Identity politics divides us. This claim probably appears obvious, right?
Of course identity politics “divides,” because it recognizes the natural differences among various demographics, whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. However, the question remains whether such division created by identity politics is overall helpful or hurtful for the flourishing of our political society.
To answer this question, we first have to consider what actually is vital for the flourishing of our nation—in other words, what it means to be an American. Only then does it become clear that identity politics poses a real threat to the ideals that unite us as the American people.
What Does It Mean To Be an American?
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, Americans overwhelmingly agree on the principles that are essential for the flourishing of our nation. The words of the Declaration of Independence reverberate throughout our political heritage, cultivating our shared belief that everyone has the “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Consequently, we believe that every person is created equal and is therefore entitled to equal treatment under the law. We believe that justice is blind, and, conversely, that discriminatory law is unjust because it violates our belief in the basic principle of human dignity that undergirds our championed mantra of equality.
We believe that every person is created equal and is entitled to equal treatment under the law.
These, most Americans would attest, are the values that define “what it means to be an American.” However, since the inception of our nation, the constant “American struggle” has been applying these principles to every American under the law. Abraham Lincoln articulated the “American struggle” perfectly in his Gettysburg Address during the peak of the Civil War, perhaps the greatest “test” of whether our “nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could “long endure.” We did endure, and our history since has been continually punctuated by movements that, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., seek to “cash the check” of liberty for all Americans.
America Is a Nation of Shared Values That Flourishes with Our Differences
Ironically, there’s hope in this “American struggle.” We ought to be encouraged that the majority of Americans, regardless of our differences, believe that these sacred principles apply to every American, and we share the common desire to preserve these values. But this raises the following question: What is the best way to guarantee and preserve these values?
This is when our political differences begin to kick in—not in disputing our shared values, but rather in disagreeing on how we ought to preserve them. Growing up in a large and diverse country like America, our disagreements are only natural. A man who grew up in inner-city Los Angeles will probably have a very different view of the world than a woman who was raised in rural Michigan. Those with liberal beliefs will have a contrasting view of how to secure these values for the American people than those with conservative beliefs.
What is the best way to guarantee and preserve our American values?
But we shouldn’t be discouraged by these political differences. In fact, our differences are not only natural, but they are also good and expected. Our democratic form of government explicitly recognizes that human beings have rational minds that produce differing conclusions, and we have structured our government to flourish based on those differing opinions. The people of Los Angeles can vote for laws that best guarantee their rights, which may be different than the way the people of Michigan vote.
We’re a nation founded on shared values, yet we thrive on civil discourse, debate, and often disagreement to ensure that our rights are guaranteed across our diverse nation. This is why freedom of speech and civil disagreement are heralded as sacred within the American heritage.
Identity Politics Silences the Civil Discourse That Underpins Our Republic
So how does identity politics come into play? When we observe our current cultural moment, it’s easy to see that identity politics is the primary method of political advocacy. People often cite Martin Luther King, Jr. as the “most successful” identity politics leader during the 1960s Civil Rights movement advocating for the African American community. However, there’s a great distinction between the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the identity politics we’re witnessing today. The distinction is subtle, yet dangerous to the values that define our American heritage.
Modern identity politics is destroying civil discourse by insisting their way is the only way.
This is the most dangerous trend: modern identity politics is destroying the civil discourse that’s vital for upholding the values that we champion as an American society. This might sound counterintuitive, right? Identity politics groups, such as Black Lives Matter in our current cultural spotlight, are championed as the voice for the voiceless and for providing the missing perspective of the “oppressed” in our society.
Current identity politics is a movement that seeks to change the way we pursue these ideals.
But current identity politics isn’t merely a movement about American ideals, such as justice. It’s a movement that seeks to fundamentally change the way we pursue these ideals. Black Lives Matter isn’t merely demanding justice for the African American community, rather, they demand policies, such as dismantling the police force, that are “non-negotiables” in attaining that justice.
Women’s rights groups don’t merely promote equality for women, they argue that policies such as unlimited access to abortion and affirmative action are the only path to that equality. The same applies to LGBTQ interest groups who not only lobby for their rights, but also require elementary school “sexual orientation” classes as a foundational aspect of their future vision for justice.
Modern identity politics says if you disagree with the method, then you disagree with the ideal.
Perhaps you agree with these policy proposals. Perhaps you don’t. But that’s the point: modern identity politics has removed room for political disagreement, and they have accomplished this by equating their political ideals with the very methods they propose to attain them. If you disagree with the method, then you disagree with the ideal.
If you believe that dismantling the police force is not the best means of securing justice for the African American community, then you’re an instrument of promoting institutional racism. If you disagree that abortion is not necessary to attain women’s rights, then you’re perpetuating an archaic form of patriarchy. When the method coalesces with the ideal, then there’s no room for debate. When you disapprove of the method, then you automatically become an enemy of the ideal, and this subtle change is extremely dangerous for our society.
A Healthy Society Requires Disagreement
A healthy society requires disagreement—humans are rational beings that produce different conclusions, and any effort to suppress this civil disagreement suppresses one of the most foundational aspects of what it means to be human. The flourishing of our nation requires us to unite around our shared, common ideals, while engaging in healthy disagreement concerning the best ways to attain those ideals.
Humans are rational beings that produce different conclusions.
But when identity politics conflates their methods with our shared ideals, the American people become divided into the dangerous categories of “hero” and “villain.” This is why identity politics ultimately divides us, because it dismantles the common ideals that are supposed to unite us as American people. Through subjecting the ideals to their methods, they make both the methods and the ideals indistinguishable.
Closing Thoughts: There’s Still Hope
However, there’s hope, and the hope starts with us, as individuals. Rather than caving to the division that dominates our cultural moment, let’s dedicate ourselves to the ideals of justice, equality, and liberty that unite us as an American people. Rather than accepting the terms of the identity politics conversation, let’s dare to disagree, to listen, and to have difficult yet constructive conversations with each other. We can unite as Americans, despite our apparent disagreements, and through discussion and collaboration, we can ensure that we can “cash the check” of liberty, equality, and justice for our generation.