A Strawman Appropriately Repurposed
Ross Douthat finds the “smug style of American liberalism” guff news he can use:
THE rise of Donald Trump, and with him a white-identity politics more explicit than anything America has seen in decades, has created an interesting division on the political left — over the question of what, if anything, liberal politics ought to offer to people who seem bigoted.
On the one hand there are liberals determined to regard Trumpism as almost exclusively motivated by racial and cultural resentments, with few legitimate economic grievances complicating the morality play. From this perspective, the fact that Trump’s G.O.P. has finally consolidated, say, a once-Democratic area like Appalachia is almost a welcome relief: At last all the white racists are safely in the other party, and we don’t have to cater to them anymore.
On the other hand, there are left-wingers who regard Trump’s support among erstwhile Democrats as a sign that liberalism has badly failed some of its natural constituents, and who fear that a Democratic coalition that easily crushes Trump without much white working-class support will simply write off their struggles as no more than the backward and bigoted deserve.
I like how the left-wing gadfly Fredrik deBoer framed this issue: “What do you owe to people who are guilty of being wrong?” It’s a question for liberals all across the Western world to ponder, given the widening gulf between their increasingly cosmopolitan parties and an increasingly right-leaning native working class.
He definitely gets where deBoer and Rensin are coming from. And between the three of them, they have collectively identified zero liberals who share the set of beliefs (“white working class Trump voters have no legitimate economic grievances and we should not try to help them materially”) attributed to them.
I won’t repeat my previous arguments about this in full, but to summarize: nobody (well, not literally, it’s a big internet and I’m sure someone in a comments section somewhere is saying something dumb, not nobody of any influence) is saying that because racism a major factor in Trump’s support that federal economic policy should not try to help Trump voters. The argument is against the pundit’s fallacy that if you materially help the kind of working class voters in states like West Virginia that now support Trump and Republicans for federal office they will immediately start voting for liberal Democrats for federal office. But, of course, the fact that (for example) greatly expanding Medicaid hasn’t helped Democrats even in the red states that have taken the expansion like Kentucky doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and I defy you to name me one liberal Democrat who thinks otherwise.
In addition, although people like Rensin and deBoer can’t see it because this is more about their hatred of liberals than any kind of serious political analysis, the fact that white supremacy constitutes a factor (not a monocausal factor, but a factor) in explaining white working class support for Trump is also a powerful argument against 90s-era DLC gestures to the right, which didn’t stop West Virginia and Kentucky and Tennessee from going deep red either. To the best of their ability, Democrats in federal office should strengthen the safety net and expand access to health care and expand labor protections and increase regulation of business where necessary because it’s the right thing to do. Doing so doesn’t guarantee electoral victories, but not doing it doesn’t guarantee electoral success either.
One other example in the liberals=neoliberals=conservatives trend that I hope will not persist in the same volume after the primaries are over:
serious tweet: this is a simplistic and aggressively neoliberal understanding of racism. https://t.co/Sq9D4Zd38z
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 16, 2016
As Bouie says, it’s an impressively layered strawman — pretend to believe that racism is about individual morality rather than structural inequality, so that you can falsely attribute to left-liberals a belief that if working class voters have racist beliefs the government shouldn’t do anything for them. As an alternative, one could argue with actually existing liberal arguments, but I guess that would be too much work.