Who and what are you?
C’mon, it’s the question of the day, isn’t it? Who are you and what aggrieved group does that place you in?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has gone so far as to have her DNA tested to prove she can lay claim to being a native American. This would be a native American of the American Indian sort as opposed to any of the first offspring of the European colonists who began arriving on the Eastern edge of the continent in the 1500s and 1600s, about the time the Athabascans from the Arctic began colonizing the Southwest corner of the country on the way to becoming the Navajo Nation.
Warren’s great, great, great, great, great-grandmother or -grandfather – or someone back as far as great to the eighth power – appears to have been of Native American descent, according to the DNA; so in Warren’s view, contested by others, she is of Native American heritage.
Why does this matter? Why?
Because this is what we have become.
The Economist is a British news magazine now labeled as skewing slightly to the right despite its beginnings as a liberal entity. The quote above came from its “manifesto for renewing liberalism” that proffered an old definition for a term that has itself fractured under the weight of identity politics:
“We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish “progressivism” of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.”
This was the sort of liberalism, the magazine noted, that built the free world as we know it today. And it is the sort of liberalism, The Economist worries, that is dying “as the common interest has fragmented.
A million tribes
If you’re a black American reading this, you have every right to be outraged at having been victimized. This country has a nasty history of slavery and racism. And while President Lyndon Johnson’s well-intentioned “Great Society” might have shown some immediate gains in helping black Americans fight their way out of poverty, those gains plateaued a long time ago.
Some in the black community now contend the programs designed to help black Americans only served to mire people of color, especially young black men and single women, in poverty.
So feel aggrieved.
Or maybe you’re one of those now feeling under attack for the “white privilege” tied to the color of your skin. Maybe it’s unfair you get blamed for the past sins of others you’ve never known. But someone has to be blamed for the fact the world isn’t perfect, don’t they?
And white privilege exists. There’s no doubt about that. In many parts of this country, if you’re stopped by an officer of the law, he’s likely to treat you differently if your skin is white. Why isn’t that your fault for being born pale?
Sure if you grew up in white poverty and pulled yourself out, it’s understandable you get more than a little upset at being attacked for your white privilege given there are more than twice as many white people as black people living in poverty in this country today.
OK, so you fought your way out, and now you are being punished as an oppressor for that effort.
Go ahead, feel aggrieved.
And Native Americans? Are there any with a greater reason to feel aggrieved?
Everyone knows now that Columbus was downright evil (as were many if not most of the explorers of his time), and he was at the vanguard of a White takeover of the Americas that was racist and often brutal.
It was all horrible by modern standards. Maybe you would have been better off if Columbus had never arrived. And then again maybe not. Maybe the tribes of the Americas would have ended up fighting bloody war after bloody war after bloody war as the tribes of Europe did from 1400 on.
And then maybe after the deaths of millions, the Americas would have spawned their own technocrats to double or triple lifespans and push back poverty and make life easy. Yes, easy. We all have it easy today.
If you have any doubts, go back to trying to live like an Alaska Athabascan circa 1500. The now infamous Chris McCandless retreated to the wilderness to try living like an Alaskan circa 1900, which was itself way easier than in 1500, and look at what happened to him.
He didn’t last but months before he died.
It’s nice to think of the old Alaska as some sort of Edenesque wilderness, but that’s not reality. There are reasons the average Native lifespan in Alaska in 1950 was still only 46. Life was hard even then, and disease easily killed people.
But, it’s possible an America and an Alaska sans the white folk could have evolved into exactly what it is today except without the white folk. No one can know what might have happened. We only know what did happen, and there were plenty of early white folk who mistreated American Indians and Alaska Natives.
And this state in particular is still home to plenty of racists.
So feel aggrieved.
There is hardly anyone in America today who can’t some up with some reason, often a legitimate reason, to feel aggrieved – even the rich sons of the ruling class of white privilege who seem to get blamed a ton.
Really, who doesn’t blame them for something? And if there’s even one thing on the list for which they’re not fully responsible, well, then they have a reason to feel aggrieved.
As for the rest of us….
Feminists? Of course. Men are pigs, and that testosterone in their blood tends to make them aggressive pigs. Feel aggrieved.
Hispanics? Of course. Some in this country want a bunch of you to leave, and then they want to build a wall to make sure you don’t back in. Feel aggrieved.
Homosexuals? Of course. There are people who think you should be denied sexual relief because of the way you have sex when it’s none of their damn business as to what anyone does in private. Feel aggrieved.
Muslims? Yes. Christians? Yes. Liberals? Yes. Conservatives? Yes. Jews? Yes. Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.
As a victim of color-blindness and lefthandedness, I should feel aggrieved. The Americans with Disabilities Act has for some reason chosen to ignore my disabilities. People in wheelchairs get ramps, as they should, and I get modern technical devices overflowing with red and green lights that look the same to me, and circular saws designed to blow dust in my eyes.
I almost feel guilty that I’m not aggrieved. Maybe I should be aggrieved at my parents for the way I was raised. They sent me to church camp, though they weren’t religious, to learn to sing “We Shall Overcome” in case the Freedom Riders trying to force integration in the American South needed backup.
They were liberals in that old sense of liberalism cited by The Economist, “universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.”
We were lower-middle class bordering on poor at times, but we never thought of ourselves as members of the underclass. We embraced the idea it was an American tradition to help others, and to look forward to building a better society instead of dwelling on what cannot be undone.
The dustbins of history are full of grievances. Dwelling on them doesn’t get you anywhere.
The Dr. Martin Luther King understood. But his days of dreaming of an American where “all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning. ‘My country, ’tis of thee, great land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim ‘s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring” now seem like ancient history.
Today there would be those protesting the mention of God (too Christian), the land of liberty (only rich enjoy it); pilgrim’s pride (oppressors), and probably even the ringing (noise pollution).
This is a fractured nation full of people looking to find ways they or their tribe have been wronged.
Blame all around
The Economist points the finger of blame for today’s bitter, angry, often-ugly partisanship at ” leaders on the right, in particular, who exploit the insecurity engendered by immigration as a way of whipping up support. And they use smug left-wing arguments about political correctness to feed their voters’ sense of being looked down on. The result is polarisation.”
Pointing to the right is an easy thing to do given the demeanor of the man in The White House. But the reality is that both the exploitation and promotion of insecurities has been a two-way street down which leaders on both the left and right in this country have driven their herds.
They can’t seem to help themselves. The response to Trump has to become Trump like.
In war, there is merit to the “Don’t retreat, reload” advice of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wrote the playbook for Trump’s ascendancy. But as this country learned in Vietnam and the Russians learned in Afghanistan and the U.S. learned yet again in Iraq, peacemaking is in many ways more difficult than making war.
Winning war is at some level easy: Apply overwhelming force at the enemy’s weakest point and then kill them like they’re cockroaches.
Winning the peace is not so easy. That requires building alliances. That requires people talking to each other – not at each other. That requires people putting aside their personal grievances to work toward greater shared success. And it requires politicians engaging the populace at its level, something for which Trump – a rich, white guy – gets too little credit.
He connects with a lot of working-class Americans. As for the liberal class in this country, as well as globallyThe Economist pretty well tags the beast:
“The ruling class live in a bubble. They go to the same colleges, marry each other, live in the same streets and work in the same offices. Remote from power, most people are expected to be content with growing material prosperity instead. Yet, amid stagnating productivity and the fiscal austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2008, even this promise has often been broken.
“That is one reason loyalty to mainstream parties is corroding. Britain’s Conservatives, perhaps the most successful party in history, now raise more money from the wills of dead people than they do from the gifts of the living. In the first election in unified Germany, in 1990, the traditional parties won over 80 percent of the vote; the latest poll gives them just 45 percent, compared with a total of 41.5 percent for the far right, the far left and the Greens….
“It is the moment for a liberal reinvention. Liberals need to spend less time dismissing their critics as fools and bigots and more fixing what is wrong. The true spirit of liberalism is not self-preserving, but radical and disruptive. The Economist was founded to campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws, which charged duties on imports of grain into Victorian Britain. Today that sounds comically small-bore. But in the 1840s, 60% of the income of factory workers went on food, a third of that on bread. We were created to take the part of the poor against the corn-cultivating gentry. Today, in that same vision, liberals need to side with a struggling precariat against the patricians.”
But can they? It is a lot easier to call your political opponents names than to try to refute wrongheadedness with reason and logic, or subdue your anger to try to find common ground.