The most startling aspect of contemporary American politics is the rapidity and degree to which a range of concepts and theories that were once relegated to the fringe (academic) left, and which are also overwhelmingly opposed by most Americans, have now come to constitute something of an "official" national ideology.
Critical race theory, intersectionality, systemic racism, white privilege and white supremacy, gender fluidity, cultural appropriation, and whiteness are now assumed to be crucial concepts for explaining American history and the American condition. That which was seldom heard outside campuses just a few years ago is now impossible to avoid.
Everything around us seems to have gone "woke" in the blink of an eye.
Future historians attempting to understand this abrupt, profoundly illiberal shift will probably trace its origins to the earlier embrace on the left of identity politics, with its underlying assumption that race, gender, and ethnicity determine destiny. That and the remarkable control that the radical left has gradually acquired on the opinion-formulating institutions of American society (not just academe and the legacy media, but also Hollywood, publishing, and philanthropy).
When you start down the identity-politics path, you invariably come to see everything in terms of identity (ascription). Everyone gets classified into the appropriate group based upon their race, ethnicity or gender (and even sexual preference and "identity"), with those groups then sorted into oppressor or oppressed categories.
All political, social, and economic outcomes and developments must then, in a form of tautological self-validation, be explained in terms of the relationships between those groups.
Individuality (the essential component of Enlightenment liberalism) gets lost to caricature, with our shared humanity discarded in favor of group assignment. Those in each group are expected to think alike and each group to think differently. The extraordinary complexity of human life becomes over-simplified by a form of hyper-reductionism.
The identity-politics model becomes both unchallengeable in the sense of acquiring complete dominance of the public discourse and non-falsifiable in the sense of being impervious to any kind of empirical refutation.
An ensuing rejection of intellectual life occurs because the adopted explanatory framework tolerates no dissent and demands only enthusiastic endorsement (or else). It already has all of the answers (much like the Marxist framework from so much of contemporary "anti-racist" thinking, often unwittingly, derives, with any critics dismissed for suffering from a form of false consciousness that blinds them from their own racism and sexism). You end up with a closed loop which leaves no room for any inquiry (research) that doesn't begin with identity-politics assumptions and lead to identity-politics conclusions.
In the words of Michael Lind, "If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star. That's because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women are Women, 1619, Defund the Police."
You are thus left with no truth to seek and nothing left to talk about. American political discourse becomes the equivalent of an endless day of droning NPR broadcasts, with a stock storyline and cardboard villains and victims, each determined solely by the color of their skin/gender.
The essential assumption of the civil rights and women's liberation movements--that people should be treated the same regardless of color or gender--is replaced with the assumption that color and gender determine thought and behavior (life experience). All you need to know about someone is the color of their skin and what gender they identify with--we are only what we look like.
In (ironically) racist fashion, we are told that a Black male reporter is going to report the news differently than a white male reporter, as if the facts of a particular news story come in different colors, and that a female judge will interpret the law differently than a male judge, as if the content and meaning of the law being interpreted varies with the gender of the interpreter.
We are therefore confronted with an ideology that undermines the most important premises of the Enlightenment and threatens to return us to a primitive, medieval world.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that this repeal of human progress appears to have occurred despite the existence of abundant evidence that most Americans never wanted it; nay, have little but contempt for its underlying assumptions, dogma and tactics.
Most Americans don't think they are racist or that the country they love is pervaded by systemic racism or defined by white supremacy. They don't like racial quotas (even if disguised under the euphemism of equity), don't want people judged by the color of their skin, and don't believe their lives have been defined by privilege or oppression.
Americans didn't want this cultural revolution, but what they want apparently no longer matters.
And that, not voter ID laws or buffoonish would-be insurrectionists, is the real threat to our democracy.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.