White male supremacy and 'the culture war'

White male supremacy and 'the culture war'
Bernie Sanders/Shutterstock
Election '20

Since the election of Donald Trump, many people on all ends of the political spectrum have misdiagnosed the fundamental nature of the rise of Trump, sought to blame the victims of the upsurge of fascist white supremacy that brought him to power, and strove to undercut the woman and minority led resistance of Trumpism in order to maintain the underlying social and cultural factors that enabled his rise. This is just the latest example of how “liberal” or “leftist” white men engage in this gaslighting in order to maintain these power structures.

First off, that’s a spicy ratio on that tweet, oof.

Secondly, the framing of “culture war” is at best a tone deaf mischaracterization, and at most an intentional gaslighting undermining both what the Democratic Party is about, and the kind of mobilization needed to claim victory in 2020 and beyond. What does Ezra mean by “culture war”? He means political mobilization around the interests of black voters, women, LGBTQ people, disabled people and other marginalized people, in an intersectional coalition to take political power and make and entrench social change. This is the mobilization that drove the Blue Wave, this is the mobilization that allowed Hillary Clinton to defeat all comers in 2016 (with the reactionaries needing both “leftist” sabotage and the intervention of a fascist imperialist state to eke out the barest of wins in the Electoral College, an anti-democratic compromise designed to bring the slave states into a free union and which currently awards extra political power to those segments of white people who fled urban areas due to racism).

From the moment the 2016 race was called, the mainstream media as well as, the “left” represented by Bernie Sanders, the center represented by figures like Mark Lilla, and obviously the reactionary right has sought to legitimize the political aspirations and mobilization of what has been termed the Obama coalition, blame us for the election of the fascist Trump and the radicalization of white people towards white supremacy, and push us to demobilize and depoliticize,  to cede the political terrain back to white men, and allow a (obviously white and male) “labor liberal” to save us, who have obviously proven incapable of saving ourselves. This awful tweet from Ezra Klein is just another expression of this. Both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are emblematic of an effort to force old white men with issues with women on a diverse base for the sake of “electability”, harnessing our energy without giving us leadership or centering our priorities.

From a structural perspective, all this is an attempt to roll back the gains that marginalized groups had under Obama, while forcing the beneficiaries of these gains into quiescence so that politics can reorient itself back to white male hegemony. By making the Democratic Party into the “good cop” of white supremacy, working in tandem with the Republican Party’s “bad cop”, this would make minority political organization much more difficult and much less effective. By referring to our political aspirations as “culture wars”, “identity politics”, etc, it implicitly states that issues such as civil rights, reproductive rights, access to public services, especially for LGBTQ people (this was at times derisively called “transgender bathrooms”, as if this was a boutique issue, not an issue of life and death), representation are not truly legitimate issues, compared to a perception that white men aren’t doing as well as they used to be. In reality, the things that the white male commetariat derisively calls “identity politics” are rooted in cold hard material reality that is very often a life or death struggle for those affected. Meanwhile their constant demands to “focus on class”, “focus on economy” totally gloss over the fact that, while Black people and other marginalized people are undeserved economically, more economic opportunity did not save Trayvon Martin.

Ultimately, bad analysis like this is emblematic of a “progressive" movement and a “liberal” commetariat in particular that is heavily white and male, and oriented towards those interests, or at least have major blind spots in their understanding of the world. And at one point this would have been overlookable, or forgivable, but we are two years into the Trump administration, and the urgency to understand white supremacy only grows by the day. The fact that so called “progressives” continue to produce these blind spots in 2019 is inexcusable.

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