Human lives and rights are only important when Charles Blow says they are

In a column yesterday (November 9), Charles Blow launched a diatribe against “all the Democrats who caterwauled last November about how the party had focused too much on courting women and minorities, and ignored angry white men,”[1] and we can reasonably infer that Blow thinks that the aforementioned “angry white men” have little interest in “recognizing, listening to and trying to satisfy the particular needs of particular groups of people who have very different lived experiences in this country.”[2]

Let’s acknowledge generally that authoritarian populists, the larger part of Donald Trump’s base, “tend to identify the [United States] as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, ‘un-American’ forces.”[3] But in defending the Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, Blow neglects the white voters who had previously voted for Barack Obama, but at least partly in frustration with their plight, turned to Trump in 2016.[4] Yes, many of these people too

were also angered by how Obama handled race issues as president, especially his defense of Black Lives Matter activists. The New York Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke with Obama-to-Trump converts in Iowa and found “they had come to feel at odds with their party; it no longer reflected their own cultural norms. … Obama really turned [one voter] off when, after a vigilante killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin, he said the boy could have been his son. She felt as if Obama was choosing a side in the racial divide, stirring up tensions.” ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis, after speaking to voters in Ohio, noted one who had “grown somewhat disenchanted” with Obama after supporting him, then “talked about how much the Black Lives Matter protests against shootings by police officers grated on him” and lamented, “If I say anything about that, I’m a racist.”[5]

I would actually offer the opposite criticism:

New York Times canvass of African-Americans in Milwaukee picked up disenchantment with the president on the economic front. “We’re worse off than before,” said one who wrote in Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Ain’t none of this been working,” said another, who did not vote at all. Some Black Lives Matter activists criticized him for not siding with them enough, and Dr. Cornell West hounded Obama for years as a dreaded “neoliberal.”[6]

Obama himself attributes his loss of popularity with whites to an incident[7] in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor at Harvard University for over two decades, “accus[ed] the police here [Cambridge, Massachusetts] of racism after he was arrested at his home last week by an officer investigating a report of a robbery in progress.”[8] A national controversy ensued and the recently inaugurated Obama invited Gates and the police officer to a “beer summit” in the White House. Obama needed, right then and there, to initiate a national conversation on race. Instead, he loudly capitulated.[9] And he spent the rest of his presidency failing Blacks—except in offering the symbolism of a Black president, which was pretty much the same empty symbolism as he offered in his campaign of “hope” and “change.”

So now we have a whole bunch of people who haven’t seen any benefits from the alleged recovery from the financial crisis that Obama inherited. Many of them are committing suicide or dying from drug overdoses in what some call “deaths of despair.” Many, but not all, are older white males.[10] But Blow would have Democrats

slough off this silly, racial romance dream of chasing chimerical, oppressed, forgotten, aggrieved, angry white men. Stop trying to convince us that their American dream is now a pipe dream. Stop trying to tell us that they alone should be the focus of our pity and the subject of our weeping.”[11]

Blow is a Black op-ed columnist for the New York Times. Presumably he is quite well compensated and living something like the “American dream.” As such, he is very much an exceptional case and while he may certainly speak to his own “American dream,” he lacks (and fails to cite) authority on whether anyone else’s “American dream is now a pipe dream.” And, to my knowledge, no one, apart from paleoconservatives, has argued that white men “alone [emphasis added] should be the focus of our pity and the subject of our weeping.”

What we have said consistently instead is that Democrats have betrayed the poor and the working class in their wholehearted embrace of neoconservative and neoliberal policies. Hillary Clinton exemplified that embrace and so earned our scorn.

[W]hen you flip through People magazine, you come away with a very different impression of what liberals are like. Here you read about movie stars who go to charity balls for causes like animal rights and the “underprivileged.” Singers who were big in the seventies express their concern with neatly folded ribbons for this set of victims or that. Minor TV personalities instruct the world to stop saying mean things about the overweight or the handicapped. And beautiful people of every description don expensive transgressive fashions, buy expensive transgressive art, eat at expensive transgressive restaurants, and get edgy with an expensive punk sensibility or an expensive earth-friendly look.

Here liberalism is a matter of shallow appearances, of fatuous self-righteousness; it is arrogant and condescending, a politics in which the beautiful and the wellborn tell the unwashed and the beaten-down and the funny-looking how they ought to behave, how they should stop being racist or homophobic, how they should be better people.[12]

And indeed, except during the Occupy movement, the Left’s silence on class has been deafening. You won’t hear about the one percent anymore. Instead, you’ll hear about misogyny, homophobia, and white supremacism. And to have opposed Clinton is to have subjected oneself to the latter three charges.

But Blow triumphantly declares that “America’s future doesn’t have to kowtow to those moaning about losing the privileges from America’s past.”[13] One of those ‘privileges’ was a well-paying job. And it’s actually an internationally-recognized human right[14] (albeit not by the United States, which is one of only seven countries to fail to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[15]). Which is all to say that Blow’s notion of ‘liberal’ includes respect for the lives and rights only of those people that Blow thinks are important, to wit, “people who have shown an undying devotion to liberalism: college-educated whites (particularly women), people of color and passionate progressives.”[16]

Human rights apply to all humans,[17] regardless of identity. And, at least in Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” sense of the term, ‘liberals’ are supposed to care about all humans, regardless of identity. But Blow has a real job and a real voice and, consistent with his decree, I don’t.

  1. [1]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  2. [2]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  3. [3]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  4. [4]Alex Roarty, “Senate Democrats’ Challenge in 2018: The White Working Class,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, November 16, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/news/senate-democrats-midterms-2018; Bill Scher, “No, Obama Probably Wouldn’t Have Beaten Trump,” Politico, December 28, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/no-obama-probably-wouldnt-have-beaten-trump-214557;
  5. [5]Bill Scher, “No, Obama Probably Wouldn’t Have Beaten Trump,” Politico, December 28, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/no-obama-probably-wouldnt-have-beaten-trump-214557
  6. [6]Bill Scher, “No, Obama Probably Wouldn’t Have Beaten Trump,” Politico, December 28, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/no-obama-probably-wouldnt-have-beaten-trump-214557
  7. [7]Bill Scher, “No, Obama Probably Wouldn’t Have Beaten Trump,” Politico, December 28, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/no-obama-probably-wouldnt-have-beaten-trump-214557
  8. [8]Abby Goodnough, “Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias,” New York Times, July 20, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/us/21gates.html
  9. [9]Associated Press, “Obama: Poor choice of words in scholar’s arrest,” NBC News, July 24, 2009, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32122967/; Katharine Q. Seelye, “Obama Wades Into a Volatile Racial Issue,” New York Times, July 23, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23race.html
  10. [10]Laura Bliss, “The Pessimism of White, Working-Class America,” CityLab, November 17, 2015, http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/11/the-pessimism-of-white-working-class-america/416379/; Julia Belluz, “Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts,” Vox, March 23, 2017, http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/3/23/14988084/white-middle-class-dying-faster-explained-case-deaton;Andrew J. Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?” New York Times, February 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/opinion/why-are-white-death-rates-rising.html; Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, “Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites,” New York Times, January 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/science/drug-overdoses-propel-rise-in-mortality-rates-of-young-whites.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Alana Semuels, “Is Economic Despair What’s Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?” CityLab, March 23, 2017, https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/economic-despair-killing-middle-aged-white-americans/520554/
  11. [11]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  12. [12]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  13. [13]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  14. [14]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
  15. [15]United Nations, “Ratification Status: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” October 9, 2013, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-3&chapter=4&lang=en
  16. [16]Charles M. Blow, “Resistance, for the Win!” New York Times, November 9 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/resistance-trump-virginia-republicans.html
  17. [17]Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “What are Human Rights?” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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