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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

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  • RBear
    September 18, 2017 at 6:36 a.m.

    Gitz, you ninny. Much of the local (aka state) shift occurred as a result of racial gerrymandering as is now being validated by court cases across the nation. I know that's hard for you to put together as it doesn't suit your racist column (you're the one making the theme, not me). But since you started it, let's go down this road a little more.
    You chastise "identity politics" as if it is a pariah to national issues. It might be for a white person who wants others to ignore discrimination or class struggles such as some experienced by the groups you mention. The Democratic Party recognizes these struggles and works to help our nation overcome them. Maybe if some Republicans would work with them we wouldn't have this need for "identity politics" you gripe about.
    Speaking as one of the affected classes you mention, I can firsthand talk to discrimination when I look at our state's legislative agenda put forth by folks like Jason Rapert, Bob Ballinger, and others. I know it's also seen in some of the comments by folks in here who call transgender individuals mentally disturb.
    You also talk about issues such as bathroom access and local decisions to remove monuments HONORING leaders of the Confederacy, saying we should talk about jobs and tax reform instead. Guess what. Democrats do that more than Republicans in most cases, but you ignore those discussions due to your own "identity politics" focused on disparaging Democrats.
    Who was it that struck the deal on the debt ceiling in Washington? Democrats. Who was it that pushed for school finance reform and other economic issues in Texas when Republicans were focused on bathroom legislation? Democrats. Who was it who pushed many economic issues in Arkansas when Republicans were focused on socially conservative issues? Democrats.
    This HAS to be one of your most stupid pieces to be given column space in a long time. Your arguments are just playing to an ever shrinking base. In fact, on a weekly basis your columns become even more disgusting as I read them and I will continue to read them to rebut stupidity.
    Some will claim I don't get your column, but this statement alone shows I get it and rebuke it. When you talk about group identity, you make the insane claim that "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." Did you really write those racist words?

  • Delta123
    September 18, 2017 at 8:33 a.m.

    Dr. Gitz hits the nail on the head once again. He speaks with candor and the truth week after week.

  • Dontsufferfools
    September 18, 2017 at 9:23 a.m.

    gitz is just offering his slanted opinions here. That Dark Money book explained quite a lot about the rise of the GOP at the state and local levels. As to identity politics, it was the GOP that glommed on to Guns, Gods and Gays when it became apparent that they couldn't win elections by being the party that mainly advocated environmental destruction and tax cuts for wealthy people. Democrats were dragged rather reluctantly into the identity politics arena by cynical Republicans who kept the issues in the spotlight by shoving bills on immigration, abortion restrictions and bathrooms into legislative hoppers. Heck, first-term Obama didn't even back gay marriage.

  • Delta2
    September 18, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.

    To me, this piece is just a further incrimination of our current two-party's not working for the middle majority, or the best interest of the nation.

  • Packman
    September 18, 2017 at 10:43 a.m.

    Excellent article Dr. Gitz. The recent kerfuffle about the ESPN commentator's tweet calling President Trump a white supremacist is a great illustration of the game liberal democrats are playing. Nice work, Dr. Gitz. Very nice.
    Hey RBear - Yea, you're right. And please keep your head in the sand and ignoring the words of people like Dr. Gitz. You are doing your best to make sure President Trump will be re-elected. So please, RBear, keep up the good work.
    Although Kamala (the California Idiot, not the Ugandan Giant) Harris will give President Trump a good run for his money in 2020. Harris is an expert at identity politics and will almost certainly bring back to the polls black voters that abandoned Hillary Clinton in the crucial swing states. Her problem will be whether there's still enough white guilt in the country to put her over the top.

  • Pobucker
    September 18, 2017 at 11:09 a.m.

    LOL, well if there's not enough guilt I am sure she will manufacture some. That's how race-baiting dems work, right?

  • RBear
    September 18, 2017 at 11:24 a.m.

    Pack, with little evidence of fact other than ad hominems you continue to show your ignorance on the issues. What I have noticed about you is how LONG you hold onto a single point and ride it until you realize everybody has moved on. I have no idea why you have this obsession with Kamala, but go for it. It just keeps you distracted for a while.
    As I pointed out, facts in comments, Democrats are moving forward with economic issues. Republicans can't even get out of their backrooms to present a reliable proposal. Gitz talks about tax reforms and blames Democrats, but it's his party (and yours) who can't even muster one up. If anyone has their head in the sand, it's Gitz, you, and others of your ilk.

  • Packman
    September 18, 2017 at 11:50 a.m.

    Hey RBear - Bless your heart. You accuse me of "ad hominems" and then proceed to make an ad hominem attack. That rake you just stepped may leave a mark.
    As to Kamala Harris, many on the left are pointing to her as a front-runner for the D nomination in 2020. As to her name, I just think it's fun to point out that another famous "Kamala" is a former professional rassler. Lighten up, RBear, and have a nice day.

  • RBear
    September 18, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.

    Pack, goes with the turf. Blow for blow. BTW, not sure who this "many" is you speak of. A few maybe, but not enough to merit anointing at this time. There are a lot of names being batted about right now for 2020, including in your own ranks.
    I think my ire is more at Gitz than you. I mean, the guy stepped all over himself on this one. Some of the comments were about as dumb as you can get. The funny thing about him is that it almost seems like he's struggling to find real content for his columns these days. At best, these are rants and not columns. It must be sad to be at the end of the line when it comes to relevance.

  • MM03
    September 18, 2017 at 12:13 p.m.

    One of Dr. Gitz's top 5 op/eds of the past couple of years for sure. I chuckled when I read RBear's passionate comments. He took the bait hook, line and sinker. Gitz's incredible insight and powers of observation are accurate and impressive. Not to mention that he is a very effective writer. Proof is in the pudding. Identity politics finally backfired on the vote buying democrats.