Is America destined to be forever divided along racial, gender, and class lines, or has identity politics obscured the reality that most Americans have already embraced Dr. King’s vision of a colorblind society and the Founders’ assertion that “all men are created equal?”
Are people truly defined by the immutable characteristics of race and gender (and the malleable trait of class), or does the character and conduct of the individual define who they are? Is our identity derived from our outer physical attributes or our inner being?
The following remark is emblematic of the problem identity politics plays in American politics and culture today. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) recently said, “If you call progress electing a person with the pigmentation that he has, who votes against the interest and aspirations of 95 percent of the black people in South Carolina, then I guess that’s progress.”
Clearly, Clyburn is engaging in groupthink, insisting that all members of a particular group must think alike. Groupthink is a pox on our political landscape because it 1) is prejudiced against opposing views, 2) discriminates against dissent, 3) diminishes debate, and 4) precludes progress. Moreover, groupthink ignores, and even, denies, the inner moral and spiritual dimensions of the individual.
Groupthink embraces political correctness, delights in speech codes, and denies individuals the freedom to think and speak for themselves.
Individual vs. Group Rights
Identity politics is symptomatic of groupthink and it is literally designed to divide and conquer: divide the populace into “us” vs. “them” and then destroy “them.” As identity politics divides people it creates a grievance culture built upon feelings of victimhood.
Today, we find numerous stories in which people, businesses, educational institutions, government organizations, and private enterprises are criticized for not having the right demographic composition (principally race or gender). Bean counters quantify the ratio of races and genders in a particular group and impugn those groups which fail to have the right ratio.
Our “city upon a hill” was built upon individual liberty.
The American Revolution and the establishment of our political institutions gave birth to a nation which has been a bountiful blessing to the world. Our revolution and the birth of the United States focused on individual rights, on unleashing the potential of very human being in liberty to be the best that they could be. In contrast, the French Revolution, which sought collective rights, ended in the Reign of Terror. When individual rights are lost, collective rights cannot protect the individual.
Responding to rampant racism and institutional discrimination, the civil rights movement of the Sixties fought and won redress of grievances and inclusion of previously-excluded Americans in daily life. Affirmative action, which led to quotas, addressed those issues and, in the course of time, a dramatic attitudinal shift among Americans occurred. 2014 is nothing like 1964.
Interestingly, while every aspect of life is now seemingly subject to these quotas – using statistical analysis of the racial or gender composition of a group to determine prejudice or discrimination – that same groupthink mindset is not applied to ethnic or cultural dynamics in America (e.g., do people use those same formulas to determine whether the Irish, Greeks, Germans, or Japanese are being discriminated against?).
Race continues to remain a potential powder keg culturally because of the dynamics of groupthink and the impact identity politics plays in dividing people along racial (and other) lines.
Asserting group rights – particularly using only statistical analysis – discriminates against individual rights. Numerous court cases have emerged from individuals denied opportunities because of their race – in the name of combating discrimination. The Supreme Court appears to be recognizing the counterproductive nature of quotas and the inherent injustice of combating discrimination with discrimination.
Dinesh D’Souza’s groundbreaking book, Illiberal Education (1991), cogently addresses how the Left’s adherence to political correctness (in quotas, race norming, etc.) does incalculable harm to those it purports to help.
We hear a lot today about wealth inequality and income disparity. Class warfare continually escalates every election cycle. Like the race card, class warfare is derived from groupthink. It posits an us-vs.-them model which actually maligns the successful and exalts the poor as victims of greedy oppressors. The Marxist notion of exploitation pervades that argument: the successful have exploited the poor.
Class warfare feeds on several strong (and negative) feelings. It creates a sense of victimhood, and, therefore, a sense of entitlement (victims need to be recompensed). It also urges the have-nots to envy the haves. The rich are vilified as being full of greed. But class warfare also exploits the poor, encouraging them to be full of envy for what others possess.
Class warfare appeals to the basest instincts, under the guise of redressing a perceived injustice. Again, as with race, it treats people as homogenous groups instead of distinct individuals. Survey after survey for the last several decades has shown a tremendous degree of income mobility among the rich and poor. Because of the freedom Americans possess, people are rewarded for their hard work by being able to climb the economic ladder. Today’s struggling worker or entrepreneur can be tomorrow’s millionaire.
The story of a Princeton freshman, Tal Fortgang, provides a compelling case for why he opposes the whole concept of “white privilege” (which combines both race and class). His grandfather was a penny-less Holocaust survivor who became successful, yet, groupthink charges Fortgang with white privilege.
War on Women
Like race and class, gender plays an increasingly influential role in American politics. Every election cycle, Democrats ramp up their “war on women” rhetoric as the latest struggle for civil rights. Sandra Fluke’s quest for free birth control – while trampling on the civil rights of others – is but one example. As of this writing, Fluke is running for state senator, based upon playing the victim card.
In contrast to alleged victims of a phony war on women perpetrated by conservatives, consider the pattern of attacks on women by liberals. During the Clinton administration, James Carville’s “War Room” launched a plethora of campaigns targeting specific women (the infamous “bimbo eruptions”), such as Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones.
That pattern persists today. While the Left manufactures a phony Republican war on women in the abstract, the Left ruthlessly attacks specific women in reality (e.g., Sarah Palin). Just as conservative blacks must be attacked as inauthenticly black because of their beliefs, so too, female conservatives are attacked and treated as inauthentic women. Conservatives who are female and/or black challenge the narrative of the Left and pose an existential threat to its orthodoxy of groupthink, victimhood, and collective rights.
Left is Still Counter-Cultural
The radical, countercultural non-conformists of the Sixties – those championing the Sexual Revolution and protesting the Vietnam War – once eschewed conformism for individual freedom. Now that they are in positions of power and influence, they would require conformity at the expense of freedom (e.g., Mozilla Founder and CEO Brendan Eich).
In the Sixties, they opposed traditional, conservative values, and now they want to impose their own values on everyone else. In the name of tolerance – while employing identity politics derived from groupthink – the Left engages in intolerance to eradicate any ideas incongruent with its own.
The solution is to return to King’s vision and actually judge people by their character (not on how they fit a particular demographic) and to remember that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed for individuals (not groups).
Success will be achieved when we view each other as unique individuals and fellow Americans.