On Politics: Diving into ‘identity politics’
These days we often hear accusations that certain people or groups are guilty of “identity politics.”
Usually it’s conservatives tarring liberals with the term, so let’s take a look at what it means. One definition: “Political attitudes or positions that focus on the concerns of social groups identified mainly on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
Examples would include Black Lives Matter, the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), community and militant feminists, among others.
Like-thinking folks have joined together to pursue their mutual interests for centuries. In medieval times there were Knights Templar; during the Enlightenment there were philosophical societies; Mozart was able to exercise his genius thanks to help from Masons. Identity politics goes a step further, and involves utter disdain and disrespect for anyone or group that doesn’t agree.
Matthew Continetti, editor of the conservative Washington Free Beacon, pegs 1973 as the birth year of identity politics, the year Solzhenitsyn’s book Gulag Archipelago “demolished any pretense of communism’s moral authority.”
How then was the left to carry on its fight against capitalism when socialism was no longer viable? Continetti theorizes that Marxism morphed into identity politics, which he defines as “a ceaseless struggle between colonizer and colonized, victimizer and victim, oppressor and oppressed.”
He identifies the American university as the birthplace of the movement. Various new “studies” began popping up: African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Chicano Studies. Neocon Irving Kristol wrote: “What these radicals blandly called multiculturalism is as much a war against the west as Nazism and Stalinism ever were”
Adding gasoline to the fire was the unexpected election of Donald Trump, which the Weekly Standard characterized as having: “rendered his supporters incoherent with triumphalism and his detractors incoherent with rage thereby dumbing down political conversation for a long time to come.”
It has all come to this: U.C. Berkeley spent $600,000 on “security” for a visit by conservative author Ben Shapiro; Charles Murray, a 74-year old man, was attacked by a student mob at Middlebury College. All in all campus debate has been effectively shut down by threats of violence and students responding like automatons. What’s worse, this student intolerance spawns other liberal group-think, whose utterances are ballyhooed by sympathetic members of the media.
We have come to point where a mere allegation of sexual impropriety by an official dooms his career. Both allies and antagonists scream “off with his head” like the French Revolutionary mob in Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.” Due process is trampled. Remember the Bill Clinton era when the zeitgeist was “boys will be boys”?
Lighting one little candle is Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla. In his New York Times column, titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” he implores liberals to retreat from the precipice. His purpose was “to convince his fellow liberals that their current way of looking at the country, speaking to it, teaching its young, and engaging in practical politics has been misguided and counterproductive.”
He continues: “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
Identity politics fails at electoral politics, Lilla says.
“Politics is not about ‘difference,’ it is about commonality and will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny,” he concludes.
Lilla has been harshly criticized by the left, but his ideas ring true. Sure, Colin Kaepernick captured nationwide attention dissing our national anthem, but he can’t get a job. Black Lives Matter has not reduced incarceration of minorities. Lilla’s message is that a majority of voters will support a candidate like Bill Clinton, who tells people what’s right about America, not what’s wrong with it.
Democrats, are you listening?
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org