The only thing the media has been able to do for the last five years is shout “IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS!!” at everything and then when the right wing finally says “Um, i…den-tity…poli-tics?” you freak out and figure that the only way they could have possibly learned that phrase is from the KKK. – Scott Alexander
The above quote is from a blog post on Slate Star Codex that I read about a week after the election. I’ve been turning it around and around in my mind ever since. Good post, well worth a read. http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/16/you-are-still-crying-wolf/
A mystery that has long plagued me about identity politics is how come Republicans have been so, so very complacent about being called racists and sexists and white supremacists and anti-education and haters of the poor lo these past few decades?? Why didn’t they ever fight back? At times it’s almost as if they INVITE the charges, saying absolutely idiotic things and framing arguments as if catering to the lowest common denominator.
After I realized that I was no longer a liberal any more because it made no sense and was unworkable in the real world, I took a brief look at the Republican Party and was like “nah.” I didn’t know much about history back then, I was just a kid, but what I saw, I didn’t like. There didn’t seem to be anything to the Republicans other than hating on other people. Their arguments seemed based around meanspiritedness and warmongery. They seemed to take perverse glee from being hated. One time I saw Lynne Cheney on The Daily Show and she was laughing at how people called her husband Darth Vader. She had a doll that was Dick Cheney dressed in a Darth Vader costume. Ha ha, what a joke. She was laughing at the idea that entire nation thought her husband was a villain.
But people kept voting for them anyway. I could not wrap my brain around it. They seemed so stupid and evil compared to Democrats. I don’t agree with the Democrats, but at least they mean well, I remember thinking. The Republicans may be correct, but they’re awful.
Now, with a couple more decades and a lot more life under my belt, I realize that there is actually a very well reasoned philosophy underlying conservatism. It’s by far a more consistent and rational belief system than that of the Left (especially the far-left social justice warriors.) Republican politicians rarely make the arguments, but they are valid, and most people who vote Republican instinctively understand them. But WHY was that not sold to me 25 years ago when I first started looking?? Why are Republicans so darn bad at making their own case? And why have they been so complacently playing the “we are a wretched hive of scum and villainy” part in some bizarre cosplay with the Democrats?
Not so long ago there used to be a very vibrant intellectual conservative movement. People like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley among many others. Look up old interviews with Ronald Reagan and it’s mindblowing how smart that guy is. Growing up I had been brainwashed into thinking that Reagan was an ignoramus, a figurehead for a pack of reactionary Christian fundamentalists who thought ketchup was a vegetable. But Reagan was sharp as a tack, quick-witted and funny, and very able to make the case for conservatism. What the HELL happened between Ronald Reagan and the idiot brigade that was the Republican field of presidential candidates?
It appears that somewhere along the way, Republicans decided, as a unit, to abandon any kind of rational, reasoned argument and start appealing to the Stoopidz instead. I don’t know why they would do that. I’ve heard the idea of “the Southern Strategy” where maybe they realized that a right passel o’ racist troglodyte Democrat voters of the South were up for grabs and so the Repubs embraced racism to woo them.
But here’s the thing. I don’t find Republicans to be particularly racist. The media calls them that and spins the narrative to play it up, but just like with Reagan-so-dumb, the facts don’t support it. Furthermore, I don’t get how alienating millions of voters by snuggling with the KKK could ever be seen as a viable way to garner support for your party. The Southern Strategy idea makes no sense. Racism as a way to get votes in parts of the country that are NOT the South (for the record, I completely reject the stereotype that Southerners are racist, I am just trying to apply common sense to this interpretation to show how ridiculous the idea is), OR in places where a good percentage of voters are minorities (aka – the South) REALLY makes no sense. Surely it would cost them way more votes than it would earn. So even if the Southern Strategy was a thing, why would all Republicans from Bobby Jindal to Mitt Romney still be clinging to racism to this very day? Why would racism be a Republican thing NOW even if it was a temporary strategy?
It’s nonsensical. Thus, I have a new theory: both the Democrats and Republicans – the mainstreamers in charge of the parties, I mean – liked the status quo. Because the status quo kept them in power and made them a lot of money. And what worked to maintain the status quo, was this strange little dynamic where the part of the good guys, the rebels, the underdogs was played by the Democrats, and the part of the sinister bad guys plotting in smoke-filled back rooms was played by the Republicans, and everybody was ok with that. The tit-for-tat back and forth was just for show. Sometimes the donkeys won, sometimes the elephants won, and everyone had job security and a nice healthy bank account.
Gradually over the course of the last decade or so, I think the Democrats stopped playing by the rules. Maybe they got taken over by the wackadoos. Maybe they fell in love with their own heroic narrative. Or maybe since they controlled the schools, the media, and the Hollywood elite, their bubble walls grew so thick they could no longer see through them any more. For whatever reason, too many of them, leaders and voters alike, started to actually mean the stuff they said. A majority of Democrats really started believing that conservatism was about nothing other than greed and oppression and wanting to turn back time to 1955 and that they themselves were the arbiters of everything good and just and holy in the universe. The Republicans didn’t get the memo. They kept dutifully playing the part of the bad guy, accepting the charges of racism and sexism and homophobia and whatever other isms and phobias that the Left cared to throw at them with a cockeyed grin and a spirit of good grace since they thought was all just for show.
I truly believe that the Republican leadership thought that right up until the start of this election cycle, it was bizness as usual. It would be Bush vs Clinton 2016 and then whoever won, it would be happy happy joy joy after that and let’s all make some MONEYYYY!!!
But a good many Democrats did NOT think that, hence the rise of Bernie. The Democrats are not yer grandad’s Democrats. A goodly percentage of Democrat voters mean what they say. And what they are saying, what a lot of us dumb ol’ redneck yokels have been screaming at Republicans for the past 10 years if not a bit longer, is that there is a culture war, dudes and dude-ettes, fer realz, and if you do not wake your complacent asses up and start leading here, they’re gonna “love and tolerate” us right into a civil war.
That’s what the Ron Paul thing was about, that’s what the Tea Party thing was about, that’s what the Ted Cruz thing was about. But the Republican leadership was so scared of actual conservatism, so scared of Rand Paul and Tea Partiers and libertarian tendencies (because they might shake up that status quo, yikes, we may start making less money than we were) that tons of prominent Republicans, including Bob FREAKING Dole, came out against Ted Cruz in favor of Trump! What the actual eff, Republicans!?!
Conservatives, we are betrayed. The Republicans never meant to represent us. That’s never been their deal. They been playing footsie with the Democrats while they gave us hardworking inhabitants of Flyover Country just enough lip service to keep getting our votes. They don’t have any interest in putting forth coherent, convincing arguments for smaller government, or offering conservative solutions for the problems of our country. That’s why they never did it. They were only playacting. But the Democrats ain’t playing any more. They’re serious now. The game is over, we are playing for keeps.
By gutting every attempt at creating a coherent right-wing/libertarian philosophy for the last 2 decades, all the Republicans have to offer us now is identity politics, us vs. them, Red vs. Blue, rural vs. urban, me vs. you. But that approach allows the Democrats to define who we are, to force us into accepting an ugly identity that really is a bunch of made up bullshit. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, Jews, “liberated” women, and those damn cray-cray racist white Christian folks. It’s a nation of caricatures and not individuals.
I reject that identity. It’s based on the lie that Democrats made up, the lie that they profit from the most. The idea that conservatism is meaningless, it’s racismsexismhomophobia wrapped in a flag and being humped by an eagle. But conservatism is legit, it’s the Republican mainstream that stands for nothing. They were performing some kind of interpretive dance with the Democrats to maintain the status quo. It was a trick, a scam, a scheme, a sham. They want us to buy in to the identity politics ploy now because it’s all they have left. Because they think it will keep them in power that much longer and maybe this will all blow over eventually.
That’s all they want. If they wanted more than power, more than control, they’d have managed to make a single coherent argument for the cause of liberty. They’d have rallied around Rand Paul or Ted Cruz earlier, when it still mattered, instead of trying to shove various bland unlikeable status quo milquetoasts at us until it was way way way too late.
Unlike Sith Lord Dick Cheney, I am a libertarian conservative because I care about poor people. Because I care about the environment. Because I care about education. Because I care about civil rights and tolerance. And because I want peace on earth and goodwill towards all. Not because of the color of my skin or anyone else’s. Not because of religion or xenophobia. Because I want a better world for my children and everyone’s children and the Democrats can’t deliver. They got nuthin but identity politics and so now they’re enticing the Republicans to start a new game, the identity politics game. “We’ll be the good guys, the heroes, the savers-of-the-day, and Republicans, you can be the fascist Nazi puppykillers, because you’re sooo good at being the bad guy.”
Conservatives, let’s take our ball and go home.
It ain’t easy, when it seems that everyone is pushing you into adopting a certain identity, to reject it. It’s even harder when things are scary and unpredictable and it feels like it may be self-preservation to embrace that identity. But we have to. We have to do the hard work now of making our case without resorting to identity politics. Those arguments are there, they are real, and they are better than the case that the left makes, because they are RIGHT. They make sense, they are powerful. We just stopped making them.
Identity politics is the refuge of those who have no tangible solutions. That’s why the far left adores it. Because their ideas are ridiculous and extreme and will never work in the real world. That’s why they focus on divisions and offenses and groupthink and demonizing their opponents instead, because they have no valid ideas. Let’s not do that. We don’t have to, because we have the answers. It may be easier in the short term, and it may feel good for a while, but in the long run it will not get us what we want.