that the race-obsessed Left imposes the worst sorts of double standards. It speaks with true venom about “whiteness,” “white privilege,” and white people. And things are getting worse. We’ve reached a point where an orthodox-Jewish, Never Trump conservative can’t speak at one of America’s most elite universities without $600,000 worth of securities expenditures. Why? Because he’s a “fascist” or even a “white supremacist.”
Conservative Americans aren’t making up street violence in St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlottesville, Portland, Minneapolis, Berkeley, and many other cities across the United States. Nor are they making up the fact that identity-politics activists will excuse that violence or dismiss it by calling protests “mostly peaceful” while the bricks are still flying or the fires are still blazing.
Why try to point out any potential flaws in their thought patterns, the bubble is impregnable. Mostly peaceful = 100 protestors and only 49 became rioters.