During the past 30 or 40 years ago, the United States has come closer than ever before to equal opportunity, not only for African-Americans and women, but also GLBT folks and the physically handicapped.
At the same time a huge gap has developed between a tiny elite, who gather a greater share of American wealth and income year by year, and the vast majority of Americans, who are either falling behind or struggling as hard as they can to keep even.
Samuel Goldman, writing in The American Conservative recently, said this is no paradox. He wrote that the tradeoff between diversity and equality is a result of a tacit grand bargain between the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s and corporate America.
… The stories of greater social equality and economic inequality are far from “unrelated”. Rather, social inclusion has been used to legitimize economic inequality by means of familiar arguments about meritocracy. According to this view, it’s fine that the road from Harvard Yard to Wall Street is paved with gold, so long a few representatives of every religion, color, and sexual permutation manage to complete the journey. Superficial diversity at the top thus provides an moral alibi for the gap between the one percent and the rest.
via The Spiritual Crisis of the Bourgeois Bohemians.
Rod Dreher, also writing in The American Conservative, put it this way.
From a contemporary progressivist point of view, non-rich social conservatives who vote Republican do so out of false consciousness, or mindless bigotry. But how many liberals would vote for a politician who proposed to stick it to the banks and the oligarchs, and who endorsed a broadly progressive economic agenda, but who openly opposed gay marriage and abortion, and endorsed religious piety? (Basically, your pre-1970s Catholic Democrat). Very few, I would imagine.
The culture war is in some ways class war by another name. Whenever you see some middle or upper class person gabbing on about the importance of diversity, you shouldn’t expect that they mean actual diversity — because then they would be eager to include, say, white working-class Republican Pentecostals — but rather diversity as what Goldman calls a “moral alibi,” which entails one’s ability to conceal one’s own real motivations from oneself.
via Culture (War) Is Everything.
I think there is a lot of truth in this, and it explains a lot.
It explains how Silicon Valley billionaires can avoid taxes, export jobs to some low-wage Third World country and shrug off the problems of middle-class and working-class Americans, and still be considered liberals and good friends of President Obama.
And it explains how President Obama can still be considered a liberal as he tries to undermine Social Security, attack teachers unions and negotiate trade treaties that lock in the corporate agenda.
When I worked for Gannett, CEO Al Neuharth ostentatiously promoted the advancement of African-Americans, women and gay people, which made him bullet-proof against criticism for offering sub-standard pay and benefits and crushing labor unions.
Our “diversity training” sessions always seemed to me to be part of a policy of divide-and-rule. I remember that at one session, a gay white man got up and said that gays, African-Americans and women in the newsroom should unite against the straight white men—not a view that would improve morale or teamwork. He was not rebuked, and was later promoted.
The tipoff as to management’s aims was in the fact that they refused to agree to a clause in the union contract calling for non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. The company wanted GLBT people, as well as African-Americans and women, to look to management, not to fellow workers, for their rights.
Of course acceptance of diversity is a good thing, not a bad thing. It is a good thing that Ursula Burns, a black woman, can become CEO of Xerox, but not everybody can be a CEO or wants to be one. Some people are content with an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and what’s wrong with that?
Nor is there any logical reason why diversity and equality should be tradeoffs. The U.S. labor union movement has long ceased to be a movement primarily of native-born white men. Trade unions recognize that they can’t win unless they stand together, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else.
As I see it, one link between social liberalism and economic inequality is a widespread meme that sees society as an arena of competition and social justice as a guarantee of fair rules and a level playing field.
If you see society in this way, rather than as a means for people to co-operate for mutual benefit, then justice demands that you do your best to assure equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, physical handicap or anything else that isn’t under control of the individual. But these meme does not give the wealthy any obligation toward the non-wealthy. It would be like demanding that the winner of a high-stakes poker game return some of his winnings to the loser.