Saturday, June 30, 2018

Racism is a Productive Ideology

The other day, Ezra Klein tweeted this:
He's right. And, though Ezra doesn't come out and say this, the reason the GOP got these victories is because of racism. And xenophobia and Islamophobia and misogyny and all of their other cousins.

That's important to remember. Not in a "these victories are tainted" sort of way, though that's true. It's important to remember because it emphasizes something important about racism. To wit:

Racism is a productive ideology.

It builds things. It makes things happen. It motivates voters, it lubricates alliances, it stirs up passions.  There are times where one can't do certain things one would very much like to do unless one is willing to harness a bit of racism.

That's why standing up to racism requires real moral fiber. Not just because racism is "wrong". But because standing up to racism, in practice, means not availing yourself of certain opportunities and benefits that one greatly desires and which are in your grasp if only you agree to play with some racism.

It's no great thing to oppose racism when it's hurting you. It's not even that difficult to oppose it when it's only hurting others. But it takes real strength to know for a fact that opposing racism will cost you -- will mean losing elections you might otherwise win, will mean that the other party might get a Supreme Court seat that you'd otherwise appoint, will mean that your cherished tax policy won't see the light of day in Congress -- and nonetheless say "no." It's so easy to console yourself with the fact that you "don't like it", that politics "is about making compromises", and that the ends justify the means. Racism flourishes in America because of what it can produce. For it to be rooted out, politicians and leaders must be willing to draw a line and decline its bounty.

That was the test facing the Republican Party over the past few years. Because it's true: had they fought -- really fought -- Donald Trump, they wouldn't be the ones picking this Supreme Court Justice. They wouldn't be in a position to finally overturn Roe. They wouldn't be steering ship on tax policy. They wouldn't be in charge of immigration regulations. They wouldn't be able to purge voters in Ohio or gerrymander to hell and back in Wisconsin. The racist tides Donald Trump tapped into are what put all these things in Republican hands.

It is a test, to turn away from those things. And it is one Republicans failed, abjectly and utterly. They decided that tax cuts and Supreme Court seats were more important. They could not resist the bounty racism could provide for them.

I have no doubt that liberals will face their own form of this test at one point or another. Racism is not just productive for conservatives, and we delude ourselves if we think it is partisan in that way.

But right now, the test was handed to Republicans. And their failure -- their near-complete abdication of responsibility, in fact -- is why they lack the moral character to lead our nation. All of them -- from Paul Ryan to John Roberts to Anthony Kennedy to Mitch McConnell to Marco Rubio to Susan Collins -- faced a moment of moral challenge and completely, utterly, entirely crumbled. They are weak. They are failures. They are profiles in moral cowardice.

That is how they should be remembered. History is faint vindication, but it is what we have. And at the end of the day, they have nobody but themselves to blame for their legacies.


Ed said...

As one of your conservative (although not Trump-voting) lurkers, I'm curious whether you would take your argument here to what seems to be its logical conclusion, namely, that the Democratic party, from the 1860's to the 1960's, stands condemned by the same logic by which you condemn the current Republican party. This would be especially true of Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Democratic acquiescence in Jim Crow--the price of Southern support--enabled the Great Society and the New Deal (I think Garry Wills called this FDR's "deal with the devil.") And this was when racism was vastly worse than it is now. Trump's ugliness, however bad, is not remotely akin to what went on in the 1930's South, and his Supreme Court picks, however awful in your view, are not likely to include a former member of the KKK (FDR's first Court pick). Do you believe Wilson and FDR are condemned by your argument along with Ryan and McConnell, i.e, acquiescing in racism for the sake of cherished policy goals in other areas? If not, why not?

Ed said...

In the previous post I meant to say "New Freedom," (i.e. Wilson's program) rather than "Great Society."