Columns

Krishnamurthy ’19: Out of touch should go out of style

By
staff columnist
Sunday, December 4, 2016

There’s nothing Republicans hate more than identity politics. It’s a long-standing conservative tradition: Way back in 2013, one Breitbart writer bemoaned, “Identity politics, as practiced by Democrats, is dehumanizing and horrible.” The irony, of course, is that Republicans are playing the exact same game. Just take the meaningless phrase “out-of-touch,” which has been enthusiastically co-opted by an emboldened American right. It’s appeared in virtually every conservative op-ed I’ve read since Nov. 8 — and it drives me bonkers. Out-of-touch is just a concealed way of telling non-whites, non-Christians, non-heterosexuals — anyone that disagrees with the Republican Party’s unpalatable ideological cocktail or is otherwise left disempowered by it — that their preferences, lived experiences and realities don’t matter and aren’t “in touch.” Those maddening three words, out-of-touch, arraign Democrats’ disconnect from the concerns of white, working-class people from the American heartland as if only their concerns are relevant to everyone else.

But, here’s a groundbreaking thought: What if it’s the white dudes, angry at everyone who doesn’t look like them, read the same holy book or share their own vision for America, who are out-of-touch? Truth is, I don’t see what’s so out-of-touch about the people who voted for Hillary Clinton — the college-educated, the urban dwellers, women, underrepresented minorities. Is it out-of-touch to pursue self-advancement in the form of a college degree — often paid for through student loans or working multiple shifts a week during the school year — or a career in the city? Is it out-of-touch to be a woman who is repulsed by President-Elect Donald Trump’s misogyny or a person of color fearful of Trump’s appeal as a “law-and-order” candidate? I don’t think so.

In fact, maybe the gleeful commentators over at Breitbart and The National Review have it all backwards; maybe it’s the regular employers of the phrase out-of-touch who are massively detached from the realities of the twenty-first century. In a modern economy, it’s patently out-of-touch to denounce higher education as elitist and to callously denounce the expertise of climate scientists as groundless blasphemy. And, in a multicultural society, it’s unforgivably out-of-touch to talk about Mexicans and Muslims in cruel terms and apply gross generalizations to vulnerable swaths of humanity. (The hypocrisy is mind-numbing: Just imagine, for a moment, the hell that Republicans would raise if Clinton, during a stump speech, claimed all white men must be psychopathic killers since the majority of mass shootings since 1982 have been perpetrated by white guys.)

Indeed, the only reason conservatives care about how out-of-touch young Democrats are in their enthusiastic embrace of political correctness and identity politics is because the white male monopoly on American-ness has encountered reinvigorated resistance. Of course, it’s only out-of-touch identity politics when the identities being preserved belong to gays, women or minorities. The acceptance of white nationalism, the restoration of white culture, the elevation of white supremacists to prominent posts in the White House — that basket of crazy is more reasonable, though. That’s just politics.

What makes the whole out-of-touch rubbish all the more infuriating is that white America maintains an unjust stranglehold on our country’s political outcomes in the form of the Electoral College, which redistributes political power to heartland states at the expense of more populous, more prosperous states. As Steven Johnson argues in The New York Times, blue states — with urban economies driven by diverse constituencies, advanced education and multicultural values — contribute more money to federal coffers than red states do, without receiving electoral representation proportional to their populations. The result is a new sort of “taxation without representation,” whereby progressive constituencies cross-subsidize the fiscal irresponsibility of their conservative counterparts but have substantially less say in the election of the U.S. president. Consider New Jersey – the greatest state in the Union and my home state. For every dollar New Jersey pays to the federal government, it receives 61 cents in federal benefits; Wyoming, on the other hand, receives $1.11 for each dollar contribution. Meanwhile, New Jersey has 15 times the population of Wyoming, but only about five times the votes in the Electoral College. 

The classic Republican retort to all this is that young liberals on liberal campuses in liberal coastal states cannot possibly understand the concerns of the “other half” of the country in the American Midwest. It’s true that I, born and raised in the suburbs of the northeast, don’t have any firsthand exposure to the struggles of a Texan cattle-rancher or an Idaho potato farmer. But the plagues of unemployment, opioid addiction and poverty are not unique to the white communities of the heartland. And further, the progressive prescription for these ills — increased federal spending in education and infrastructure, criminal justice reform and protections for minorities — are not antithetical to white interests. In fact, these policies are better at delivering prosperity than the Republican obsession with cutting taxes and regulations! That’s one reason why states like New Jersey, which has integrated itself successfully into the modern economy, are so wealthy, while states like Wyoming — still dependent on agriculture, still longing for the resurgence of manufacturing jobs that aren’t coming back — are not.

No matter the duplicitous politicking of extremist Republicans, though, I’m still hopeful. Trump’s election, as I’ve written before (“Krishnamurthy ’19: A republic of hope,” Nov. 10), is by no means the apocalpyse. In reality, Republican portrayals of liberals as disconnected whiners reflect a crescendoing desperation on their part. Their well-oiled strategy of instigating white, rural fears of crime and irrelevance may have worked this year, but as their policies of bluster inevitably fail — as they have in the past — the nation will soon learn how out-of-order these out-of-touch fanatics truly are.

Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19 can be reached at anuj_krishnamurthy@brown.edu. Please send responses to this op-ed to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds toopinions@browndailyherald.com.