Identity politics in America

The articles we read on the election primarily focus on the downsides of identity and identity politics.  There is a fine line that must be walked. It’s impossible to ignore that identity is important to many people and that people identify rightfully with many cultures and subcultures, not just the “American identity.”  However, this election has proved that focusing to heavily on identity politics can be dangerous, leading to exclusivity and animosity.  Americans in both main political parties need to find the delicate balance of paying attention to diversity enough to embrace it, without focusing on it to where it leads to hostility and increasing separation among people in this country.

I’ve noticed identity politics have lead to exclusivity in both parties.  The blatant example of the divide between the two parties themselves is discussed frequently enough that I would rather not go into extensive detail on this matter.  But there are other forms of exclusion in the two parties.  Many of the republicans that elected Trump have narrowed the American political movement to white middle and lower class people.  But this exclusion has come out of a feeling of being excluded themselves. Democrats have failed to multitask and intertwine problems.  Many liberals have learned to deal with the suffering of different groups of people by separating them entirely from one another, inevitable leading to the exclusion of others that do not fit said category.  They have failed to understand the interconnectedness between different issues, such as women’s rights, trans rights, racial rights, religious rights etc. This has lead to inefficiency in solutions and the leaving out of large groups of people.  Many of the articles we read argued this is a large part of why Trump supporters felt left out; they felt the democratic party was not going to help them, and were concerned only about specific subcategories of people.

One of the most talked about topics of this election is the role white identity played.  I strongly believe that anyone who voted for Trump, even if they are not actively racist, are racist by acceptance and passivity.  Schaffner et al. (2017) elaborates on how the Trump campaign has created an atmosphere where, “whites now view themselves as an embattled racial group, and this has led to both strong ingroup identity and a greater tolerance for expressions of hostility toward outgroups.”  These are the people the rest of America now must work with, and here is my dilemna; I can understand where Trump supporters are coming from, and perhaps if I was raised in different circumstances I would be like them, but can I really accept them, work with them, let alone like them?  Do I need to?  How am I, or others supposed to be tolerant of people who are so intolerant themselves?  And yet, it doesn’t seem that anyone has a choice but to work together if we want to move forward.  I can’t refuse to take into consideration the voices of a large percent of the American population.  Furthermore, even if I, or other liberals on Lewis and Clark campus are willing to work with, not against the racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic people in this country, how do we reach out to them?  For instance, I am not acquainted with a single Trump supporter, and I would not know where to find one on a campus like Lewis and Clark.

Here is the instrumental gathering of all my thoughts on identity from this week; Americans can work toward common goals without completely ignoring differences in struggles.  Lilla (2016) asserts, “national politics in healthy periods is not about ‘different,’ it is about commonality.”  This is not entirely true.  There are certain struggles that are unique to or exacerbated for certain groups of people, and these issues cannot be ignored.  However, I do agree that Americans should also better acknowledge and work for the universal struggles people of all identities are facing.  It is not only possible, but crucial that we focus less on identity politics without ignoring the distinct problems different social minorities are facing.


Lilla, Mark. 2016. “The End of Identity Liberalism.” The New York Times, November 18.

Schaffner, Brian F., Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta. 2017. “Explaining White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism.” presented at the Conference on The U.S. Elections of 2016: Domestic and International Aspects, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Israel, January 9.

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