On November 26, a panel discussion was scheduled at the Heritage Foundation in Washington titled, “Identity Politics Is a Threat to Society. Is There Anything We Can Do About It At This Point?” The online description of the all-white, mostly male panel begins as follows:
“Identity politics directly threatens the achievements of the Enlightenment, the Founding and the Civil Rights Movement, from freedom of speech to freedom of association and conscience. By partitioning America into ethnic, racial and sexual groups with antagonistic demands and grievances, Identity Politics returns us to the Plessy decision legalizing separate but supposedly equal treatment and it recalls the Dred Scott era of some Americans being less than citizens.”
I am writing this before the event, but do not plan to attend because I consider its premise prejudicial and its non-diverse composition paternalistic. Such criticisms would doubtless be met by the organizers with rolled eyes and the observation that ensuring broader representation would be capitulating to the very identity politics they explicitly oppose. That’s convenient.
Heritage proposed the ideas that became the basis for RomneyCare and ObamaCare. They have subsequently disavowed their paternity, essentially conceding that anything Democrats could accept is not radical enough. But let a hundred think tanks blossom. I am more concerned about the threat to our society from Trump’s appeal to white nationalism, not from the historically oppressed groups usually associated with the term “identity politics.”
As I wrote to one of the panelists, Andrew Sullivan, there would be less call for identity politics were it not for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. People organize around these categories in response to discrimination. Why does Heritage not organize a panel declaring resurgent bigotry a threat to society? The answer, it does not require deep sleuthing to discover, is old-fashioned privilege blindness.
Any serious examination of identity politics ought to begin with the worst offender: Trump. Aside from acting like a slacker jerking off in the back of the class (his Thanksgiving remarks were mainly about thanking himself), his entire presidency consists of saying, “Look at those terrible people (Mexicans, blacks, low-IQ women) over there.” It is awfully brazen amid his ceaseless bile to criticize his targets for defending themselves.
Trump has asked the Supreme Court to let him implement his ban on transgender military service. The only basis for it is prejudice. He is simply driving a political wedge. He does the same thing when he demeans a judge’s Mexican heritage, tear-gasses refugee families fleeing violence and poverty, or encourages police to rough-up arrestees.
It takes gall for white conservatives to criticize minorities considering the president’s sewer pipe of pathologies and the proliferation of white people calling the police on black people for going about their lives.
Nancy Pelosi’s consolidation of support in her highly diverse caucus after the Democrats’ midterm victory reveals Heritage Foundation’s dire talk of balkanization for what it is: another deflection to distract us from the GOP’s thwarting of the popular will through gerrymandering and voter suppression, themselves marinated in nativist identity politics. Republicans’ real objection is to others organizing.
Nine Democrats, members of the billionaire-backed Problem Solvers Caucus, are withholding support from Pelosi unless she accepts what Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) dismisses as “their GOP-friendly rules that will hamstring healthcare efforts from the get-go.” The smart money is on Pelosi.
Embedded narratives in our cultural environment can be nurturing or stifling, empowering or embittering. Trump pushes an ugly narrative that betrays our founding ideals, undermines our institutions, and pits us against one another. In contrast, voices that reflect the actual diversity of our population can allow us to see through the eyes of others and help us reconnect.
Our demagogic president stokes white fears by inflating and often fabricating darker people’s transgressions. The proper response is not to fetishize those fears in a privileged circle of wankery, but to do as House Democrats are preparing to do: subject the demagogue to proper oversight while pursuing a legislative agenda that will serve the entire population instead of just the wealthiest one percent. If Trump is truly concerned about “American carnage,” he can stop denying climate change.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.