Michael Maiello's picture

    Identity Politics is Actually Important

    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.




    I've read all of Hal's articles on this topic and a bunch from others on hte left who don't believe we are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. It's a little off putting to know that their are so many on the left who view matters of life and death as trivial matters to be pushed aside for electoral success.

    But there's a buck to be made, how can you resist that? ;-)

    The other problem is that once you accept that we can't press this or that social issue until "later," that later never comes.  It's never the perfect time.  The guy in the middle of the country who won't vote with you because "transgender people in the restroom" when he doesn't have a good job is not likely to change his mind on that issue when he does have a good job. It never seems to be the right time to reform policing practices, in or outside of the cities. There's no magic time when the mythical average American says "okay, my belly's full and I'm comfortable, let's worry about everyone being left out."  Just never happens.

    Danny - if anything I wrote causes you to believe that I "view matters of life and death as trivial matters to be pushed aside for electoral success," I am terribly sorry.  I believe that Black Lives Matter very very much and they (black lives) are one of the main reasons that I take the political positions that I take.  Obviously, I have failed to communicate that to you.  I will strive to do a better job in the future.

    Richard Cohen comments on 'biblical morality' in Sean Spicer's Stalinist Apparition:

    No one in his inner circle seems to stand up to Trump. No one publicly contradicts him. It took the famous “Access Hollywood” tape for Mike Pence to utter a peep of disquiet, but other than that, this oft-proclaimed heartland Christian has reliably licked the boots of the Manhattan pagan. 

    The Civil Rights Movement focused on what was due to all citizens. Martin Luther King Jr. did not talk about identity. He talked about rights we all had as citizens.
    In view of the fact he was fighting specifically for the rights of Black People, it would be ridiculous to argue that he was not using "identity" as a fulcrum.
    But it was his iron will to develop the idea of the human being that encouraged his supporters and scared the crap out of his opponents.

    Thanks for this. One of the problems Progressives face is that we often ask the question "What is wrong with us?". The more proper question is "What the Hell were those voters thinking?" To be charitable, trump is obviously not well. His press secretary states that Trump believes what he believes. Faced with pictures showing larger crowds for Obama in 2009 compared to his inauguration in 2017, Trump believes that his crowd was larger. Trump believes that millions of immigrants voted for Hillary. Trump believes that he saw thousands of Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers came down. Trump cannot be shaken from these beliefs. Do we really believe that Trump thinks that President Obama was born in the United States? I don't. Trump is delusional. Large chunks of the public know that Trump is delusional. Others don't care that Trump is delusional. Those who refuse to acknowledge that Trump is mistaken are practicing true identity politics. They allow their skin color to suppress their rational thought process. Democrats are not going to win these voters back.

    Blacks and Latinos used to play crabs in a barrel politically. Things have calmed down dramatically. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama. Obama is supporting Tom Perez for DNC chair. Reverend Al Sharpton welcomed LGBTQ activists to march against Stop and Frisk. This was a marked difference when you compare it to the monochrome nature of Occupy Wall Street. I pointed out that the women organizing the women's march made it diverse. We have structures that can bring people together.

    When the Trump White House took Civil Rights down from their website, Climate Change, and LGBT issues also came down. Bigotry against Muslims is not mentioned. We can all attack the Trump administration to protect our personal issues. We have a better chance attacking together. We need to put pressure at multiple points.We are in this together.

    The only identity politics being practiced is by Trump supporters. You have to pass rigid criteria if you are black and a Trump supporter. Omarosa, Ben Carson, Stacey Dash, etc. have support Trump's view of blacks as living in     refugee camps. Trump had no clue that John Lewis' district was doing quite well. Trump supporters love the Stepping Fetchit stereotype of the black community. They hate educated blacks who do not pathologize the black community. Trump supporters want blacks in their place. They also do not accept Latinos who do not bow and scrape. They will tolerate Gays who are no longer Gay. The true identity politics folks are in the Trump camp.

    Blacks have no problem pushing back against other blacks who are willing to degrade themselves. Trump is unaware that blacks do other things besides entertain and play sports. Entertainers and Athletes are not black leaders. Trump does not know this. Trump was happy to meet with Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, and Steve Harvey. None of these men are on speed dial when a dire situation happens in the black community. They all received negative responses from the black community for providing a photo-op for Trump.

    Trump shut down commentary at the EPA. His is restarting pipeline projects. A case that the DOJ was fighting against voter suppression in Texas has been put on hold. Republicans in Congress are working on restrictions against abortion. We are under assault. The assault is happening now.

    we do not have time to keep addressing 2016. We are taking fire in 2017. We have a coalition. Reactionaries are not going to become Democrats. Ellison is acceptable as DNC chair. Perez is acceptable as DNC chair. Whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians are calling their Congressperson to complain. They are protesting at the doors of their member of Congress. The coalition is ready to go.

    BTW, Hillary got more popular votes than Trump, no matter what Trump believes.

    Edit to add:

    The WSJ calls Trump's delusion an "unsupported claim"


    The NYT calls the delusion a lie


    NYT details why the delusion is false


    Trump voters will believe that immigrants voted. Trump voters believe that Hillary had a child porn ring but do not believe that Russia tried to influence the election. They are not going to join our coalition.



    I agree with most, not all, of this.  Under the circumstance, therefore, I would not normally comment.  But, you did mention me specifically writing in reference to my most recent blog that "Hal wants to know why black voters were so reluctant to support Bernie Sanders and were so enthusiastic for Hillary Clinton."   In fact, I note that some progressives were "puzzled" by African-American support for Clinton but explain this phenomenon as follows, "Clinton, however, succeeded in convincing many African-Americans that Sanders’ focus on economic injustice bespoke an insufficient commitment to racial justice."

    My other disagreement centers around your statement that "who Democrats chose in the primary is almost beside the point."  I believe there were profound differences between the two candidates and that the Democratic party's best (perhaps only) chance for long-term ascendency lies in adopting the Sanders agenda and following his call to hive off corporate influence from its political decisions.

    Yeah, I think you're not understanding the deep ties that both Bill and Hillary Clinton have with African American communities around the country and because of that, you're never going to really figure out what happened during the primaries.  Your explanation doesn't really make sense. Sanders simply never forged the ties the Clintons did over the years and that just stands to reason -- the Clintons have been operating on the national scene, Sanders in a very white state. Hillary did not have to convince African Americans that Sanders lacked commitment, she was able to enter the race with an established relationship to a group of voters.

    As for the primary selection not really mattering -- it's a bit tangential to the moral arguments in favor of identity politics.  This is less about winning or losing than doing the right thing.  So to speak.

    Of course my explanation doesn't make sense to you because you came up with a different explanation.  With respect to yours, I think there's definitely truth to it but because the Clintons repeatedly acted in ways that harmed the African-American community, many (perhaps a majority) would have forsaken Clinton if they had believed Bernie was truly on their side.  Clinton and her allies persuaded a significant number that he was not.  In any event, we are now arguing over what caused a particular phenomenon not whether I am puzzled by it.  I am not puzzled by it.  I am just, in your estimation, wrong.

    I noted Danny's comments about your posts in his latest comments. My analysis of your comments is based on my analysis of how they would be seen in the black community 


    Hal, you remain in a bubble. You expect rational behavior from white voters, most ethnic minority voters are surprised when that happens. Actually, many of my white friends share my surprise. You cannot expand your horizons. You repeatedly state that you believe that Hillary “convinced” blacks that she was committed to Civil Rights, while Bernie was the better choice. You cannot move from the position that suggests black voters were duped. Bernie Sanders had very few people in the black community who could vouch that he fought in their interest. Bernie was a blank slate who came to the black community begging for votes as an afterthought. Because you think that you know what is better for black people, you cannot accept that reality. Bernie voted for the 1994 crime bill, Bernie- splained why that didn't matter, and then criticized Hillary for the crime bill he signed. I have explained this to you repeatedly but your narrow view of the world cannot accept the facts. In your heart of hearts, you believe that the simple-minded blacks were duped. At one point, you pointed out a picture of Sanders at the Edmund Pettus Bridge attending  a re-enactment of the historic walk across the bridge. This picture was to show his support of Civil Rights. The problem is that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions also has a picture at the bridge that is supposed to show his support for Civil Rights. The picture doesn't matter. Sanders lack of contact with the black community mattered. He was not accepted by the black community.

    You state that Democrats forgot about the working class. This biased statement ignores the existence of black, Latino, and Asia working class people. Working class ethnic minorities voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. According to you they are morally inferior. When faced with a misogynist like Trump, 94% of black women voted for Hillary. Are you their moral superior? 53% of white women voted for Trump. 48% of white voters went for Trump. 88% of black voters rejected Trump. The only, I repeat, the only ethnic group that went for Trump was white voters. Instead of asking why whites were so gullible, you blame Hillary and the Democrats.

    Trump is mentally unstable. He is going to have a snipe hunt for voter fraud. This comes after his stated belief that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States. Trump still believes that the Central Park Five are guilty, despite the evidence to the contrary. Trump does not accept facts that disagree with his beliefs. He is delusional. He does not “believe” in Climate Change. Trump does not “believe” that Russia acted to influence the election.Trump is mentally incompetent. The fact of his mental fragility was known during the campaign. Despite this knowledge, white voters voted for Trump. No other ethnic group voted for Trump. White voters opted for a lunatic. Your biased view blinds you to this fact. The pathology is in the voters, not the Democratic Party. Whites are the majority participants in the stock market. The market is sky-rocketing because whites love the lunatic in the White House. That is not reflective of a problem with the Democratic Party. Some whites are willing to profit at the hands of a person threatening great harm to the black community. They are immoral. Martin Luther King Jr. would criticize those white voters.

    Blacks are working on changing their behavior. Political feuds with Latinos are largely a thing of the past. Black homophobia at the polls is decreasing. When Kim Burrell, a gospel singer and pastor, made homophobic statements in her church and received support from gospel icon Shirley Caesar, both women received a backlash from black social media. Times are changing.

    Blacks are continuing to work out issues in the black community. The white community has to do the same. Many white voters know that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with in the white community that led to the election of Donald Trump. They are in despair. I talk to some of these people every day. They need your help in working to change the hearts of white people, just like the hearts of people like Burrell and Caesar need changing. Instead of dealing with the racism and homophobia that aided the ability for white voters to vote for lunatic Donald Trump, you blame the Democrats.

    You will not be part of the solution that Democrats need. A PPP poll that will be released tomorrow shows that Trump voters believe that Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd was larger than Barack Obama’s 2009 crowd. They think the Trump inauguration crowd was larger than the Women's March in D.C. the following day. They believe that George Soros paid most of the women who marched in D.C. on the 21st. Trump voters are gullible. They believe things that are not true. Instead of addressing their racism, homophobia, and gullibility, you attack Democrats.

    We have been over this repeatedly. If you took your message to the black community, you would likely be rejected as an apologist for the bizarre behavior of white voters. You are stuck in a bubble. You don't want to work your way out.

    Hal is unwilling to consider the possibility that Hillary might have done some good over the years and earned anyone's trust and vote. If blacks didn't vote for Sanders the only possible explanation is that Hillary did something nefarious to turn them against him.

    Correct. The bottom line is that blacks were "tricked" by Hillary. They need to be shown the "error" of their ways.. Whites who voted for the mentally impaired Donald Trump were acting in a "responsible" fashion. Democrats have to address the rational white voters, Irrational black voters have to be re-educated. Hal doesn't mean it to be condescending, but it comes across that way. Sanders seemed distant as well. Hillary had black people who could tell the community things that Hillary and Bill had done behind the scenes. Bernie had none of that type of support. Bernie had a rapper who had a revelation about Sanders while smoking marijuana. The sad fact we face now is that 30% of the population is hard-wired to support Trump and many others are willing to go with the flow towards Trump. We need to organize those whites, blacks, etc. who realize that the GOP is taking the country in the wrong direction. The only identity politics in play is coming from Trump supporters.

    Here is a link to the poll I mentioned above that includes Trump voter's beliefs. It includes video from the Rachel Maddow discussing the poll


    Hmmmm... I see that Hal dropped in...

    He does have a fixed outlook on reality.


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