The Defense of Liberty Can’t Do Without Identity Politics


Jacob T. Levy over at the Niskanen Center's No Virtue:

Soave is a fixture on the “political correctness” beat and his post-election commentary openly acknowledged that its purpose was to tell us that he told us so.

Lilla’s book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction had already approvingly cited the idea that “left-wing activists [in France] made a disastrous mistake in the 1970s by abandoning the traditional working class and turning toward identity politics. Deserted, the workers turned toward the National Front and adopted its xenophobia…”

Not everyone who has been sounding alarm bells about identity politics and political correctness has written a post-election commentary blaming them for Trump’s victory; longtime critic Jonathan Chait has been conspicuous by his refusal to indulge the genre. But those post-election blamings have all come from such pre-existing critics. This alone should tell us to be on the lookout for the so-called “pundit’s fallacy,” the idea that one’s own normative commitments just happen to also be the best political strategy. The pundit’s fallacy when applied to losses takes the form of a morality play: because you fools did the thing I don’t like, the voters punished you. Lilla solemnly noted that “those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.” The headline on Soave’s article was less subtle still: “Donald Trump won because leftist political correctness inspired a terrifying backlash: What every liberal who didn’t see this coming needs to understand.”

The 2016 election is bringing forth especially strange versions of pundits’ fallacies and morality plays. Donald Trump received a smaller share of the popular vote than Mitt Romney did in 2012, but his Electoral College victory was so unexpected that it seems to call forth explanation after explanation. The result is almost certainly over-explanation: theories get offered that, if they were true, would seem to imply that Trump should have done much better than he did, and much better than Romneydid. But there is a powerful temptation to attribute the surprising and dramatic fact of Trump’s win to some issue about which one had some preexisting ax to grind.

The backlash hypothesis is of this sort. Trump got a lower share of the white vote than Romney did (58% vs 59%). There was some change in both directions within the white vote: college-educated whites shifted toward the Democratic column by a few points (though a plurality still voted for Trump), but non-college-educated whites moved in larger numbers toward Trump (he got 67% of their votes, versus 62% for Romney). White men shifted toward Trump by 1% relative to 2012, white women in the other direction by 3%. This back-and-forth of course meant that Trump eked out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and therefore the presidency, by a combined 80,000 or so votes across the three states. But fundamentally, voting patterns didn’t change enough between 2012 and 2016 to justify big claims about new national moods or about Trump’s distinctive appeal. I believe the consequences of this election will be deeply abnormal. But the voting behavior that brought it about was, in the end, very normal.

An 80,000 vote margin in a 137 million vote election, about .05%, is susceptible of almost endless plausible explanations.

More here.