Identity Politics and The “Hunger for a Third Party”

 

Pictured: identity politics

 

The Atlantic has been writing a lot about whether their political coverage should include more about third parties, if that would be more fair and democratic. The initial reaction could be “of course not; that would be a waste of space. A 3rd-party has no chance.” The flip side is that of course they don’t have a chance, because no one writes about them. You can’t breathe without any oxygen.

Personally, I think The Atlantic, and other sources, should spend more time covering other political parties, but not because they have a chance. I think even with enough of a spotlight they wouldn’t be able to grow. Money and structure make it nearly impossible for our system to truly support a third party, and the latter reason isn’t necessarily negative. This is far from the first time in our history that people have looked to break up the duopoly, and even in times of turmoil- even when Whigs fall to the whayside- it coalesces again into two parties.

Still, though, there is the need to spend time focusing on what is happening on the outside, because it makes both parties more responsible (in theory, anyway) and allows for outsiders, like Bernie Sanders, to come in and shake things up. It might not matter electorally, but it matters in terms of policy, and it helps to showcase what people are thinking in this unruly nation.

Sometimes, that’s not very pretty.

Read more to find out what’s not very pretty! 

It’s not usually considered good blogging to pick on letters to the editor or comments left in other people’s posts; there’s a certain element of “punching down” there, making fun of non-professionals. An exception can be made in this case, in The Atlantic, which ran a reader’s letter touting the Green Party. It isn’t punching down because the writer, Gary, if not a pro, certainly knows what he’s doing. It’s a very thoughtful and well-argued piece, but I think it contains within it a central flaw that is key to understanding the turbulence in our county. It’s very smart about the problems of the working class- less time off, less of a safety net, technological obsolescence, fewer protections, etc. He also diagnoses how both parties have sold out the American workers, but with a weird twist on “both-siderism”.

I thought labor was the political left’s major concern, but that’s not the case if we’re talking about today’s media coverage. The left’s priority is identity politics, whereas property rights is the priority of their opponents. Nobody gives a fuck about labor.

Now: he’s right in the last sentence, although there are many people who still do care about labor, most importantly Elizabeth Warren. But in the main, this is very correct. To do a rough re-enactment of shifting alignments, the basic negotiation of principles went like this.

Democrats: We care mostly about labor!

Republicans: We care mostly about the rich!

Democrats: OK, us too.

Chorus (a pack of be-robed Broders): Compromise was reached today!

Fin. 

So yes, Gary has a point. But there is a weird sidenote here, and it of course isn’t just in the Garys of the world. The idea that the left has forsaken labor for “identity politics” is a demonstration of how much right-wing propoganda has seeped into even people who publicly agitate for the election of Dr. Jill Stein.

“Identity politics” basically means “working on behalf of anyone who isn’t like me.” It is a pernicious reclassification of the normal political jockeying that goes on in a big tent, because it takes one group: “the white working class” in this formulation, but really, just white people, and makes them the baseline for neutrality. Everything else is pandering, instead of what it actually is: expanding not just political rights, but normal political participation, to everyone.

This, somehow, is identity politics. You saw the way this works with recent Supreme Court nominations. Merrick Garland’s ideas are discussed through ideology (where they merit a discussion at all), whereas Sonja Sotomayor was filtered entirely through her identity as a Latinia. The idea was that she was inherently biased because she was a Hispanic woman. Now, this is true: everyone carries with them baggage and identity and history, both personal and cultural. But that wasn’t something we ever saw with John Roberts or Samuel Alito (who loves his identity as an Italian-American, as did Scalia). They had the assumption of normalatiy, with no degrees of derivation.

It’s in this same sphere that Trump operates, which is why he is so popular with so specific a slice of Americans. Because even if that slice is getting smaller, he assures them that the represent the one true America, and anything else is weird. This is why he can talk about Hillary playing “the woman card”, which is another way of saying “appealling to the most voters.”

Somehow, that’s labeled as “identity politics” instead of just “politics”. Opening the political sphere to women, to blacks, to Hispanics, to Indians and Native Americans, to the LGBTQ community- to, say, everyone- is pandering. The only normal unbiased politics is playing to the “correct” community. For sure, there are people who are annoying about their identity, but it isn’t just “minorities”. Don’t believe me? Go to any St. Patrick’s Day parade in Bridgeport.

This idea that Democrats have abandoned labor because they are concerned about minorities is as nonsensical as it is dangerous. Because even thinking this way gives credence to the Mitt Romneys, and basically every Republican argument since Goldwater (and especially Reagan). It divides “workers” from “minorities”, making them seperate classes. It assumes that “labor” means “white”.  Making these arguments, whether you are Gary or Chuck Todd or Donald Trump, helps create the very divisions you’re bemoaning.

The problem with the media isn’t that they don’t cover 3rd parties. The problem is that, in not covering what really drives a lot of political anger, they let assumptions like this go unchallenged.

 

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