Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Problem of Competitive Victimhood

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

Divisive identity politics are fading in favor of a shared American identity.

The startling 2016 presidential election weakened the notion of tribal identity rather than a shared American identity. And it may have begun a return to the old idea of unhyphenated Americans.

Many working-class voters left the Democratic party and voted for a billionaire reality-TV star in 2016 because he promised jobs and economic growth first, a new sense of united Americanism second, and an end to politically correct ethnic tribalism third.

In the 19th century, huge influxes of Irish and German immigrants warred for influence and power against the existing American coastal establishment that traced its ancestry to England. Despite their ethnic chauvinism, these immigrant activist groups eventually became indistinguishable from their hosts.

Then and now, the forces of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage make it hard to retain an ethnic cachet beyond two generations — at least without constant inflows of new and often poor fellow immigrants.

The strained effort to champion the victimized tribe can turn comical. In the 1960s, my family still tried to buy Swedish-made Volvo automobiles and Electrolux vacuum cleaners. But it proved hopeless to cling to a fading Swedish heritage.

For all the trendy talk of the salad bowl and the careerist rewards of hyping a multicultural ancestry, America still remains a melting pot of diverse races, ethnicities, and agendas.

The alternative of adjudicating which particular group is more victimized and in greater need of government reparations is a hopeless task in a multiracial society — one that inevitably results in internecine strife among identity-politics groups.

Recent scholarly studies, here and abroad, have found that the aggressive effort to win government preferences for particular ethnic and religious minorities descends into “competitive victimhood.” In other words, such groups battle each other even more than they battle the majority.

After all, who can calibrate necessary government set-asides and reparations for a century and a half of slavery, for ill treatment of Native Americans, and for descendants of victims of the Asian immigration exclusionary laws, of segregation, of the unconstitutional repression of German citizens during World War I and of Japanese-American internment during World War II?

In another paradox, immigrants came to and stayed in America because they saw it as preferable to their abandoned homelands. Romanticizing a forsaken culture that one has already decided offered far less opportunity and security than America is incoherent.

In the aftermath of the election, for all the shrill charges that Trump is a racist, bigot, nativist, and xenophobe, the identity-politics industry is silently making some subtle concessions. For example, the National Council of La Raza announced that it will wisely drop “La Raza” and change its name to the less politically correct UnidosUS.

The old La Raza dream of a permanent victimized class of millions of Spanish-speaking citizens — championed by ethnic elites on the basis of shared race — will neither win the Democrats the Electoral College nor prove sustainable as immigration policy returns to being measured, legal, and diverse.

Despite denials, La Raza activists could never escape the reality that “raza,” as its Latin roots testify, is an exclusionary racial term (as opposed to “gente”).

“Raza,” a buzzword of the 1960s, actually had come into popular political usage some 30 years earlier in Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain (Franco wrote a novel, Raza) and as the chauvinistic idea of “razza” in Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy.

Other changes reflect election realities. Now, the Democratic party — stunned by the 2016 loss of its proverbial electoral “blue wall” of Midwestern states — is talking of a new agenda dubbed “A Better Deal.”

The obviously more inclusive message is that wounded Democrats want to unify their constituencies — rather than continue with divisive racial, gender, and ethnic arguments — in order to win back the suffering middle classes. The latest “Deal” is designed to resonate with the old populism of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Harry Truman’s subsequent “Square Deal.”

In 2020, Democratic candidates will certainly avoid stereotypical putdowns of “clingers,” “irredeemables,” and “deplorables.”

These were past coded smears used by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to define supposedly illiberal conservative working-class voters, who were written off as too ignorant to know what was good for them and certainly were no longer needed in the Democratic party.

But no longer: “Them” is out, and “us” is back in.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450094/identity-politics-2016-election-democrats-try-more-inclusive-message

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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