A New Year’s resolution as we begin the Trump era

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including the recently published “New Warfare: Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.” In addition to teaching courses in international politics, international organization and law, and U.S. foreign policy, he has served as chair of the Political Science Dept. at UM-St. Louis.

By Marty Rochester

It is the time of year for making New Year’s resolutions. I resolve to continue to struggle to be as colorblind as possible. What does this mean? It commits me to the following:

First, I will ignore those who believe that we cannot and should not be colorblind. I remember attending a University of Missouri-St. Louis diversity workshop a few years ago, where I tried to bare my soul.

I said, “I desperately try to be colorblind,” only to be told by one of the diversity watchdogs around the table that my comment was “racist.” Such is the Orwellian world we now live in when we discuss race in America. 

Until we accept colorblindness as both an empirical possibility and a moral imperative, the race conversation seems a nonstarter.

Second, I will echo Donald Trump’s call on Dec. 1 that “we condemn bigotry and prejudice in all its forms.” Although Trump and his chief of staff, Steve Bannon, have been accused of enabling an assortment of “alt-right” bigots — Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites, sexists, racists and others — he could not have stated more plainly and succinctly his opposition to such haters. I will hold the administration to that pledge.

Advertisement: The Grande at Chesterfield

Third, I likewise will hold the “alt-left” accountable as well, although some in their ranks have not stated as loudly and unequivocally their opposition to bigotry and stereotyping. In particular, I have not heard the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement renounce anti-Semitism and hatred of police, nor acknowledge that “all lives matter.”  

Fourth, I will not use terms such as “whiteness” and “blackness,” as if there is such a thing as a “white” condition or point of view and a “black” condition or point of view. This means I reject all of the “Witnessing Whiteness” groups sponsored by many Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jewish congregations locally and nationally. 

When one local temple recently announced that its “Witnessing Whiteness” project aimed to “create supportive and nonthreatening spaces where individuals who identify as white gain insight into creating a more just and equitable world,” I had to scratch my yarmulke to understand how, in a country where Asians are the single most economically and educationally successful racial group, “whiteness” is the, or even a, barrier preventing racial justice. Such terminology not only misrepresents reality — there are more poor whites than poor blacks in America — but is offensive insofar as it invites the kind of racial profiling that one thought was no longer acceptable.

Frankly, other than the fact that one group is well intentioned and the other is not, I fail to see much difference between the alt-right obsession with “whiteness” represented by Richard Spencer and the neo-Nazis and the similar obsession with “whiteness” represented by groups on the left. As Thurgood Marshall once said, “Distinctions by race are so evil” that we “must not allow them in any public sphere.” 

I agree. 

Fifth, it follows that I will not insist on a workplace that “looks like America” unless the job specifically calls for it. Do you really want your heart surgery team or passenger plane cockpit crew to resemble a rainbow, as opposed to consisting of the most highly qualified people, whether all black, all white or other hues? As Jews, do you not understand the history of quotas? 

Real racial progress will have arrived, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream (that his children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”) will have been achieved, precisely when we no longer feel compelled to think along rainbow lines.

Sixth, it further follows that I will value people as individuals and for their common humanity rather than treating them as members of categorical groups, whether blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians or for that matter women, men, transgendered, gay, Muslim or whatever. Led by liberals in academia, media and other elite circles, our culture has been fixated on “identity politics” of the sort that led presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000 to mistakenly translate our national motto E pluribus unum as “out of one, many.”

This tribalism has to stop. Not only does the latter mentality undermine national unity by pitting various categorical groups against each other in a “victimization” competition, but it reduces the analysis of racial and social justice to simplistic data-crunching and bean-counting of “disparate impacts,” no matter whether there is any discrimination involved or not. As Thomas Sowell has said, “There are no black place kickers in the NFL. So what?”

In an article headlined “The End of Identity Liberalism” (New York Times, Nov. 18), professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University, a highly respected historian and no fan of Donald Trump, wrote: 

“In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing. One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.”  

In other words, the very folks who preach the most about “inclusion” and “diversity” need to take the words more seriously if both the Democratic Party as well as the country are to move forward.  

Seventh, when I discuss racial and social justice, I promise I will engage my students, as well as friends and neighbors, in a dialogue about not only the failures of liberalism and the Democratic Party but also the failures of conservatism and the Republican Party. Both sides have played to their extremes, and both deserve to be criticized. If liberals arguably have exaggerated racial and social injustice in America — in police brutality against blacks, education, job discrimination and other systemic problems — conservatives arguably have been too quick to dismiss such concerns. 

I need to remind myself about this constantly. Like most New Year’s resolutions, I do not claim I will necessarily succeed in fulfilling such aspirations. But I think they are worthy of the effort.