The commission, which counted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — arguably the most influential Black person in the Trump administration — among its members, rejected the idea that slavery was central to America’s founding and sought to develop a curriculum reshaping the motivations for the country’s origin for students and other Americans. The report said:
The Commission’s first responsibility is to produce a report summarizing the principles of the American founding and how those principles have shaped our country. That can only be done by truthfully recounting the aspirations and actions of the men and women who sought to build America as a shining “city on a hill” — an exemplary nation, one that protects the safety and promotes the happiness of its people, as an example to be admired and emulated by nations of the world that wish to steer their government toward greater liberty and justice. The record of our founders’ striving and the nation they built is our shared inheritance and remains a beacon, as Abraham Lincoln said, “not for one people or one time, but for all people for all time.”
One particular section of the report is a reminder of the blind spots, at best, of the Trump administration and the inconsistencies, at worst. Under a section titled “Challenges to America’s Principles” is a subsection called “Racism and Identity Politics.” In it, the authors seek to attack identity politics as divisive and inherently incompatible with American ideals and go as far to suggest that it is a weapon uniquely wielded by those on the left. Here are a few excerpts from the report:
“Identity politics divide Americans by placing them perpetually in conflict with each other. This extreme ideology assaults and undermines the American principle of equality in several key ways.”“First, identity politics attacks American self-government.”“Identity politics ... sees politics as the realm of permanent conflict and struggle among racial, gender, and other groups, and no compromise between different groups is possible.”“By dividing Americans into oppressed and oppressor groups, activists of identity politics propose to punish some citizens — many times for wrongs their ancestors allegedly committed — while rewarding others.”
It is in this section that the writers imply most strongly that identity politics is something unique to those outside of the Trump administration and the media companies, activist organizations and right-leaning personalities that support the president.
And that is deeply inaccurate.
Since the earliest days of President Trump’s campaign, the fundamental worldview of what is increasingly referred to as Trumpism has been rooted in identity politics. When the president launched his campaign, he put forward a vision of America that prioritized the demographic groups that are emblematic of the America of yesteryear: largely White, Christian and appealing to traditional gender norms.
And many voters latched on to that message strongly and continue to hold it in the final days of his presidency, a mere week or so after many rioters — including white nationalists — stormed the U.S. Capitol with the hope of keeping Trump and his worldview in the White House.
Months after Trump was inaugurated, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey explaining why millions of White working-class Americans — one of the most influential groups of Trump’s base — backed the president: anxiety about America’s changing demographics and values, as well as fears of cultural displacement.
That continues to be the reality in the final days of his presidency and will quite possibly be the case even after Trump has decamped from Washington.
Throughout the Trump administration, his defenders pushed back on the idea that Trump’s presidency was rooted in values that centered Whiteness as superior to other identity groups — even as those who were a part of white supremacist organizations or groups with nationalist ties were drawn to Trump. But as the president’s final days are being remembered as ones that included an insurrection by a largely White, male and Christian crowd claiming to want to preserve the traditional worldview espoused in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, many Americans — and others around the world — are reminded that the political ideology that shaped the Trump presidency, perhaps more strongly than any other, was rooted in identity.