What does it mean for America as a society to be inclusive?
One answer, embraced by liberals, is something like the following: “In America there are the privileged and the underprivileged, which maps onto those who have power and minorities who are marginalized. For America to be inclusive means for this imbalance to be shifted, so that power is distributed more equally.”
If we look at the civil rights movement, or the women’s movement and so on, they seem like the main example of what distributing power means, and what it means for America to become more inclusive.
There is, however, one big problem with this understanding of inclusivity: it treats it as obvious who the minorities and the majority are. Normally, for liberals, the majority is seen as whites, specially white, middle class, heterosexual males, and minorities are people who don’t fit that category.
But what happens if everybody in America in some sense or another thinks, and can think, of themselves as a minority, as marginalized, as fighting the status quo? Then the picture of inclusivity as the minorities getting what the majority already has starts to break down.
This is our current situation.
On the liberal view, Trump is the proto-typical member of the privileged group: white, male, rich, heterosexual, Christian. So, on the liberal view, the election of Trump is the rise of the privileged group resisting inclusivity. This was the message of the Clinton campaign. But what Clinton and many liberals failed to note was the powerful, and I think genuine, sense in which Trump sees himself as under-privileged, as fighting the powers that be.
This is most obvious in the fact that Trump is a reality TV star, not a politician or an intellectual, or even a stately business person like Gates or Bloomberg. In Trump’s own mind, he is the outsider, fighting the system, the privileged political and media structures. Once a person identifies themselves as the under-privilaged, there is nothing that the standard liberal picture says on how to respond to them – by the very identification with, or as, the under-privileged, they become part of the rebellion, part of the oppressed fighting the oppressors.
The difference between Trump and Clinton wasn’t that Trump was in the status quo, privileged group, and that Clinton is fighting for the underdogs – that is the liberal picture, but it doesn’t fully ring true. The difference really was between two minority figures – the reality TV political outsider and the woman.
The fact that other than Trump’s political outsider status he seems very much like the old status quo is neither here nor there. For the same could be said of Hilary Clinton – that she is the female version of Bill Clinton, with all the privileges that come with that.
On the liberal picture of inclusivity, there is no ordering of minority oppression. Women, blacks, gays, handicapped, poor people – they are all minorities, who, it is assumed, have to band together to fight the privileged. Of course, it is ludicrous to try to order the difficulties of these groups. But this means that anyone who identifies as a minority can speak fully as a minority, and so, fight to protect their way of life as a minority.
This is what Trump and the alt-right have done: they fully affirm themselves as minorities, as ignored by the main stream media, higher education and politicians, and so they can, without irony and apology, fully affirm their right to have their way of life represented and continued.
Of course, Trump knows that in many ways he is privileged, and so are many of his supporters. The very idea that America is a really white country is an affirmation of such privilege. But, then again, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are also privileged in many ways. On the liberal picture, being under privileged doesn’t mean being so in every way, or even most ways. It means being under privileged in a salient way, even if one is otherwise privileged. This is the loop hole which enables Trump and the alt right to speak with the righteous indignation of a minority group.
Let’s step back and look at the big picture.
Suppose the liberal view of inclusivity was true. What would then the march towards an inclusive society look like? Something like this: More and more the minorities would get the opportunities the privileged have had, and then when everyone has equal amount of opportunities, full inclusivity would have been achieved.
On this vision, the privileged go from being more privileged than others to being equally privileged as others. So, for example, whites males (who are middle class, straight, etc.) go from having the deck stacked in their favor to a deck that is evenly stacked. If they are upset, it is only because they are losing their privilege – it is “white tears”, the cry of the oppressor losing their privilege.
But this overlooks the possibility that at a certain point in this historical progression, the formerly privileged might become themselves a minority in some ways. Which is what is set to happen in a decade or two as America becomes a majority minority country. Meaning whites will then be statistically a minority. And so every person in the country can count themselves as a minority in some sense. This possibility, which is what is actually set to happen, undercuts the liberal vision that the privileged simply go from being rulers to equals, without themselves ever being minorities.
Colonialism and segregation as lawful policies are over. Structural remnants of those times very much remain, but we can no longer simply impose concepts of those structures in trying to understand our current times.
But what new concepts of inclusivity will take their place? That is the key question.