Identity politics is the primary threat to American democracy because it is the primary source of the polarization afflicting it.
Polarization is inherent to the logic of identity politics because of its assumption that Americans can be plugged into monolithic racial and ethnic groups with the same values and interests. It is also the goal of those playing the identity politics game because they seek to exacerbate racial and ethnic grievances as a means of electoral success.
Some of this was unintentionally captured recently by comments from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a dependable source of revelation of the underlying assumptions and obliviousness of contemporary leftism.
Per our ongoing debate over immigration policy, Pelosi, consistent with her party's broader immigration narrative, claimed that the Trump administration's various positions on the issue amounted to a desire to "make America white again."
Pelosi obviously jumped the gun a bit regarding demographic change--as much as it might distress her, America doesn't need to become white "again" because it still is, or at least 70 or so percent of it, including, at last glance, the representative from California's 12th Congressional District.
But the real significance of Pelosi's accusation lies in the manner in which it says more about the racism deeply embedded in identity politics liberalism than the racism of Donald Trump.
For Pelosi, Trump's immigration comments somehow suggest that America would be a better place if more white. But Pelosi's own comments in response suggest it would somehow be a better place if less so.
Only racists see a society's progress as contingent upon its racial composition, but in Pelosi's way of thinking a whiter America is apparently a bad thing because ... well, white people are bad, to the point where we would do better to have fewer of them around.
Pelosi thus let slip an overarching goal of Democratic Party politics and leftism more broadly--to make America less white on the assumption that a less white America is somehow a better America. For Democrats, the American experience has been a tragic story of white oppression, which is only now being reversed by glorious demographic change.
Identity politics can't work without creating "victim" categories, but one cannot, logically speaking, have victims without also having "victimizers," which in the identity politics narrative is invariably America's white majority. Any system of identity politics must therefore depend not only on accusations of incorrigible white racism but the assumption that the fewer white people the better, a segue into a new form of racism every bit as incendiary as the old.
Identity politics necessarily creates a racial, gender, and ethnic hierarchy ("intersectionality") in which black trumps white, female trumps male, and gay trumps straight, with all the potential racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual preference cross-cleavages therein.
There is no end to the splintering of the body politic, or the grievances and animosities that can be inflamed to political benefit. Everyone can be pitted against someone, with white males a conveniently common target for anyone who isn't a white male.
To play the game of identity politics in a multicultural society is to therefore play with fire, exacerbating as it must racial/ethnic hostilities and political polarization and incivility more broadly. Nor, once begun, is it a game that can somehow be restricted to just minority groups; by encouraging racial and ethnic consciousness and grievances, it also encourages, nay, guarantees, precisely the white racist backlash that it claims to see in Trump.
The great irony, however, will be that, along with destroying the nation's social fabric for political gain, the Democrats' identity politics tactics will also end up destroying the Democrats, not just by alienating the white majority (a process obviously well underway) but also splintering their party along the racial, ethnic, and gender lines it establishes.
It is already possible to foresee intra-party Democratic wars fought purely through competing claims of racial, ethnic, and gender status, with the various contestants seeking to triumph on the basis of alleged degree of victimization.
For 2020, we will have a black female (Kamala Harris), a black male (Corey Booker), and a white female (Elizabeth Warren) likely seeking the Democratic nomination for president in circumstances transformed by the identity politics paradigm. Harris will check off the most identity politics boxes per victimology/intersectionality logic, while Warren's candidacy will likely suffer from charges of "white privilege" (ironically made more problematic by her claims of Native American ancestry).
Hispanics, the most recent focus of Democratic identity politics courtship, will almost certainly catch on to the opportunity provided and put forth their own contenders (after all, if a black male in 2008 and a white female in 2016, why not a Hispanic in 2020?).
It will be a fascinating free-for-all in which the primary qualification will be the extent to which the group each contender belongs has been oppressed by white males.
Along such lines, filmmaker Mich-ael Moore, a roughly representative specimen of what is now the Democratic Party base, recently echoed Pelosi when he demanded that the country "cleanse its soul" of "white male privilege" (although, revealingly, not offering to give up any of his).
Welcome to the new Democratic Party, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.
Editorial on 02/05/2018
Print Headline: Identity politics and racism