President Biden and Identity Politics
David Green, 29 January 2021
President Biden’s inaugural address used the word unity a dozen times but his first actions as President did not match the rhetoric. Among the batch of Executive Orders he signed that day, one was inspired by the exact opposite of national unity. It signalled that he is a fully-signed up member of the divisive identity-politics movement.
He scrapped the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission, which was established to re-commit America to its founding ideals, and revoked Trump’s Executive Order 13950, which prohibited federal agencies from funding any workplace training that set out to inculcate any form of race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating. By these measures Trump had sought to unify Americans behind its founding principles, later called the American creed. After five pages of verbal camouflage about equity, opportunity and under-served communities, Biden revoked them.
Trump’s now abolished Executive Order defined race or sex stereotyping as ‘ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to an entire race or sex, or to individuals because of their race or sex’. And race or sex scapegoating was defined as ‘assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex, because of their race or sex’. It embraces any contention that ‘consciously or unconsciously, and by virtue of their race, members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others’.
No doubt suspicious that divisive ideas would continue to be propagated in spite of the Executive Order, Trump had carefully enunciated the specific concepts banned from federal training programmes, usually under the banner of equality, diversity and inclusion training. It was prohibited to teach that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; that an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or that meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
This was a pretty comprehensive list of the poisonous doctrines promulgated by identitarians. We can’t assume that President Biden is necessarily in favour of any of these notions, but he does think that it’s just fine to teach them to government employees. Someone sincerely committed to unity would have kept Trump’s Executive Order. It’s not that Biden was reflexively rejecting everything connected with Trump. His nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told a Senate committee that he shared the view of Trumps’ secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that China was committing genocide against the Uighur people.
Abolishing the 1776 Commission might seem less significant but it had just this month produced a report describing the history of America’s struggle to live up its own ideals. It accurately described racial discrimination in the Deep South from the 1870s until the 1960s, and praised the Civil Rights movement of that decade for reminding Americans of their own ideals. It criticised the subsequent hegemony of identity politics:
‘Today, far from a regime of equal natural rights for equal citizens, enforced by the equal application of law, we have moved toward a system of explicit group privilege that, in the name of “social justice,” demands equal results and explicitly sorts citizens into “protected classes” based on race and other demographic categories.’
President Biden showed where he stands. From his actions on his first day in office, we can anticipate a future of preferential treatment for identity groups politically well organised enough to make politicians listen. But in practice politics based on group rights entails the false denunciation of white people just for being white – the alleged possessors of white privilege.
The 1776 Commission is not misty-eyed about American history, and sharply criticised the most infamous defender of slavery, John C. Calhoun, who was a senator for many years and elected Vice President twice. Speaking in 1836 he had said: ‘I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slave-holding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.’
The Commission thought this amounted to a repudiation of the guiding principle of the Declaration of Independence that all humans should be equal in rights. Indeed, while a Senator, Calhoun had unambiguously denounced the Declaration’s principle of equality as ‘the most dangerous of all political error’ and a ‘self-evident lie’.
Anyone looking objectively at the report of the 1776 Commission can see that it is an honest attempt to describe the ideals around which Americans have been united when at their best and that their ‘American creed’ still offers the best hope for unity among people who disagree about many things. President Biden could have embraced it as the key to the unity he says he wants. He chose not to.
David Green is CEO of Civitas