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The case for identity politics.🔷

Mark Lilla — an American political scientist and author of The Once and Future Liberal argues in his book that the left must move away from identity politics and have a broader appeal.


And, many on the left agree with him, not least Bernie Sanders who, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, insisted Democrats move beyond this way of doing politics. But, as Sanders defeat to Hillary Clinton last year proves, abandoning identity politics is not a guaranteed route to success.

“It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough”  —  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

Identity politics refers to political movements that cater to certain groups of people — i.e. ethnic minorities, women, The LGBT+ community — and the simple reason that it has been the basis of so many political campaigns is that it works. As journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote, “People have identities, and people are mobilized politically around those identities. There is no other way to do politics than to do identity politics.”

“People have identities, and people are mobilized politically around those identities. There is no other way to do politics than to do identity politics.”  —  Matthew Yglesias

While, those on the Bernie left like to use Hillary’s narrow loss to Donald Trump as evidence that identity politics does not win elections, they willfully ignore the fact that Trump embraced such politics — albeit a different kind of identity politics — with a vigour no other candidate in the race had done.

At every twist and turn Trump has fuelled white’s resentment — a leading birther (birtherism is the belief Barack Obama wasn’t born in America), who proposes the construction of a border wall between the USA and Mexico and previously advocated the execution of a 15 year old black man for a crime we now know he didn’t commit.

In the face of Trump’s dog whistle politics, Democrats must stand up for minorities, and Lilla’s argument that Democrats best way to win back power is to abandon identity politics ignores the progress made as a result of such politics. Idendity politics was the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the LGBT+ rights movement — which oversaw a great change in public opinion in a remarkably short time.

For too many of the opponents of identity politics on the left they either actively oppose the advancement of rights for women and minorities or view them as insignificant issues that can be abandoned for a handful of votes in swing states.

In America, Democrats only path to power is one where they continue to pursue identity politics, thus shoring up their base of black, hispanic and women voters, as well as fighting against GOP attempts to take away healthcare from the poorest in order to give tax cuts to the rich. The last Democratic campaign that focused purely on an economic message was that of Bernie Sanders and, it failed, in 2020 the stakes will be too high to lose.🔷


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Politics writer for PoliticsMeansPolitics.com and Backbench UK - particularly interested in Brexit, US politics, and the Labour Party.