Identity politics

中国日报网 2018-01-02 12:00



Identity politicsReader question:

What does “identity politics” mean exactly?

My comments:

Identity, as in individual identity, is what differentiates one individual from another. Your identification card, for example, lists your name, age, sex, birth of date, etc. By comparing your ID card with that of another person, you can be sure that the two of you are different in some details, such as age, date and/or place of birth.

Politics refers to one’s political positions or ideas and beliefs about how societies and countries should be governed and run.

Identity politics, in short, means that if people share the same social or political identities, they should share the same or at least similar political views.

One’s social or political identities refers to, say, what kind of organizations one belongs to, organizations based on age, sex, race, religion, social class, education, profession, political party affiliation, urban and rural habitation and so forth.

Simply put, and if identity politics has its way all the way, people who are Christians should always fight against positions taken by, say, Muslims and vice versa. Likewise, if you’re rich, you should always vote for a tax cut and against raising the minimum wage. By the same token, if you are a woman, you should support feminist movements in any shape or form.

Similarly, if you’re a Republican, you should support the Republican Party always and at all costs.

And, yes, using the same logic, all city dwellers should welcome measures that discriminate against farmers looking for jobs or doing business in the city.

No more examples. I think you’ve got the point.

I am simplifying matters to make a point, but identity politics does sound like the worst kind of politics, doesn’t it?

Well, perhaps it does, but it is there because it serves a practical purpose. To give one example, minority groups should better stick together if they want to win a particular social cause. Gay and lesbian people, for instance, should stick together if they ever want to enjoy the same rights to work and marriage as straight guys and gals.

All right, no more words from me. Let’s read a few media examples to see identity politics in action:

1. Picturesque: a large, celebratory crowd listens to inspiring oratory near the shore of Lake Champlain. The speaker is Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, announcing his candidacy for president of the United States. It’s a fiery, detailed, leftwing speech—about what you’d expect from this 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist and grandpa.

But columnist Byron York noticed something odd. “The racial issues that have dominated the news at various times in the past year were nowhere to be found.” Trayvon, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray went unmentioned. The words “Dreamers” and “executive order”—they weren’t said. No resounding endorsement of same-sex marriage, no call to the barricades in support of trans rights. “It struck me as a missed opportunity,” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes.

Maybe for today’s left, which puts identity politics ahead of class politics. Sanders? He actually believes in the international labor movement, in socialist economics. Other than an aside in favor of equal pay for equal work, and the assertion that “we can live in a country” where “every person, no matter their race, their religion, their disability, or their sexual orientation realizes the full promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans,” and a section on “reversing climate change”—break out your sweaters—his speech was devoted to the traditional left-wing question of who gets how much when.

“The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time,” he said. And “for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country—once the envy of the world—has been disappearing.” This economic imbalance creates a political imbalance in favor of billionaire donors. “This is not democracy. This is oligarchy.”

What to do? Publicly fund elections. Oppose trade agreements. Break up the banks. Raise the minimum wage to $15. Spend $1 trillion over five years on infrastructure. Raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. Establish Medicare-for-All. Expand Social Security, legislate universal pre-K, “make tuition in public colleges and universities free.”

It’s an old left-winger’s dream: a larger government, a more equal—and in all likelihood poorer—country. But whether the country is poorer doesn’t matter to Sanders, because his critique of capitalism is fundamentally moral. The market might make us rich, but it doesn’t make us good, or kind, or just.

Indeed, it distracts us with options, entices us with pleasures we never knew we wanted (and maybe don’t require). Hence Sanders’s admonition to CNBC this week: “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country.”

The generation gap between Bernie Sanders and Chris Hayes is measured not only in years. It’s evident in their politics. While Sanders and Hayes probably agree on most everything, Sanders hails from a different sort of leftism, a universal, internationalist strain founded on the brotherhood of man, an ideology that treats social conflict ultimately as the consequence of an unjust economic system.

For the old socialists, you had to mobilize politically to command the economy, and then issues of race and ethnicity and religion would disappear. Since we’re all equal, the only relevant dispute was between classes. And once that dispute was settled—workers of the world, blah blah blah—we’d have nothing to worry about.

At least that’s the way it was supposed to happen. But socialism failed to achieve its goals—a planned economy, a classless society, economic growth with equal distribution—and the left shifted emphasis. Revolutionary transformation of the market wasn’t achievable, and perhaps not all that desirable. The left would have to make its peace with capitalism: more like a truce, with the welfare state keeping the market at bay.

What mattered to this new generation of leftists was the distribution of cultural power among groups—not the fortunes and universal rights of “working men” in the abstract but the fortunes and rights of specific types of men and women, whose race or gender or sect was “privileged” and whose was not. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the absurdities of planned economies settled one question. But the political and social and cultural questions—who was on top, what spoils would they reap—remained open.

- Bernie Sanders’ Fossil Socialism, by Matthew Continetti,, May 29, 2015.

2. This phrase “Identity Politics” has been bandied about a lot since the 2016 presidential election. Mostly it has been used to bash women and feminists who voted for Hillary Clinton by the conservative right and even some on the progressive left.

Identity politics is not new and the truth is that all politics are identity politics. Name me any politician and I will tell you their identity and the subsequent group of voters they may attract. It doesn’t matter if they are right, left, centrist, or from outer space, all candidates practice Identity Politics.

Take the candidates from this last election and the groups that identified with them:

Senator Marco Rubio: young, conservative Cubans

Senator Ted Cruz: conservative Evangelical Christians

Senator Bernie Sanders: progressive young people

Donald Trump: older white males and blue collar workers and anti-establishment types

In 2008 and 2012, minorities and women and blacks voted for the change Barack Obama brought. So why is it when a woman runs they accuse her female supporters of voting with their vaginas? Yes, women are a voting bloc. So are blacks, Latinos, LGBT folks, young people, Muslims, whites, blue collar workers, white collar workers, the lower class, the upper class, Christians, Jews, Atheists, pro-lifers, pro-choicers, intellectuals, and as Trump has called them “the poorly educated.”

In other words, Americans have endless identities which exist even within one person. It is up to the candidates to amass a winning coalition of voters by promising to deliver progress on the issues most electors identity with. This is how politics has worked from the beginning of time.

To me, it made sense for Hillary Clinton to appeal to women and promote feminist issues. She was the first woman to win the nomination of a major party and we females are 51 percent of the populace. We have come a long way but we are not there yet. There is much to be done to achieve equal pay, ending sexual harassment in the workplace, cutting down rape in the military and on college campuses, and promoting family leave and women health care issues.

I have no clue why Donald Trump won the majority of the women vote. It could have been some of them had bought the fake news about Hillary’s emails and Trump’s slanderous moniker of “Crooked Hillary”. They may have fell for his message of change (that always beats status quo) even though the change he is planning is in my eyes disastrous for our country. It may have been him falsely saying she would cause World War III. How ironic is that now with his latest military bombing adventures and loose talk of a “major, major conflict with North Korea”? It is also ironic he used the term “crooked” when he and his campaign team are being investigated for ties to the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Most women I know are opposed to nuclear war and any kind of ground war for our troops. The only thing worse than voting for your own best interests is voting against your own best interests, unknowingly or not.

I was heartened by the Womens’ March the day after President Trump’s Inauguration and the huge crowds it attracted worldwide with peaceful protests. It gave me hope that we are still a force to be reckoned with. Women are leading the Resistance movement.

So yes, I did vote with my vagina. I also voted as a pro-environmentalist (respecting wildlife and National Parks and believing in climate change), pro-green energy jobs, pro-arts (as I am a musician), pro-universal health care, pro-social security, pro-Medicare, pro-peace (and ending nuclear proliferation), pro-immigration reform, pro-religious freedom, pro-civil rights, pro-criminal justice reform, pro-fair trade, pro-affordable college and lowering student loan debts, pro-sensible gun safety, pro-education, pro-Wall Street reforms, pro-the Consumer Protection Agency, pro-repealing Citizens United, pro-campaign finance reform, pro-civility in politics, pro-LGBT rights (as I am a lesbian), and pro-animal rights (especially wolves). These are my identity politics. And I am embracing them.

I chose the candidate that most closely matched my interests. She didn’t win, but I haven’t given up hope. We are still a democracy and the majority did not vote for our current president, at least in the popular vote.

So if you want to accuse me of “Identity Politics” go right ahead but remember you do it too. We all do. This is what democracy looks like.

- The Truth About ‘Identity Politics’, by Joan E. Dowlin,, May 17, 2017.

3. It was obvious that Donald Trump had been forced into making a second statement on Monday regarding Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville. The New York Times, among others, reported that Trump was pressured to change course from his initial claim that “many sides” brought hatred to Charlottesville—phrasing that absolved the white supremacist protesters of their alleged role in the violence that culminated in the killing of Heather Heyer. According to the Times, those comments “spurred several of his top advisers, including his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to press the president to issue a more forceful rebuke.”

After Trump’s Tuesday press conference, it’s clear that reporting was unnecessary. Trump couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let sleeping dogs lie. The press conference was pegged ostensibly to infrastructure. What we saw instead was a defense, from the president of the United States, of the Nazis and white supremacists who terrorized an American city with violence and mayhem.

The unspooling of the president’s true thoughts began after a reporter asked Trump about his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. Not for the first time, Trump called Bannon, who had made Breitbart a home for the alt-right, a “good person” and “not a racist.” He was then asked if he thought the alt-right was responsible for the events in Charlottesville. It’s here that Trump took a turn toward the unthinkable. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” he asked, referring to the counter-demonstrators.


Comparing Robert E. Lee to George Washington also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues at stake. The reason to remove statues of Confederate generals like Lee and Jackson isn’t to erase unpleasant history, which is what he argues when he says Washington was “a major slave owner.” Those statues weren’t placed as historical markers. The vast majority were erected decades after the end of the Civil War, built to valorize the Confederacy and mark the establishment of Jim Crow. It’s no accident they were placed in parks and other prominent spaces near courthouses and seats of government. They marked and memorialized white supremacy, and served as a warning to anyone—black or white—who would challenge it. Confederate “heroes” like Robert E. Lee hold no historical significance outside the Confederacy and the myth of the “Lost Cause.” To erect monuments in their honor is to celebrate both.

It should also be said that there is no equivalence between those who march for white denomination and ethnic cleansing and those who march against them. To suggest otherwise isn’t just wrong; it’s obscene—a failure of morality and decency. And Trump isn’t alone in that failure. Turn to the Wall Street Journal and you’ll find the editorial board equating white racists to advocates for racial justice and transgender rights. Turn to the New York Times opinion section and you’ll find the same. At the American Conservative, a similar sleight of hand tries to argue that liberal “identity politics” is responsible for white nationalism, and that minority Americans’ asserting of their humanity is the reason some people turn to white supremacy, as if otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

Here, in the false equivalence between racists and their opponents, Donald Trump isn’t an innovator. He isn’t the first to play this game. He’s just taken old arguments and stripped them of pretense, providing them uncut and undiluted. The difference is that he is delivering them with the authority of the presidency.

Here, in the false equivalence between racists and their opponents, Donald Trump isn’t an innovator. He isn’t the first to play this game. He’s just taken old arguments and stripped them of pretense, providing them uncut and undiluted. The difference is that he is delivering them with the authority of the presidency.

There’s no doubt that Trump’s statements will provoke withering condemnation from his fellow Republicans. It’s already started. But at this stage it rings false. Donald Trump ran a campaign of racial demagoguery where he winked at Klansmen and brought white nationalists onto his team. Republicans might sound shocked, but nothing since Saturday—not his “many sides” condemnation, not his silence in the face of criticism, not his grudging correction and then angry repudiation of that same correction—should shock them. This is who he is. And words of anger or disappointment are no longer enough. If Republicans don’t break ties with the president, they are allies to a man who defends white supremacists and condemns those who stand against them.

- There Was Never Doubt Over What Trump Thought of Charlottesville,, August 15, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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