The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The left embraces identity politics. But the right practices it much more effectively.

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams speaks at the Center for American Progress 2019 Ideas Conference in Washington on Wednesday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In the opening speech at the Center for American Progress’s Ideas conference, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams called for Democrats to embrace the “identity progress” label. “The notion of identity politics has been peddled for the last 10 years, and it’s been used as a dog whistle to say that we shouldn’t pay too much attention to the new voices coming into progress,” she said. “I would argue that identity politics is exactly who we are.”

While current Trump follies came up repeatedly, much of the focus at the annual event was on the future. Inclusiveness was one of the ongoing themes, and the day was filed with calls for equality for women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community. Class-based issues, including economic justice, were repeatedly discussed, too.

Yet early on, it occurred to me that too many of us think about identity politics in too narrow a way. It could be said the Trump administration is playing the most nasty form of identify politics of them all. Trump officials are then gaslighting everyone else for the sin of simply seeking equal rights.

At the CAP conference, the evidence for this came up again and again. When the subject of the new law in Alabama that would effectively ban almost all abortions came up, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) minced no words. “It is an attack on women’s lived lives,” she said. “Oppression,” she called it.

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Tom Steyer — featured on a panel about climate change, not impeachment — pointed out that global warming often impacts poorer people harder than wealthy ones. There is a very inaccurate vision of who cares about the environment in America, Steyer said. In polling, Latinos are the group most likely to say they are concerned about the issue.

And then there is economics, whether it be the high cost of child care frequently forcing one parent — who usually happens to be female — out of the workforce, or African Americans possessing significantly less net worth than white households.

This is all the result of identity politics, but a form that goes mostly unrecognized and unacknowledged. A minority with power and money — white men, mostly wealthy, often religious or pretending to be so — has controlled societal and political norms so effectively that when those left outside simply insist on their rights, they are viewed as angry, resentful, demanding and divisive. When “identity politics” is practiced in such a way that it allows a small group to access and maintain power, it gets labeled as “norms" and treated as simply the way the world works.

The left pushes identity politics so we can one day live in a world where none of us need to do that. The right does it so a small stratum of the population can retain money and power. One way we can fight back is by calling what they are doing by its rightful name.

Read more:

Kathleen Parker: Trump represents the nadir of identity politics

Paul Waldman: How white identity politics will shape the GOP’s future

Christine Emba: In defense of identity politics

E.J. Dionne Jr.: How progressives can get identity politics right

Megan McArdle: Instead of right and left, our politics are increasingly being defined by the rooted and the mobile