Opinion: A conservative tars liberals
January 5, 2018
In his opinion piece "On Politics: Diving into 'identity politics'" (Sierra Sun, Dec. 20, 2017), Jim Clark tells us that "These days we often hear accusations that certain people or groups are guilty of 'identity politics.' Usually it's conservatives tarring liberals with the term."
He then proceeds to do just that, mentioning Black Lives Matter, LGBT groups, and feminists. He cites the left wing extremists, who have disrupted appearances by radical right wing speakers at places like Berkeley and Middlebury College. He somehow manages to overlook the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville or the far-right violent extremists responsible for most of the deadly terrorist attacks in this country (U.S. General Accounting Office report).
Identity politics has always been a part of American politics; one could argue that it is the essence of our politics. Identity politics recognizes that different groups have different interests and that the political process involves negotiating between these different interests, inevitably picking winners and losers.
Identity politics is enshrined in the Constitution in the form of the Senate and the Electoral College — in the early days of our republic people identified much more strongly with their states than they do now. The separate states were recognized as having separate interests, and the interests of the small states were protected by giving them a disproportionate influence in the Congress and in electing the president. In more recent times identity politics has led to the enfranchisemwent of women and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.
Modern identity politics is a recognition that various groups are disadvantaged in society at large and seek to level the playing field. Blacks and women are still at a significant disadvantage when it comes to income. Blacks are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to criminal justice, health, and education. Women are disproportionately subject to sexual harassment and abuse.
One disadvantaged group — rural and small town whites who have been left behind by globalization, technology, and urbanization — has so far not effectively identified itself, except in the voting booth. It is entirely proper for all of these and other disadvantaged groups to organize in order to improve their standing in society.
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David Brooks points out ("The Retreat to Tribalism", New York Times, Jan. 1, 2018) that identity groups do best when they call upon shared values of the society at-large — values like equality, justice, and freedom. These values were best expressed in the mainstream civil rights movement, while black nationalism and separatism have failed to make significant inroads.
Identity politics is neither good nor bad. It can express commons values like the civil rights movement did and does, or it can express intolerance and a disregard for the right of free speech, like the students (and outside agitators) physically interfering with right wing campus speakers.
Today, unfortunately, the plight of rural and small town whites has been co-opted by white nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and isolationism — values inconsistent with the values of our society as a whole. As a result, their current successes at the ballot box are likely to be transient as their plight fails to improve under the current regime.
Mr. Clark feels that the Democratic Party will not succeed as long as it focuses on identity politics. Perhaps this is so. On the other hand, if it figures out how to address the real concerns of rural and small town white people in a way that is inclusive, rather than divisive, it will be hard to beat.
Jack Kashtan is a resident of Truckee.