Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hillary and the Horizontals This Is Going to Be an Identity Election, Not a Policy Election

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hillary and the Horizontals This Is Going to Be an Identity Election, Not a Policy Election

Article excerpt

I spent much of this politically momentous week at a workshop on inequality. As so often happens at conferences, what really got me thinking was a question during a coffee break: "Why don't you talk more about horizontal inequality?"

Horizontal inequality is the term for inequality measured between racially or culturally defined groups. And it struck me that horizontal thinking is what you need to understand what went down in both parties' nominating seasons: It's what led to Donald Trump, and also why Hillary Clinton beat back Bernie Sanders. And like it or not, horizontal inequality, racial inequality above all, will define the general election.

One way to think about the Sanders campaign is that it was based on the premise that if only progressives were to make a clear enough case about the evils of inequality among individuals, they could win over the whole working class, regardless of race.

But that's a pipe dream. Defining oneself at least in part by membership in a group is part of human nature. People will remind you if you forget. A rueful old line from my own heritage says that, if you should happen to forget that you're Jewish, someone will remind you: a truth reconfirmed by the upsurge in open anti-Semitism unleashed by Mr. Trump.

Group identity is an unavoidable part of politics, especially in America with its history of slavery and its ethnic diversity. Racial and ethnic minorities know that very well, which is one reason they overwhelmingly supported Ms. Clinton, who gets it, over Mr. Sanders, with his exclusive focus on individual inequality.

Indeed, the road to Trumpism began with ideological conservatives cynically exploiting America's racial divisions. The modern Republican Party's central agenda of cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits has never been very popular, even among its own voters. It won elections nonetheless by getting working-class whites to think of themselves as a group under siege and to see government programs as giveaways to Those People. …

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