Here’s Why Democrats Must Not Abandon Identity Politics – The Daily Beast

Good piece by Craig Mills on identity politics:

Further, “white working class” seems to be the identity that matters when considering how Trump won. I hear continually this is the group we should concern ourselves with understanding to the exclusion of others. How absurd. I cannot recall any of those who exhort us to empathize with the white working class asking us to question their racist or sexist motives, as if this group’s decision-making occurs in economic isolation. Additionally, white supremacists who outright advocate for an all-white state supported Trump’s candidacy. If that is not identity focused, I’m not sure what is.

The reality is that both parties necessarily indulge identity to appeal to voters. Economic issues do not operate in a political vacuum, yet identity abandonment asks us to assume it does. Race and gender are outsized determinants that correlate closely with income, social outcomes, and yes, political power. It is unfair and unrealistic to ask holders of these demographic markers to suppress the very real roles they play in their political existences. Indeed, Bernie Sanders continues to struggle with black voters because he believes that if we address the economic component of what plagues many Americans, the rest will take care of itself.

The suggestion that subgroups abandon their identity to a larger goal is the ultimate identity grab: Fall in line, and we’ll sort it out when we win. Bull. Wrangling commitments out of politicians before an election is one of the few ways the electorate holds politicians accountable. Yet as Democrats seek short-term expediency, they are likely to dig themselves into a deeper hole. Such behavior is reminiscent of the 2010 midterm and 2012 general election. Then, many candidates distanced themselves from President Obama’s successes but still got buried politically. Voters notice such fright and flight. It signals lack of conviction in one’s policies and beliefs—hardly confidence inspiring to the marginal voter.

Finally, individuals care about a multitude of economic, political, social, environmental, and visionary issues that transcend individual identity. As proof, consider that Trump, who offended so many groups that comprise distinct political bases he attacked, outperformed Romney’s 2012 totals with blacks and Latinos and won the vote of white women. This should serve as an indicator that identity politics alone does not motivate voters but may be a factor. Voters of all persuasions want an acknowledgment of their concerns. Identity and economics need not be mutually exclusive in the political realm. To signal to large swaths of the public that their needs will have to wait until leaders solve the economic pieces risks alienating them and defection from the party.

Millennial, boomer, veteran, senior, female, black, Latino, gay, Muslim, white. These are but a few groups both parties court for a reason: Identity personalizes politics. Addressing income alone will not address badly needed police reform, education disparities, or a woman’s access to reproductive services. Neither will it address religious freedoms or climate change. Nor will it address the institutional structures that make dismantling barriers to fairness difficult. National parties and politics are messy because of the multiple interests—identities—they encompass. Until and unless we move to a multiparty political system, we must focus on speaking to those identities.

The world does not come with equality; it is something we must work to achieve. If we engage exclusively in economic politics and desert identity liberalism, we will not accomplish this. If the identities of the right matter, however, so do mine.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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