Since the election, some fatalistic Washington conservative elites have accepted — and Obama operatives have rejoiced in — a supposedly new and non-white-male ethnic electorate: Americans will be categorized, and collectively so, on the basis of largely how they look and, to a lesser extent, how they sound. Republicans, then, better get with the new tribalism and remarket themselves to address the new minority monolith.
Accordingly, the enlightened and redeemable liberal elements of the otherwise now played-out old white majority, when combined with the new ethnic minorities, will result in a permanent progressive majority — one that rejects the archaic, if not toxic, racialist values that have been in the past so injurious to the idea of what the United States might have otherwise become. Just imagine a better world with no more required reading of white male Greeks, no more inordinate focus on Shakespeare’s Shylock, no need to suffer through Twain’s N-word or Tolkien’s stereotypical dark-skinned orcs — or indeed, the one-dimensional and boring world we inherited from a Jefferson, Madison, Melville, Lincoln, Grant, Edison, Bell, TR, Salk, Nimitz, and Ike.
You Are a Nobody without Your Tribe
Yet the new emphasis on tribe is not necessarily a liberal vision. It ignores all human individuality and assumes that friendships, marriages, and alliances will not dare trump racial and ethic solidarity. Ours is now instead a Galadriel’s mirror of the Balkans, of India’s castes, of Rwanda, but no longer of a multiracial melting-pot America, where our allegiances were to be political, economic, and cultural and not necessarily synonymous with how we looked. Obama’s identity politics would create a Frankenstein of patched-together victims, and yet he will rue that it is a different story to use such a creature for constructive purposes. Such monsters are quite valuable when running for office, but can turn on their masters when it is time to govern.
When I eat lunch with a Mexican-American childhood friend, I feel no greater affinity with the white waitress by reason of our shared appearance; in the new America am I to high-five the white stranger in the Selma Wal-Mart, by virtue that, out of hundreds there, we two alone look more alike? I am sorry; I just cannot accept that. I have far more in common with Steve Lara, my friend of 50 years, than a David Gergen or Chris Matthews.
Beneath all the pseudo-healing rhetoric, this is the divisive tool by which Barack Obama ran twice — the hyphenated African-, Latino-, gay-American re-election committees for Obama, the son who might have looked like Trayvon Martin, the people of color who had “the president’s back,” the nation of cowards, the country where we punish our ethnic enemies and fight against the police who all stereotype, in which Joseph Lowery tells us what particular race belongs in hell and Rev. Wright identifies whose chickens must come home to roost and the Rev. Jesse Jackson names the real segregationists who long for the Confederacy. Only in the hyper-racialist America can we take quite distinct Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Chinese third-generation citizens and create from them the artificial rubric “Asian” in their shared antithesis to “white,” or take disparate Cubans and Mexicans and likewise reinvent them as identical Latinos, or take Jamaicans, Ethiopians, and American blacks and call them all “African-Americans” on the similar logic of not being something equally artificial like white — which I guess covers Americans who used to be Greeks, Irish, Armenians, Jews, Poles, and Danes.