American Greatness Means an End to Identity Politics

By | 2017-05-19T22:25:55+00:00 May 15th, 2017|
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Liberal commentators like to interpret Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” as code for a racist agenda. One day on MSNBC during the campaign, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson put it neatly,

 . . . whiteness and nation are seen to be indissolubly linked. And, as a result of that, you don’t have to talk about whiteness. All you have to do is talk about making America great again. Black people hear those code words, and they understand what they mean.

 So, in other words, people responding to the call to greatness hope to see separate drinking fountains once more. The more than 60 million citizens who voted for Trump don’t say that openly, of course, but the liberals one encounters in academia and media claim a remarkable ability to divine the hidden motives of non-liberals.

 But this isn’t a special perception that enlightened people on the Left possess. It is blindness to the very American greatness that people on the Right revere. That greatness has nothing to do with racism. It is a roster of words and deeds, geography and facts, that inspire Americans to take pride in their homeland. 

 The legacy is vast and diverse:

  •  Ben Franklin arriving in Philadelphia, a teenage runaway, broke and ragged, with no advantage but his own wits and work ethic.
  •  Emily Dickinson up in her room late, a candle burning as she writes,

 I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you ― Nobody ― too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! They’d advertise — you know!

  • Frederick Douglass rising up against the sadistic overseer Mr. Covey, beginning the account later with the words, “You have seen how a man was made a slave, you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
  •  The 25,000 women who applied to become Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II, 38 of whom died in action.
  •  The 3,500 libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie and placed around the country to give every American youth the opportunity to read and advance.
  •  UCLA basketball coach John Wooden beginning each season by showing players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes.
  •  The Cumberland Gap and the Oregon Trail, Route 1 and the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Bodie, and Tombstone . . .
  •  Monticello, the Rose Bowl, the Empire State Building, Falling Water, Dulles Airport . . .
  •  “give me liberty, or give me death!” “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” “I have a dream . . .”

The list goes on, but the liberalism of our day doesn’t honor these greatnesses, not unless they can be tinged with identity politics. Feminists, multiculturalists, and globalists have turned the American heritage into a dubious past that is to be overcome by a progressive present.  

The lesson of Donald Trump’s victory is that they haven’t succeeded in abolishing the faith. Ben Franklin’s life is too remarkable to be swamped by the fact that he lived in a society that didn’t allow everyone equal rights. The story of the American West includes the displacement of Native Americans, but the displacement doesn’t cancel the epic scope of the story. Greatness may be mixed with complications without losing its status. We don’t lose our appreciation for what Martin Luther King, Jr. did when we hear lesser details of his personal life.

The lesson of Donald Trump’s victory is that they haven’t succeeded in abolishing the faith.

Many Americans are tired of the cynicism and blaming. They have heard their country and its heroes disparaged too many times, as when UCLA Professor Gary Nash, head of the National History Standards Project, told NBC News that the first thing youths should learn about George Washington is that he emerged out of a slaveholding society. No wonder high schoolers score so poorly on U.S. history tests. If you cannot love a thing you can have no sense of wonder about it. 

And if liberals really believe these things, it helps explain why thousands packed into Donald Trump’s campaign events and had a rollicking time. For once, it seemed to them, they might escape the shadow of political correctness and take pride in the American heritage. For eight years, they had listened to a leader who couldn’t speak of his country without an undercurrent of resentment and to a First Lady who famously said after her husband won a 2008 primary, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” 

To face a new leader with unquestioned love of country and sharp sense of heroism was exhilarating. People don’t want to be scolded for their patriotism. They want to find in the past materials of inspiration. Until liberals figure out that the rehearsal of sins is no basis for civic unity, the polarization we see today will only get worse.

About the Author:

Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein is Senior Editor at First Things and Professor of English at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his PhD in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-05) he served as Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy (1997), The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief (1997), and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2008). His essays have appeared in PMLA, Partisan Review, Wilson Quarterly, Commentary, and New Criterion, and his commentaries and reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Weekly Standard, The Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national periodicals.
  • tz1

    Identity politics can only end when all sides stop, and I don’t expect the left to end any time soon. The Democrat’s entire strategy is “identity politics”.
    To not fight the war that is actually out there is to preemptively surrender.

    War only requires one side to want it for it to occur. The (alt-)right is finally fighting the war.
    Spout the platitudes if you want but it is irrelevant until those who depend on identity politics are defeated and surrender.

  • VXXC2014

    This would be nice.
    It’s too late and it must run it’s course.
    We showed too weak for too long and now we must show strong, hard, ruthless.
    There will be no surrender on identity politics only a victor.

  • Nuther G. Mule

    Inspiring article, and one that will never be read by those who might have their eyes opened even a tiny bit to consider that the vehemence, arrogance and spittle at the corners of the mouths of the widely broadcast Left might be playing them for useful idiots. But then, who would show up at their mock (mocking) rallies? (Who has time to go to a freakin’ rally?)

    “Until liberals figure out that the rehearsal of sins is no basis for civic unity, the polarization we see today will only get worse.”

    Thel Left seeks no unity that is not bowed under its own hard boot. Get ready for worse.

  • Zexufang

    Great article. But that’s what happens when one political party is no longer interested in fighting.

    In the binary world of American politics – the Democrat Party mob uses its guns and has iron will.
    That works. And it creates discipline.
    Whereas the effete Washington Republican Party leadership tools are what?
    Cooperation and preemptive political surrender?
    Pathetic.

    It is no contest.
    Once a city or state gets controlled by the Democrat Party, they don’t let go nor do they tolerate any rivals.
    Think Chicago, California, or New York.

    Imagine, then, what a permanent Democrat Party would and could do in Washington.

    That is all.

  • acidulous

    “Until
    liberals figure out that the rehearsal of sins is no basis for civic
    unity, the polarization we see today will only get worse.”

    Until the right figures out the left knows exactly what it is doing and is aiming for polarization, things will only get worse.

  • Unfortunately, far too many Republicans want to get along with Democrats. Our goal must be to destroy them, politically and culturally. Republicans use Marquess of Queensberry rules, Democrats use nuclear weapons. Until this changes, as Mark says, it will only get worse.

    • The only way to maintain American greatness is for the country to be unified behind that common goal. When you assume the other side is acting out of malicious intent instead of out of a desire to improve the country, hyperpartisanship thrives. While we tear each other apart, other countries will rise to take the lead.
      I’m a liberal who is reading this article and many other conservative viewpoints daily in order to increase understanding. It’s hard at first, and it takes some time to curb automatic reactions of “you’re wrong! ” so that you can really listen, but it’s very eye opening. I recommend trying it! Also recommend reading “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” It’s enjoyed by both liberals and conservatives and goes far in explaining why it seems we can’t understand each other and why both sides are necessary for the survival of a nation.

      • Hi, Jackueline. Thanks for the note. It’s interesting about looking at the other side, as you suggest. We live in a culture where liberal ideas are the default in the dominant communications professions of media, entertainment, and education. A conservative doesn’t have to look far to hear liberal ideas about things. That may be changing with the ubiquity of the internet, though. But the it’s much more difficult for liberals to get the conservative take on things, than vice versa. I applaud your willingness to try. I will definitely check out the book. Sounds interesting.

        But this has been a fascinating time because it’s not only liberals that I find myself disagreeing with, but NeverTrumper conservatives. These are people I’ve read and listened to for decades, and now I don’t recognize them.

        One thought about “malicious intent.” Liberals have always congratulated themselves on their noble intentions, even though their policy results rarely live up to those intentions. And from being an engaged conservative for 35 years(!), conservatives have always tended to be willing to say liberals have good intentions. I’m afraid that doesn’t very often go the other way. I could give many examples, but in the 1990s Democrats and liberals accused Newt Gingrich of wanting to STARVE CHILDREN because he wanted to cut the RATE OF GROWTH of the school lunch program. Such accusations are a staple of Democrat/liberal talking points, and until that changes hyperpartisanship won’t.

  • ata777

    Sorry, but as long as progressives exist, American greatness will have to wait for the simplest of reasons: without identity politics, progressives would be powerless.

  • JamesDrouin

    “American Greatness Means an End to Identity Politics”

    Well, that’s “true” in every definition of the word, but the America-hating Democrats and Entitlement Monkeys aren’t going to agree or change their actions or philosophy.