For Democrats, the road back

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Charles Krauthammer Colum­nist

One of the more salu­tary out­comes of the re­cent elec­tion is that Democrats are fi­nally begin­ning to ques­tion the wis­dom of bas­ing their for­tunes on iden­tity pol­i­tics. Hav­ing counted on the al­le­giance of AfricanAmer­i­cans, His­pan­ics, gays, un­mar­ried women and the young — and win­ning the pop­u­lar vote all but once since 1992 — they were se­duced into be­liev­ing that they could ride this “coali­tion of the as­cen­dant” into per­ma­nent com­mand of the pres­i­dency.

They’re re­con­sid­er­ing now not be­cause iden­tity pol­i­tics balka­nizes so­ci­ety, cre­ates state-cho­sen fa­vored groups and fos­ters com­mu­nal strife. They’re re­con­sid­er­ing be­cause it’s not work­ing.

Democrats read the 2008 and 2012 elec­tion re­sults as a har­bin­ger of the fu­ture. Then came 2016. They now re­al­ize that the huge turnout of their con­stituen­cies was at­trib­ut­able to Barack Obama, a uniquely gifted cam­paigner whose aura is not trans­fer­able.

And why as­sume that iden­tity pol­i­tics cre­ates per­ma­nent al­le­giances? Take the His­panic vote. Both Mitt Rom­ney and Don­ald Trump won less than 30 per­cent, but in 2004 George W. Bush won 44 per­cent. Why as­sume that the GOP can­not be com­pet­i­tive again?

As these groups evolve so­cioe­co­nom­i­cally, their po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances can eas­ily change. This is par­tic­u­larly true for the phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. There is no rea­son the more en­tre­pre­neur­ial party, the GOP, should con­tinue to lose this vote by more than 2-to-1.

More­over, the le­git­i­ma­tion of iden­tity pol­i­tics by the Democrats has fi­nally come back to bite them. Trump man­aged to read, then mo­bi­lize, the white work­ing class, and to en­dow it with po­lit­i­cal self­con­scious­ness. What he voiced on their be­half was the un­spo­ken com­plaint of decades: Why not us? All these other groups, up to and in­clud­ing the rel­a­tively tiny pop­u­la­tion of trans­gen­der peo­ple, re­ceive ben­e­fits, spe­cial at­ten­tion and cul­tural ap­pro­ba­tion, yet we are left out in the cold, ne­glected and con­de­scended to as both our so­cial sta­tus and eco­nomic con­di­tions de­cline.

For all the em­brace of iden­tity pol­i­tics at home, abroad Obama has preached the op­po­site. Here is a man telling a black au­di­ence in Septem­ber that he would “con­sider it a per­sonal in­sult, an in­sult to my legacy” if they don’t turn out for the Demo­cratic can­di­date in Novem­ber. Yet on his vale­dic­tory tour abroad just nine weeks later, he lec­tures any­one who will lis­ten on the sins of parochial­ism. His ur­gent mes­sage for the na­tions of the world, in­clud­ing his own, is to es­chew “trib­al­ism” in the name of a com­mon uni­ver­sal­ism.

This doc­trine of global con­scious­ness found its pho­to­graphic ex­pres­sion just two weeks ago. There was park­abun­dled John Kerry on a visit to the Antarc­tic, to which he had dropped in to make a point about global warm­ing. Three days later, Vladimir Putin, think­ing trib­ally, re­newed the sav­age bomb­ing of Aleppo and then moved nu­clear-ca­pa­ble mis­siles into Kalin­ingrad to re­mind Euro­peans of the per­ils of de­fy­ing the re­gional strong­man.

Putin is quite pre­pared to leave the Antarc­tic ice sheets to Kerry while he sets his sights on Eastern Europe and the Le­vant. Our al­lies, mean­while, re­main amazed that Obama still be­lieves the kinds of things he said in his maiden U.N. ad­dress about the ob­so­les­cence of power pol­i­tics and na­tional dom­i­na­tion — and acts ac­cord­ingly as if his brave new world of shared uni­ver­sal val­ues had al­ready ar­rived.

Seven months ago, Obama went to Bri­tain to urge them — with char­ac­ter­is­tic un­suc­cess — to re­main in Europe. Now he re­turns to Europe to urge ev­ery­one to re­sist the siren song of “a crude sort of na­tion­al­ism, or eth­nic iden­tity, or trib­al­ism.”

This is rather ironic, given that what was meant as a swipe at both Euro­pean and Trumpian ethno-na­tion­al­ism is a fairly good de­scrip­tion of the Demo­cratic Party’s do­mes­tic strat­egy of iden­tity pol­i­tics.

To be sure, eth­nic ap­peal has been part of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics for­ever. But the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign was its re­duc­tio ad ab­sur­dum: all seg­mented group ap­peal, no mes­sage. Even Bernie San­ders is urg­ing that “we go beyond iden­tity pol­i­tics” if Democrats are ever to ap­peal again to the work­ing class.

As for for­eign pol­icy, there has al­ways been and al­ways should be an el­e­ment of tran­scen­dent mis­sion to Amer­i­can ac­tions. But its re­duc­tio ad ab­sur­dum was the Obama doc­trine of self-sac­ri­fi­cial sub­or­di­na­tion of U.S. in­ter­ests to uni­ver­sal val­ues. That doc­trine is fin­ished. The re­sults, from Ukraine to Aleppo to the South China Sea, are sim­ply too stark.

For the Democrats, the road back — from trib­al­ism at home and uni­ver­sal­ism abroad — beck­ons.

Charles Krauthammer is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is let­ters@ charleskrautham­mer.com.

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