We’re going to have to make this a regular column. My last post was about how conservative states’ rights/local solutions arguments suddenly evaporate when the aim of federal programs is to persecute minorities, rather than protect them.
But we’ve not plumbed the depths of conservative hypocrisy yet.
“Culture of failure”
If you’ve watched Fox News any time in the last 8 years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard that the only thing standing between minority communities and success is personal responsibility. Mitt Romney famously attributed the difference in economic success between Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims to “culture.” The UN emphatically disagrees. But the most popular place to apply this trope is unquestionably black communities in the US. Since racism is over, the success of black communities is in their own hands. And, by extension, if black communities don’t succeed, they have no one to blame but themselves. They could succeed if they could rid their communities and their lives of drugs, get and stay married and stay in school. You may also have heard about our black President’s failure as a leader to lecture young black men into successful careers as bow-tie-clad hedge fund managers. According to the Right, any discussion of racial disadvantage is unmanly excuse-making. Minorities should stop blaming anyone else for their problems, pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and get a job.
No scolding for the white kids?
But the discussion of white poverty and economic hardship looks very different. White Appalachian coal miners and factory workers really are victims, you see. They can’t be blamed for their increased drug use or suicide or the increasing failure of their marriages or their inability or unwillingness to relocate or retrain for new jobs. Obama’s failure with respect to them (to listen to right-wing media) was too little coddling. When unemployed factory workers blame their hardship on “Obama’s NAFTA” and vote for Trump, it’s not complaining or shirking their personal responsibility. It’s making America great again! Because the natural order of things is for policies like tariffs and subsidies to benefit white, native-born people as they have for generations. This heavy-handed tilting of the economic playing field in favor of white people is not a hand-out. It’s restoring the natural order. See?
This, ladies and gentlemen (and Bill O’Reilly), is what privilege looks like. When Parties and nations mobilize to solve your problems and whole governments are turned upside down out of fear of your electoral wrath, you’ve made it. All the brown folks are entitled to is a scolding from “their” President.
A better way
The Left should not fall into the trap of scolding and blaming rust-belt factory workers for the disaster President Trump is making of our country. They are victims of a system they could not control. And I, for one, do not envy their position. Instead, progressives should be inviting these victims of capitalism back into the Party fighting for a gentler economic system. And we can do so without amplifying their dangerous jingoist streak. In the past, we have been able to have a nuanced discussion of the connections between poverty and irresponsible behavior and we know the importance of digging to find the systemic causes of poverty. This is our chance to show the world the that love sees no color and that whether you’re a victim of driving while black or black lung disease, we’ve got your back.