Right On: The end of identity politics? Let’s hope so

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Identity politics is dividing our country. Let’s hope Democrats leave it behind and move forward with positive, uniting politics.

I share these opinions with a surprising cross section of Democratic politicians and liberal editorialists. They have come to the realization that they have both the demographics and the politics wrong.

To their mea culpa, I add that liberals have the morality of identity politics wrong.

In 2002, John Judis co-authored “The Emerging Democratic Majority” with demographer Ruy Teixeira. To Democrats’ delight, Judis projected a future liberal majority of minorities and progressive whites. Party leaders saw his book as confirmation of their ongoing identity politics strategy.

Now in a recent article in the liberal New Republic magazine, Judis says, “I argued that demographics favored the Democrats. I was wrong.” He explains:

The U.S. census makes a critical assumption that undermines its predictions of a majority-nonwhite country. It projects that the same percentage of people who currently identify themselves as ‘Latino’ or ‘Asian’ will continue to claim those identities in future generations. In reality, that’s highly unlikely. History shows that as ethnic groups assimilate into American culture, they increasingly identify themselves as white.

Judis points out that “53 percent of Latinos identified (themselves) as white in the 2010 U.S. Census as did more than half of Asian-Americans of mixed parentage.” He also notes that Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, John Cornyn and Richard Burr all garnered about half the Latino vote in their respective states.

There are still plenty of liberals beating the identity politics drum. Steve Phillips, author of “Brown Is the New White,” argues that people of color plus progressive whites are already 51 percent of the electorate. Phillips says the party must be “race-conscious and not race-neutral or color-blind.”

Judis rebuts Phillips, saying “Unless ethnic identification is defined in purely racial –and racist – terms, the census projections are straight-out wrong and profoundly misleading.”

The Democratic Party is in the midst of a momentous debate about identity politics. The party is split on whether to continue down the identity politics road as its animating principle or to return to its working class, economic-justice roots while not abandoning minorities.

Identity politics failed disastrously for Hillary Clinton who called out minority groups by name while campaigning. Her loss to a flawed and racist Donald Trump was a wake-up call for Democrats.

Following Hillary Clinton’s loss, Bernie Sanders said Democrats need to move toward policies aimed at helping the working class. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me,’” he said. “That is not good enough.”

Sanders went on: “In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.”

Identity politics supporters at Salon and the New Republic were quick to claim that Sanders really didn’t mean what he said. They said that, put in context, his views are more “nuanced.”

I’m quick to agree that Sanders didn’t suggest ignoring minorities. But the plain-spoken Sanders is not known for nuances; he meant what he said.

Obama weighed in saying, “A strategy that’s just micro-targeting particular, discrete groups in a Democratic coalition sometimes will win you elections, but it’s not going to win you the broad mandate that you need.”

Columbia University professor Mark Lilla in a New York Times editorial entitled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” wrote:

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.

The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and ‘celebrate’ our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age.

A writer in the liberal Daily Kos, commenting on Lilla’s editorial, said, “I’m of the opinion that our message must be crafted to recapture moderates….I don’t think we can do this by doubling down on our divisive approaches to identity politics.”

Lilla advocates what he calls “post-identity liberalism.” Conservative Daniel Payne explains why this will be difficult for “practical” Democrats who want to win elections. He points out that progressives and the media have radicalized millennials who will not readily abandon identity politics.

I heartily recommend reading both Lilla and Payne for point and counterpoint.

No Democrat, including all those quoted above, is suggesting that Democrats turn their backs on minorities. All believe these groups need Democrats and Democrats need them. But Hillary Clinton’s myopic identity politics message turned many Obama voters to Trump in 2016.

John Judis calls identity politics “racist”; Steve Phillips calls it “race conscious.” I call it racial discrimination practiced by those who believe the ends justify the means.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ words apply: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Democrats should substitute the name of every other one of their targeted identity groups for Robert’s word “race.”

I refuse to identify my race or ethnicity in any poll or questionnaire including the U.S. census. My race can only matter to racists and practitioners of identity politics and I refuse to indulge them. I long for Martin Luther King’s colorblind society.

I recommend you join me.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • statusquo October 5, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Both political parties should worry less about reelection and listen more to the will of the people, no matter what ethnicity they are. The US Constitution is also a good source of information about how to govern this nation!

  • laytonian October 5, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    But it’s perfectly FINE for the right wing and GOP to wallow in “pro-life”, “pro-gun” IDENTITY POLITICS, isn’t it?
    Your side is the side of the Charlottesville KKK and you DARE complain after people call you out for treating them badly?
    Why is Puerto Rico being ignored and Texas-Florida got much more help?

  • bikeandfish October 5, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Its interesting and ironic that folks like Sierer continue to focus on the label identity politics but don’t address the substance of the issue. Take the use of Sander’s quote. Sander’s lost because he failed to capture more than the young, white, largely male liberal who aren’t as affected by the issues that define “identity politics”. Hillary captured more votes from minority and women voters who are affected by these issues in America. His dismissal of identity politics is not a shock as its not his demographic. He did not speak to their lived experience about dealing with disproportionate violence nor did his universal focus on income equality address the variable unique to them. He was always an outsider trying to change the party and he failed.

    Sierer’s statement that “racists and practitioners of identity politics” only benefit from identifying his race shows a feeble grasp of why the realm of identity politics exists. Its a form of intellectual poverty to ignore the fact that decades of census data, which relies on self-identification, demonstrates how disproportionately poverty affects minority communities. Identifying race on a form is no different than identifying sex and it provides valuable information to solving society’s many ills. The fact is that many of our country’s problems don’t effect each citizen or subgroup the same and collecting real data allows us to target nuanced issues.

    The icing on the cake is trying to mangle Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote about individually being judged by the content of your character to some white mythology of being color blind. If Sierer truly longed for a world that resembled King’s vision than he would write essays that deal with the content of identity politics and not just the superficial political jabs used against it. Martin ignored moderate voices in both parties and was hated for it. Martin ignored calls to wait for a political unity that would never exist without the civil disobedience of black citizens (with a minority representation of other races) taking their places on buses, lunch counters and on roads facing down hoses. King practiced identity politics and fought for issues that disproportionately affected black citizens, like racial barriers to housing or unemployment. King said before being assassinated that when ” there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community, they call it a depression.” He knew the lived black experience was different than the white experience and fought to challenge moderate voices like Sierer’s who never agreed with King’s tactics of building coalitions based on race, which is the heart of identity politics.

    So when white men like Sierer try to co-opt and whitewash the context of King’s speech I have to stand up. He was not a party-line, color blind apologist. He was a radical who spoke to the heart of the racial nuances of injustice and fought back against the empty rhetoric of folks like Sierer. Folks like Sierer and Hyde present a strawman and never deal with the substance. Sierer didn’t remotely talk about racial and sexual injustice that plaques our society but instead parrots a talking point about the blame for our divided country.

    There is plenty to discuss about the DNC’s strategy failures in 2016. There is plenty of reason to find a way to call for unity. But its not by ignoring the real tenets of identity politics but by challenging the country to live up to its values by actually addressing the issues that affect the sub-groups in our country. Calling for unity without addressing those issues is hollow and disingenuous. The voice and rational Sierer is using now is the one King openly chastized in the Letter from Birmingham Jail because it never led to meaningful solutions.

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