We need some clarity over here: For decades, we liberals have been poorly served by our comedians. Also by our professors!
Earlier this year, a University of Missouri professor made the most embarrassing statement yet. "I need some muscle over here," she embarrassingly said.
Conservatives hear about statements like that. So do unaligned voters. In the process, they come to believe that we liberals are full of crap.
That professor said a dumb thing, but we were sorry to learn that she lost her job. Everybody makes mistakes. That's even true of Professor Dyson and his admirers.
Thus Sunday, Professor Dyson sounded off in the Sunday New York Times. He was on the front page of the Sunday Review. His headline said this:
"What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know About Black People"
For ourselves, we don't know what Donald J. Trump doesn't know about black people. We do know that the professor's headline didn't quite match his essay, which struck us as typically bumptious and unhelpful.
The professor emitted plenty of heat, but may have been a bit short on the light. "I need some clarity over here," one of the analysts said!
In fairness, the professor started by banging on Trump, but then he made a turn. He began to bang on "liberals and the white left" while quoting just one such person:
He quoted only Bernie Sanders. We'd have to say he almost made it sound like Bernie's as bad as Trump.
Is Bernie Sanders as bad as Trump? One way to give that impression is by quoting the former out of context. Also, by dishing some very strong snark. This is the passage in question:
PROFESSOR DYSON (12/18/16): The road ahead is not easy, primarily because Mr. Trump’s ignorance about race, his critical lack of nuance and learning about it, exists among liberals and the white left, too."Especially if those people were the white working class?" Thus spake Snarkathustra!
From the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders was prickly about race, uncomfortable with an outspoken, demanding blackness, resistant to letting go of his preference for discussing class over race. He made efforts to improve the way he spoke about the realities of racial discrimination. But Mr. Sanders seemed to remain at heart a man of the people, especially if those people were the white working class.
Since the election, Mr. Sanders has sounded an increasingly familiar theme among liberals that they should “go beyond identity politics.” He warned that “to think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient,” and that we need candidates “to be fighters for the working class and stand up to the corporate powers who have so much power over our economic lives.”
In a recent speech in California, Mr. Sanders said that it is “very easy for many Americans to say, I hate racism, I hate homophobia, I hate sexism,” but that “it is a little bit harder for people in the middle or upper middle class to say, maybe we do have to deal with the greed of Wall Street.”
This is a nifty bit of historical revisionism. For the longest time there was little consideration for diversity, even among liberal elites, much less the white middle and working classes. It seems more than a little reactionary to blame the loss of the election on a brand of identity politics that even liberals were slow to embrace.
Liberals need to tell our bumptious professors to stop shoveling pellets like that. White liberals need to come to terms with the fact that black professors can be just as full of hot air and bad judgment as their white counterparts have been.
The professor's typically bumptious work doesn't make much sense. Let's start with those last two paragraphs.
In that passage, the professor seems to say that Sanders was "blaming the loss of the election on a brand of identity politics." He seems to say that Sanders was making that claim in the statements he quoted.
Let's be clear. It's possible that "a brand of identity politics" did cost Clinton the election. It's virtually impossible to measure such things. It's possible that she would have won had she taken a different approach to something someone might want to describe that way.
That said, was Sanders making some such claim in those quoted statements? In the quoted statement about "identity politics," he was giving advice to a young woman who said she was thinking about running for office.
The professor quotes Sanders saying these things: “to think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient," because we need “to be fighters for the working class and stand up to the corporate powers who have so much power over our economic lives.” Why would a fiery black progressive want to argue with that? Is it OK to run on issues of gender and race while kissing the hems of Big Corporate Power?
How about what Sanders said in that "recent speech in California?" In that speech (click here), he seemed to be criticizing the values of upper-class Democratic leaders in Washington—people like Nancy Pelosi.
Why exactly would it be wrong to say that these people find it easy to reject racism, homophobia and sexism, but are less inclined “to deal with the greed of Wall Street?” The professor might not agree with that assessment. But why would it strike him, or anyone else, as an act of racial bad faith?
Once he's finished with all this crap, the professor moves in for the kill. This is the way he closes:
PROFESSOR DYSON: Now we hear again the cry that the neglected white working class is the future of American progressive politics. The tragedy is that much of the professed concern about the white working class is a cover for the interests of white elites who evoke working-class solidarity to combat racial, sexual and gender progress.New York Times readers, please! Who exactly has said "that the neglected white working class is the future of American progressive politics?"
Identity has always been at the heart of American culture. We must confront a truth that we have assiduously avoided: The most protected, cherished and nurtured identity of all has been white identity. After all, the needs of the black and brown working classes, which are not exclusively urban, are, again, even in progressive quarters, all but forgotten.
Mr. Trump, and to a degree, the liberals and progressives who advocate a vision of America that spurns identity politics, make one thing clear: The real unifying force in American political life is whiteness, no matter its party, gender, region or, at times, even its class.
Professor Dyson names no names as he dispatches this straw man. What grade would a professor give a student who assembled a case this way?
Is it true that "much of the professed concern about the white working class" is a cover for white elites who want to combat racial, sexual and gender progress? If so, would that mean that progressives can't show concern for that same white working class?
Isn't the white working class getting ripped off by the same interests who rip off the black working class and overpay people like Dyson? Why shouldn't a progressive of whatever race be concerned about that?
Professor Dyson tends to be full of the sound and fury. As you can see in the comments to his cry, we white liberals can't seem to discern this fact.
We liberals have been badly served by our professors down through the years. Key learning:
Black professors can sometimes be unclear and unhelpful too.
Two comments to Dyson's piece: Below, you see a comment about the professor's essay from a reader in DC. Then, you see a fascinating rebuttal to that first comment:
COMMENTER FROM DC: Professor Dyson seems to have made the correct judgment that Donald Trump has little sympathy or understanding for the needs and aspirations of black Americans...At the same time, Professor Dyson is wrong to castigate the Democratic Party's renewed recognition of the needs of white, working class Americans. There is no conflict between Democratic support for racial minorities and working class whites. Progressive economic policies and progressive stances on civil rights are both positions that increase opportunity. The Democratic Party is at its strongest when it champions both broad economic opportunity and the rights of racial, religious and LGBTQ minorities.Gallant says Democrats can, and should, champion issues involving race and class.
COMMENTER FROM FLORIDA: The Party may try to champion both positions, but as long as working class white identity includes a belief in the inherent privilege of their color, making them easily manipulated by racist (however coded) bombast, why would they join forces with those who are "different" from them?
They see the world as a vertical hierarchy and they are fighting for their place in it, an unassailably reserved seat for whites only. Upward mobility is a zero-sum game—the less others have, the more they have. This is reinforced by their most powerful communities (churches) and, more recently, by their access to a post-truth world of fake news and emotional propaganda. As a result, it remains unlikely that they will be able to objectively identify the real source of their economic woes. That's why they elected a con man who's not going to do anything for them, who's part of their problems: he validated their feelings and their problematic worldview.
The Democratic party you envision might become possible simply through shifting demographics and an intense effort to get out the vote, but it will not be without its problems, either—such as the anti-LGBT sentiment among some of the other groups.
If we as a species can't adapt out of tribalism—useful at one time—we'll probably drive ourselves to extinction one way or another—fire or ice.
Goofus takes a different tack. Right away, he issues sweeping generalizations about what Those People think, even about the way They all go to church. "Them" and "they" are his favorite words.
After issuing these denunciations, he says we need to stop being so tribal! In his familiar way of thinking, the propaganda-prone tribal types are all of course Them, Over There!