Cartier: Who are you when it comes to identity politics? (column)
When things go wrong, it’s easier to blame others than to accept responsibility and admit that perhaps we screwed up. Whether the mistake is the result of a flawed decision or misguided intentions, there was a consequence. When we feel that it’s the result of others having an unfair advantage, it’s upsetting, particularly if we begin to believe that things will never change.
Then along comes the political chess masters. Welcome to identity politics … political tribalism, weaponized.
Common-enemy tactics provide members an outlet for their frustration, which may initially appear empowering because it’s framed as holding accountable those who are responsible for our current plight — those in power who are keeping us down. That mentality creates a sense of helplessness and victimization, which inhibits our ability to move forward. It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of failure, and lacking control. But consider, if you don’t have the power to control your circumstances, then how can you ever change them?
That frustration also creates resentment, sometimes to other identity groups, which may be receiving greater attention. It creates competition between groups, in what Amy Chau describes as the “Oppression Olympics,” in her book, “Political Tribes.”
According to Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist and author who teaches at Stanford, the foundation of identity politics centers on influencing members by claiming they are disrespected and even betrayed by existing power structures. In his book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment,” he says progressives are champions of identity politics, and they seek to undermine the legitimacy of the American narrative by emphasizing victimization, racism, gender discrimination, and other exclusions. He states that liberal democracy cannot exist without a national identity. It’s the idea that more unites us than divides us; building upon America’s diversification being our greatest strength.
Identity Politics removes the debate of ideas, making all disagreements about perceived biases of groups rather than the productive discourse of diverse solutions. Suddenly, every countering remark is considered an attack.
Our nation was built on integrating differences, and while some took longer, it’s a foundational mandate. To take the best of what we have and assimilate it into something more diverse and greater. Yet, suddenly the idea of being created different but equal is no longer politically correct. The individuality of thought or action from the group’s prescribed definition is disqualifying. In addition, most of us are not single-issue voters.
The rhetoric has become so vile that Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor, has determined that “silence is safer” in his new book, “The Coddling of the American Mind.”
Identity politics shuns the idea of different groups uniting under common values, experiences, dreams, and the strength of individual potential. Instead, power comes from keeping groups hostile and fragmented … divide and conquer.
Group membership requires that we limit our beliefs and actions to the rules established by others. Creative ideas and innovation are unable to exist when areas of disagreement cannot be expressed, for fear of offending someone. With the growth of never-ending grievances, that list of politically incorrect responses is continually evolving, generating fear of engaging in the necessary discourse to formulate viable solutions. The result … polarization.
Mark Lilla, a Democrat, a humanities professor at Columbia, and author of the book, “The Once and Future Liberal,” argues that emphasizing identity politics is a losing electoral strategy for Dems who live between the coasts. He finds that a focus on identity politics at the university level is to blame, since young people are not being taught that “they share a destiny with all their fellow citizens and have duties toward them.” Fukuyama agrees, and suggests a return to national service, to include non-military options like teaching or conservation projects.
The patronizing attitude that emanates from those in power, telling others that only they can speak for them, only they can determine what is offensive, only they can make decisions for members, because only they know what’s best, is what’s truly offensive.
Politics is not a zero-sum game. When one group benefits, it is not necessarily at the expense of another. Still, we must be careful that when focused so strongly on one group’s rights, that we are not infringing on others? This divisiveness is tearing communities and even families apart.
Living up to other’s generalizations of your identity invalidates our individual talents, disrespects our value to society, and diminishes our independent voice. Hatred and abuse are not limited to only one group. Those on all sides of the economic, race and gender divides experience challenges and unfair losses too. It’s called, life, and no one gets an easy ride. Suffering is not limited to any one demographic. To act as if one group is more important than another is to reduce the value of both.
Is it worth giving up our individuality and freedom for acceptance into a group, which is limited to only one area of our lives, and who may be promoting a stance to which we only partially agree? Perhaps victimization is not really against greater society, but rather to group leaders who suppress individual thought and deliver predetermined ideas of behavior, based upon stereotypes of a group’s identity.
Is the message, the less we have in common, the more united we will become? The very idea of being American is that we are proudly not the same. We love being independent and unique, with the freedom to go against the grain to develop something new and share it with others in the creation of a better world.
The greatest successes in our country came from people with vision who were united in a common purpose, values, and mission, with highly diverse backgrounds. Their individual contributions were enhanced by those differences, and that melting pot of unique attributes created the greatest nation on earth. They assimilated those differences with a sense of greater purpose, while maintaining the inherited qualities that made them uniquely invaluable. Their shared experiences and hopes for the future, created miracles.
Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.