Smugness and the Ryan Selfie

I have noticed that although both liberals and conservatives approach me as a brown Muslim, the liberals often reduce me to that identity. Meanwhile, the conservatives invite me into the fold of their own worldview.

Speaker Paul Ryan should have known that his selfie with congressional interns would become a sensation as soon as it hit the internet. It was just asking to be ripped apart by the already prevailing narrative that his party is unwelcome to people of color. Don’t get me wrong, it was hilarious that he had the one black guy in the room take the photo. But how much of that blinding whiteness is the Republicans’ fault?

I tend to align myself, like most classical liberals, with conservatives. This election season especially, my thinking pits me against most American Muslims. I regularly have to hear about how Republicans are stupid and racist, and I am constantly made aware that I side with the rednecks that want us kicked out of this country. I usually have to smile and play along.

I don’t need the #GOPSoWhite selfie to remind me so. Democrats do it all the time.

This self-proclaimed progressivism is scourged by Emmett Rensin in his already iconic essay for Vox, “The smug style in American liberalism.” Over the course of the last century, Democrats lost the original base of their party, the working class. This estrangement has prompted a simple, condescending question: Why do they vote against their own self-interest?

Indeed, Leon Friedman of Huffington Post wrote a blog headlined “Why Does the (White) Lower Middle Class Vote Republican?” Forgetting that it might have something to do with the American tradition of self-governance, he concludes that poor white people “believe that mysterious conspiracies are threatening their lives,” and therefore vote Republican. I would beg the reader to consider the uproar if Breitbart dared to run the headline “Why do poor black people vote Democrat?”

Political parties need to appeal to minorities, but the difference in their strategies is telling. Peggy Orchowski, the congressional correspondent for the Hispanic Outlook, asks, “Why do Democrats divide Americans into monolithic identity groups interested in single issues?” The 2012 Democratic Party Convention split itself into identity-group caucuses: the women’s caucus, the gay caucus, the Latino caucus, the black caucus. The GOP Convention, however, was organized by issues — after all, not all Hispanic voters are concerned about immigration, nor all Muslim voters concerned about foreign policy. Indeed, the top issues for Latino voters are economy and education, not immigration.

The organization of the Democratic Convention may show why the smug liberal would ask such a question. Democrats believe that the proletariat should vote for its own self-interest, thus leading to equity. Republicans believe that people should vote for self-governance, not for their “self-interest” in the way a Democrat might understand the term. But it is easier to believe that those dumb hicks from Kansas are just being duped.

Like many token minority non-communists, I am used to questions like “Do you really think Governor Synder cares about brown people?” Deroy Murdock, a black Republican columnist, was asked at the University of Michigan what his party had done for black people. He told us that they had helped the American people as a whole, and that naturally meant they had helped black people.

When Caitlyn Jenner claims that it was harder for her to come out as a Republican than as a trans woman, she makes a powerful rhetorical point. I understand it, as someone who has been called an Uncle Tom.

Minorities have bought wholesale into the identity politics of the Democratic Party. It is undeniable that the GOP is plagued by white nationalism, an unintended consequence of Goldwater’s principled stand against the Civil Rights Act. But conservatism as a philosophy of self-governance has nothing to do with color. It has become a self-perpetuating bias that Republicans are not welcoming to people of color. But I am not bound to those white interns in the Ryan selfie any more than I am bound to poor white people in Kansas. I only find beautiful the Natural Law enshrined in the preamble to our Constitution.

I have noticed that although both liberals and conservatives approach me as a brown Muslim, the liberals often reduce me to that identity. Meanwhile, the conservatives invite me into the fold of their own worldview. I am told that Ann Coulter once joked that I would be the ideal husband, if only I were Christian.

I have no mind to ever become Christian. And I do not believe that Donald Trump understands the Constitution any better than Hillary Clinton. Actually, I have no interest in voting.

As the tide turns and white identity politics take hold of the Republican Party, I feel my own little raft rocking. And yet there is a something oddly satisfying about watching it all unfold, if only because the smug liberal keeps telling me that a person of my skin color is not supposed to think this way.

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About Omar Mahmood

Omar was the editor of the Michigan Review.