Why Breitbart will fail
I’d like to elaborate on my previous post on the recent spate of wild and/or false racism charges emanating from the Breitbarts and Megyn Kellys of the world. It was glib to ignore the longstanding complaints of conservatives about reverse discrimination.
First, for the sake of argument, some perspective: the United States has a brutal historical legacy of slavery and legalized oppression of African-Americans. It has gradually been mitigated, legally, politically, and socially, a process that continues. This process is one of the things that makes America great. But the legacy hasn’t disappeared, it remains a pernicious force in American society. There is, comparatively speaking, no significant legacy or history of black-on-white discrimination. There are black people who are prejudiced against white people, of course. Statistically speaking, some of them probably work for government agencies. But that’s not evidence of systemic anti-white discrimination.
However. The great liberal project that reached a pinnacle with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s produced a wave of changes in the way governments and private entities did business. It also produced policies (racial and ethnic quotas, busing, disparate impact laws and regulations, affirmative action) that, unlike, say, ensuring the right to vote, were debatable – and were debated, in the courts and the political arena. And all this produced massive social stresses that have shaped American politics ever since. (And that’s not even mentioning other issues, such as welfare, that were not race-based but became politically racialized.)
All of this is to say, the anger about alleged anti-white racism that we see on the right – and the reason Breitbart is able to generate the reactions he does – is not the result of paranoia or fantasy. It is an understandable product of the politics of the past 50 years.
But most of the political shocks wrought by the Great Society and liberalism in the 1970s through the 1990s have already worked their way through the system; white flight; the South going Republican, welfare reform. To put it another way: in the past, when white conservatives were outraged about race issues, it was because those issues affected millions of people directly, and resonated for tens of millions more. Busing or affirmative action, for example. Liberal sanctimony and self-righteousness only made things worse.
Today, attempts by Breitbart and Fox News to gin up similar outrage are isolated incidents painted as broad conspiracies that don’t stand up to serious examination. If the New Black Panthers are the best they’ve got, it’s a sign that as a driving force of American politics, as a “wedge issue,” anger over anti-white discrimination is a shadow (a pale one!) of what it once was. They’re shaping news cycles with this stuff, not electoral coalitions. Just as 1990s-era political correctness on the left (and that diversity workshop I attended) was weak, er, tea compared with what had come before, so are today’s racism faux-scandals.
This is not to say that as matters of law and policy, all questions of race have been settled. Far from it. But those questions are not currently driving national politics. (And the focus on culture war outrages is actually undermining the conservative policy agenda on this front.)
Because race is still an inescapable issue in American society, and the legacy of centuries of racism lingers, and the whiff of liberal sanctimony never quite disperses, this remains a raw spot on the national psyche, easily exploited by unscrupulous media hucksters. But the underlying weakness of their efforts is actually kind of encouraging.