Much has been made of the role that identity politics played in Clinton’s loss to the Pussy Grabber. Too often, she made explicit appeals to blacks, Hispanics, women, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, you name a group she addressed their needs and concerns, but she never once mentioned white middle class working class people. They didn’t make it into her mixed tape laundry list of injury-led politics critics say. Or, so the common wisdom goes. And, you know who did? The Pussy Grabber.
It’s almost as if people think that identity politics is exclusive to liberals or something. You know why, don’tcha? White privilege! That’s right! It is because of one of the most powerful trigger words that white people experience. White is normal, so it is the default cultural identity for most of the institutions and people in the country including non-whites! Movies, TV shows, commercials, news reporting are all produced through the white filter. Even the ones that purport to be about non-white groups! And, when a production wanders too far afield from the default white point-of-view, it gets the Beyoncé treatment.
So anytime Clinton explicitly referred to the needs, concerns, or desires of non-white groups, she got Beyoncé. And, anytime she referred to Americans, the synonym for whites, white people were suspicious. They didn’t believe her. Her identity politics worked against her: it didn’t bring out the black and Hispanic vote in the numbers she required to win, and it didn’t appeal to many of the white middle class.
The Pussy Grabber, however, played identity politics to a tee. Only we didn’t notice because he was making reference to whites and we all know white is not an identity. He deftly split whites from the rest of us by walking that thin line while dog whistling a racist tune emphasizing the very real threat that people feel when confronting change. The chief difference between Clinton and the Pussy Grabber’s use of identity politics? Clinton was attempting a big tent in which members of all groups are welcomed, listened to, and helped. The Pussy Grabber was attempting to divide us by splitting the white vote from the non-white by emphasizing the white identity and the threat that it was under through changing demographics and economic fortunes.
Identity politics, at least as defined by dictionary.com, is
Identity politics works because it taps into social identity. It produces a clear demarcation between groups producing an in-group and an out-group. In-group and out-group divisions depend upon easily identified differences between groups of people. I am a high school teacher, but you probably wouldn’t know it just to look at me. However, I am white, which you would probably know to look at me even though you would be inhibited to describe me as that white guy because racism. I am a man, which also you would probably know to look at me. While you might describe me as a man, you still probably wouldn’t describe me as a white man. Describing me as white invokes race and the deep-seated fears of white people being considered racist, but describing me as a man does not invoke sexism.
When I was a young man, I was a member of a loosely organized group that might be described as anti-establishment — and now I am a high school teacher, go figure. You would know it to look at me because I wore my hair long, a scraggly beard, and unkempt clothes. Nowadays, you know these folks because of their body mutilations: piercings and tattoos.
The more plain and clear this visual demarcation between groups is, the stronger the identity with that group for those members. Clearly, the easiest appeal to make is to the racial differences because they are the easiest differences to see. I can change my clothes, I cannot change my skin color. This is true even though race is a social construct and does not exist in any meaningful way. Four years living in Kenya and 16 in Far East Asia have taught me that.
But the stupid on the far right is not due just to race — although it is a huge part of it because race is a huge part of America. You can’t understand the States unless you understand our race issues.
One of the chief purposes of in-groups, according to Tajfel originator of Social Identity Theory, is to maintain and enhance the self-esteem of its members — can you imagine being a Cleveland Brown’s fan? Basically, in-group members trash talk out-group members essentially saying you so stupid; we better than you. And, other stuff like that.
By definition, identity politics emphasizes in-group membership and heightens the differences between in-group and out-group. As long as it is the good-natured rivalry between sports teams fans, no harm, no foul. Except for those Cowboys fans, of course. Those guys are sheesh, over the top, amirite?
However, when groups become insular and begin to develop what is called groupthink, then all hell can break lose. Groupthink occurs when an in-group does not engage in individual or critical thinking about a topic but accepts the common wisdom of the group as being unassailable truth.
Janis (1982) defined groupthink as ―a mode of thinking people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action‖ (p. 9)
Obviously, one of the big risks of SJW politics, identity politics, political correctness, and RWNJ conspiracy theories is just this: a lack of critical thinking and unwavering acceptance of the majority view. But the right-wing stupid encompasses several prominent aspects of right-wing stupid identity:
- gubment regulations (Even though the local chemical plant is killing everyone in your family and your dog with its toxic pollutants being dumped directly into your mouth and nose),
- welfare queens being paid to have babies! (even though no one in their right mind would try to fund the couch potato life by having babies)
- illegal messicans taking all our jobs (even though most people illegally in the US overstay visas and the true job takers are the H-1B visa holders)
- ‘Merica is a Christian country (even though the Founding Fathers were Deists and explicitly wanted to protect non-Christian beliefs)
But, no where is this more evident than in the GOP acceptance of their own ideology of trickle down economics or massive tax cuts for the wealthy in the belief that it will boost the economy. It didn’t work for Reagan. it didn’t work for W. It didn’t work in the 1890’s. It won’t work now. Yet, that is what we’ve got.
It isn’t even so much the elite GOP. They push this nonsense to their craven greed. Reflect on the our history since Reagan: the strident partisanship, the emphasis on morality (abortion, marriage equality, etc.), knee-jerk patriotism, and lip-service cutting deficits. It is the rank and file that continue to return them to office in the unquestioning belief that these policies will somehow improve the economy and, therefore, their lives.
Because the bedrock beliefs cannot be questioned, and anyone not conservative enough will be primaried and driven out of the Republican party — how’s being Republican working out for you John Huntsman? — people are willing to believe this horse hockey like it is the Gospel straight from the mouth of god!
And now it extends to a complete alternate universe in which climate scientists are said to engage in a massive conspiracy to promote climate change in order to win grant money. In which Clinton wantonly and cravenly exposed national secrets through loose email servers. In which gutting state social services budgets to fund tax cuts for businesses will create a thriving state economy — we’re looking at you Sam Brownback and Kansas! In which the Pussy Grabber won by a landslide.
In any other context these beliefs and others — so many others which you can include in the comments to the enjoyment and amusement of us all — this stuff would be laughable because it just so stupid. It is the result of identity politics. The kind that leads to groupthink which leads to terribly faulty decision making. It is stupid, and yet, it is this stupid that will govern us.