Identity Politics

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the problems with “identity politics,” but what exactly is this pernicious ideology? The simplest explanation is that identity politics makes a person’s particular group paramount, so that group-identity forms the lens through which to view political issues or make policy decisions.

Identity politics draws heavily on certain variants of postmodernism which sees all of us trapped in micronarratives that define us and prevent intelligible interaction across our ideological divides. (I have discussed this in my article, ‘John Milbank and the Life of Pi.’) Society becomes reduced to a battleground among competing among groups, who are locked in a zero-sum battle for power.

Identity politics has been a growing concern in the political left ever since Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), and later the Frankfurt School, reinterpreted Marxism to no longer be about economics but about power. The resulting “social Marxism” no longer divides society into economic classes, such as proletariats and bourgeoisie, but instead divides society into various group identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. (I have discussed the history of social Marxism in my article ‘The “Quiet Revolution” of Cultural Marxism.’)

A toxic mix of identity politics, postmodernism, and social Marxism, now dominates the humanities departments of most universities, as Rod Dreher has been documenting at The American Conservative. The result is that it is impossible to look at history, religion, literature, culture, and art, without these disciplines becoming fodder for ideology and politicization.

Although identity politics has largely been limited to the political left, it has seen a precipitous rise among right-wingers in the United States since around the middle of this decade, as I discussed in my article ‘The Republican Retreat to Identity Politics.’ Whereas left-wing identity politics owes itself to post-war social Marxism, the new right-wing identity politics comes from the long re-mapping of American conservatism in the post-cold war era, having recently been fueled by the rise of left-wing identity politics, unsustainable immigration, political correctness, and virulent attacks against Judeo-Christian culture.

Politicians who have succumbed to identity politics see little problem pigeon-holing individuals into belief-patterns based on their group identity, on the assumption that someone’s skin color, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual preferences ought to determine their political beliefs. For example, last year Democrat Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts went on television and announced,

“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

Responding to Pressley’s comments in Tablet Magazine, journalist James Kirchick observed that her identity politics differs little from classic racism:

“Insisting that someone with a ‘brown’ or ‘black’ face must endorse a set of ideological precepts (presumably dictated by Ayanna Pressley)—in other words, that one’s skin color ought to determine how one thinks and acts—is textbook racism.”

Pressley was not an isolated case. Pigeon-holing people based on race is now routine within corporate America thanks to equity policies. The basic idea behind equity policies goes something like this: the different races all have their own perspective; therefore, in order for our corporation to have a access to all the perspectives, we need to put policies in place that enforce racial stratification. This theory might make some sense if members of each racial group thought and acted as a uniform block, but this is far from the case. As Jordan Peterson observed in an interview, “It’s such a pernicious philosophy because it’s predicated on the idea that the way someone thinks is inextricably tied with their group identity.” In another interview he warned that dividing people up into groups leads to “an enhancement of our tribal proclivities.”

Peterson’s point about tribes is crucial. Human beings have always struggled with the polarity between the tendency to break up into competing tribes, on the one hand, and the tendency to control social division through totalitarianism, on the other. Historically, nations avoid these extremes by being held together by common memories, customs, symbols, myths, legends, and strong social institutions that act as a hedge against both tribalism and totalitarianism. In its most rigorous and consistent form, classical liberalism de-emphasizes or ignores these deep-seated cultural-symbolic underpinnings of civil society and attempts to secularize the public life, often migrating transcendence to the claims of the state. This creates a dangerous vacuum in which citizens find themselves without the basic building blocks of national cohesion. This inevitably results in human beings looking to their most basic and primitive bonds for cohesion, thus reverting to a raw tribalism. A secular and materialistic society offers little scope for the type of roots that humans innately long for, while the isolated individualism of Western capitalism leaves humans without a sense of healthy community. All of this creates a dangerous vacuum in which it becomes easy to start looking to race and ethnicity to fulfill our need for identity and inner cohesion. The reason this is dangerous is because every time a nation goes down this road, thousands to millions of people have died. If the West continues this dangerous experiment with identity politics, it is only a matter of time before blood begins flowing in the streets.

Further Reading

What Happens if an Impeached President is Re-elected?

On Tuesday, as the Ukraine scandal was breaking, Rod Dreher made some thoughtful observations about why, from a conservative perspective, it matters (and matters a lot) whether the recent allegations against the President are true. Then yesterday, after the publication of the whistle-blower’s complaint, Dreher reflected on the implications of the crazy situation America could be headed into: a situation in which an impeached president is re-elected. Both articles are worth a read.


Identity Politics and Mob Madness

When controversy erupted last weekend over President Trump’s incendiary tweets, the ensuing furor focused on the issue of racism. This has been unfortunate since it has obscured the real elephant in the room, which is identity politics. The Left cannot offer a substantive critique of Trump’s use of identity politics, seeing that identity politics forms such an integral part of their own ideology. Hence, all they can do is just keep repeating the charge of racism.

But it doesn’t really work. After all, if the president had told a white person of Russian ancestry to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” few would imagine that this revealed an incipient racism against whites. However, because the congresswomen that Trump singled out happened to be non-whites, everyone is ready to assume that he must have been motivated by racist impulses.

This is not to excuse the President. Something far more sinister and subtle than racism is happening here. Trump’s use of identity politics is truly demonic and threatens the integrity of our nation.

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The Robin & Boom Show #11 – Mueller Report and EU Elections

Jason asks Robin about Trump; Robin asks Jason about the EU. Robin suggests that the full impact of the Mueller Report has been eclipsed by left-wing overreach. President Trump is neither Jesus nor Hitler, but he has been creating new norms by pushing the envelope. This episode also features a discussion of the European Union in light of the May 2019 elections. In this show you will learn about the changing climate of European politics, as well as the difference between Europe, the EU, and the Euro.

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Robin & Boom Show #02 – Politics in America and Europe

Jason Van Boom and Robin Phillips discuss the political climate in America and Europe, including areas of difference and cross-fertilization. During this conversation they explore the importance of symbols, metanarratives, tribalism, and operational philosophical assumptions that animate contemporary public discourse.

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Conservatism in Historical Perspectives

In looking again at my earlier post, “The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump”, it occurred to me that the article lacked some of the important historical perspectives necessary for appreciating how someone as liberal as President Trump can pass as a conservative. If I can be forgiven in advance for painting with a very broad brush, I would like to survey the evolution of conservatism from Burke to Trump, as a supplement to the comments I made previously in my articles “The Republican Retreat to Identity Politics” and “Trump and the Eclipse of Conservatism” and “The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump.”

WWI put an end to the remaining vestiges of the old order, a bloody climax to the French Revolution.

The origin of conservative politics goes back to Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution. Nothing describes the French Revolution better than the adage “When Paris sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.” As the revolutionary spirit gradually spread through all of Europe during the nineteenth-century, the result was that monarchy after monarchy collapsed. Ancient systems, structures and norms were not reformed but wiped away, usually replaced by tyrannies far more destructive than the ones that had preceded them. Finally, WWI put an end to the remaining vestiges of the old order.

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The Truth About the Border Wall

The day after I published my earlier post on how the President can respond to the shutdown by calling Nancy Pelosi’s bluff, he took my advice. The Democrats’ response lends credence to my theory that a prolongation of the shutdown is politically advantageous to the Democrats as long as the public generally blames the President.

I am not a fan of Trump, as a cursory browse of my “Donald Trump archives” will show. But in this battle, I support the President. In an article that recently appeared in The Hill, Ford O’Connell clarified exactly what President Trump is and is not asking Congress to do. Specifically, O’Connell pointed out, the President is not asking for a continuous border wall across all 2,000 miles of America’s border with Mexico. Rather, he is asking for money to improve and expand the highly effective fences that already exist along more than 650 miles of the border. Prominent Democrats (Schumer, Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, to name a few) all voted to support these fences.

The border wall in Yuma Arizona resulted in a 90 percent drop in illegal traffic in that area and was supported by Democrats like Obama.

Why did so many Democrats support the existing 650 miles of fencing and barriers in the most dangerous parts of the border (for example, in Yuma Arizona)? This question isn’t hard to answer when we reflect that these barriers resulted in a 90 percent drop in illegal traffic in that area. Before the Yuma wall was erected, the area was averaging around 800 illegals a day. Contrary to right-wing caricatures, Democrats do actually favor border security. The current opposition to Trump’s plan to expand and improve existing barrier structures is purely political, having been fueled by the President’s incendiary rhetoric and angst about his alleged racist motivations.

From O’Connell’s article:

“Of course what Pelosi and Schumer won’t tell you is that the U.S. currently has more than 650 miles of physical barriers and fencing on its southern border. They also won’t tell you that several prominent Democrats including Schumer, Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden voted for it as senators in the name of better border security….

If the Democrats were to come to the table right now and talk comprehensive immigration reform and DACA, so long as it contains additional physical barriers along the southern border, the White House has signaled a willingness to move forward on that front, provided that it enhances border security.

The White House is ready to deal. And even though federal government workers will eventually receive back pay, the White House doesn’t want to see them suffer. The questions for congressional Democrats are simple: Do they really hate President Trump more than they love border security? Do they care more about illegal immigrants than American citizens? Only time will tell.

Of course nothing is impenetrable or foolproof, but the fencing in Yuma, Arizona, is a great example of what works. Since its construction in 2005, it has yielded better than a 90 percent drop in illegal traffic. Similar numbers have been registered at other physical barriers in San Diego, El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, since their construction.

Even former Obama Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan, who was removed by Trump, concedes that physical barriers work and that more need to be constructed to make the southern border stronger.

Contrary to the media hype, President Trump is not advocating that one continuous wall should be built on the nearly two-thousand mile U.S. southern border, but that the current barriers be extended by a few hundred more miles. He is also asking for more immigration judges, law enforcement officers, detention beds and additional border technology, among other items — common sense stuff when it comes to stronger border security.”



The Simple Shutdown Solution: Trump Should Call Pelosi’s Bluff

UPDATE: Two days after posting this, the President took my advice, effectively calling the Democrat’s bluff. Can anyone still take Nancy Pelosi’s sophistry and word-games seriously?

There appears to be no end in sight on the stalemate about how to resolve the government shutdown.

The issue is not that Pelosi can’t budge because of genuine concern about the impact a $5 billion border wall will make on the economy. Everyone knows that the economic cost of the shutdown is about to exceed the amount the President is demanding for his wall. So what is really going on?

Once we properly answer this question, the solution from the President’s perspective becomes breathtakingly simple.

What is really going on is that House Democrats want Trump to appear bad, and do not want themselves to appear weak after digging themselves into an intractable position. Consider that if the shutdown were to lead to starvation and social disaster (something that may be approaching sooner than you think), Pelosi may still be unwilling to compromise as long as Trump is getting the blame. Polls indicate that most Americans are indeed blaming Trump for the shutdown, which means that from Pelosi’s perspective the worse the situation becomes, the better it actually is, since more Americans will dislike Trump and vote Democrat in the next election.

Admittedly, this is a very cynical way of looking at things, and it flies in the face of what Pelosi has been telling the public. Officially, her line remains that she is the one who wants to transcend petty politics, that she is the adult in the room contending against a president who is, as she put it, “holding the American people hostage.” To fortify the impression that she is willing to compromise, democrats are passing spending bills they know the President will not sign. The narrative they are projecting is that the House majority are trying to end the shutdown in the face of a stubborn and immovable President.

So what’s the solution? Simply this: Trump should call Pelosi’s bluff. He should offer her a compromise on his terms but which still leaves him on top in the symbolic and psychological power struggle. For example, instead of asking for $5 billion to start the wall, maybe he could ask for $2 billion to start it, or $30 billion for general border security without the wall, or maybe a package that includes only $1 million for the wall and $9 million for ramping up general border security. That sort of thing.

Here’s why I think this is an obvious solution. If Pelosi responded by granting the President’s modified terms, that would be a huge symbolic victory for Trump. The wall could start being built; Trump’s base would love it and could point to it as one more example of shrewd statesmanship under the guise of bombast. We all know that Pelosi will want to avoid the impression of granting Trump even the most nominal victory on the wall, and so she would probably refuse even $1 million to get it started and reopen the government. But such a refusal would simply call her bluff and demonstrate to the public that Pelosi is just as stubborn and intractable as Trump. Moreover, her refusal might help to shift the blame for the shutdown over to House Democrats. “Gosh,” people will begin ask, “if even Trump is willing to compromise, why can’t Pelosi?”

To the extent that Pelosi has framed the border wall controversy in moral rather than prudential terms (for example, pronouncing that because the border wall is “immoral” the Democrats will never agree to fund it), she has effectively painted herself into a corner. Thus, if Trump requested something that was merely a nominal and symbolic victory for himself (say, requesting a million just to start the wall), then it would put Pelosi in a dilemma: she couldn’t meet Trump in the middle without being accused of back-tracking on her earlier statements, and yet to not agree to something that small would also powerfully demonstrate just what type of dispute this really is for her.

What type of dispute is this for Pelosi? From our earliest fights on the playground to the most complicated disputes within marriage, we all know that specific issues become important when they are emblematic of deeper power-struggles and principles that operate in the background, perhaps without being clearly acknowledged. This is just such a dispute: it is not about what Pelosi actually thinks is best for America (remember that the shutdown is about to exceed the amount the President has requested) but about winning her power-struggle with Trump, or continuing it as long as most Americans continue to blame him for the shutdown.

If this reading of things is correct, then it’s time Trump called Pelosi’s bluff by creating a lose-lose situation for her: if she refuses to grant Trump even a reduced proposal on border security, she is highlighted as the one unwilling to compromise; but if she does grant a modified proposal, Trump emerges as the symbolic winner of the power struggle. Then government can re-open and hundreds of thousands of workers can return to their jobs.

Help me publicize this simple solution to the shutdown by liking and sharing my post about this on my Facebook author page.


David Hendrickson on the Syria Withdrawal

Last Friday, David Hendrickson offered some extremely sensible observations about how the Syria withdrawal could (but alas, won’t) be skillfully managed to prevent unnecessary chaos and bloodshed. Hendrickson shows that a solution is entirely within reach yet requires two things that we are not likely to see from the current administration: (1) a certain level of policy sophistication and prudential thinking (2) a willingness to work with Russia. Read Hendrickson’s article about this published at the American Conservative. What is sad is that a lasting solution to the Syria problem is entirely within reach but is being eclipsed by other subversive political agendas.

If you want to learn some more about the political background between America and Russia that creates the context for some of the tensions Hendrickson is talking about, then I recommend the article ‘NATO Partisans Started a New Cold War With Russia‘, also published at The American Conservative.

The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump

A few weeks ago I got into a friendly argument with friends at church about whether President Trump is a liberal or conservative. I said that Trump was a liberal while my friends said that he was a conservative.

Today, as I went to vote in the midterms, I thought back to our conversation at church. I found myself wondering if perhaps Trump is actually “conservative” but in a new sense. Perhaps we are seeing a metamorphosis of what it means to be conservative, as the classic conservativism of thinkers like Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke recedes into anachronism.
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