Identity politics: a real problem
Eddie Damstra | Thursday, October 12, 2017
One of my biggest fears in today’s American society is the increasing prominence of identity politics. The 2016 election proved that politicians are drifting away from championing ideas and principles and instead moving towards pandering to group identities.
Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sliced the voting population into distinctive groups, and consequently appealed to such groups. Trump appealed to the white working class, while Clinton appealed to minorities and the LGBT community. The candidates did not view the electorate as composed of individual voters, but rather composed of large groups, wherein the individual members of each group were not in any form dissimilar from the other members of the group. Principled ideas that could foster broad, cross-group coalitions were not offered. Rather, candidates treated voters as mindless automatons who would inevitably succumb to group think.
Donald Trump treated blue-collared white people as a monolithic tribe that could be won over simply be appealing to white identity. Hillary Clinton used the same strategy with minorities.
Obviously, Trump was successful in garnering more electoral votes than Hillary. However, the true winner may have been identity politics. Both campaigns utilized such a strategy, and I anticipate that future political campaigns will do the same.
This is quite scary. We, as Americans, are increasingly becoming obsessed with our group identities. Politicians are taking advantage of this and often pinning groups against each other in the process. Identifying as a member of a group is certainly fine. However, obsessive and excessive tendencies towards group identity can quickly become a dangerous vice.
People should not denounce their group identities. However, people should also not allow group identity to cloud one’s own self-consciousness and belief in one’s own individual uniqueness. At the end of the day, a person is a unique individual. People should not let politicians feel entitled to their vote simply because they are a member of a certain race or religion. Similarly, people should not fall for demagoguery that emphasizes group pride at the expense of ideals and principles.
We need to start holding politicians accountable to providing real, substantive policies that are rooted in ideas. Identity politics can quickly turn a nation into a cluster of feuding tribes. We cannot let this happen, because doing so would entail severe internal strife.
Politics should be the practice of engaging with ideas and offering policies; it should not a pandering competition. I pray to God that politics soon return to the former, because the latter form of politics is not only free of substance, but also of any sense of virtue or moral responsibility.
Eddie is a junior majoring in economics and political science, with a minor in Constitutional Studies. He plans on attending law school after his time as an undergraduate at Notre Dame. He can be reached at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.