By David Todd McCarty | Saturday, January 5, 2019
Identity Politics is defined as a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics. Republican pundits and politicians have long accused Democrats of trying to appeal to one group or another rather than making policy for everyone. The criticism being that Democrats try to appeal to minorities or women or lesbians as a way to garner votes. There is something nefarious in their accusation, as if appealing to a particular group is somehow not playing by the rules. That if they didn’t appeal to black women or muslims, they couldn’t win.
They’re not wrong. The reality is that Democrats have in fact tried to be a “big tent party” and appeal to many different factions in order to form a coalition of disparate groups. The Republicans on the other hand, have relied almost solely on just one group, which they don’t even view as a special group but rather the default, and that is white men.
The Republicans, and by extension many white people in America, don’t view white people as a special group. White people are the norm. White people are the default. Christianity is the given. Everything else is an interloper; a variance.
So while many Republicans will tell you with firm conviction that they are not racist, a perception they maintain because they don’t go to Klan rallies or use the n-word that much, they are most definitely white supremacists.
White supremacy is much more than nazis and klan members. It’s a belief that white is normal and everything else is somewhat inferior. Fine, you can have a brown friend but they’re not like us are they. You can enjoy Chinese food, but it’s an ethnic food. It’s why we call it Chinese food, or Mexican food, or Indian food. No one thinks of mayonnaise as an ethnic food—not white people anyway.
White culture is without a doubt the dominant culture in America, and Christianity is by far the dominant religion, even if most people don’t actually practice it. There is simply no argument there. The vast majority of Americans identify as white Christians. Identify.
The Democratic Party, despite all its flaws, and they are many, is still a party of inclusion. Just look at the recent swearing in of the House of Representatives. The Republicans were mostly somber white men in dark suits with a sprinkling of women in beige suits. The Democrats, on the other hand, were a potpourri of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. Men are still the dominant force but more women than ever were elected. One in four Democrats in the house are now women. Only one in ten Republicans are women.
When you are an inclusive party, it’s very hard to agree to a single message. By it’s very nature, the various constituencies all have competing ideologies and priorities. Keeping the coalition together is no easy task, so winning is not just about stopping the other guy from getting what he wants, it’s about getting about trying to help people, even if it’s simply trying to help your own people.
The Republicans, especially under Trump, have become the party of white men. Even white women abandoned the party in fairly large numbers in the 2018 elections. According to the Pew Research Center, women favored the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 percentage points (59% to 40%) while men voted for the Republican 51% to 47%. As was the case in the 2016 presidential election, white men voted Republican by a wide margin (60% to 39%) while white women were divided (49% favored the Democratic candidate; as many supported the Republican). Blacks voted overwhelmingly (90%) for the Democratic candidate, including comparable shares of black men (88%) and black women (92%).
Republican policy has been one of white privilege for decades and most minority groups, as well as women have been disadvantaged by their policies. Republicans were looking out for their own, and feared losing power to women and minorities. Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and stacking federal courts with conservative judges have all been designed to keep a soon to be white minority in power. If you can’t count on getting the votes in the system you’ve got, you simply change the system.
It began as white flight from the Democratic Party in the 1960’s with Southern Strategy of appealing to white men who were upset with the Democrats for abandoning them and embracing black people by backing civil rights. Donald Trump is just the culmination of that strategy where the entire party has devolved into appealing to white men’s fears of losing stature and power with the added benefit of allowing the wealthy to line their pockets as quickly as possible. Deregulation. Tax cuts. Screw the little guy. Screw the environment. Let’s make as much money as we can, while we still can. There is no longer even any semblance of governing. It’s simply a power and money grab.
Ironically, the white working class, that Trump and the Republicans have so effectively exploited, are the very ones being screwed. Rural America has been dying for years as more and more people are concentrated in urban areas where the work is. Through an arcane governmental structure designed in the latter part of the 18th century for a tiny agrarian population spread out over just 13 states, the representatives of a state like Montana have an influence far out of proportion for their population. The county of Los Angeles has a greater population than all but nine entire states.
There are currently 435 representatives in the House, a number fixed by law since 1911. The most populous state, California, currently has 53 representatives, while Montana has only one. Yet both states each get two Senators.
In addition, the Electoral College gives disproportionate voting power to states, favoring the smaller states with more electoral votes per person. For instance, each individual vote in Wyoming counts nearly four times as much in the Electoral College as each individual vote in Texas. This is because Wyoming has three (3) electoral votes for a population of 573,720 citizens and Texas has thirty-eight (38) electoral votes for a population of over 25 million. By dividing the population by electoral votes, we can see that Wyoming has one “elector” for every 179,240 people and Texas has one “elector” for about every 715,499. The difference between these two states of 657,894 is the largest in the Electoral College.
The Republicans have done a masterful job of exploiting the system through the manipulation of the system to give themselves an advantage regardless of national will. White rural communities have a disproportionate amount of power over urban areas even though they amount to a fraction of the population.
So why is this important?
Republicans have calculated that they don’t need to cater to needs of a majority of Americans because of the way our system is set up. They need only to play to the fears and prejudices of an increasingly desperate white male electorate. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia. These have been very effective tools to keep a few rich white men in power. They are funded by other rich, white men in return for keeping taxes low, and gutting regulations that hurt their businesses. There is simply no incentive for Republicans to invest in social programs that cost money when their goal is greed.
You might ask yourself how they can ignore all those white working class and poor voters? They discovered that they didn’t need to spend money to help them, they could just convince them someone else to blame for their plight.
“It’s not our fault that you are poor, it’s the damn Mexicans that are taking your jobs.”
And if they’re not deflecting blame for a problem they have caused, they invent a problem that doesn’t exist, so that they can blame the other party for it.
That’s why The Wall has been so effective for Trump. It was designed to solve a problem that didn’t exist in order to exacerbate the irrational and racist of fear of white men and provide cover for wholesale deregulation and corporate tax cuts. While Republicans sell off the country and get rich doing it, poor white men talk about making America great again, chant about locking up a defeated political opponent, and cheer for a wall they don’t need and would end up paying for if it was ever built.
So where do we go from here?
You can’t just run a TV ad and convince someone not to be racist. Republicans didn’t create racists, they just played on fears and prejudices that already existed. The Democrats have usually tended towards positive messages of hope and opportunity; the idea being that if they were just given the chance, we could make it all better. Republicans have had greater success with sowing fear of the unknown and creating a culture of victimhood, while complaining that healthcare for everyone and high taxes are killing America. Both are falsehoods and equally untrue.
The reality is much more complicated, but this much is clear, we need radical solutions to an ever-changing world and an approaching environmental disaster. We won’t get there by longing for some mythical past of white supremacy and middle class power. It’s worth noting that in the 1950’s, a time of enormous prosperity for the middle class, the top federal income tax rate was 91%. That’s how we achieved a middle class.
It’s true that there is a political party in America that relies almost entirely on identity politics and it’s the Republican Party.
Welcome to America.