The Democratic Party has made identity politics the centerpiece of both its worldview and electoral strategy, with concepts like "white privilege" and "intersectionality" and a rigid political correctness flowing logically from it.
This is a trap that will likely destroy the Democratic Party and make race relations in America worse rather than better.
The beginning of the Democrats' identity politics stratagem was found in John B. Judis' and Ruy Teixeira's 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority. Its central thesis was that the future belonged to the Democrats not because of superior ideas but because of demographic change--as America became more racially and ethnically diverse it was going to inevitably become more Democratic, leaving the GOP with an aging, rump white constituency.
Barack Obama's 2008 election appeared to decisively validate the Judis-Teixeira thesis; with a minority-majority "coalition of the ascendant" put firmly in place and mobilized on behalf of a new era of progressive change.
But then things went terribly wrong--despite Obama's winning a second term, the Democratic Party was decimated at all other levels of government, losing more than 1,100 elected offices nationwide in perhaps the single biggest shift in political power in the history of the nation, culminating in the loss of the highest office of all last November to a reality TV star with nonexistent impulse control and bad manners.
There have been many reasons put forth for this seismic shift, but the Democrats' increasingly intense attachment to identity politics is the one that keeps hovering back into view and almost certainly has the most explanatory power.
Identity politics made the Democratic Party a party of punctilious political correctness, that relentless search engine on the lookout for anything that could remotely be construed as offensive to anyone from the victimized minority groups that comprise the Democratic minority-majority coalition.
In a related sense, the Democrats' identity politics strategy required the ongoing demonization of the nation's white majority based on intersectionality logic, which establishes a hierarchy of oppressors and oppressed, with white people in general, and white males in particular, at the top.
For identity politics to work, the minority groups that make up the new Democratic majority had to be persuaded that they were continuing victims of white racism and oppression, and that only Democrats could protect them.
The prospects of Democratic candidates across the land during election campaigns thus became increasingly dependent upon minority, particularly black American, turnout. Such electoral mobilization necessarily required an inflammation of race relations predicated on the claim that white Americans and American society more broadly were intrinsically racist.
To admit the alternative--that our nation has made tremendous progress in dismantling racism and changing people's attitudes on racial matters, including the attitudes of the white majority--would have destroyed the crucial assumption undergirding identity politics as both a belief system and electoral strategy.
The identity politics paradigm therefore required acceptance of a message that paints America and most Americans in the worst possible terms. Rather than the greatest force on behalf of freedom and democracy in human history, America would have to be presented as a land of unrelenting and systemic racism, sexism and homophobia.
The American experience that most Americans rightly take great pride in was, in the leftist version, nothing more than a narrative of exploitation and oppression.
Stuck as they are in their identity politics rut, Democrats are now forced to spend their time railing against marble soldiers and worrying about transgender bathroom access rather than talking seriously about jobs and tax reform.
It might be hard for liberals thoroughly marinated in identity politics to understand, but if Donald Trump represents the revival of white racism that they claim, they have only themselves and their cynical exploitation of racial divisions to blame. Indeed, the best way to encourage a genuine racial backlash is to persistently accuse white people of racist views they don't actually have.
Identity politics is dangerous in a multicultural society because it is a two-edged sword; there is no codicil which limits its use to just racial and ethnic minorities--if we cease to be individuals and are defined purely by our inclusion in racial/ethnic subgroups with assorted grievances, then the biggest racial/ethnic subgroup in America can play the game too.
If all there is to politics is simply group identity, then politics will consist purely of struggle between groups for influence and spoils; a struggle which, according to the very logic of intersectionality, the white oppressors will easily win due to their superior numbers and firm grip on the levers of power.
There should not be a "white community." But by the same logic there shouldn't be black, Hispanic, or LGBT communities, either. Group-based allegiances and grievances cannot be encouraged only for some groups and not others.
But it's not too late to pull back here--we can go still further down the identity politics path and become perpetually warring tribes, or we can reaffirm our shared values and remain members of that fortunate tribe called Americans.
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 09/18/2017
Print Headline: The identity-politics trap