Monday, May 21, 2018

Identity Politics Threatens the American Experiment - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Increasingly we sort each other into groups, making sweeping assumptions based on binary labels. 

By  Orrin Hatch, May 18, 2018 5:49 p.m. ET

Kanye West, ever the iconoclast, set social media ablaze last month when he donned a red “Make America Great Again” hat in support of President Trump. Whether a genuine expression of political belief or a publicity stunt, Mr. West’s selfie sparked a much-needed discussion on the role of identity in politics.
At the heart of Mr. West’s message is the idea that all of us—no matter our race, religion or background—have the right to be more than one thing. It’s a message that resonates with millions of Americans who refuse to conform to stereotypes—me included.
I grew up in poverty during the Great Depression, the son of blue-collar parents who passionately defended Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. As a young man, I followed my father into the steelworking trade, where I became a card-carrying member of a labor union. When I was elected to the Senate decades later, I became best friends with Teddy Kennedy, the chamber’s liberal lion. Today, I am, among other things, an advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana research and a strong proponent of transgender rights in the military.
Identity Politics Threatens the American Experiment
I am also a Republican.
In fact, I am a lifelong Republican with impeccable conservative credentials, including multiple honors from the Heritage Foundation and an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. My record on fiscal policy is so strong that President Reagan dubbed me “Mr. Balanced Budget.” I was the architect of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a key player in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and the principal author of the tax-reform bill that passed Congress in December.
All of which is to say that I can be more than one thing. I can be the son of working-class parents and also a pro-business Republican. I can be a bipartisan deal maker and also a consistent conservative. I can be an ally to the transgender community and also a committed Christian. As much as my critics would like to pigeonhole me—dismissing more than eight decades of accrued wisdom and life experience based solely on the “R” that follows my name—I can’t be reduced to a party platform.
I am more than the sum of my parts, and so is every American. Yet increasingly we sort each other into groups, making sweeping assumptions based on binary labels: Democrat or Republican, black or white, male or female. These labels are mere pixels in the picture of an individual’s identity; they are not the picture itself. No word—no matter how descriptive—could ever distill all the nuance and complexity that is a single human being.
Our tendency to use labels to box each other in is indicative of a much larger societal problem: the unleashing of identity politics. Identity politics is tribalism by another name. It is the deliberate and often unnatural segregation of people into categories for political gain. Under this cynical program, the identity of the group subsumes the identity of the individual, allowing little room for independence, self-realization or free thought.
Some play down the dangers of this practice, but identity politics is a blight on our democracy. It feeds fear, division, acrimony and anger. Worse, identity politics is inimical to the very idea of what it means to be American.
For more than two centuries, we have been able to weave together the disparate threads of a diverse society more successfully than any nation on earth. How? Through the unifying power of the American idea that all of us—regardless of color, class or creed—are equal, and that we can work together to build a more perfect union. It’s the idea that our dignity comes not from the groups to which we belong but from our inherent worth as individuals—as children of the same God and partakers of the same human condition.
Identity politics turns the American idea on its head. Rather than looking beyond arbitrary differences in color, class and creed, identity politics separates us along these lines. It puts the demands of the collective before the sovereignty of the individual. In doing so, identity politics conditions us to define ourselves and each other by the groups to which we belong. Soon, we lose sight of the myriad values that unite us. We come to see each other only through the distorted prism of our differences. Where identity politics reigns, so, too, do its regents: polarization, gridlock and groupthink.
Identity politics is cancer on our political culture. If we allow it to metastasize, civility will cease, our national community will crumble, and the U.S. will become a divided country of ideological ghettos.
To save the American experiment, we must reject the tribalism of our time. Both on the left and right, we must renounce identity politics in every form. We must resist the temptation to use labels, and we must allow each other room to be more than one thing.
Ideas—not identity—should be the driving force of our politics. By restoring the primacy of ideas to public discourse, we can foster an environment that will allow democracy to thrive, an environment of free thought and open deliberation unconstrained by the excesses of political correctness.
If we let any identity define us going forward, it should be our common identity as Americans, as men and women steadfastly committed to upholding the virtues of liberty and independence upon which our nation was founded. It’s the only way to preserve the American experiment for future generations.
Mr. Hatch, a Utah Republican, is president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The demise of the white majority is a myth - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

[JB note: My understanding of the Census projections for the "racial" composition of the USA is that by the mid-2000s the "white" population would not longer be a majority, but a plurality. But a former majority turned plurality is not a "minority," as the article suggests  -- see first paragraph ...]

Dowell Myers and Morris Levy,

Image from article, with caption: Meghan Markle, engaged to Britain’s Prince Harry, with her mother, Doria Ragland.

Dowell Myers is a professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Morris Levy is a professor in the Department of Political Science at USC.

The tale of the coming white minority has roiled American politics. A recent political science study shows that white anxiety over lost status tipped the last election to Donald Trump, and Democratic Party leaders are banking on changing demography for a brighter destiny.

But rumors of white America’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. That’s because the prevailing definition of whiteness is stubbornly stuck in the past.

It was 2000 when the Census Bureau first projected an end to the white majority of the population in 2059. Four years later, it revised that date to 2050. Then in 2008, it told the public that the passing of the white majority would occur in 2042. At this abrupt rate of change, some anxious whites might see displacement as an imminent threat.

In fact, the Census Bureau projects no fewer than six futures for the white population based on various definitions of whiteness. The most touted set of projections adopts the most exclusive definition, restricting the white population to those who self-identify as white and also no other race or ethnicity. Under this definition, whites are indeed in numerical decline.

But this doesn’t reflect the increasingly fluid and inclusive way that many Americans now regard racial and ethnic backgrounds. Mixed-race parentage is growing more common, and a rapidly growing number of people choose more than one racial or ethnic category to describe themselves on the census.

For example, Meghan Markle — American actress and new member of the British royal family — has a white father and black mother, so she identifies as someone from both races. Under the older, exclusive definition of race — resembling the historical “one-drop” rule — Markle and her children can never be classified as white. Same goes for the offspring of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former Florida Republican governor Jeb Bush.

Under a more expansive definition that counts as white anyone who so identifies (even if they also identify with another race or ethnicity), the white population is not declining; it’s flourishing. The Census Bureau’s inclusive projections show a white population in excess of 70 percent of the total for the foreseeable future.

How, then, do whites of both parties feel about these different stories of the future? A recent study that we co-authored shows that more inclusive definitions for whiteness could significantly diminish anxiety among white Americans about displacement.

Our study is based on a survey experiment on a sample of 2,600 non-Hispanic whites in July 2016, when Trump was consolidating Republican support. Our respondents were randomly assigned to read one of two simulated news stories that reported the bureau’s 2015 race projections. The first mimicked the conventional narrative about the decline of non-Hispanic whites. The second detailed the growth of Hispanic and Asian American populations, but it also mentioned the rise of intermarriage and reported the Census Bureau’s alternative projection of a more diverse white majority persisting the rest of the century.

When asked how the story they read made them feel — angry, anxious, hopeful or enthusiastic — results were clear-cut. Forty-six percent of white Democrats and a whopping 74 percent of Republicans expressed anger or anxiety when reading about the impending white-minority status.

But these negative emotions were far less frequent when participants read the second story about a more inclusive white majority. Only 35 percent of white Democrats and 29 percent of white Republicans expressed anger or anxiousness about this scenario.

The results imply that nearly a quarter of the Democrats and two-thirds of the Republicans who might be agitated about the imminent-white-minority narrative also have positive feelings about a more inclusive and enduring white majority.

Projections of racial demographics should reflect the great changes in the meaning of race in America. But stories about the impending demise of white America are rooted in outmoded notions of racial exclusivity. These stories of white decline obscure the ongoing changes to America’s color line, and they serve only to divide. Fortunately, the white American public seems far more content with the more inclusive future that is actually destined to emerge.

Think Things Look Bad in This Country Right Now? We’ve Been Here Before, Jon Meacham Says - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

By Tina Jordan, New York Times

May 18, 2018

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE As discord and bickering roil the country, Americans clearly want to read about what’s going on: Five of the top 10 books on the nonfiction list address our current political climate in some way. Jon Meacham — whose “The Soul of America” debuts at No. 1 — points out that we’ve been here before. Political strife and division, particularly of the poisonous variety, are in some ways the rule in American life rather than the exception,” he says.

Jon Meacham image from article

Despite the current atmosphere, Meacham, a journalist and presidential historian, remains optimistic. “If history is any guide — and, however imperfect, it’s the only guide we have — then the right number of Americans at the right time will decide to heed what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ and realize that we’ve been happiest and strongest in the hours when we have most generously interpreted the Jeffersonian assertion that we’re all created equal,” he says. “This isn’t sentimental or hokey: It’s the fact of the matter of the American experience. I’m not saying, ‘Relax, everything will be fine.’ My argument is ‘Let’s get to work and perhaps we will survive as we’ve survived before.’”

His book is a call to action. “Let’s learn the lessons of the past: Resist tribalism, deploy reason and remember that fair play for others is the best way to ensure fair play for you. If we can do that, then we’ll rise above the corrosive tweets, the presidential bullying and the narcissism of our reality-TV president,” he says. “It feels dark and insuperable, but it’s felt that way before.”

New York Times Review of the book by John McCain, "The Restless Wave" -- Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Excerpts from a review by Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times, of the newest book by John McCain, “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations” :

“We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself,” he [McCain] writes. “We are blessed, and in turn, we have been a blessing to humanity.”...

Assigning a special nobility to his country’s role abroad, even (or especially) now, is a way for McCain to keep believing that Americans are ultimately united, instead of terribly divided. Domestic politics are too disappointing, too grinding, too inglorious. “The Restless Wave” is a wistful book; McCain wants to rally Americans around helping an imperiled world, rather than accept that the call might be coming from inside the house. 

John Kelly’s Ancestors Wouldn’t Have Fit In Either - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Viet Thanh Nguyen, New York Times; original article contains links

image from article
I had forgotten that memory of my mother, sitting by herself, reading aloud from a church newsletter. It was the only way she could read, having had only a grade school education. As an American teenager fluent in English, I felt pity for her, and perhaps a bit of shame.

The memory came back to me on learning of the White House chief of staff John Kelly’s words about undocumented immigrants coming from south of the border, whom he described as people who would not “easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.”

“They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English,” Mr. Kelly said. “They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”

Mr. Kelly feels sympathy for these people, some of whom are like my mother, born into a rural background [in Viet-Nam]. But Mr. Kelly — like President Trump, who last week called certain undocumented immigrants “animals” — cannot empathize with them. His inability to see or feel the world as they do is shared by many Americans. ...

What some of us also forget is that at nearly every stage of our country’s history, the people who were already established as American citizens found convenient targets to designate as unable to assimilate: the indigenous peoples; conquered Mexicans; slaves; or the newest immigrants, who were usually classified as nonwhite.

In 1751, even before the country was founded, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind.” He favored “the English” and “white people,” and did not want Pennsylvania to become a “colony of aliens,” who “will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.” He was speaking of the Germans.

German-Americans [see also] are now “white,” which is partly a color, partly a state of mind and partly a matter of perception. The eventual whiteness of German-Americans saved them from being thrown en masse into internment camps during World War II, unlike Japanese-Americans. With historical lessons like that, it’s no surprise that some Vietnamese-Americans desire to put their refugee past behind them, including the memory of how only 36 percent of Americans wanted to accept Vietnamese refugees in 1975. ...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed: Note for a discussion, " Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Andrew Sullivan,

image (not from article) from
More profoundly, Trump has managed to shift our cultural politics. He has baited the left to occupying new territory, thereby cementing his triumph. What drives Trump is racial essentialism, a rage at the post-racial, integrative center that the mixed-race Obama represented. Nils Gilman has an insightful piece on this in The American Interest. He sees — rightly, I think — the 2008 Jeremiah Wright speech, “A More Perfect Union,” as the high-water mark of racial liberalism after the civil-rights era:

Obama began his speech by noting the “nation’s original sin of slavery,” but declared that the aim of his campaign was to continue “the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.” Although “we may have different stories, we hold common hopes,” Obama averred. “We may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place,” he continued, “but we all want to move in the same direction.” That there might exist people in this country who desire very different things from a racial perspective was out of the question; instead, Obama observed everywhere “how hungry the American people were for this message of unity.”

Nothing could be further from the left’s current vision, which is that the very concept of post-racial integration is an illusion designed to mask the reality of an eternal “white supremacy.” Today’s left-liberal consensus is that Obama, however revered he may still be as president, was and is absurdly na├»ve in this respect: that there is no recovery from the original sin, no possible redemption, and certainly no space for the concept of an individual citizenship that transcends race and can unite Americans. There is no freedom here. There is just oppression. The question is merely about who oppresses whom. ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

‘Unlikely General’ Review: He Opened the Way West - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

In 1777, things were not looking good for American independence. People were calling it the year of the hangman, for the number 7’s resemblance to the gallows from which they were sure Revolutionary leaders soon would swing. In the fall, the Continental Army abandoned Philadelphia. Encamped 20 miles north of the city, George Washington had his mood improved by the optimistic young Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne. According to Wayne, the skirmishes with the British had not been losses so much as valuable lessons. He told his commander that “total defeat” of the British was imminent.
As Mary Stockwell shows in her fine biography of Wayne, these dark days forged a bond between the generals that Washington would remember 15 years later, when he was the first president of a nation whose survival was still uncertain. In 1792 as in 1777, he believed Wayne, and through him America, could succeed despite the odds.
By 1792, Washington had sent two armies west against the Ohio Valley Indian Confederacy, which included Shawnees, Delawares, Ottawas and Potawatomis. The Indian Confederacy had trounced both armies, with shocking casualties: 1,000 Americans dead or wounded in one battle. Free land in the west had been one of the demands of the Revolution, and Washington had promised that as president he would open the Ohio Valley to American settlement. Instead, the Indian Confederacy was growing, armed by Britain and Spain, which both had forts and troops along the border.
As Ms. Stockwell explains, “The nation that Washington had spent so much of his life building” was ready to “die on the vine, bottled up along the Atlantic, surrounded by hostile tribes and nations.” Because of the Ohio Valley defeats, Washington was under Congressional investigation. There would have to be another, bigger force raised, armed, trained and sent west. In a nation without a standing army, where frontier violence and the recent losses had left potential recruits with “a paralyzing fear of the Indians,” the task was daunting. As Washington considered who should command this vital expedition, he realized his only choice was Anthony Wayne.
A bronze relief of Anthony Wayne on the Wayne County building in Detroit, Mich.
A bronze relief of Anthony Wayne on the Wayne County building in Detroit, Mich. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
‘Unlikely General’ Review: He Opened the Way West


By Mary Stockwell
Yale, 363 pages, $35
In many ways, Wayne was Washington’s opposite. His quick temper and rash decision-making had earned him the nickname “Mad Anthony.” He drank to excess, cheated on his wife, and was prone to depression. By 1792 he was hobbled with gout, recurring malaria and a lead ball in his leg from the Yorktown campaign. He had also been accused of rigging two elections: Deep in debt, he had tried to sell his family estate in Pennsylvania out from under his wife and children and had run for Congress in part because elected officials were immune from debt prosecution. But Wayne was loyal to Washington and his country, and the aging general agreed to “wrap his swollen legs and arms in flannel, pack up his best brandy and Madeira and his writing table, and head west to Ohio.”
Ms. Stockwell’s main story line follows Wayne west in the 1790s as he recruits and trains an army and faces the Ohio Valley Indian Confederacy. Along the way, she deftly uses flashbacks to tell the larger story of Wayne’s life. When Wayne hears of the death of his wife, Mary (Polly) Penrose Wayne, while on the campaign, Ms. Stockwell takes us back to their courtship and Wayne’s failures as a husband. She paints a poignant picture of Polly’s gradual transformation from a wife who wrote (in vain) urging her husband to visit when he was encamped only 20 miles from home, to a more independent woman who wrote him only terse occasional reports. 
In a weaker writer’s hands, these flashbacks might be distracting or confusing, but Ms. Stockwell’s careful structure and clear, driving prose builds suspense and connects the Revolution to the 1790s. When Wayne arrives at Pittsburgh as a “General without troops,” we flash back to a more hopeful time, the frenzied opening months of the Revolution, in which young Wayne wrote broadsides, gave speeches about “American liberty” and was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly (with no charges of election tampering).
By the time he was building an army from scratch in the Ohio Valley a decade after the Revolution, Wayne was no longer surprised at insufficient uniforms, shoes, food, muskets and powder. He was disappointed, though, to discover that most Americans on the frontier suspected he would either lead them to their deaths at the hands of Indians or tax their whiskey. Nonetheless, Wayne’s combination of boldness and skill were required in the current crisis, and he did what Washington had asked of him: He taught his men to steel themselves against surprise attack, through practice and by making them “as afraid of him as they were of the Indians.”
Ms. Stockwell, former chair of history at Ohio’s Lourdes University, is so skilled at understanding and conveying her subject’s perspective that—as often happens to a biographer— she becomes overly persuaded by it. Part of the problem is that she relies almost exclusively on primary sources written by Wayne and his comrades, and the histories she cites are mostly decades old. Because Ms. Stockwell relies entirely on Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s memoirs for an event in which Wayne ordered the killing of a group of Creek Indians, she writes only that Wayne decided on a “death sentence for the prisoners.” In fact, the British and Creeks believed Wayne had murdered a parlay party, violating the rules of warfare. Similarly, Ms. Stockwell claims that, after Wayne’s military and diplomatic victories, the defeated Indians “now admired him” as “a hero” and contentedly “returned to their villages,” where “corn was again planted in patches of sunlight in the forest and along the bottomlands.” This bucolic version seems to merely be Wayne’s wishful thinking.
Still, Anthony Wayne’s perspective is a fascinating and valuable one—a window into the trials of Revolution and independence that did not cease as the new country sought to gain its footing at home and abroad. Both Wayne and Washington kept working to, as Ms. Stockwell puts it, “truly secure the Revolution” throughout their lives.
Ms. DuVal, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of “Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution.”
Appeared in the May 16, 2018, print edition as 'He Opened The Way West.'