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Who’s to Blame for Our Bitter Divide?



Here is something almost all Americans agree on: we’re divided.

Nine out of 10 Americans say political divisions in our country are a serious problem, according to a recent poll. Six in 10 say it’s a very serious problem. One doesn’t have to look very far to find examples.

In a New York Times editorial, Paul Krugman wrote “hate is on the ballot next week.” Why is that? Because Republicans are on the ballot and they are “peddling hatred.” Krugman blames the recent massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on a “climate of paranoia and racism deliberately fostered by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress.” And when he’s not blaming Trump for the killing, he blames Fox News.

This is completely wrong, of course. But consider the irony.

In the very act of accusing Republicans of hate, Krugman’s editorial itself is so brimming with hatefulness, it’s stunning. Remember, Trump is a better friend of Israel than any president we’ve ever had. His own daughter and her husband are practicing Jews. He stood up against the anti-Semites in Palm Beach when he opened his Mar-a-Lago hotel. Yet Krugman compares him to neo-Nazis.

This is not editorial writing. It is hateful diatribe. What brought us to the point where it could appear on the editorial page of the country’s “newspaper of record”?

I believe there is only one answer: identity politics.

Identity politics divides us into tribes. It implicitly sets tribe against tribe. The divisions are created not by reason, but by emotion and resentment. Once tribal warfare begins, it takes on a mind of its own – under no one’s control. But let’s not forget how all this started.

The Democratic Party long ago ceased being the party of collectivist ideas. Today it is the party of identity collectivism. It’s what Ayn Rand once called “barnyard collectivism.” Further, identity politics not only engenders hateful divisiveness, it encourages violence and threatens the stability of our democratic institutions.

A racist view of rights and responsibilities. Here’s the core idea: Your rights, your entitlements, your claims against others—indeed, your very value as a human being—depend on your skin color, your gender, your sexual preferences, your DNA, etc. Those characteristics determine your tribe. And tribes are not equal.

When Hillary Clinton and other Democrats address their national party conventions, there is the inevitable and obligatory listing of all the groups they are going to bat for: blacks, Hispanics, women, LGBTs, etc. The implicit promise: Democrats are going to do things for you that they are not going to do for others. In fact, whatever they do for you will likely be at the expense of others.

The implicit promise of retribution. The message of identity politics is the message of aggrievement. Either explicitly or implicitly, Democratic politicians are saying to their constituents: you have been treated unfairly; you haven’t gotten your share of society’s rewards; and in every case it’s someone else’s fault. If you are black, your oppressors are white. If you are female, your oppressors are male. If you are gay, your oppressors are straight.

Most Democrats don’t use the term “white privilege tax.” But more than a few secretly believe we ought to have some version of that. And even if they don’t say it overtly, they imply that so-called “marginalized groups” are entitled to something everyone who isn’t marginalized is not entitled to.

Original sin. Identity politics is almost always connected to the view that guilt for historical bad acts passes down through the genes. Also, it’s not individual genes. It’s the collective genes of your group that taint you.

Let’s say a member of group A sinned against a member of Group B years ago. Then, a modern descendant of a B is said to have a claim against a modern descendant of an A, even if there is no reason to believe that either ancestor was a party to any bad act.

Identity politics is inherently hateful. The political purpose of identity politics is to produce votes. Invariably the techniques involve sowing fear, hatred and resentment. On this score, there is no moral equivalence. Nothing Republicans have ever done begins to match the Democrats and their allied groups:

  • When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, the NAACP produced TV ads falsely claiming that as governor Bush sought to protect three white racists who brutally murdered a black man by chaining and dragging him behind a pickup truck.
  • It was Barack Obama himself (right on the eve of an election) who brought national attention to the claim that a black youth named Trayvon Martin was the victim of a senseless white-on-black murder, when in fact, the shooter was a Hispanic with black ancestry, who was later found to be acting in self-defense.
  • Long after the claim was completely debunked, Democratic politicians continued to claim that a black delinquent named Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, after he raised his arms and yelled, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.”
  • At the Democratic Party convention in 2016, Hillary Clinton had the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown sitting on the stage in front of a national TV audience with other supposed victims of white racism, knowing full well the entire pretense was a lie.

Inevitable backlash. If you listen to Democrats talk about the groups they are going to help and you are white or male or straight, you have to be pretty dense if you fail to notice you are not on their list. So Republicans don’t have to do much of anything in order to attract white, straight, male voters. What’s amazing is how restrained they have been.

If Republicans campaigned the way Democrats do, every time Michelle Obama says, “vote for us because you are black,” Republicans would say, “vote for us because you are white.” Every time Hillary says, “vote for me because you are a woman,” Republicans would say “vote for us because you are male.”

But of course they don’t say those things. That would be politically incorrect. Like every other Republican, Donald Trump has been extremely restrained when talking about race or gender or sexual preference or even the Muslim religion. The only thing that makes Trump different is that he is not politically correct. That, and that alone, seems to connect Donald Trump with many voters.

So where do the critics get the idea that Trump is racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic and even anti-Semitic? These charges come from super-sensitive liberals who are so consumed with identity thinking that they stand ready to convert the most innocuous comment into a tribal insult. Criticize the taking of a knee at a football game and you are anti-black. Oppose the caravan and you are anti-Hispanic. Criticize George Soros and you are anti-Jew. We’re not talking about reality here. We’re talking about a psychological disorder that seems pervasive on the left.

Threat to democracy. There was a time when liberal Democrats endorsed traditional civil rights—believing that everyone should be equal before the law. Those days are gone. There was a day when our universities were dedicated to the unencumbered search for truth, wholeheartedly defending the right of people to express views with which they disagreed. Those days are also gone.

Here’s why this is dangerous. One step away from the belief that you have no right to express your ideas is the belief that you have no right to vote. One step away from the idea that you have no right to express your ideas in the polling booth is the belief that the people you vote for have no right to govern.

When lawfully elected governments are deposed in other countries it is almost always in the context of a claim that elected officials had no legitimate right to be elected in the first place.


John C. Goodman is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, President of the Goodman Institute for Public Policy Research, and author of the widely acclaimed Independent books, A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, and the award-winning, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and the National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”


New from John C. Goodman!
A BETTER CHOICE: Healthcare Solutions for America
Obamacare remains highly controversial and faces ongoing legal and political challenges. Polls show that by a large margin Americans remain opposed to the healthcare law and seek to “repeal and replace” it. However, the question is: Replace it with what?







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