In The West, We Get One Wrong From Two Rights
There is a chasm within conservatism that has resulted in two rights in America. The people currently enthralled by labeling and outright banning Muslims is one of them. The other, in this liberal progressive’s eyes, preaches a combination of infallible free markets, vague notions of “individual responsibility“, and selectively limited government intervention. The differences in the two groups are revealed in their answer to what has made America great.
One right feels America became great because of its unique Constitution, adherence to the rule of law, and democratic capitalism. Their focus is on the philosophy of man and his relationship to government. This is embodied by William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater feeling conservatism addresses the issues of equality and welcome them when they are the result of private actions. This is defensible though I believe it ignores the impact and effects of prolonged de jure and de facto segregation.
The other right feels America became great because it was originally settled by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who were culturally and racially more likely to succeed than other peoples. Their focus is on ethnic culture and heritable racial characteristics. They don’t care so much about limited government or even democratic capitalism, since they believe that it’s the right kind of people that makes a successful country, not economics or political philosophy. This is embodied by Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. This is defensible if you are willing to concede the fact that doing so makes you a bigot.
White privilege was never, however, simply a matter of economic advantage. As the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”
– Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich provides an apt description of this right’s longing for an America past where a man with a strong back could reasonably expect to support a family on his own without a college degree. With those jobs being long gone in 2015, it leaves only the kind of work once relegated to women and people of color available in areas like retail, landscaping, and delivery-truck driving. This means that those in the bottom 20% of white income distribution face material circumstances like those long familiar to poor blacks, including erratic employment and crowded, hazardous living spaces.
Today, there are few public spaces that are not open, at least legally speaking, to blacks. Even the “best” schools are reserved for the affluent (mostly white and Asian) along with people of color in order to provide the magical elixir of “diversity.” While whites have lost ground economically, blacks have made gains, at least in the de jure sense.
For most of American history, government could be counted on to maintain white power and privilege by enforcing slavery and later segregation. When the federal government finally weighed in on the side of desegregation, working class whites were left to defend their own diminishing privilege by moving rightward towards white pseudo populists such as Donald Trump. At the same time, the day-to-day task of upholding white power has devolved from federal to state government and then to the local level; specifically, local police forces which explains the steadfastness in defiance by those police unions and unwavering support by police enthusiasts. It’s one of the last stands of white supremacy.
As the culture inches toward racial equality, the signs of ascendency by nonwhites are ever present. At least in the entertainment world, working class whites are now regularly portrayed as moronic. It’s not easy to maintain the usual sense of white superiority when parts of the media are squeezing laughs from the contrast between savvy people of color and rural, white bumpkins.
Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were. Racial subjugation was a comfort even when their own situation was deteriorating. If the federal government is no longer a reliable enforcer of white privilege, it’s especially hard to maintain a feeling of racial superiority while struggling to hold onto one’s own place near the bottom of the economy.
While we are focused on America here, this is actually very common in continental Europe. France’s Marine Le Pen’s (who ironically disagrees with Trump’s proposed Muslim ban) National Front and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (he also disagrees with the proposed ban) are not believers in laissez-faire capitalism. They support big government but only for themselves. This right represents what can best be described as a welfare state for white Christians only, since they’re the makers and deserve the benefits. Everybody else, the takers, gets whatever else is left. Two rights, one wrong, no end in sight.