In 1947, Clark Clifford sent a memo to Harry Truman advising him on his 1948 run for the Presidency. In that memo, he laid out a blueprint for electoral victory that had nothing to do with the common good of the country. Called pressure groups at the time, Clifford gambled that if you could gather enough groups together- each with their own agenda and political outlooks- in a game of political gin rummy, you could succeed. Each group had to be addressed and Clifford listed, among others, the farmer, the liberals, “the Negros,” and the Catholics. He noted that Jews only counted in New York, so if Truman wanted the New York Jewish vote, the only thing on their mind and of interest at the time was Palestine. Welcome to the wonderful world of identity politics.
If what we mean by that term is that politicians should consider (although “cater to” might be a better phrase) certain groups, then identity politics has been around since our founding. But in recent history, it is the progressive Left that has taken it to a new level. Although many may point to the 1968 election of Richard Nixon of ushering in this era of hyper identity politics, it was actually the fracturing of the New Left later in the 1970’s after Nixon had resigned. The United States had withdrawn from Vietnam and although the Cold War persisted, the military-industrial complex became less of an enemy, except to the most hard core Leftists.
As the 1970’s ended, Americans elected Ronald Reagan as President. Because of his policies and his ideology, Reagan exposed Marxism as the sham that it was. Communism was falling in disrepute and with it, all the talking points of the progressive Left. So what is a movement and, by proxy, the Democratic Party to do? Apparently, they found that old memo from Clifford and fell back on identity politics to spread a message. Blacks soon started to complain that their progressive white allies were racist. Feminists complained that men were sexist. Lesbians complained that the straight feminists were homophobic. The main enemies, in the end, were no longer capitalism and the military-industrial complex.
As a result, liberalism, because of the Reagan years, threw itself into the politics of identity and found a home in the Democratic Party. They lost a sense of what binds us a nation. It is as if they ignored or forgot the “unum” in “e pluribus unum.”
This has bred a culture of complaint, grievances and demands for rectifying alleged wrongs. The most enduring vision of identity politics is the belief that politics is like a light beam being passed through a prism with a resulting multi-colored rainbow flag. It has been the creed of two generations of liberal politicians, professors. teachers, journalists and Democratic Party operatives. Having failed to bring down capitalism, they descended like a plague of locusts in college towns across the country. The unfortunate effect has been to shut down debate on once free speech vibrant campuses and infected out-of-touch urban liberal elites. We have today a victim Olympics with every group vying for the gold medal.
Enter the newest group seeking that gold medal which reveals the true desires of identity politics and their hypocrisy. Attempting to get their own designation on the upcoming 2020 census is the MENA classification- Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent. The reason is they no longer want to be placed in the white category.
Says one of the spokespeople for this movement, it is needed to symbolize “…the marginalization and lack of recognition in the United States.” Without this official recognition, “Americans of Middle Eastern and North African origins are not accounted for when it comes to social services” and are left out in “assessing the educational, economic and health needs of minority groups.”
That sums it up- they are not getting a sufficient slice of the pie from the federal trough. By trading on their identity and claiming inequality, the desire is nothing noble; it is more government benefits and favoritism.
This writer finds it strange that a group formally placed in the white category on a census form would want to change that given the supposed privilege afforded white people in this country. It was never about white privilege; it was about being a victim because being a victim has benefits. After all, it was Linda Sarsour who said. “When I wasn’t wearing the hijab I was just some ordinary white girl from Brooklyn.” Amen, sister!
We have seen this phenomena before. In 1929, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) lobbied hard for those of Mexican descent to be included in the white category. That changed in the 1970’s when they joined other Hispanic groups and demanded the “Hispanic” category on census forms. That came to fruition in 1980 and why not? The census form became a source to declare one’s victim status and reap the benefits.
Of course, the biggest problem is assimilation. This multi-faceted categorization of people creates a huge barrier. Those who refuse to be identified as white- MENA and Hispanics, for example- are also less likely to call America their “real country” despite their presence or citizenship here. Today, as a Pew poll found, less than 40% of Mexicans, Central and South Americans and even Puerto Ricans (who are US citizens) call the United States their real home. The only Hispanic subgroup are Cubans, but even that is changing.
The logic of leftist identity politics must show that a minority group is performing poorly in the host country so as to claim victim status. This then justifies the redistribution of resources from the host country because we are basically a compassionate country who feels for victims. Even with gays, the designation of anything under the LGBT banner is no longer a description of sexual behavior, but a designation which sets aside benefits, privileges, and official legal protections.
The situation is becoming so absurd that internecine warfare has, at times, broken out within the ranks of the victims. Perhaps a day will come when there are so many identified victimized groups that the ranks of the alleged oppressors will be so seriously depleted to the point that we then have nothing but victimized groups. And the mere fact that so many groups now fight NOT to be considered white shows how hollow the claims of white privilege truly are at the end of the day. If it existed as they say, they should be clamoring to enter the category. Unsurprisingly, those who rail the loudest about “inequality” also tend to be greatest advocates of identity politics.
This all belies another unfortunate fact: the census was devised to count the population for Congressional apportionment purposes, not to see how many of this or that subgroup of the population existed. That changed when these subgroups found that being a victim paid some handsome dividends courtesy of the government.
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