We interrupt the Floyd County Democratic Party’s latest “Bowling for Dollars” soiree to offer these four examples of “collective soul-searching into what went so devastatingly wrong” on November 8. I’m told that just as soon as The Right Honorable Chairman finds a local “Democrat” who didn’t vote for Donald Trump, the soul-searching will commence.
At least the party can’t lose again in 2017.
That’s because there are no elections being held next year.
What Is the Left Without Identity Politics? Four writers consider the question dividing the Democratic Party (The Nation)
… We asked four contributors to weigh in on this debate. Is the left too focused on “identity politics”—and what the hell does that term even mean? Their responses follow.
WALTER BENN MICHAELS
A Universe of Exploitation
The defensible heart of identity politics is its commitment to opposing forms of discrimination like racism, sexism, and homophobia. I share that commitment. But opposing discrimination today has no more to do with a left politics than do equally powerful ethical commitments against, say, violence or dishonesty. Why? Because the core of a left politics is its critique of and resistance to capitalism—its commitment to decommodifying education, health care, and housing, and creating a more economically equal society. Neither hostility to discrimination nor the accompanying enthusiasm for diversity makes the slightest contribution to accomplishing any of those goals. Just the opposite, in fact. They function instead to provide inequality with a meritocratic justification: If everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, there’s no injustice when some people fail.
CHARLES W. MILLS
Whose Identity Politics?
The causes of Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory will be debated for years: FBI director James Comey’s October 28 letter about Clinton’s e-mails, her “basket of deplorables” comment, the Democratic campaign’s neglect of the Rust Belt states, and so on. But the pernicious and enduring role of identity politics was crucial.
I refer, of course, to the white racial identity politics that has shaped the United States from its birth.
Expanding the Circle
The call for the left to abandon its appeals to not-white-men violates the very premises of the American project. The Declaration of Independence describes a world in which “all men are created equal,” where “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Even the slaveholders’ Constitution prefaced its enterprise with the purpose of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” At the hearings for her confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated it precisely. The American project started with white men’s freedom and equality, and has been, for more than two centuries, all about expanding the circle to include more and more people in that blessed plot. It has almost always been the left that forces such expansions.
One argument for disregarding identity politics seems to be that it would free the left to focus solely on reducing economic inequality. But in the United States, where so many issues are entangled with race, such a turn to the material would still have a powerful racial element. (That explains at least in part why confronting inequality has been so much harder to do here than in the mostly white states of Western Europe.) The future of identity politics, and thus the moral and political mission of the left, is predicated on its capacity to organize people who are not white men.
Beyond the Distraction
These past weeks the dominant post-election debate among liberals and progressives has centered on “identity politics.” The term is a Rorschach test. Everyone sees something different depending on their cynicism towards diversity or experience with Others. More telling than its highly subjective content, however, is its origins. “Identity politics” is an internal argument by and for the white academic-media-donor-managerial class, about how they incorporate people of color into their institutions. I’ve heard this cultural squabble every year since I was a black kid at prep school and Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein published The Bell Curve. It imagines people of color as problems for white people to solve. I am profoundly uninterested in legitimizing such a discussion.