If you’ve been following American politics in the last few days you’ll have read about Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren’s confrontation with President Trump. The President has spent the last two years mocking Senator Warren for the fact that she claimed to be part-Cherokee Indian when at Harvard University. Trump mockingly refers to Warren as ‘Pocohontas’, others occasionally as ‘Fauxcohontas’. That’s a reference to a famous female native American Indian, daughter of the grand chief, who saved the life of one of the Jamestown, Virginia colonists and eventually married an Englishman.
Trump mocks Warren because he thinks two things. Firstly, as he says repeatedly, he thinks she’s no more native Indian than he is. Secondly, he thinks she used this ‘I’m a native Indian’ spiel to get a job at Harvard. And here’s the thing. Trump’s attacks have been very successful. Warren clearly wants to run for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election for President. But she desperately needs to clear away this ‘you’re a self-serving phoney’ line of attack from Trump – who has even offered her a million dollars to the charity of her choice for proof she’s got a claim to being Native Indian.
And so a few days ago Warren released a DNA test she took with a Stanford geneticist. The result, released by the Senator herself, was that she has somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Indian blood. And this was presented by Warren as a triumph. Most, if not nearly all, of the media class, initially reported this as a big win for her against Trump. It’s not. It’s another example of Trump playing on the massive left-leaning bias of media as well as on the inability of top Democrats to see anything at all through the eyes of regular blue-collar voters.
First off, it turns out that those fractions or percentages of Indian blood are less than what you’d find in an average American white person of European descent. So if Warren’s an Indian virtually everyone is an Indian. Secondly, for anyone who stops to think for even a moment, it’s clear that Trump’s point is about quotas or preferences or affirmative action for minorities – an aspect of identity politics.
Here is one of the most privileged people on earth and she claimed to be an Indian for most of her time at Harvard law school. Why? Well, the reason I suspect she did it, and why the preponderance of Americans think she did it, is because it’s easier to get a job and to pass the tenure bar if you’re one of a few privileged minorities. Of course, Harvard now says that the fact Warren ticked the ‘Native Indian’ box had nothing at all to do with her getting the job and tenure.
Let me be frank. I’ve worked nearly thirty years in universities around the English-speaking world and I flat out don’t believe Harvard. Sure, there may not have been any formal and explicit quota. But I can tell you that informally universities bend over backwards to attract and employ people who tick various boxes, what you might call identity politics categories.
By the way, most blue-collar voters in the US think this too, which is why it’s so damaging to Senator Warren and her prospects of securing the Democrat nomination – because in the heat of that battle even her Democrat opponents will end up wheeling out this Trump line of attack.
Now I am an opponent of all forms of affirmative action, be they explicit quotas or unofficial but just as insidious ‘targets’ or informal ‘we’ll do what we can to get X through’ understandings. But if we are going to have these sort of ‘you get a better deal than others’ policies, then I stand with Trump. You should at least have some plausible and strong link to the group that is seen as having been disadvantaged. And Warren has nothing like that sort of link. She looks remarkably like someone who played the system and has now been found out.
If any of this reminds you of the Andrew Bolt saga in this country, and our terrible s.18C hate speech laws, you’d be correct. Bolt was raising the same general point as Trump, though in a much less brutal way than the President. In my view, they both make a powerful point. And if a few people along the way are offended by that, too bad. That’s the price of living in a free society.
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