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Something New Under the Sun
Political Identity Politics

What is new is not identity politics, but politics as identity—and it’s driving a culture of grievance.

Published on: March 30, 2018
Richard Thompson Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor at Stanford Law School and author of several books, including Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality and The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.
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  • AbleArcher

    I dont know. The bucking federal law thing seems most problematic. How do square a circle like CA or NY (really just NYC)? I genuinely didn’t know until the other day that states count non-citizens, including illegals!, towards their total population and hence number of House seats they are worth. That’s just crazy. Why? Huh? Of course the same states most opposed to a citizenship question on the census (which has been there before lol). I bet CA supposedly 39 million or whatever population goes way way down to maybe just 30 mil, or even less, if you only count American citizens and legal aliens. No wonder they want to cheat. Time for some states to lose some undeserved House seats I guess.

    But how do you function like that for long? Either federal law needs to be enforced, or the nature of the relationship of all the states to DC needs to change to a loser confederacy. CA can have as many illegals as it wants, but if they leave CA and get picked up in say SD then SD can put them on a plane in 24 hours back to where ever. I think many Americans will take that deal. But no. CA and a few other states want to write federal law they like, skirt what they don’t like, and take your guns

    • Suzy Dixon

      This is why it’s so important to have paper-only ballots, voter ID, and cleaned up voter rolls. Although it doesn’t really matter as far as presidential elections go. Go ahead and let CA house millions of illegals. The electoral college is so good and so fair because it means each state is worth precisely as much toward electing the president as it has in federal representation toward legislation.

      In other words, a state has as much say in electing the president as it has say in writing legislation for the president to potentially sign.

      And as you saw last time around, it doesn’t matter if somebody wins a state by a super majority, each state has unique interests which is why has its own federal representation, and it’s worth a certain amount of votes. You can win it by 52% or 99%. This is why you have to have broader appeal, and that’s exactly what Trump has, and that’s exactly why he’s president.

    • Micah718

      Taking guns is easy to talk about. But you think cops want to die for that law? Can you imagine how much money organized crime will make from gun running? It’s impossibility.

      • AbleArcher

        Of course it would get cops killed. Probably many thousands of them. But how many young men have been put in harms way by the US government before over things and issues that really weren’t America’s business anyway? You know the answer is “a lot.”

        would absolutely not want to be a cop in the US right now. No way. You’ve got terror groups like MS-13 and BLM already after cops, and gun confiscation (or even the perception that that’s just over the horizon) will pit traditional allies of cops against them.

        Of course that’s the funny thing about a so called liberal in America. They get it when it comes to banning drugs and prostitution, doesn’t work much better than banning alcohol. So they say “legalize, regulate, tax”. But for some reason they think they can confiscate 200 million guns and keep them effectively banned after that? Lol. They might be the best argument themselves against smoking too much weed. Melts the brain apparently.

    • wri

      I also have been confused about how the census counting is used. If you are right that illegal immigrants count for purposes of allocating House seats, that seems obviously contrary to the one man one vote principle. But I checked and the Constitution does not limit the census or determination of House seats to citizens. I don’t know if the Supreme Court has said anything on this. I have a similar question regarding federal aid. Do the laws providing for various forms of federal support generally apply only to citizens, or to citizens and other legal residents, or to all residents legal or not. If it’s something other than the latter, then a count that doesn’t identity legal residents allows for improper excess allocation to states with a large percentage of illegal residents.

      The fact is, of course, that there is really no reason not to ask people to identify by citizenship, legal residence or any other category, most of which Democrats support — e.g, sex, ethnicity, race, etc. But Democrats fear that citizensip identification undermines their ability to use illegal aliens for purposes of poltical power.

  • QET

    A shining example of bad faith, patently insincere. I was certainly gulled by what appeared to be an interesting thesis, and Ford’s early feint in the direction of impartiality only strengthened my credulousness. But if something seems to good to be true. . . . .

    But even after realizing I had been had, I was still taken aback by the audacity (as Ford would have it) of some of his exemplary politics. For instance, Ford legitimizes and even valorizes “race-based, feminist and LGBT identity politics.” Let’s see–identity politics built on biological characteristics: where have we seen that before? More importantly, did we determine it was something we wanted to encourage? And defining “substance” as merely “sincerely felt identity” as Ford does–isn’t this just another way of saying “pre-cognitive identifications that come with received dogmas,” which Ford deplores earlier in the article?

    Another rhetorical choice of Ford’s, “Sean Hannity’s red-faced rage versus Rachel Maddow’s low-key snark,” could just as easily have been written “Chris Matthews’ red-faced rage versus Brit Hume’s low-key snark.” Besides, red-faced rage was what the kids last weekend were all about, about which more below.

    Then there is Ford’s preposterous–really, I laughed out loud when I read it–assertion that the cadre-orchestrated mobs of kids in recent days represents “what responsible and thoughtful political engagement looks like.” The absurdity of this statement is completely independent of one’s views on civilian gun ownership. First, these kids served as human shields for the professional (paid) cadres of adult organizers and the useful idiot adults who volunteered their own children for the hazard duty. Within a few days, hundreds of thousands of kids had been flown, bussed, trained and driven to pre-arranged assembly areas where they drew their equipment (markers, poster board and pre-written slogans they had only to copy) and fell in as ordered. There is a technical word for this–mobilization. When Germany crossed into Belgium in 1914 the British couldn’t mobilize its forces nearly so rapidly as were these child soldiers. Second, is Ford’s idea of “responsible political engagement” really the calling of your opponents murderers because they oppose your position? Cussing them out? What would the guardians of “civil discourse” in TAI have to say about that, I wonder? Such a statement from Ford requires some nerve after he just asked us to allow for the sophomoricness of sophomores, which these kids aren’t even.

    And then there is the contrast between the political sides. Here, Ford dishonors his own credentials (which one supposes reflect real erudition) by simply regurgitating the sort of inanity he earlier derides as “pre-cognitive”: liberals “want the inclusion of once-marginalized groups.” Huh? What do these words even mean? What, exactly, is “inclusion”? What, exactly, is “marginalization”? (They have no “substance,” as Ford would have it; that’s the point. Therein lies their usefulness and attractiveness. I do agree, though, with Ford’s mockery of conservative pleas for “ideological diversity” on college campuses. University campuses are ideological battlefields won by the Left. Asking them to stand down would be like asking Stalin to partition Poland into an East and West. Or asking Mao to form a coalition government with the Kuomintang.

    What appeared at first glance to be an interesting idea–that there is such a thing as “political identity politics” turns out on even cursory examination to be devoid of content. It is mere tautology, reducing to “political politics.” I do tend to support Ford’s belief that identity politics is “pre-cognitive,” because I think that all politics is pre-cognitive. Cognitive politics is called policy and requires neither elections nor rallies. The viciousness of the Left’s political attacks on the Right today–and there can be no question whatever that it is the Left violently attacking the Right today; the only question is whether or not the Right “deserves it”–is simply the reduction of politics to its Schmittian essence: the distinction of friend and enemy. The Left is no more inclusive than the Right. As Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, no alt-Righters they, say, “Community” is. . .a categorical identity that is premised on various forms of exclusion and constructions of otherness. . .for it is precisely through processes of exclusion and othering that both collective and individual subjects are formed. The kinds of communities that Ford approves–racial, gender, sexual–are every bit as exclusive and othering as the ur-community of white heterosexual men. It is precisely because black identity politics, which in this country are entitled to primacy in the identity politics circus, was being diluted by the onrush of so many other “identity groups” that “intersectionality” was devised. Camouflaged as “diversity” and “inclusion,” what the present “political identity politics” amounts to is an effort by the multifarious particular identity groups of the Left to establish and maintain a Popular Front against the Real True Enemy. But as with the original Popular Front, always the groups are fighting one another for primacy at the same time.

    Ford should just go ahead and stand with his side in the current conflict rather than offer this kind of second-rate intellectualism.

  • Anthony

    Wow, The Politics of Recognition – Circa 1990s! Moreover as Ford implies, all politics is identity politics (not justifying here but describing realistically). Simply and fundamentally regarding this idea, perceptual distortion increases the objective differences between “we” and “they.”

    Importantly though, “the United States enters a perilous new situation: almost no one is standing up for an America without identity politics, for an American identity that transcends and united all the country’s many subgroups.” And contrary to the assessments of modern political punditry, Republicans are more susceptible to identity based politics (One Tribe to Bind Them All: How Our Social Group Attachments Strengthen Partisanship). The social group attachments and alignment of social identities are implied throughout Ford’s essay. A side note that has been neither mentioned nor implied remains “identity politics is more strongly related to Republican partisanship than to Democratic partisanship.” See:

  • FriendlyGoat

    You can’t push “people with strong religious convictions into the welcoming arms of the far—or alt right”. You can only push people whose religion is a muddle of confusion into such alignments. We need to stop complimenting those whose minds are captured by the Religio-Republican Complex as though they actually knew Jesus from a hole in the ground. Who wants to hear “Every Word of This Bible is True” from people who are devoted to systematically lying about health care, economics, human rights, environmental matters, guns, science, and non-existent illegal voters? That was a rhetorical question. The unfortunate answer is that a lot of people apparently love living in that completely conflicted state. We need to stop calling it “conviction” and start calling it what it is——the “identity politics” of cult capture.

    • Tom

      Stop projecting your error onto other people. Just because you decided to subordinate your religion to your politics doesn’t mean everyone you disagree with does.
      Also, you do understand that your rhetorical question applies to your own side as well, yes?

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