Identity Politics: Resentments & Realities

In the last few years, American politics have become increasingly preoccupied with style over substance, in the avenue of political correctness, the culture wars, and identity politics. The latter issue hasn’t been discussed much yet on this website because hey! who needs to hear from another white male about race and gender issues? This may seem like a cheap joke or key point, depending on your point of view, but it cuts right down to why this has become incontrovertibly linked with political discourse today.

Identity politics (and how it’s stirred in conversation) breeds off a culture of resentment among alienated groups (privileged and disenfranchised, generally) while at the same time remaining all the more relevant, in times when a US president can’t even be bothered to condemn the KKK. Its genesis lies in the history of oppression of minority groups (Blacks, LGBT+, etc.) and the effective silencing of their voices resulting in what many believe to be a necessary template for defense. Its faults, as some would argue, lie in the abuse of where it’s applied and the mentality of “victimhood” it encourages; giving a victim the leverage of identity over an opponent in debate. Naturally, it’s a sensitive topic to discuss because discrimination isn’t some abstract idea for many people but to make some steady progress, let’s examine the criticisms and defense channeling this conversation.

Criticism of Identity Politics

Let’s divide the critics into two types: a) rhetorical and b) practical.

The former have problems with the rhetoric identity politics inspires. They charge that it inspires groupthink, which in turn compromises individual thought on complex issues and furthers the gulf between left and right. In common discourse, we expect minorities to side with liberals all the time, even though many of the matters dividing the Republican and Democratic parties have little to do with identity, e.g. gun control, climate change. We assume race and sexuality plays a major role in a Black or Gay person’s life which may be statistically sound but at times, possibly comes across as condescending and untrue. As the popular political commentator Dave Rubin has noted, “you as an individual are much more than your immutable characteristics.”

Plus, experience does not necessarily establish authority in an argument. We may not be able to fully appreciate another person’s struggles and yes, it may at times appear insensitive to even engage but debates should be run on good ideas, regardless of one’s “immutable characteristics”. This notion blossomed considerably when echoed by Obama in a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth in July (when he said opinions should not be dismissed just because they are white or male).

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Practical critics think along these lines too but with goals in mind- i.e. beating Trump in 2020. As Sheri Berman opined in a Guardian piece (“Why Identity Politics Benefits The Right More Than The Left”): “Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identification that enable citizens to become more comfortable with differences and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary.” Left and right have been painted as stark opponents in the culture wars. A tough point, some liberals seem unwilling to accept, is that not all Trump’s supporters are racist white males. Okay, there are definitely some racists. And yes, a lot of his support was from white males. Their support did not rest solely on identity politics however. It derived from other places; chiefly, economic misfortune- a shared characteristic for people of all identities in many situations. In short, as Bernie Sanders would hound, the media needs to pay more attention to the issues!

In Defense of Identity Politics

Okay, so that’s all very good but racism, homophobia, and sexism are everyday issues affecting millions of lives. There are oppressive methods in place preventing Blacks from voting (by conservatives gerrymanders and legislators). There is a double standard for women and inequality of opportunities in many job sectors. LGBT groups are routinely subjected to the nastiest treatment and commentary for merely being who they are. So, in many respects, identity politics is something that has been thrust upon these groups rather than something they’ve sought out and just as the right are known to parry off cries of offense with deflections like “oh you’re just being PC”, is it not possible that identity politics helps their cause a little when it comes to such enduring prejudice?

In his article, “In Defense of Identity Politics”, Paul Von Blume writes that American society has been mechanized to the umpteenth degree to reinforce the status quo of white male privilege. When expressions like “just plain American” or “melting pot” are bandied about, he argues that while they may be “well meaning,” they really just brush over the historical “exclusion” of millions of its people. Direct, aggressive racism or prejudice in general does not necessarily tie this altogether. White privilege is maintained out of fear that the promotion of less enfranchised persons may lead to a decline in their quality of life (a concern that pervaded the “turbulence” of the 1960s). Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and Peterson opponent), has noted this much, writing for the New York Times in December 2016 that “the interests of the white working class have often been used by white political elites to stave off challenges to inequality and discrimination by black folk and other minority groups”. (It should be noted however that he’s been criticized for pushing identity politics to the extreme, referring to Jordan Peterson as a “mean mad white man” during a debate on political correctness).

To Conclude

White men like me will never fully appreciate the Black, Women, or Muslim experience, as diversified or as shared as it can be. In many respects, our culture and systemic prejudice has necessitated such labels as identity be used in the mainstream. It catches people’s attention when a meme or hashtag or article goes viral, encapsulating all the frustrations of “mansplaining”, whitewashed history, or privilege. It’s all very understandable but at times, overtly sensitive to the point debate gets shut down; e.g. with the above case between Peterson and Dyson, the former debater was immediately cast under suspicion (or an attempt was made) just because he was a white male arguing against political correctness. At times, this isn’t fair but there will always be exceptions in every case that define how we must study it. For example, a panel of all male commentators discussing abortion would seem ridiculous to most but of all females, rather reasonable. Also, “All Lives Matter”?

It’s a trying discussion which transmogrifies the collective into the personal experience. For all practicalities’ sake though, in light of recent political developments, it has become a “serious nuisance” underlying almost every political debate. In order for the Democrats to make some ground on those stubborn Trump supporters, there needs to be some attempt at reconciling the majority with the minority, whose interests don’t necessarily deviate from one another’s. The 2018 midterms and the 2020 election should return to the boring stuff that makes up most sane countries’ elections; economic opportunity- and that means to help all citizens advance, be it on an individual or group level.

 

What Was 2017? Some Thoughts…

What Was 2017? Some Thoughts…

It might seem like folly to try and summarize the events of a whole year in a single article, or even to surmise the prevalent themes which distinguished it. Nevertheless, we’re going to attempt to do just that because something needs to be gained from all this mayhem. (It’s also been awhile since we published anything.) So here’s a few thoughts:

Was it the residual hangover of 2016?

Yes, 2017 can in many ways be regarded as the dark sequel to its predecessor. This is the case with most inaugural years but of course, this year we had the Donald, whose presidency quickly bolstered sales of Orwell’s 1984. Everything we feared he might do came to fruition, although legislatively he was not successful. Rather he inspired fresh bouts of fear not felt since the early 1960s, from the Muslim Ban to unnecessary tensions with North Korea and everything in between. However, this is just the beginning of the hangover and it will not dissipate till at least late 2018, should the Democrats get their act together.

Was the “#metoo” movement a breakthrough?

At the Golden Globes next week, we will see many actresses dressed in black, in a sign of solidarity. Although, sexual harassment scandals can hardly be limited to Hollywood, the cases here have drawn so much attention because of the prolific figures involved (not to justify it.) They’ve also inspired a deep and intellectual, if highly sensitized debate, across the world. Can we merely dismiss the actions of men from another generation as of their time and thus tolerable? Can we separate their art from their character? Do we need to ensure perspective with relation to whats worse (from groping to raping) more readily? Can this then be seen as an attempt to undermine change by bracketing off areas, if less heinous, as forgivable?

There’s still much to suss out and I do not enter this foray lightly, for the level of media scrutiny and social media backlash can be detrimental even to those who have not themselves done anything wrong but who, in others’ opinions, miss the point and thereby contribute to the normalization of harassment (e.g. Matt Damon.) It seems to me, nonetheless, that this has overall been a watershed moment of positive change; one which must not be limited to being labelled as a 2017 talking point or more likely, a Hollywood scandal. In the coming years, it’ll thus be important to find balance between sensible, if insensitive opinions and a zero-tolerance approach.

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Between the backlash to his remarks on the #metoo movement and his movie, The Great Wall, Matt Damon had a meh year.

Is “Fake News” just a thing now?

Has the word “lies” lost sustenance? The idea of “Fake News” grew during the 2016 election and was dismissed by most as a “stupid”. Unfortunately, like most Trump labels, it stuck and with it, an array of other baffling terms like “Alternative Facts”.

Yes, the media has been known to sensationalize the wrong things and some papers are more reputable than others but with Trump, fiction’s become redundant. You merely need to collect his quotes these days to form an article. It may be a coherent, slobbering mess but so is every Trump speech. So, in 2018, let’s stop paying into the idea of “Fake News” because you can’t hide the video footage of Sean Spicer hiding in the Rose Garden bushes, inauguration crowd sizes, or the words Trump spoke mere weeks ago. It’s out there, in the open.

Are people ready to accept the Left again?

Roy Moore was inexcusably awful but still, a Democratic Senator from Alabama is not something you hear about every day. Grouped with the #metoo movement (not exactly political, though women’s rights are generally sided with the Left), Trump’s low approval ratings, Obama topping Gallup’s most admired man poll, the Women’s March on Washington, and more however, it begins to paint a picture. In November 2018, we’ll of course see with the Mid-Terms but this time, we’ll need a United Left. Even though, we’re discussing 2017, the lesson of 2016 must not be forgotten.

Was The Last Jedi disappointing? (SPOILERS)

Yes, this is a political blog but we also love Star Wars. So did Rian Johnson deliver the goods? Ultimately yes- it was a beautiful and unusually thematic entry in the franchise. But come on! Is Snoke really just some nobody leader, dispensable to a larger purpose? He looks like a disfigured Goldmember, had a super cool throne room and guards, and obviously influenced Kylo Ren somehow. So, tell us who the Phantom Menace he is! And I don’t want to figure this out through some extended universe graphic novel bullshit or another needless stand-alone movie. He’s relevant to this trilogy! I also don’t care that we didn’t know who the Emperor was in the originals- his origin wasn’t important at that point and since Episode VII, we’ve been baited with questions. Rectify this please, J.J. Abrams. Otherwise, I enjoyed it a lot. Anyways, that’ all- have a happy new year!

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Prepping For Pence

Prepping For Pence

Impeachment… the one sweet word caught in a perpetual echo these days; the prospect which denotes hope and security for the majority; and which entails many ramifications, of which, we cannot be certain. As it seems likely that President Trump will spontaneously combust any day soon, we decided it was finally time to take a look at a man less charismatic than beige wallpaper- he, who would be king, should impeachment or this combustion occur. Yes, you guessed it- this article is about the guy who looks like he’s from Thunderbirds- Mike Pence. (The title was also a clue.)

Who is he? It’s an important question to ask as he’s never exactly stolen one subset of a headline. Fret not, we’re here to dispel the mystery surrounding him. Born into an iron-clad Catholic family in 1959, the would be-law student went on to shock his community by becoming a born-again Evangelical. He then adopted an array of hypocritical conservative-Christian stances, before his first defeat for the Indiana 2nd Congressional District. Unfortunately however, he persevered (ignoring God’s will after a second defeat), succeeded in 2000, and thereafter every two years up until 2012. Then, he became the Governor of Indiana and something of a national joke among liberals for his refusal to attend any alcohol-serving events without his wife and for his draconian beliefs regarding gays. (Basically, they’re sick and need to be cured.) In many respects, just another right-wing righter.

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At the 2016 Republican National Convention, he called himself a ‘Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.’ Indeed, his religious convictions seem to shape his persona even more so than the average Republican. Brian Hovey, a political columnist from Indiana once wrote that ‘[he] doesn’t simply wear his faith on his sleeve, he wears the entire Jesus jersey.’ Given the fact that he’s been one of Trump’s more steadfast supporters, it’s fair to posit that these principles are flexible (basing these on the Bible). Of course, one could then argue that like any other politician, he merely employs these convictions for electoral purposes while bending them to his own end. Plus, he’s the VP! It hardly makes sense to speak rashly about a man who fires people as frequently as he used to on The Apprentice. That POTUS handle could be a mere tweet away!

The conventional thought is that while Pence isn’t ideal, he’s a great deal more amenable that the Donald. It’s certainly hard to imagine him doing something so obviously stupid as flaring tensions with North Korea or insulting a war hero or widow the way Trump has. He is, however, dangerous in that he’s more closely associated with the traditional GOP base. He will work with Paul Ryan and others to establish solid conservative pieces of legislation and he will do it under the cover of less scrutiny because a) he’s no Trump, b) this kind of news will become relatively boring, and c) the people are ready to turn off.

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Historically speaking, he has campaigned against abortion- placing restrictions on providers as recently as least year. He’s also supported most international trade acts, including NAFTA (which Trump’s consistently called a failure). He once stated ‘societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family’ just in case he betrayed any image of outright homophobia. He supported Iraq (which apparently Trump always thought was a mistake) and he praised the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. A bit of a mix bag, in some respects, considering the administration he’s a part of but also an ‘unfortunate necessity’ in the words of Steve Bannon.

So, do you feel prepped? Or is there no point in such speculation? After all, there’s a new wild, crazt twist every month (if not, week) from the Trump administration and Pence could very well become nothing more than a footnote in the Age of Fantastic Ratings (if even for just wearing the same tie as Trump one day). He could also, however, be the man who brings America back from the pit of madness to the edge. Will he inspire? Will he be an improvement? Could he make America great again. No, probably, and no.

Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

Trump’s Culture War: A Last Stand?

With last week’s announcement of a ban on transgender soldiers in the US army, Trump slid to a new low that shocked even Sauron himself.

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“I was shocked!”- Sauron

Of course, nothing is yet certain with this latest betrayal but even the proposal of such an amendment sheds light on the growing sense of desperation that characterizes this administration. And now at this fatal hour, when his cabinet is falling apart, North Korea is testing missiles, and the Republicans can’t pass a repeal on Obamacare, he must play what could perhaps be his last card; the culture wars.

Republicans have been playing this one for years. It’s what they do when the heat gets a little too intense in an election debate or when Modern Family introduces another minority character. It helps to convey the other side for what they really are; family-ruining, drug-addicted hippies who would have every American speaking Lithuanian, or some other strange language, if they could. And the thing is, it works. 

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The dog is also gender neutral.

In the 1980s, as the New Right became more powerful and assertive, they began to push back against some of the radical shifts in society brought about by the Left in the 1960s and 1970s, such as abortion. Although this issue had effectively been put to rest in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case, the opposition never quite dissipated; in fact, they became more vocal and encroaching in everyday life, leading to the rise of Republicans like George W. Bush, who would, himself (yes), appoint two eyebrow-raising justices to the Supreme Court in 2005-6. Meanwhile however, leftist activists broadened their range of issues from anti-war activism and feminism, taking on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants, energy sources, and globalism in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for instance, was turned down four years later, the cultural schism became apparent in the ongoing debates on environmentalist priority. The media, in their ever cunning way, capitalized on such tensions by targeting their audiences appropriately with ideological news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.

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Former Fox giant Bill O’ Reilly, in one of his old pieces, ranting about how a single mother took his parking spot.

Today, Americans live in a zany, amplified version of this reality however. Many liberals see conservatives as backwards-thinking, science-abating morons with their heads stuck in the sand, yearning for a time long gone. The right, on the other hand, resent how soft and regulated America has become under the likes of Obama. They believe the right to bear arms is tantamount to their right to freedom, under the US constitution. And… Gwyneth Paltrow!!! It’s not all clear cut but a range of issues divide these collective groups, including: political correctness, church & state,  LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigration, recreational drug use, censorship, and state rights.

Are there two Americas then? or is this all better understood as a modern-day struggle to define the spirit of what America is? Of course, no society is ever wholly united on every issue but in general, there’s usually a strong consensus on at least several of the ones mentioned above. Judging by the course of other nations and the prevailing tide of social history, it seems rational to guess the left will prevail on most of these, though at times, it must be admitted that even their tactics can be deemed a tad excessive (especially with political correctness).

Trump is no ideologue but he is a master at shit-stirring. He may yet be able to rally his supporters up, if he’s able to cast his liberal opposition in the same framework Bush did to Kerry in 2004. It’s not a surefire strategy but with the 2018 mid-terms becoming a more prominent talking-point, it may be the one by which he hangs on. It certainly helped in 2016. As Rich Lowry wrote for The Guardian in January, ‘ [he] is an unlikely cultural warrior, but if he can harness a sense of national solidarity and speak persuasively for ordinary American workers… he may prove a powerful one.’ The battle’s on liberals- your base will undoubtedly garner the support of the transgender community but leave your Facebook commentators at home. They’re just terrible.