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Minority Identity Politics Creates Majority Identity Politics

The intellectual historian Mark Lilla has a must-read essay in today’s New York Times explaining how the academic and media fixation on identity politics doomed the center-Left this election cycle. One of his key points: The Democratic Party’s decision build its coalition around race and gender differences, and emphasize those differences in order to mobilize its base, predictably produced a parallel response from the identity groups that were not included:

The whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.

We often think of the diversity-obsessed left and the alt-right as diametrically opposed to one another, in substance and style. But in their focus on identity, the groups are indistinguishable, which actually leads them to a number of overlapping positions. As Jason Willick wrote earlier this year:

The campus left has been arguing for years that the United States Constitution, the Western canon, and other “dead white male” materials are shot through with misogyny and white supremacy, and are largely irrelevant to the experiences of oppressed minorities. Mainstream conservatives have historically fought this tendency, arguing for the continued relevance of Western intellectual traditions despite America’s social revolutions and demographic upheavals. The approach of the alt-right is to effectively concede the issue to the campus leftists, and then some: “Yes, you’re right, our political and cultural institutions were not built to accommodate people like you.”

Both left and right see the politics of group identity as useful to securing short term gains. But in the long run, it will not produce anything good—only tribalism, distrust, and, ultimately, violence.

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  • Tom

    “We often think of the diversity-obsessed left and the alt-right as diametrically opposed to one another, in substance and style.”

    Why on earth would you think something that self-evidently false? Did you ever bother actually listening to either group? Good night, I’ve been saying this ever since I stumbled on the alt-right a couple of years ago.

  • Disappeared4x

    The Puritans who sailed for Massachusetts in 1630 were America’s “first identity movement in American politics”, and their legacy is the CTRL-Left of 2016.

    In between, the descendants of those colonial Puritans shunned, tortured, or expelled those who dissented. Those Puritans then emerged as the Radical Republicans who led the USA into Civil War.

    The alleged “center-left” became the CTRL-Left by 2013. Many Trump voters were Democrats who want the language police and ‘food
    grouping’ by identity of the CTRL-Left to STOP the deplorable labels.

    TAI really needs to stop parroting the moral equivalence of the CTRL-Left where Trump voters magically all become KKK.

    • Wayne Lusvardi

      The KKK were Democrats and still are.

      • Disappeared4x

        The KKK resurgence in the 1920’s was nativist, anti-immigrant (too many Catholic and Jewish immigrants), and mostly a Northern movement. They marched on the Washington DC mall in 1925. This was AFTER Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act.

        Calvin Coolidge Address Before the American Legion
        Convention at Omaha, Nebraska

        October 6, 1925

        “…Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years of the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of to-day is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat. …”

  • Anthony

    So, what’s a legitimate way for a divided country plagued historically by racial, ethnic, and religious antagonisms, nee identities (smoothly manipulated by the nimbler wits), to consider for long run societal health? Surely, such is a question worthy of examination by those removed from reflexive “tribal” squares when faced with a larger national quandary. Just maybe if country worked harder (at earlier ages ??) to enable a greater sense of “individual identity” framed by legitimate National (American) identity, Identity Politics would not be so saleable. That is, perhaps, Americans having a greater sense of both individual identity in the real National context may then derive less of their identity from some extensive tribe – White Supremacy, Black Power, La Raza, etc. The generations coming of age and maturity in next fifty (50) years – 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050, 2060 – ought to be so fortunate.

    • Makaden

      If only it were to be so.

      What you see in the national context is merely in its nascent phase in a global one. There is much development and movement and realignment and reaction still to be had. Wait until you see the kinds of tribes that can form across national barriers. They are coming.

      • Anthony

        Rather than focusing on what should (probability) happen, perhaps we would do better to turn our attention to what will happen (here in the United States) – aging demographics, migrant flows, structural change, technological advances, etc. “Political models take a long time to establish and just a fraction of that time to destroy.” (The Tyranny of Time – Stratfor)

        • Makaden

          My comment was predictive, not normative. The global context is just as real as the national one. And the flow of basically everything no longer needs boundaries. New alliances will–are–forming, new ways of understanding what “we” are up against take on global contexts more and more.

          • Anthony

            I think most informed readers, policy makers, and engaged internationalist would all agree. I was neither inferring such nor referencing predictive nor normative conditions. Giving my idea of U.S. situation relative to my original comment.

          • Makaden

            I should revisit your original comment–my apologies.

            I’m concerned that socially-inclined changes may have severe limitations–and I say this as a professionally trained sociologist. Outrage culture exists because of a flaw of human nature exploited by the rapid flows of media. The flaw is dopamine. It feels good to be morally superior, expressed as outrage at (admittedly socially-defined) injustices. Insofar as the definitions of justice/injustice can be corralled–I have grave misgivings about this–we may be able to put a leash on outrage culture. But that dopamine connection is a tough nut to crack. The tunneling of information that has occurred over the past 20 years, resulting in the non-exposure to differing ideas, has created structural limitations that will be difficult to overcome. This tunneling is the main social structure for outrage culture, and is manifest in its supreme form in the dysfunction of Congress. It breeds mistrust and misinformation, both of which Outrage culture feasts upon. The ability to manipulate facts (doctored images, videos, the structure of narratives) is a weakness exploited by activists on both sides to line their own pockets. Richard Landes’ expose on the Al Dura affair is but one example–maybe the Holy Grail of examples:

          • Anthony

            Reducing it to the sociological description “outrage” culture may give some sense of context while aligning it with the seeking system and the neurotransmitter called dopamine may also give patina of chemical basis, still I think it is far more simpler as it relates to my original point: “humans can do better”. Equally, I am not referencing this better via a “socially defined justice” (though, neither am I opposed) but I reference in recognition that the better Angels of our Nature occasionally win out in this human drama. Now, the aforementioned is conditioned by the appreciation of how much suffering (your flaw perhaps) has been inflicted by the naked ape upon its own kind.

          • Makaden

            The reference to “better angels” is Lincoln’s, of course. Will there be a Lincoln who can keep the global kulturkampf from destroying the planet? If so, will it come at the same proportionate cost in blood? On the global scene, we are now in 1820 America: the decisive action on the moral direction of the planet has yet to be enacted, but Fort Sumter is coming and we all would do well to think ahead.

            I hope you are right. As a classic conservative as it relates to human nature, I have my doubts.

          • Anthony

            No, the association was actually to a book I read years ago (though Lincoln has certainly been most associated with phrase).

            We got a lot of work to do and you alluded to it (Congress, information tunneling, self-deceptive narratives, etc.). But, work we must or what then – and I say this as a wearied observer in a classically modeled West. Stay involved.

  • Andrew Allison

    “We often think of the diversity-obsessed left and the alt-right as diametrically opposed to one another, in substance and style. But in their focus on identity, the groups are indistinguishable, which actually leads them to a number of overlapping positions.” Only if you fail to grasp that those for whom the continued relevance of Western intellectual traditions is seen to be important are a single, multi-ethnic, multifaceted group.

  • Frank Natoli

    Both left and right see the politics of group identity as useful to securing short term gains. But in the long run, it will not produce
    anything good—only tribalism, distrust, and, ultimately, violence.

    We’ve had violence in many places after the Trump victory.
    There was no violence anywhere after the Obama victories.
    So STOP with the equivalence of left and right.

    • Andrew Allison

      The stupidity is even worse than that (see my comment)

    • Warthog

      Yeah, most of it from butthurt liberal dipshits like yourself.

    • CapitalHawk

      I can’t tell if you are trying to say that Republicans/Trump supporters are good because they didn’t violently riot after Obama’s victory or if Republicans/Trump supporters are bad because they “forced” the leftists in this country to violently riot by exercising their constitutional right to vote.

      But, I would agree with you that those two groups of people are not equivalent. The leftist/rioters are a cancer and will eventually trigger the violence that the original author is concerned about.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Nationalism that motivated Trump voters isn’t “Majority Identity Politics”, unless that Majority is all Americans. This just looks like more of leftists calling the Nationalists, Racists which they aren’t.
    “(they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country)”
    This is clearly a racist statement, as American cities are at least as divided up into homogeneous areas as rural areas.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      What motivates the vast majority of them is E Pluribus Unum, the old national consensus, which they want to replace with a war of all against all, dividing everyone by race, ethnic origin, sex, social class and occupation.

  • Kev

    These are all good points. America’s founding fathers designed an amasing political system, but they designed it for nation of affluent WASP men. US political institutions are inadequate for and probably won’t survive the upcoming age of diversity, as this election aptly demonstrates.

    There is simply no way a guy like Trump could have been elected in 1916 or 1966 – there were candidates like Trump before, they all failed, precisely because American system was designed to stop demagogues like him. This time it failed. His voters ignored his lack of qualifications, endorsements from party leaders, the media, and simply voted with their gene pool.

    Keep in mind that during the primaries Trump underperformed in racially homogenous states like Iowa, Utah, Minnesota and outperformed in areas, that are racially diverse. To me it looks like Trumpism is here to stay.

    • LarryD

      Keep in mind that Trump did at least as well among Hispanic and blacks as previous Republican presidential candidates. “Trumpism” is a F U to the elite, both Democratic and Republican, and the big swing vote was from the working class who used to be reliably Democratic, until the Democratic party abandoned them.

      • Kev

        Yes, it seems Latinos didn’t care much about Trump’s anti-immigration rhethoric. But they still voted for a Democrat by an overwhelming margin.

        On the other hand the people who voted for Trump were overwhelmingly lower and middle class white people, who felt that the regime no longer has their best interests in mind.

        • LarryD

          Working Class, and by no means all white. And Latinos aren’t monolithic on the issue of immigration law enforcement.

          The Progressive attribution of their loss, locks them into a strategic fork with both choices false. Double down on their old strategy, or try blatantly racist appeals to whites (which will blow up in their face).

          As rampant as narcissism is among the Progressives, I expect doubling down. Anything else would be an admission of error, and narcissists can’t do that.

          • Kev

            For god’s sake, Hillary won the popular vote by 2 million votes, and you talk like the Democratic party is over!

            Progressives are going to win. US nationally resembles California 20 years, Trump is Pete Wilson, elected by panicked whites in last ditch attempt to restrict immigration. But it is already too late.

          • SineWaveII

            Yeah but she won almost all of those 2 million in just three states California, New York and Illinois which also happen to be three of a dwindling number of states where the democrats are still in control. Illinois already has a token republican governor but the democrats are still solidly in control of the legislature as well as its major city Chicago – for now.

          • Johnathan Swift Jr.

            The problem is that your “majority” may be facing deportation.

          • Dale Fayda

            Just so you know, “Kev” is a Russian troll. He routinely pops up to comment in glowing terms on Putin. He has pretty much admitted as much in his exchanges with other commenters on this site. I don’t even think he’s based in the US, so his grasp of the American political situation is tenuous, at best. He’s not an American liberal, per se; just anti-American in general.

  • Anthony

    “Liberal societies have always depended on an illiberal or prellberal substructure to answer the varied human needs – meaning, belonging, a vertical dimension to human life, a hope against mortality…In American history that substructure took various forms: the bonds of family life, the power (usually Protestant) of religion, a flag waving patriotism, and an Anglo-Saxon culture to which immigrants were expected to assimilate.

    Here, each of those foundations often manifested illiberalism’s evils: religious intolerance, racism and chauvinism, the oppression of private and domestic power. But they also provided the moral, cultural and metaphysical common ground that political reformers – abolitionists, Social Gospellers, New Dealers, Civil Rights Marchers – relied upon to expand liberalism’s promise.” (Ross Douthat – New York Times)

    So, here we are at crossroads again – what kind of Nation are we to be.

  • It’s basically two different versions of liberalism facing off against each other – John Stuart Mill versus Lord Acton: democracy as the armed electorate acting through a representative body, and democracy as the countering of any sovereign through the breakdown of the electorate into distinct groups. In the first version, the people rule; in the second, there is nothing to rule because there is no cohesive people. In the first version, individual liberty is assured by the citizen’s influence on government; in the second, it’s assured by the weakness of government. Since 1945, the second won, riding on the dislike of militaries and nationalism. This dominance made liberals oblivious of its origins and purpose. They totalized the instrument (diversity) into an end, forgetting that it was meant to actually bolster individuality, not communal identity.

  • Brook River

    This website is the home of Walter Russell Mead, who voted for Barack Obama both times.

    Let’s ask him why.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      In the end, it was because he acted like one of the elite. He was just as radical as a spittle flecked Black Panther, but because he went to an elite prep school, then thanks to some machinations, no less then three of the “right” colleges and universities and spoke in the measured cadence of a pseudo-intellectual, it made him seen less threatening. Meanwhile, Bob Creamer, a political dirty tricks hack was at the White House 342 times and met one on one with the President. Al Sharpton was there constantly and he has all the time in the world for Black Lives Matter, the new terrorist wing of the Democratic Party, where the KKK was once their terrorist wing. It was all down to the crease of his pants and his dulcet tones. If you don’t shout and scream, you can be as radical as you want.

  • Johnathan Swift Jr.

    In the end, the only “diversity” that matters is intellectual diversity. The notion that there is any benefit in itself from looking around a table and seeing a black face here,a white face there, a Pacific Islander at one end of the table, an Asian at the other, a female Hispanic and a so on, is preposterous. The idea is in itself reductive, meaning that the color or one’s skin or the slant of one’s eyes should band each of those groups together, to give them common aims and goals – that race or ethnic origin determine one’s thoughts. That idea is in direct opposition to America’s foundational ideals.

    It is the identity politics of the Diversity Cult, Multiculturalism, its partner in crime and the fascistic movement of Political Correctness that have pitted one American against another, one group against each other, making it a much more fractious, uglier place, but of course, that seems to be the whole idea in Soros/Clinton/Obama/Pelosi/Reid land, to advance the process of disuniting and dismembering America by forcing everyone to choose sides, so that murderous chaos reigns and a new utopia emerges.

  • Johnathan Swift Jr.

    E Pluribus Unum has been replaced by a war of all against all, making each American identity with an interest group, not a national identity. This is the folly of the policy of open borders, a corrupt indoctrination rather than educational system and a rejection of a healthy national pride. As the left alienates the people who once made up their nations and rejects any notion of a national character, the only way they can remain in power is to flood each nation with third world immigrants, the more hostile and oppositional to the nation’s traditions and values the better, essentially replacing the native Britons, Swedes, Belgians or Germans with their moral superiors from Islamistan.

  • Stephen

    I’ll leave the same comment here that I’ve left elsewhere: Lilla, Gorby and other thoughts leaders on the left suddenly awaken to a monster they have created only when that monster turns on them and not a moment before. They were warned. Those who warned have been smeared with the most vile accusation and innuendo. No one should assume that Lilla, Gorby or any of the others, act in good faith because that would be out of character. The historicism that drives left leaning thought leaders remains. This is merely a tactical turn.

  • Johnathan Swift Jr.

    The great mystery is just why some members of the great white majority have began to think of themselves as an interest group as blacks, Asians and Hispanics and women on the left have for years. It is really something to ponder…so I turned to a quick Google search and came up with a few clues:

    Hollywood’s Official Spokesmodel Lena Dunham Wants to make White Males Extinct:

    Celebrating the Extinction of White Men:

    Harvard debater – white people should kill themselves:

    Massachusetts Professor – White People Are a Cancer and Must Die:

    Professor Wants White People to Commit Mass Suicide Over Slavery (Himself excluded I presume):

    Harvard Magazine – Abolish the White Race:

    All White People Are Devils:
    “Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.”
    Professor Susan Sontag

    Professor – All White People Are Racist No Matter What:

    White People Are the Devil (Popular Rap Song):

    Abolish the White Race:
    So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?”
    Sister Souljah
    Lisa Williamson aka “Sister Souljah

    Howard University Panel – Eliminate White People:
    “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him”
    “Our devil has pale skin and blue eyes”
    Jose Angel Gutierrez, Chicano activist and university professor.

    “If white men were not complaining, it would be an indication we weren’t succeeding and making the inroads that we are.”
    Arthur Sulzberger Junior, owner of The New York Times
    Dr. Kamau Kambon, former visiting professor of African Studies at NC State University, made the following remarks at “Black Media Forum on the Image of Black Americans in Mainstream Media.” This was a program presented on October 14th at Howard University and broadcast by C-SPAN.

    “And then finally I want to say that we need one idea, and we’re not thinking about a solution to the problem … And the one idea is, how we are going to exterminate white people because that in my estimation is the only conclusion I have come to. We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet to solve this problem … [We need to] get very serious and not be diverted from coming up with a solution to the problem and the problem on the planet is white people.”
    Mario Obledo (former California secretary of health and welfare and co-founder of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund: “We’re going to take over all the political institutions of California. California is going to be a Hispanic state and anyone who doesn’t like it should leave. If they [Anglos] don’t like Mexicans, they ought to go back to Europe.” [interviewed on radio station KIEV, Los Angeles, June 17, 1998.]

    College Student Wants to Kill Some White Devils:

    U.C. Berkeley Columnist Attacks White Devil:

    Resting Dick Face and the White Devil by Maggie Lam,
    Daily Californian:

    Haunani-Kay Trask (Professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and author of the following poem:
    Racist White Woman
    I could kick
    Your face, puncture
    Both eyes.
    You deserve this kind
    Of violence.
    No more vicious
    Tongues, obscene
    Just a knife
    Slitting your tight
    Little heart.
    For all my people
    Under your feet
    For all those years
    Lived smug and wealthy
    Off our land
    Parasite arrogant
    A fist
    In your painted
    Mouth, thick
    With money
    And piety

    No, I can’t think of any reason that white people would begin to think of a group identification, must be Trump right? Couldn’t be because that is the essence of the multicultural ethos, could it? Hate begets hate. Beating the hell out of someone while participating in a “Love Trumps Hate” march – as occurred the other day – has a certain irony to it.

  • Daniel Nylen

    The real issue is which of these two mutually exclusive axioms is actually true and not wishful thinking: 1) diversity is our strength 2) diversity plus proximity equals conflict.

    Historically the answer seems clear, but the idea that nationalism is bad persists anyway.

    • SineWaveII

      Diversity is strength cannot ever possibly be true. Because everyone knows that diversity is a just flowery term for the end result of division. And division precedes conquest because it makes conquest easier since it weakens the target – divide and conquer. Hence the proper expression would be diversity leads to conquest. And since weakness also leads to conquest then diversity = weakness.
      Logic 101. So “Diversity is weakness” is a true statement. Diversity is strength is the exact opposite of a true statement.

      • Daniel Nylen

        The left, with the support of academia, the media, and elites of both parties are have wholeheartedly bought into the diversity is a strength canard. The right, at least under Trump is still deciding. You can also call this nationalism versus globalism, proposition nation and magic dirt versus culture, or one of many other equally reflective terms of the base disagreement. To disavow that “diversity is strength” leads one to nationalism, patriotism, culture etc. It is one of major base axioms that I see (IMHO) as dividing red from blue, elites from normal working class, and left from right. I doubt that many under 30 will even dispute that diversity is strength as it is one of the main propaganda points taught in school from pre-K through all levels of college.

        • SineWaveII

          You got that right.

  • m a

    ‘Diversity’ has always been a code word for creating divisiveness. Force folks into politically exploitable subdivisions that could be set against each other.
    Problem for the democrats is their leader, Pelosi, was so great at fundraising from billionaire/wealthy regressive leftists that the party served them and their interests and assumed those voting block subdivisions they’d created would remain on the plantation. The subdivisions actual needs didn’t need to be addressed, just the desires of the folks coughing up the money. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’. They created a huge block that they set up as the enemy — blue collar working class folks — for the other divisions to be set against with the dem party as the necessary protector. That voting block, alienated and now despised saw the dem party as not just ambivalent to their needs but opposed to them at even the most personal level. Deplorables.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      Diversity is divisive.

  • StepMJohn

    Democrats have made a bet that human beings are collectivist in nature. Thus, appeals to group entitlement is more persuasive to the majority of people than appeals to individual liberty. And a powerful central government is in better position to raise the most people to equality

    Academics and the school system they control hate the notion that human beings should make their own decisions in a free marketplace. People who know better should make the decisions, and the government should enforce them

    Quite frankly, the social disorganization and government dependency that Moynihan warned about the black family in the 1960s has spread throughout the rest of society. More white children are born out of wedlock now than black children were when Moynihan made his report. Almost half of the public receives a government check. And there are almost 10 million more government workers than manufacturing workers.

    When such a high percentage of Millennials view communism favorably, there is real cause for alarm about the future of this country.

  • “it will not produce anything good—only tribalism, distrust, and, ultimately, violence” <<<<< This is idiotic.

    Cultural and ethnic diversity by itself produces these things. We already have them in greater quantities each year. You decided to notice because the majority population decided to participate?

    • nick

      You only noticed because the majority that was becoming a minority decided that it needs to play the game as well.
      Too much diversity too soon to the point of making a majority a minority while simultaneously playing identity politics in the extreme makes you notice it. Diversity itself is not the problem. It was not the immigrants who set up the political game this way. It was the Leftist in the majority group and the old historically disgruntled minority group who set it up for their own egotistical reasons. Now suddenly the other legal minorities are to blame as well?

      • There is no blame. It’s human nature. It’s inevitable as gravity. Diversity leads to death. Diversity leads to war. Always has. Always will. No amount of wishful thinking will change this.

  • InklingBooks

    You’re right in more ways than you perhaps realize. The people we should place in power are those who can reconcile differences, give everyone good schools for their kids, and create a vibrant economy.

    But keep in mind that there’s no equivalency between our two parties. The success of the Democratic party’s core agenda—enriching the already rich without losing elections by sowing fear among the poor and minorities—depends on accenuating not reconciling those differences. They can do no other.

    On the other hand, the Republican party’s increasing reliance on the middle-class means it can appeal to votes by expanding the middle class rather than by making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

  • nick

    Crtl-Left is so much to the left they are meeting up with the Alt-Right on the far-Right.

    Privilege theory is just white supremacy cloacked in sophistry.

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