Levine-Drizin: Expanding liberal dialogue beyond anti-racism to address economic redistribution

Gabe Levine-Drizin, Op-Ed Contributor

In her column, “Conservatism must shift approach to social issues in Trump era,” Heena Srivastava is right to highlight that college campuses are generally left of center and offers an interesting and well-conceived history of how that came to be. However, her analysis of the two parties’ current state through their presence on campus is troubling, as it falls into patterns that mirror the failures of the Democratic party to learn from the mistakes of the Clinton campaign.

The author’s premise seems noble. She seeks to offer advice to conservatives seeking to gain popularity: Recognize institutional racism and then liberals will be able to start a “dialogue.” However, besides the fact that this desired bipartisanship seems dream-like in an era where bills can easily pass without a single vote from those across the aisle, this view continues to operate from a “basket of deplorables”-like idea of liberal superiority. As long as politicians like Marco Rubio can emptily confess that institutional discrimination exists, they have left the field of deplorables, and have, dare I say, become “woke.”

But the tendency of contemporary Democrats to pinpoint inequalities as solely a product of discriminatory institutions is often a convenient way for the party’s elite to evade deeper questions about capitalism itself. It is for this reason that many prominent left-wing intellectuals, such as Walter Benn Michaels, highlight today’s “progressivism” as the left wing of neoliberalism. As Benn Michaels provocatively asserts in his book “The Trouble with Diversity,” contemporary liberal “anti-racism” holds as its ideal a society without prejudice yet attempts to eliminate this inequality without redistributing wealth. Because of this, he says, the dream of contemporary “left” neoliberals is a country in which the top 1 percent continues to own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth — as long as that top 1 percent mirrors the United States’ racial demographics: 61 percent white, 13 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian.

The fact that liberal anti-racism often frames inequality as a product of prejudice, rather than as a consequence of our social system, is convenient given that the elimination of this system would require some serious redistribution. This argument holds weight considering the Democrats’ recent past. The resistance to single-payer health care by the Democratic elite; the fact that pro-market and pro-Wall Street Hillary Clinton was the Democratic candidate, only after blatant interference from the party elite to squash a more progressive contender that sought to redistribute wealth; and the new crop of “progressive Democrats” who collectively jet off to Martha’s Vineyard for fundraisers seem to challenge the party’s commitment to equality.

Instead of labeling all Trump supporters “racist” or positing that contemporary conservatism entails, as Srivastava suggests, “anti-welfare policies” that hurt “low-income populations, which largely consist of people of color,” we on the left of the political spectrum should clean house and learn from our past. After all, it was under Bill Clinton, the original “Third Way” Democrat who was responsible for the slashing of the welfare state, the intensification of the imprisoning of black and brown populations and the loosening of numerous financial regulations via his partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 that the Democrats started their disastrous shift to the center. Barack Obama, the liberal idol who earned the title “deporter-in-chief” while in office, also has a troubling streak of policies — like a refusal to punish bankers responsible for the economic crisis of 2008, the expansion of the surveillance state and the increased authorization of drone strikes — with which we must reckon.

Rather than talking down to the conservatives of today, Democrats should base their own political program around both economic redistribution and the fight against discrimination to work for something more noble.

Gabe Levine-Drizin is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at gabriellevinedrizin2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.