There was a remarkable speech by Tom Klingenstein recently, republished in the American Mind last month. Klingenstein, the chairman of the board at the Claremont Institute, has the courage to address what has become, for conservatives at least, the third rail of American politics: race.
The speech ran under the title “Racism in America Today,” and Klingenstein doesn’t mince words when describing the problem—but he sees a very different problem than BLM. He opens his speech as such:
For many years, racism in America has been, to a very significant degree, a manufactured problem. When we speak about race, whether we admit it or not—and we usually don’t—we mean blacks. Black grievance, largely ginned up, provides the fuel for the woke regime.
This is an important point. The left’s racial narrative is not limited to the black experience, but it is centered around it.
The historic injustices experienced by black Americans provide the basis for identity politics. Josh Mitchell has perhaps the best understanding of what, exactly, the identity politics phenomenon is. As he wrote in 2019:
Identity politics is concerned with the relationship of transgression and innocence between different, purportedly monovalent, kinds of people. Identity politics is not just about who we are, it is about a moral stain or purity that defines who we are.
The language of stain and purity, of transgression and innocence, is Christian language…. America has not lost its religion. America has relocated its religion to the realm of politics.
Thus, the group that is responsible for historic transgressions against black Americans—the white heterosexual male—becomes the scapegoat of identity politics. But unlike the Divine Scapegoat of Christianity, this group of mere mortals is not univocally pure or stained and therefore is never a satisfying solution to the problem of sin. And so, the ranks of the transgressors expand in search of the satisfying scapegoat, first to white women, then black men, then homosexuals, and on and on.
This rival religion is one with which conservatives—especially Christians—have no business cooperating. Flinching on the issue of identity politics is self-defeating. Identity politics will always be a losing game for conservatives.
Thankfully, racism is not a major national problem in the Year of Our Lord 2023. It’s a tactic used by the woke left to maintain power and transform our civilization. So it’s past time for conservatives to move beyond the squeamishness and throat-clearing surrounding the issue of race.
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Klingenstein’s speech is a clarion call on this thorny issue. He has it right:
We must not buckle when they call us “racist.” If they call you “racist” tell them that is “horse manure.” Don’t debate them. They don’t want to debate; they want to criminalize debate.
Don’t play their game.