Last Friday, two tweets were posted to my feed within minutes of each other. David Duke tweeted: “Bannon, Flynn, Sessions – Great! Senate must demand that Sessions as AG stop the massive institutional racism against whites!” (Yes, I follow David Duke on Twitter — I now follow many right wing sites, I learn more from them than I do from the echo chamber of Facebook), and the New York Times tweeted out Mark Lilla’s opinion piece, “The End of Identity Liberalism.” In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown. Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the U.S. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.
Mark Lilla and I both teach at Columbia University, and I acknowledge that this is a harsh indictment of my colleague. But these are harsh times. Lilla’s op-ed makes an argument for the commonalities between Americans, arguing that we have to move on to a “post-identity liberalism,” refocusing our attention away from identities to broader, more abstract ideas of “citizenship.” “Narrower issues,” like the right to choose a bathroom, should be worked on “quietly” and “sensitively” so as to not scare away potential allies. This argument, put simply, trivializes several generations of civil rights organizing in the service of breathing life into the dying corpse of political (neo)liberalism. What a curious time to take up that project on the pages of the New York Times, just ten days after an election that delivered the White House to Donald Trump, an avowed racist, sexist, Islamophobic nationalist, and vulture capitalist who defeated a person who made the best, and losing, case for (neo)liberalism. It turns out, Lilla argues, that Clinton’s loss can be blamed on the moral failure of identity politics, which “never wins elections.”
Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University, recently appeared on Democracy Now! with Narmeen Sheikh to discuss how Donald Trump’s early Cabinet picks embolden white supremacists and threaten reproductive rights.