Steve Bannon and Identity Politics

         Here’s the good news: President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor might just make it possible to start having an honest discussion about race in the United States.     

         The bad news? Progressives may not want such a discussion, preferring, instead, cocoons of unctuous self-righteousness.  

         Candidly, I view Bannon’s selection to the post as a consolation prize. He is too much of a bull to be let loose in the White House china shop. But Trump didn’t want to kick a loyalist to the curb. So he gave him a fancy sounding job and an impressive sounding title, but no real responsibilities.       Although Bannon was the Trump campaign’s “CEO” in the mad dash to the electoral finish line, he was far too polarizing a figure to serve as chief of staff. Reince Priebus’s selection as gatekeeper to the president makes sense. Priebus, outgoing the chair of the Republican National Committee, is a go-along, get-along kind of guy. Bannon is a flamethrower.

         So Bannon gets to whisper sweet and sour nothings into the presidential ear. Period. You’d think Bannon was given keys to the nation’s concentration camps based on the caterwauling in the mainstream media. The New York Times has been reduced to broadsheet for the national pity party, printing all the whining that’s fit to print.

         Plenty of folks don’t like Bannon. They don’t like him because he’s alt-right, a white nationalist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a misogynist … the list goes on. His presence in the White House inspires panic, even hysteria. He’s become a trope for all the diversity crowd most dreads about that most dreadful of species: white men.

         I am glad he has the president-elect’s ear. The identity politicians need to take a long hard look into the mirror he holds. In it, they will see a reflection of themselves.

         In case you missed it, it is now morally suspect to be a white male, especially if you are a heterosexual, or not otherwise confused about your gender. (Being a white male can be forgiven if you are gay, or if you demand the right to use female restrooms because you really feel like a woman.)

         It is fashionable to claim that white male privilege imposes blinders on the likes of folks like me. We cannot see the suffering of others, or empathize with their struggle, because we’re to the manor born. The assumption, of course, is that being a heterosexual white male renders our world a safe place for us.

         This form of cultural politics ignores the reality of class and income inequality. Trump’s genius was to tap the rage of the white working class, a rage fueled by a sense that they should be forced to pay for the fulfillment of others when their own basic needs were not being met.

         Identity politicians seek to defrock the white male, to deprive him of his privilege. Diversity is the banner under which everyone else is to gather. It is a tapestry composed of every color but white, every flavor but vanilla.

         When a white person defends himself and suggests that his is not a bed of roses, the identity politician is quick to levy charges of white nationalism. It is a dishonest, a disreputable and, in the context of this year’s election, a losing argument.

         I’ve never paid a lot of attention to Breitbart or to the alt-right. I’m no white supremacist. I truly believe in original sin and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’re all sinners in need of grace.

         But I voted for Donald Trump because Hillary Clinton did not look much like an instrument of grace to me. She was a racial panderer, surrounding herself with those gleeful that the Caucasians are becoming a minority in this country.      I’d watch Van Jones, a former White House aide, a CNN talking head and Clinton surrogate, opine about the “white vote” as if it were an aberration that could safely be ignored. I felt like a stranger in my own home.

         Clinton lost because she decided that white lives don’t matter as much as the lives of others. Did she really expect the white working class to lay idly by?

         Trump said otherwise. Bannon helped craft the message. Bannon was white to Clinton’s brown.

         Both candidates played racial and ethnic cards in this election, and we all lost as a result.

         Bannon is a white identity politician. He has adopted the rhetorical tactics and techniques of progressives who believe the if you’re white, you can’t be right.

         Look in the mirror, all ye who drink from the bottomless well of diversity for diversity’s sake: Steve Bannon is your twin brother. If you don’t like what you see, it won’t work to call him a name, he’ll hurl the epithet right back at you.

         White men don’t owe the world a thing; you’re not entitled to anything on account of your particular accident of birth. A politics based on character, and not skin color, demands as much.

         So let the protestors chant “Not My President.” Let the left deplore Bannon and claim that his version of identity politics is toxic while demonizing white men is, well, merely justice.

         If we all hold this course, we can destroy the country. Our leading educational institutions seem contend to do just that. Leading universities cancelled exams after the election – students were too upset to concentrate. At the University of Michigan Law School, an event was planned at which lawyers in training could meet together to color, play with Lego sets and engage in other stressless play.

         Thus we become the laughing stock of the world.

         I don’t like Steve Bannon. But neither do I like what made him possible. Identity politics and racial pandering separate and divide. If forced to choose, I’ll choose my skin. Who can blame me, if skin is all there is?

         We all need to reread St. Augustine’s City of God. We’ve lost sight of the divine and are beholden now to lesser loves, loves which blind us to the hidden power of grace to transform and unite.

         I look at Steve Bannon and I see a nation much in need of grace. 


Why Trump Made Sense in 2016

The website for information on how to migrate to Canada crashed Tuesday night; it was apparently overwhelmed by the amount of traffic. I suspect that was about the time folks began to realize that Donald Trump was on his way to becoming the 45th president of the United States. Trump’s victory was a shock to most people. There’s talk of the apocalypse around water coolers nationwide.

Brace yourself, folks. This election was merely a tremor. The real convulsion, the one that could shake the republic to its foundation and cause it to crash down upon itself, will come in four, or, perhaps, eight years. We’ve a narrow window to save ourselves if we can.

Although it will take a long time to sort through the data on this week’s election, this much seems clear: Trump’s victory depends in large part on his success in courting the votes of working-class white people — in particular white males. People of color, Latinos, and others not cut from a vanilla cloth tended to vote for Hillary Clinton.

I’ve a confession to make. I voted for Trump precisely because he is white male. I decided to do that thanks to two people: A family friend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and state Sen. Gary Winfield. 

A couple of years ago, I was spouting off about something or other on Facebook when a “friend” called me out on it. My views were wrong. Dead wrong. When I gave my reasons, I was told those reasons were acceptable to me only because I enjoyed “white male privilege.”

It was a stunning sort of rhetorical move. All at once, my views were held to be illegitimate, and questionable, simply because of my accident of birth. Had I leveled a similar claim against a woman, a black person or a Hispanic, I would be called a misogynist or a racist without any sense of irony at all.

Not long thereafter, I appeared on a panel about policing and the use of force. The discussion took place not long after one of the shootings spawning the Black Lives Matter movement. After I spoke, Sen. Winfield made a comment to the effect that sometimes white folk needed simply to shut up and listen.

It was a rude slap in the face from a man I had once admired.

Both comments stung, and I started to read discussions about race, gender and politics through a different lens. It appeared suddenly that being a white male was suspect in the eyes of many. The same folks seeking equality assumed they could achieve it by marginalizing me.

That’s a long way from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that we would one day see beyond the color of skin to the content of character. I refuse to apologize for being white or male.

Then silly season descended on college campuses. There’s talk of safe spaces, marginalizing, and endless discussions of diversity for diversity’s sake. There are rumblings about reparations for past injustices; not to mention what we owe the world. I watched Hillary Clinton give a speech reminding her audience about what white folks owe to others, and I knew at once, I would never vote for her. She was a racial panderer, an identity politician.

The meaning of the Trump victory, or at least of my vote for Trump? If one group plays at identity politics, then I’ll play it, too, even if only on the defense. Donald Trump knew how to play that card.

In Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus has a harrowing discussion with his children toward the end of the book. “Don’t fool yourselves,” he said, talking about racism, “It’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in you children’s time.”

The day of reckoning has come. We are Atticus’s children.

Demographic change will result in a nation in which Caucasians are a minority by 2040. That fact more than any other explains Trump’s appeal. White folk are scared and unnerved. In a world of growing economic inequality, asking the white working class to sacrifice more to include others in a dream few can realize feels confiscatory. Trump struck back.

Although he won the election, he did not win the hearts and minds of the country. Despite my vote for him, I awoke to news of his victory chastened. He harnassed fear, and anger, calling the bluff of minority groups playing at identity politics by harnassing that very strategy on behalf of a vanishing majority.

That sleight of hand barely worked this election. Indeed, it appears as if the popular vote was tilted in Clinton’s favor, even if Trump captured enough votes in the Electoral College to become the next president.

Four years from now, Trump’s base will be that much smaller; sooner or later, it will no longer be possible for a white man to appeal to race and win.

So Trump supporters ought not to gloat. No one should celebrate this most dismal of elections. Two candidates a majority of folks don’t trust bathed in mud and asked for our support. I chose my candidate based on the lowest of possible denominators; I suspect many other voters did likewise.

We need to recalibrate our politics. Whatever happened to talking about integrity, or visions of the common good? It’s as though we’ve run out of capital in this country and are retreating to our tribes because there is nothing left in common.

There is no future in such a world, or at least not a future that is not bloody, violent and rife with the sectarian tension common elsewhere in the world.

White, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, transgender, disabled — the list extends to idiosyncratic infinity in a world without a spiritual center — there has to be more to politics than our individual identities. What became of discussing the soul?

Donald Trump’s victory, the victory of a man without apparent qualities, is a paradoxical invitation to reassess what makes life worth living. We became caricatures, so many of us, in the last election. God save us if we don’t become people of character before the next one.

I don’t fear the fire next time; I fear the earthquake that this week’s tremor portends.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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