Mark Lilla’s Mistake: How conservatives indulge “identity politics”

In The End of Identity Liberalism, author Mark Lilla argues that identity politics – the idea that meeting the different needs of individual cultures and groups bonds a broadly diverse electorate – will always lose elections because it creates, by its very nature, more discord than unity.

“…the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life,” Lilla writes.

His mistake is failing to recognize that, in general, politics is about bridging different groups and identities. The assertion that conservative media is, in most cases, right to “make great sport of mocking” liberal efforts at inclusion suggests he doesn’t believe or think that Republicans plays on their electorate’s identities. As a voting-bloc, conservatives skew whiter on the racial color-wheel than liberals. But it’s naive to think there aren’t distinct cultures, classes and identities among white Republican voters.

Evangelical Christians devoted to pro-life candidates are less likely to compromise on social issues than Wall Street conservatives who just want a lower corporate tax rate, but could care less about overturning same-sex marriage. White working-class voters whose lives are closer to “main” street than Wall Street, aren’t necessarily in favor of handing out financial gifts to corporations. A December 2017 Quinnipiac University poll reports 61 percent of Americans believe the Republican tax plan benefits the rich over the middle class.

Then there’s the wealthy, white donor-class of Republicans, like the Koch Brothers, that have made an art of fusing the disparate conservative identities and cultures into one giant and powerful movement. Lilla makes no attempt to call these Republican identities out or the fact that the liberal media routinely, to use his words, “makes great sport of mocking” conservative efforts at inclusion.

“The truth is that almost all politics is, on some level, about identity,” wrote Vox contributor Matthew Yglesias in 2015. “But those with the right identities have the privilege of simply calling it politics while labeling other people’s agendas ‘identity.'”

In other words, the party in power believe their opposition is just a set of complaining cultures and identities that feel neglected from the business of governing.

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