identity-politicsToday is the two-year mark of this blog site. The very first post was entitled “The ‘New Left’ and the Limits of Identity Politics.” I thought it fitting to revisit that topic on its anniversary, especially in light of the recent US presidential elections, which I argued in a recent post may represent the decline of liberal identity politics in the US.

When I was a young student, protesting economic globalization/empire and global politico-economic power, our views and actions were considered that of a fringe anti-establishment minority. Today, the new liberal “left” activism, with its obsession with personal feelings and personal identity and its almost non-existent broader politico-economic analysis, seems oddly to represent a pro-establishment “majority.” I use the word majority in parentheses here because, while the mainstream media would have us believe otherwise, the majority of people are probably sick to death of liberal identity politics and stifling political correctness.

While identity issues such as gender and race are important, without a larger politico-economic analysis and fabric to hold it all together, identity politics and special interest issues can quickly break down into diversionary and even trivial issues. Over the past decade, many young, middle class and or economically privileged liberals took on, or appropriated, the label ‘left wing’ to describe their feelings over a host of increasingly inconsequential personal issues. Oddly, the previously radical mantra of “fight the power”—which used to mean literally fighting the system—morphed into fighting the social stigma of various personal issues. Basically, the contemporary liberal identity politics ‘left’ reflects a moment away from the political to a focus on the personal (personal identity, personal feelings, feelings of personal offence, etc)

While it’s okay to believe that “the personal is political,” in the contemporary liberal left/identity politics world, the personal has become the only thing that is political! But what about the political—meaning the process and practice of political power—or the geopolitical or the politico-economic, aren’t these things also political? Aren’t they much more political? To a contemporary social justice warrior, maybe not.

When I was a student dissident, the issues we were protesting (on and off campus) were things like imperial wars abroad, Big Business and corporate greed, the institutions of economic globalization (such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank), etc. But even within that movement—i.e., the anti-globalization movement—individuals with an explicitly anti-Empire stance and or analysis were a minority. Many anti-globalization groups and individuals were concerned with single issues or identity issues—such as race, gender, sexuality, and the environment. But this tended to occur within the context of a broader analysis of militarized global capitalism/Empire and how it creates and or exacerbates issues such as race, gender and environmental injustice. In other words, while earlier dissidents may have dealt with single-issues or identity politics, they still named a global system of power.

Many of today’s young dissidents—including many of those that support Hilary Clinton simply because she is a woman—don’t really seem to be aware that there is such a thing as a militarized, global system of politico-economic power. Otherwise, they would not be have backed one of its premier members, Hilary Clinton!

While it remains to be seen whether or not Donald Trump will live up to some of the anti-establishment hype surrounding him, [1] one thing that may come out of his victory (a.k.a Hilary Clinton’s defeat) is a movement away from identity politics. The fact that Trump claimed to be for things such as scaling back economic globalization—and the unemployment it creates—and US interventions abroad, and the fact that many in the US voted for him, suggests that these are the issues on people’s minds. It also suggests that the public imagination is moving away from stifling political correctness and the divide- and-conquer trap of identity politics[2] and towards the more universal issues of economics and the despair wrought by economic globalization/Empire.







[1] While Donald Trump is no doubt part of the elite by virtue of his immense wealth and corporate power, as I point out in another article the elite are not a monolith and there may be factions within the global elite that wish to take the global establishment in a different direction. Whether that direction is good or bad or worse, remains to be seen. Trump’s place in it also remains to be seen.

[2] While identity politics is presented as being an agenda for equality, in practice it represents the movement away from politics and political capitulation. In focusing solely on difference, identity politics pits people against one another, placing us into individual camps (men vs. women, blacks vs. whites, heterosexual vs. homosexual, etc) that can be manipulated, exploited and/or co-opted by elites. While this may or may not be the intention, it is the outcome; and what results is a movement away from unity–realizing that we share much in common (especially economic despair and class issues) regardless of our differences–in the name of so-called equality.