Ideas, Identities, and the Way Ahead

I both agree and disagree with Jedediah Purdy’s essay at Politico on the transition of the United States from Chesterton’s “country founded on a creed” to one in which warring racial, ethnic, and religious groups vie for power:

We all know the lived experience of the new American tribalism, both the outward-facing kind—us, the United States, versus them, the rest of the world or at least our chosen foes—and the inward-facing kind—the bubble neighborhoods, the fractured media, the rush of blood upon seeing bumper stickers for the other candidate. We know the sense that there is not even a common premise of fact in an argument over a new police shooting or the latest Trump tweet. There is a sense that maybe there is no way out of these foxholes, that this clash of tribes rules out even an imperfect common understanding or a partial overlap of common principles that might breed progress. At a bubble-neighborhood musical event recently, I stepped aside for a well-groomed, younger middle-aged guy whose shirt said, “I’VE BEEN TO THE FUTURE. WE WON.” At first, I kind of liked it. Then I wondered, what did WE do to them? What would they have done to us, if they had won instead? And who drew the lines?

I agree that it has happened and that saddens me. I disagree with his wholesale exoneration of the Obama Administration and with his prescription:

Solidarity is one idea that might help begin coming to terms with these conflicts. Trump used the word in his inaugural address—surprisingly, the first time a president had done so. In his mouth, it had a nationalist meaning, but historically speaking, it is a word for robust democracy—from the Polish workers’ movement of the same name that helped bring down the Soviet-backed communist state in the 1980s to the social democratic governments of Europe that built, for a few decades after World War II, the most egalitarian societies the modern world has seen. It evokes being in a shared struggle, lending a hand, understanding that people can flourish only with support from one another.

Coming together does not mean embracing Trump’s “many sides” framing. Some American inheritances, such as nostalgia for the Confederacy’s racist social order, are flatly incompatible with real solidarity, and must be fully repudiated. And like other values, such as liberty and equality, solidarity inevitably has left-leaning and right-leaning inflections that might seem at odds—more emphasis on public higher education, on the one hand, and respect for and identification with law enforcement on the other, for instance. But institutions such as unions, public schools and religious communities still connect people with very different partisan outlooks. The fight over repealing Obamacare, with its unexpected surge of rural conservatives recognizing their communities’ reliance on Medicaid, is a reminder that when institutions really do tie people together and serve their essential needs, those institutions are harder to shred by vilifying them or identifying them with the other tribe.

I see no room for solidarity other than in a totalitarian double plus good duck speak sort of way. Solidarity as long as you adhere rigidly to today’s orthodoxy which is certain to change tomorrow?

I don’t see the kind of loyalty to any of the institutions he names that existed a half century ago. Identity politics has killed it.

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