Liberty Expose: The Banality of Identity Politics
If there is one incident that illuminates on the current state of the America political soul, it is the reaction to Charlottesville.
Almost immediately following the events, sensationalism by public figures and the media followed. A recent opinion piece published in the Washington Post depicted a picture of the terrorist act in Charlottesville while arguing that the picture defines an era. Anyone who believes that this era will be defined but the actions of a white supremacist should reconsider political journalism. There have always been extremist movements in American history, with most posing a bigger problem than the Pseudo-Nazis of Richard Spencer and company
The early 20th century saw a global phenomenon of anarchist terrorism, a movement the led to the assassination of an American president and a bombing of Wall Street. The late 60’s and early 70’s witnessed leftist terrorism from groups such as the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army, groups who executed bombings and murders respectively (two terrorists associate with the Weathermen got to enjoy tenured professorships after retiring from domestic terrorism.) Of course, there was a time when there were actual supporters of Nazism when Nazism was still a global threat, not just a group of indigent troglodytes carrying Tiki torches that are designed to protect lawns from mosquitos
Not much more on Charlottesville can be said beyond this: extremist groups that are too small to even represent a minority clashed, and in that clash, there was in act of domestic terrorism. Richard Spencer, the de facto leader of the white nationalist “movement,” (it is too small to even be called that) is a morally bankrupt troll. There is nothing more that can be said.
In a mature society, the public would ignore the actions of a small group of delusional extremists. But as we live in a puerile society, this story has blown up, and now there exists a manufactured crisis. Though I won’t comment more on what happened in Charlottesville, the recent events do present an opportunity to discuss the greatest challenge in American politics and society: the threat of identity politics.
Identity politics is now defining political rhetoric, both in the public and in the commentary community. Obsessions with race, class, and gender have begun to dominate discourse, with no positive results. Let’s examine this triad. Class will be first.
If there can be one idea that describes the 2016 election, it is populism. America has dealt with the power of populism before: the Jacksonian Democratic party platform was founded under populism; the early 20th century saw a surge in socialist movements, with socialist leaders such as Eugene Debbs rising to national popularity; and the Depression brought about the rise of the populist posterchild, Huey Long, whose populist platform of “share our wealth” under the banner of “every man a king” led the Louisiana politician from obscurity to national fame.
Long came to challenge Franklin Roosevelt for being too moderate, though Long was assassinated before he could make a run for the presidency.
2016 brought about another resurgence of populism on both the left and right; on the left, the challenge Bernie Sanders posed to Hillary Clinton almost brought Mrs. Clinton’s downfall. On the right, Donald Trump’s vulgar-laced clubbing of traditional conservatives presented him the nomination, which no one predicted. In many ways, supporters of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had more in common than they did not; supporters of both populists blamed a faceless elite for the ills in America.
For Trump, it was the political establishment, broadly defined; political actors ranging from traditional politicians to the media became the enemy. For supporters of Senators Sanders, it was the One Percent.
Class warfare does not provide solutions, rather populism is about accumulating an enemies list. One century after the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, the lesson has not been learned. Class hatred results in tragedy, not solutions.
The temporary enjoyment associated “sticking it to the man” soon is forgotten when nations continue to decline. Now the Donald Trump has been elected, to the collectivized horror of those politically illiterate enough to think he could destroy the country, no policy solutions worth anything have been passed. Only Twitter rhetoric, which, evidently, the people want in this age.
The second category of identity politics is gender. If the current discourse surrounding class is meaningless, and discourse on race is malicious, then the debate on gender is ridiculous. Exploiting gender for political means is not particularly new, but with the election of Donald Trump, gender politics has skyrocketed. Much of gender politics is identity promotion, as opposed to isolating other groups (though that does occur).
Many desire to promote themselves based on their genders opposed to their merits, as evident in the last election. Arguments based on gender supremacy are trickling into the public debate, though not as many endorse the extremes of this category of identity politics, as opposed to the other two. Its more mindless than malicious.
The third branch of identity politics, and the most malicious, is race. Race has become an increasingly toxic subject, racist and racialist movements associated with almost every racial group have begun to plague public debate. Journalistic establishments as prestigious as the Washington Post are publishing racially-motivated pieces. The Post recently published an article by Catherine Rampell titled “White Millennials are Just as Racist as their Grandparents.”
Ms. Rampell embodies everything that is wrong about public debate, and she is emblematic of the divisiveness of identity politics. No positive outcome comes from this tribalism. Those who feed the flames of resentment do so by making claims against an entire group of people, creating an atmosphere of hostility. Look to the fascist movements of the early 20th century, and see the parallels between them and people who gleefully utilize terms such as “white privilege.” Like all forms of identity politics, there is no policy solution that comes from this - just hate.
With all the despair associated with the surge of identity politics, it is easy for one to question the merits of the democratic system and let the disappointing aspects of society affect one’s mental health. There is an antidote to this: do not focus on the extremism of a small minority. Do not grant credence who is to turn those of different class, gender, and ethnic backgrounds against one another. If on social media, one decides to make derogatory remarks from a place of anger or self-righteousness, do not let their foolishness poison one’s mind by engaging in a senseless comment-section debate.
There are grater causes than identity to fight for. The path towards national success does not come from the voices of those who wish to divide, but from the actions of those who strive for personal improvement, community, and family. With the liberty to live in a society that permits freedom of conscience comes the burden of dealing with the small group who are irresponsible with that freedom, and those dark voices must not be allowed to damage one’s soul.
Times like these remind me of a quote from the Odyssey: “how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods from us alone they say come all their miseries yes but they themselves with their own reckless ways compound their pains beyond their proper share.” Those who are quick to allocate blame towards others are just as toxic to the public debate as they are to themselves.
The malady of identity politics has a cure: responsibility. Only when one frees oneself from the chains of victimhood and assumes command of their own fate will the hatred of identity politics be destroyed. People are endowed with free will – whether they can handle the burden and contribute to the good society is up to them.