It’s all the rage now: Dump on multiculturalism and identity. But identities are vitally important in motivating voters. And besides, white people have them, too.
Since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, the victors and the vanquished have disparaged identity politics—coded language for multiculturalism. Most notably, in a New York Times op-ed, Mark Lilla argued, in part, that Democrats are so enmeshed in linguistic minutiae they can’t develop effective messaging. Predictably, Democrats are apoplectically tripping over one another to distance themselves from the term, a core tenet of the party. (Hearing Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio use Obama’s word “shellacked” while discussing the Democrats’ need for better messaging is humorously ironic, as there is very little original messaging in reusing a word someone else introduced into the vernacular.) A Democratic retreat from identity, however, could prove just as costly as anything we experienced last month. It is time for Democrats to get a backbone, own its identity as a liberal tent, and stop retreating at the smallest hint of criticism.
Lilla’s broader premise for identity abandonment is an affront to liberals who are not white, male, and straight, because it asks them to subjugate their political goals to the larger group, a presumably heteronormative one focused on that group’s economic needs—very similar to how Donald Trump campaigned. We are also left to assume the notion that meritocracy, a false concept if ever there was one, would sort out leadership and policy concerns. Yet institutional structures will work against groups that have made gains in recent decades. Without a conscious effort for inclusiveness, the Democratic leadership risks alienating the very constituency it needs to remain viable.
Even more frustrating, as many decry identity politics, Trump supporters proudly brandish their identity labels. Now, as Democrats shy away from the label, they play into conservatives’ hands yet again. Conservatives have explicitly and successfully integrated identity politics into their platform, while branding Democrats with a derisive moniker for doing the same. (Remember how liberals once were afraid to call themselves “liberal,” opting for the term “progressive?”) They and timid Democrats argue that the left focuses too much on issues like transgender bathroom access or marriage licenses. No, Republicans continue successfully to drive such wedge issues as identity markers for their voters. As proof, “values voters” who readily accepted a thrice-divorced philanderer as their candidate are…