Identity is important: racism, sexism, and weaponized identity politics shape our political landscape
The 2016 election has (re-)surfaced a terrible facet of politics in America: we are still a deeply racist and sexist nation. Our identities help shape our environment growing up and they influence how others perceive and interact with us. To dismiss identities as politically insignificant is to deny racism (and by that I mean, for the purposes of this diary, empowered and privileged white bigotry against non-whites). I've written an essay on how "weaponized identity politics" contributed to the results of the elections week. Identities matter, and "identity politics" is important. This doesn't mean it's uniformly good or bad. It's important to understand how identity forms our political selves.
Our ethnicities begin shaping our experience in society while we're still in the womb (non-whites receive worse prenatal care, for example). They shape our environment in school (white "troublemakers" might be thought of as bored or adventurously pushing boundaries, while non-whites are thought of as lazy or thuggish). They shape our interactions with other adults. Folks with names that "aren't white" have their equivalent (or superior) resumes rejected more frequently than whites. Those who aren't white earn less, and are, like in school, less likely to have missteps tolerated. They receive generally poorer medical care. They have more negative (and much more frequently fatal) interactions with the justice system.
Our gender has similar early and far-reaching impact. Differences in medical care begin early. Expectations and treatment differences in school begin early also: girls are expected to be less interested (or even less capable) in "STEM" fields and more interested in certain social interactions. Males are expected to be aggressive and physical and, while more likely to pursue a "STEM" course in general less able to be "good students". We've all experienced negative impacts from this, male and female alike. But the stereotypes and expectations of men generally favor us as we go through life. The expectation of relatively more aggressive and assertive behavior from men leads to generous allowances for us to negotiate salaries, benefits, assignments and a host of other perks at work while similar behavior in women is seen as rude, cold, arrogant, off-putting, "nagging" or a host of other negatives.
How can these things not shape the politics and views of us? Our society imbues life-impacting significance to identity, whether generally or mostly positive (white and male) or generally or mostly negative (not white or female). It shouldn't therefore be shocking when certain folks tap into their identity to inform their political habits. It should also not be dismissed as itself divisive or improper as a general rule. Instead we should view it as an opportunity for collaboration and cooperation: to understand one another better and to find common ground in solidarity to fight for our collective best interest.
That's why Hillary's weaponization of identity politics as a divide-and-conquer strategy was so harmful. The damage she and her supporters have done by promoting division along the lines of race and gender is yet to be seen: Donald hasn't taken office yet. Her use of identity politics was much worse than Trump's explicit racism and Nazi-style other-blaming demagoguery. Donald's use of these things is expected behavior for Republicans. Hillary's use has only added to the tension and highlighted the divisions by identity our society has.
So in this sense it is yet another example of how identity shapes our politics: the divides along identity can and are being exploited against us. We have perhaps entered a new era of weaponized identity politics (it has always been with us, but other changes, e.g. social media, are highlighting and augmenting how and where it is being employed). It will continue to be used by Democrats in their approach to winning elections. They believe very strongly that demographic changes will trend in their favor, and that if only they push the identity-divide narrative hard enough whites' votes truly won't matter. This is a mistake for many reasons (perhaps the subject of another essay), but it highlights how democrats intend to mould their strategy around identity politics.
We have plenty of historical precedent and example for how Donald's particular brand of identity demagoguery shapes the political landscape, and none of them positive. His weaponization of identity politics has already played out, most well-known in the form of Nazi Germany where scapegoating of Jews had a direct line to some terrible acts. Donald's victory has helped normalize this form of identity-based aggression. We as a nation have taken a giant step back in our approach to mending the divisions long identity thanks to his win. The only question that remains is: how much worse can it get?
In either case, it's clear that identity politics will continue to figure large in the American political landscape.
Note: I deliberately left sexuality out of this essay because of the complex interaction with gender and expectations it carries with it. Also there are LGBTQIPA folks around here that could treat the subject much better than I can, and I'd welcome inserting any additions they'd offer into this essay.