Identity Politics

Typically, diatribes against so-called identity politics are aimed at “woke” folks advocating for the civic equality of marginalized groups, presumably to the detriment of  the common good. I want to argue for a different–and infinitely more troubling–definition, one that helps explain America’s current divisions.

Several recent events and observations have prompted this reflection. A few days ago, I attended a meeting of a group of Hoosiers concerned about Indiana’s lopsided support of Republican candidates, even when those candidates were obviously and dramatically flawed. What several of us implicitly recognized was the changed nature of political choice.

These days, Hoosiers and other American voters are not engaged in debates over policy. The policy preferences and beliefs that used to determine whether people identified with Republicans or Democrats–free trade, welfare policy, foreign policy–no longer drive that choice, and a frighteningly large number of Americans haven’t the faintest idea what positions the parties or candidates embrace–or even know enough about the issues to form a coherent opinion.

Worse still, most don’t care.

I previously noted that the very welcome result in Georgia’s Senate run-off was an uncomfortably close one–that 1,700,000+ voters cast ballots for a manifestly unqualified and arguably mentally-ill candidate.

A couple of days ago, in his daily Newsletter, Robert Hubbell noted the durability of GOP base support for Trump, despite behaviors most Americans would once have seen as immediately disqualifying:

In the three weeks since he announced his 2024 presidential bid, Trump has met with antisemites, Nazi supporters, white nationalists, and QANON members at Mar-a-Lago and called for the “termination of the Constitution.”That is the worst “roll-out” of a presidential campaign in history. And yet, Trump has a 40% favorability rating while President Biden has a 42%favorability rating. We dismiss Trump at our peril.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that America is now experiencing a tribal war. Our differences are not based upon contending positions on matters of policy or candidate quality; they are based upon the irreconcilable world-views of the “tribes” of which we consider ourselves part.

Policy differences can be compromised; irreconcilable world-views cannot.

Over the past few decades, we Americans have sorted ourselves into a Red tribe and a Blue tribe. The Republican Party has never been a “big tent” in the same way the Democratic Party was and still is, but it was far more capacious than it is today. There were liberal Republicans, and a significant number of Republicans for Choice (a group to which I once belonged). Foreign policy positions ranged from isolationist to interventionist.

Today, the GOP has purged virtually all “outliers.” The MAGA party has largely morphed into the White Christian Nationalist Party, with internal differences narrowed to degrees of racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of “the libs.” A “moderate” Republican today is one who limits his public pronouncements of such sentiments because he still recognizes how ugly they sound. (I use the male pronoun because most of these culture warriors are men, but not all; loony-tune shrews like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are full-fledged members of the cult.)

Everyone who doesn’t fall within the GOP’s ambit–everyone who isn’t prepared to join the cult–is either a Democratic-leaning Independent or a Democrat, with the result that what was once that party’s “big tent'” is now a huge one, stretching from never-Trump Republicans to middle-of-the-road voters to self-identified democratic socialists. (That makes achievement of consensus the equivalent of herding cats, but that’s an issue for a different post.)

People now go to the polls to vote for their tribe, their team. America has always had an unfortunate tendency to view political contests like team sports; these days, “my team” has hardened into “my tribe, my people,” and voting has become a contest between “real Americans” and “woke liberals.” The attributes of the candidates, their positions on or evasions of the issues have largely faded into irrelevancy.

So…what now?

I fervently hope that we are simply on the cusp of permanent, largely positive social change, and that it is resistance to that change that has engendered the outpouring of fury, bile and hysteria from what Steve Schmidt calls “the belligerent minority.”  I hope that the inclusive, so-called “woke”  culture these folks so detest has become too embedded to be overturned.

I actually do believe that to be the case. But in the meantime, those of us who aren’t part of the cult need to understand what is motivating the legions who vote for people like Herschel Walker and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and who continue to support Donald Trump–and we need to actively oppose them.

Whoever said “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” wasn’t kidding.


  1. The right wing cult is also anti technology. They are rabidly opposed to new things. Electric Cars, trucks, busses? They almost foam at the mouth over that one. They get very angry over anything new. They think it must be killed off so we can burn more and more gas. I do not see how we negotiate with that tribe. They do not want to be part of a modern world and the old ways can not continue. Reality does not care what you believe. One can refuse to believe in gravity, but if you step off of a cliff…..

  2. I am reminded of the extent of resistance the GOP held towards FDR, even after he solved the many problems he was presented with during his tenure as President, and how so many from the right still hold him in contempt to this day, even after all of his achievements.
    It is my hope that, like Prof Kennedy stated, we are seeing the frantic attempts of a party and movement that sees its inevitable end and is trying desperately to cling to power no matter what.
    President Biden should just keep calmly going about his business of making policy that improves the actual lives of the people in our day-to-day experience. the D Party needs to step up their efforts to put an end to the corruption of the elite, level the playing field between the 99 and 1 percent, and expose the lies of the right wing at every opportunity.
    We may well be on the cusp of real social change.

  3. An issue I have become more and more “woke” to is the lowering of morals and the number of questionable priority (making money)decisions in a number of ads on TV. The Ballsy products for men to “take care of down there”, the period panties which will “hold the amount of fluid of 8 tampons”, the LumeDeo commercial, which fortunately I only saw once and never again. The demonstration of the seller sniffing the woman’s armpit and then sniffing her butt may fortunately have been removed. Sex and violence in movies has always been questionable but since Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” seems to have freed some channels to “let it all hang out”. A few days ago I was channel surfing in the afternoon, switched to one of the Showtime channels to see full length, full frontal of naked woman and man, with him working at top speed behind her, in the process of sexual intercourse. I am not a prude, I have seen a few porno flicks in my time, including Clarence Thomas’ favorite “Long Dong Silver”; but the Showtime “Afternoon Delight” took me a few seconds to lift my chin from my lap to change channels. Profanity, another issue unleashed publicly by Trump, is rampant in TV programming. All of this is becoming the norm; including to our children who are becoming effected unknowingly as they accept this as the norm just as the racism, bigotry, antisemitism, and all other anti actions by the White Nationalist MAGA party spews it’s venom on the public. It is all much more than politics; it is the deterioration of the morals of America brought about by a specific group of individuals with immoral like-mindedness on all issues.

    I just caught the end of a news report this morning to see the banner that the “… Dems are stealing the GOP playbook on patriotism.” I’m afraid to learn what that means but it sounds like something related to “Identity Politics” and the “…changed nature of political choice.” which has little, if anything, to do with politics as we understood the term “politics” to mean.

  4. Perhaps the problem with “Identity Politics” is based on the rate of change, not the change itself. At my age (pushing 80), as I physically and mentally slow down, I want the world to slow down too. I no longer want the newest or the most advance of anything. I want predictability and reliability. Is it too much to ask that the new phone or coffee maker I buy not need to be “programmed”?
    We have not made the world better….We have made the world more complicated. And the older we each gets, the less appealing that becomes.

  5. I first started using Facebook ten years ago. At that time, the word f**k, which occurred quite often, always had the middle two letters covered. Today, things are different: the word and its variations appear in someone’s post nearly every day, without any “covering.”

    Now, I don’t hear the word used in casual conversations these days – I can’t remember when I heard it in the past – but there appear to be no reservations about using it online.

  6. Theresa; you are so right. One of my TVs turns off while I’m watching; the other asks if I want to continue watching. I wouldn’t have them on if I weren’t watching. But the Lifeline Services to qualify Affordable Connectivity Program for assistance with Internet bills for low income had copies of every legal document I have except my newborn footprint, which I offered to send but they weren’t interested. After about 6 weeks, 30 E-mails I received my qualification with a different Application ID number because the one I was told to use didn’t have complete information. Progress does not always mean improvement; you and I are of the generation that wants to use our phone to make a call and our coffee pot to make coffee. We also want our elected officials to work for us by simply doing their job and upholding their Oaths of Office; that is what we pay them to do. We grew up with a work ethic which is missing today on all sides of our lives.

  7. Let me add. This view of the world that JoAnn and I have does NOT make us part of the right wing anti-technology cult. I believe it makes us “wise”.

  8. JoAnn and Pascal – you have neatly called out the other “woke”, freely translated as “anything goes”. Unfortunately, that plays into the worst of human traits: anger, misogyny, racism, classism, antisemitism.

    Further, and saddest to me, is the trend in those 40 and under, becoming increasingly extreme with each next generation, is that not only does “anything go”, but everything I do is about “my brand”. This includes belonging to tight tribes around music, sexual orientation, sports teams, fashion, food, etc. The combo is a deadly disease eating away at a community of humanity, for which true governing exists. Trust in virtually every institution is falling, except ME and MINE. History shows that charismatic leaders (even ridiculous/evil one) become attractive in these conditions.

  9. I may be old, but I’m not dead, at least I don’t think I am. I love new gizmos and gadgets. Bought my first home computer in 1984. There are some things I could easily live without, autocorrect comes to mind first, but I still love playing with toys. I am mindful of the need to be able to live without, especially after Ian. I even add the rainfall totals of each month, daily. The weather service inevitably screws up the totals every year. This year it took them longer as they didn’t get it wrong until the end of October. Maybe they should hire someone who knows how to put together a spreadsheet. But, I digress.

    My point is that none of us easily fits into any specific interest group. As long as we breathe, we change. Thank God.

  10. Peggy,

    I would like to gently disagree. Our country was founded on the ideal that together we are a single “interest group”, a community desiring to have and hold “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all, with all our individual differences. Perhaps, humans are so genetically selfish and narcissistic that such a dream is pure idealism.

  11. Rural people love their lives, the only ones they’ve ever known. Towns where everyone knows each other and always has. Habits given to permanence, not fashion. Yes sir, good morning ma’am. Kids and dogs scampering free. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. Why even the farm animals know their places and jobs and lives. Wholesome is everywhere. Even the scenery never changes.

    Urban folks love their lives too. Excitement, change, action, sensory overload. A new country and sometimes a new continent every block. You want a world tour? You can just by walking a few blocks. Cities are boisterous. even loud and smelly and full of rich man, poor man,
    beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, indian chief. Humanity everywhere in every flavor imaginable.

    Different worlds, different people, different habits, different ideas, different beliefs.

    We used to be a melting pot but we gave that up in order to sit at home alone and watch the lives of others paraded before our eyes.

  12. Pete,

    Poetic! Yes, our ideal was a gentle “melting pot” enabled by similar public education enabling civic knowledge and critical thinking, similar standards of morality and civility and government and institutions, while not perfect, which tried to bring us together and enable all.

    As is being shown all across the world, the “melting pot” idea is a failure. I will never forget visiting Denmark in the 1970’s and noting how friendly, gentle and caring a place it was. Little did I know how homogeneous a place it was. Now, with political and climate migration surging, there is even a strong autocratic right-wing party there.

  13. Understanding what motivates Magas & opposing them is the civil way to deal with the growing pains of our Democracy. Trump rallying and riling the aggressive dominating tendencies in Magas to use as a defense/weapon against our laws for his own protection and advancement is un-American. Protecting our Democracy so citizens are free to cast off the bondage of cults and use their God given gifts of intellect/consciousness to search for truth and realize a better life for themselves and others is the quest.

  14. Pete, books like “Heartland” and “Hillbilly Elegy”, for example, may give urban dwellers a glimpse of the “comfortable” sameness of rural life as told in memoirs by escapees but those same depictions of lives lived in isolation can be read in books like “The Yellow House” in an urban setting.
    Desperate lives, whether lived in the comfort of rural bubbles of isolated comfort (although in physical or mental poverty) with little chance of change and the fear it generates or in the tumult and noisy, chaotic, constantly changing conditions of the big city where our neighbors may be unseen, indifferent or hostile/fearful are really two sides of the same coin.
    We who live in either of those places, with no exposure to anything but the constant affirmation of our worldviews, will always seek comfort from those in like circumstances.
    Fear is the driving force of all of it, IMHO. Trust makes it more likely to find comfort. If we only trust what we see, hear and believe to be reality, never open to other ideas, facts and opinions, we are most apt to be frightened of the new.
    Sad to say, all of the instant connections of new media technology has only made the fear more exaggerated by nefarious actors on those with no drive to seek outside of their comfortable bubbles, no matter how desperate they are. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

  15. Whoever said “If you think education is expensive, consider the costs of ignorance.” wasn’t kidding either. So many of our comments herein, over the time I’ve been participating, illustrate this perfectly.
    Our public education system is another thing that is struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Many educators are doing heroic work but others burn out or opt for more money, more respect, less stress, etc. and we all suffer from the problems that creates.
    If we do make it out of this mess with our Constitution intact, as I think we will, I hope that our country will dedicate itself to providing high quality public education to every person.

  16. when talking about anti whatevers,seems the words/phrase etc are thrown out by any party members. then they gather and store the nuts. i found since clinton,the politically correct genre has dried up. since then its politically right or damn everything for my view. seems limbaughs start was his so called ebi trademark. wire the sound for rock and roll,and you get that, like a juke box in a bar,the music sets the crowd,rock,redneck,swing.. with many a small town radio focusing delibertly by who owns them,the political talk started in a diffrent genre,a paid radio host for one reason. anybody who looks at who supports thru ads, will see who else is forewarding the talk. take a political party open for exploitation for that radio/tv show,and then you start getting think tank decisions and paid to tell it as they see it. (carlson doesnt work for free)the fact the RNC is now running with the dogs,trailertrash, bigots,lazy asswipes,shit kickers,(hell im not running for office)maggots and people still living in the depression today. ya gotta stand in the middle of this group and see/listen to the ignorance provoked by one party. the RNC doesnt give a damn who supports them,they just want to win. as far as i see it, many still do a job assigned to them,and many have spouted out like idiots only to throw rice on their followers. seems the trump menace like showman ship now parades itself for all America to see,and follow. electing idiots only shows desperation,(provoked by the party)while sinking America and its ideals. the idea is to find scum low enough to elect,and see how low the party can go without being tossed aside. (again gathering the nuts along the way)but then again electing scum shows who is voting. there needs to be manditory public forums (not debates)with the voter in open discussion with anyone who seeks office,making it news people deciding the best bang for the buck. any debate in the last 50 years is filled with bullshit questions and run around the bush til its flatten. answer the question,no BS tell it like it is,or get off the stage,go home. we allow the corprate anything to decide too much and then targets the thinking and then mindset to influence the voter..a politician doesnt make squat in this new world unless its corp support,the same wall street greed that now runs the ship,left or right. the shareholder is the manager,(and is given power to protect its money over the costs to everyone else)now its time to use their money to get out of this mess. tax em to death.. there maybe a light in the end of the tunnel,but right now its a train at “full speed stupid”..and the RNC is at the throttle..

  17. JD:
    are you living in that world or just reading about it? i live in it. I prefer to stand
    in the quaqmire of those worlds/words. if you live it,then make the assertion of what its like.
    im 67 and had many a chance to change my socio-econ life. i prefer looking over the fence at how other Americans kicked the working class for personal gain. then relating how its done.

  18. Lestrer’s characterization of the urban/rural divide is accurate, as I see it. And each group has its
    own perspective. The problem as I see it is that neither considers the felt needs of the other. I imagine
    that the sense of independence felt by the rural folks, mistaken as it nonetheless is, fits in with the purported
    “small” government view expressed by the GOP, (except when they want to be inside everyone’s bedroom).
    Trump’s jumping onto the political stage,and in the way he did, energized the divide and Q, and other
    conspiracy theories, just fed that process.
    Conspiracy theories are not new, go back to at least 1617, in Europe, and they have created divides all
    this time. Trump, as any demagogue, would-be totalitarian ruler, was quick to jump on that bandwagon,
    Feeding more rancid energy into the culture, and widening the divide.
    And so, indeed, identity politics intensified.
    Not that we can unfailingly prevent another sick, and/or needy “Fuhrer” from ascending to what he,or she,
    thinks of as a throne, but we need remain ever vigilant in that regard.

  19. As one who’s been on Medicare for a decade, I must admit to frustrations with newer, more complicated cars, appliances, and more. Nevertheless, I do like change when it improves my bottom lines. If electric cars lower my costs for gasoline and global warming, bring them on, and the faster, the better. If medical advancements improve the quality and quantity of life, Hallelujah.

    I was a rural child and am an urban grown-up. The basic values of each are not that different. We value good neighbors and want to be one too. We want our kids to have a good education and grow up to be successful and have a good value system. We value our liberties but also want to be safe and secure in our homes, jobs, businesses, and communities. We want value for our monetary purchases and protection from corrupt price gougers. We want a secure retirement.

    Curiously today’s political divisions come not only from how we achieve these goals but often from the goals themselves. When that is too dangerous politically, distractions to divide are used. I wish everyone could take a course in logic to see through the distractors and dividers.

  20. Once again, Sheila, I must respectfully disagree – in part – both side-ism again.
    The Republicans have, indeed, purged the party and vote as a tribe (a turnip with an “R” by his name).
    The Democrats are, as Will Rogers described it, “not an organized political party”. The tent may have gotten bigger to include former Republicans and Independents, but when a slick talking right-winger ran for Virginia governor, there was no loyalty to “the tribe” by the Democratic tent.

    Again, things really are one sided. When it is a stark contrast, it isn’t the “blue tribe”, it’s fear of the “red” one.

    One thought about another source of resentment was brought up. In my grandparents’ days, down into my parents’ days, the idea of the “melting pot” was dominant. What is said was, wherever you came from, you were now Americans.

    It also meant, speak only English, change your name, even get a nose job – you didn’t want to look “ethnic”.

    After the Civil Rights movement led into a Black Power counterpart, the idea of “pride” became more prevalent. Proud women, proud Irish, proud Italians, proud Jews, and eventually, proud LBGT+. I have heard the new ideal described as a “gumbo”. Melting pot is homogenized; in a gumbo, each element is still recognizable.

    So, how dare they not try to pretend that all Americans are white, Anglo-Saxon, rural men.

  21. I’m not sure what people envisioned from the term “melting pot” when it became symbolic of American culture enriched by constant immigration, but to me, it means cheese fondue. a very occasional treat explored by my wife and me in Switzerland. From several ingredients, one fondue.

    E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one.

    Now our pot is largely based on what is profitable for media corporations and the unity captured by that motto is not it. Loyal audiences, seeing and hearing what makes them feel special, the sole purpose of entertainment, is it. Out of many, two sides. Right and left. Red and blue, rural and urban. Power and subjugation. Winners and losers. Home team and others.

    How about if we break free from entertainment in all of its forms and return to the Constitution and years of progress instead?

    Let’s honor both rural and urban and everything in between. Let’s keep filling the pond as we are able and float the whole fleet.

  22. Hello, I recently subscribed to your blog and I read this post with interest. I agree with the overall message here. But you kind of lost me when you chose the word “shrew” to apply to Taylor Greene and Boebert. Both are loud, nasty women but there are plenty of loud, nasty men too. How many of those men have ever been called “shrews”?

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