Saturday, September 02, 2017

Identity Politics Boomerang

Publisher, editor, and author Anis Shivani maintains that fifteen years ago, he "predicted the kind of white identitarian politics that eventually came to fruition in the last election."

It was in part a backlash to the identity politics of the left (in his interpretation, of "liberals"), which "really began to take off"in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unstated but implied is that supporters gained a false sense of confidence when

the semblance of a liberal policy framework in the domestic and international arenas continued apace during the Obama administration. Obama was immune to liberal criticism, because he fit the identity politics matrix so perfectly. He may have ruthlessly deported millions of people, kept in place and strengthened the entire extra-constitutional surveillance apparatus, and escalated illegal drone attacks and assassinations, but the color of his skin provided immunity from real criticism.

But something Shivani writes about illegal immigration- and especially about the Dreamers- may be especially relevant to the current electoral situation. He points out

The entire discourse of the Dreamers is based on identity — love us for who we are, for being American to the core, for being indistinguishable, really, from (white) American norms — rather than constitutional equity or human rights derived from Enlightenment conceptions. They are a sharply demarcated population within a broader at-risk population, and seek legitimation of their narrow identity. They proudly come out on the streets — well, not under Trump anymore, not after the initial arrests — reveling in their undocumented status, almost making a fetish of it, instead of appealing for justice based on constitutional principles. I do not hear them partake in a legal discourse. I hear them indulge in an identity politics discourse.

This is notable not only as a refutation of one of the core principles of modern "liberalism" but as a cautionary note in light of the rise and triumph of Donald Trump.

If the Dreamers had not reveled in their undocumented status but instead appealed for justice based on constitutional principles, from sea to shining sea they would have persuaded oh, maybe 14 people in this age of ideological polarization and (especially) the politics of personality.  Further, the strategy they chose was enhanced by invigoration and activation of their base.

Yet, that same strategy (along with 1,391 factors) helped fuel an electoral backlash. Dreamers and other individuals who came to the USA illegally did proudly come out on the stretes reveling in their undocumented status. There was at the time little public criticism of the demonstrators themselves, an unexpected response to the widespread display of the American flag, which intimidated conservatives ironically fearful of being politically incorrect.

Nevertheless- and in part because of the muted response- sentiment hostile to illegal immigration neither vanished nor declined. A few years later, when it was safe to express that sentiment in the sanctity of the ballot box, the most anti-immigrant presidential candidate of post-World War II America was elected. That was no coincidence.

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