Since the election numerous critics of the left, some from the left and some not, have identified "identity politics" as a culprit in Democratic political failure and the election of Donald Trump. Identity politics is a great term for this because it, ironically, covers up more than it reveals.
Best I can tell, identity politics just means that religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, largely through the Democratic party or left of center political movements, make the case for equal and dignified treatment in society. This should not be controversial, but it apparently is.
For the life of me, I can't really find the concrete complaint here because everybody from Mark Lilla to David Brooks wants to avoid saying something ugly in plain language so we're left with the absurd complaint that the Democrats have somehow decided not to focus on issues like trade, employment and local economics because they have become somehow distracted by bathroom rights for transgender people, same sex marriage, Black Lives Matter protests and recreational abortions.
Well, that's clearly not what happened. Yes, it's true that since the early 1990s, both Democrats and Republicans have reached a pro-globalization consensus that is currently being tested, but Democrats did not come to that position because of domestic social priorities.
Hal wants to know why black voters were so reluctant to support Bernie Sanders and were so enthusiastic for Hillary Clinton when he believes Sanders would have better represented the black community on both social and economic matters. I think the answer is that Hillary and Bill Clinton, operating for a longer time on the national stage had simply built more credibility with those voters than a longtime Senator from a very white and rural state could over the course of one primary campaign. I don't see this as any sort of failure of identity politics. It's more like actual politics.
But who Democrats chose in the primary is almost beside the point. More troubling was Trump's win with white men and white women who seemed to buy into his promises about better, sweeter trade deals that will benefit the heartland. Were they duped? That remains to be seen. I think these people would have been better served by Clinton. Time will tell.
Here is where we get to the impolitic assertion of the identity politics critics -- we know the claim that Democrats have ignored economic issue in favor of social justice is absurd on its face. Dealing with one issue takes no energy away from another. There is no trade-off between same sex marriage and NAFTA. No, the impolitic observation here is that white men and women seem to think that Democrats have gone too far and that our association in their minds with same sex marriage rights, transgender rights, Black Lives matter, pro-choice politics and the like turns those white voters off.
The idea here is that the real America is like a rerun of Home Improvement and those people think that the Democrats are a bunch of city-dwelling radicals who are trying to mash it up with Ru Paul's Drag Race. Well, we all know that's not true. The pace of social change has been slow and inadequate. We can't stop now. We can, of course, embrace better trade and economic policies that really help people. But we cannot help people who will not vote for good policy because they are afraid of transgender people in restrooms.
In a column today criticizing the post-Inauguration protests, a not very well-meaning David Brooks lectures the left that opposition to Trump must take this form:
If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.
One of the reasons we have identity politics is that biblical morality doesn't work for everybody. One of the reasons we have identity politics is that there's more to life and politics than making sure that white people feel okay about what you're saying.