The GOP Has Stopped Hiding Its Identity Politics

The GOP Has Stopped Hiding Its Identity Politics

For me, conservatism has always been a rejection of identity in favor of ideas. So much for that.
Michael Graham
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Matt Lewis has already written the article I’d planned to write for the new year about how the Left and Right have now devolved into identity-politics tribalism. In so doing, they’ve left me a man without a party.

I’d resigned myself to the tribalism of the Left: The Starbucks voters (“Of course I’m a Democrat—I’ve got the radio in my Prius pre-set to nothing but NPR!”); The “Sex Uber Alles” gender and/or orientation crowd; Black Americans who for historic—and completely understandable—reasons give 95 percent of their votes to Democrats without any serious consideration of the governance that results; etc.

For me, conservatism has always been a rejection of identity in favor of ideas: Free speech, free markets, small government, individual opportunity and responsibility, and so forth. I’m a MLK conservative—all “content of character,” no interest in “color of skin.”

When Republicans whine every other November about the fact that our voters can’t be rounded up on buses and sent to the polls the same way Democrats can, I beam with pride. Reason, logic, and facts aren’t related to race or sex. Conservatives aren’t just right—we’re better people for thinking our way into what is right.

The Left Has Tribalized Us, Too

Or used to be, anyway. Lewis fears—and I agree—that these principles are being abandoned as a new political tribe arises on the Right: Tribe Trump.

I fear we may be entering a new stage where there are essentially two distinct political tribes: One tribe consists of minorities and educated elites, while the other tribe increasingly consists of working-class whites… Disagreements about ideological principles, or even policy preferences, seem to be taking a back seat to identity politics. It doesn’t matter what you believe in so much as what grouping you belong to, and how willing you are to fight for the sliver of America you represent. 2015 was the year of tribalism…

Conservatives once hated identity politics and victimhood—but then again, we once supported free trade, too. Perhaps our disdain for tribalism was always a high-minded, yet doomed, effort to suppress the natural, carnal state of a fallen humanity. You and I may view politics as being about ideas and human flourishing, but a lot of people believe it’s really about power—about making sure scarce resources are allocated to “our” people.

But what about people like me who don’t have a “people?” Where does that leave us?

Now, I’m not going to join the liars on the Left who smear all Trump supporters as racists and xenophobes. But I’m also not going to deny there’s a “What’s in it for us white people?” element among his support. It’s one thing to support enforcing America’s immigration laws (I do) and deporting people for being here illegally (we should). It’s another to oppose immigration because you think there’s something wrong with Mexicans.

America Is About Ideas, Not Race or Class

Unlike many of the Trump fans I hear from, I don’t care that America will become a minority-white country. I care about whether the next generation believes in the American ideas of liberty, opportunity, and equality under the law.

Unlike many of the Trump fans I hear from, I don’t care that America will become a minority-white country.

I want a tax policy that promotes the most wealth and most jobs for the most people. I don’t care if those jobs go to white guys or Hispanic transgenders. I want to replace the government-run school system, not because it failed a white redneck kid like me (it did), but because every motivated student who escapes an academic cesspool for education success will become a happy, productive, low-crime, taxpaying citizen.

I want to fight Islamists, not because they’re Muslims, but because they’re anti-rational, murderous loonies who are, alas, inspired by a major world religion that still refuses to reform itself.

These are the ideas I “identify” with. I honestly believe that if those of us who share these ideas will reach out in smart ways to our fellow Americans of all races/genders/incomes/etc., we can persuade a majority to join us.

We Really Can Persuade People

Many people on the talk-radio Right don’t agree. Some never really believed in small government to begin with and always wanted a government that used its power to help “Us” over “Them.”

Tune in the typical radio talk show on any given weekday…and imagine the opposite of what you’re hearing.

Other Republicans have simply surrendered to what they believe is the inevitability of tribalism. Persuasion, they believe, is futile because there’s nobody’s left to persuade, nobody outside the Tribe who’s willing to listen. “Identity Politics Thunderdome” is going down right now, and the only thing to do is fight like Trump to be the one man who leaves.

These doomsday anti-democrats may be right. But I don’t think so. I believe my fellow citizens are persuadable—if you’re willing to talk to them in a way designed to persuade. If you want to know what that conversation sounds like, tune in the typical radio talk show on any given weekday…and imagine the opposite of what you’re hearing.

Imagine a conversation about women and Obamacare that doesn’t involve calling college girls “sluts.” Imagine a conversation about policing and government power that doesn’t dismiss the deaths of young black men with “they were asking for it.” Imagine talking about illegal immigration from a “fairness for American workers” standpoint and not the “they’re rapists, they’re killers” angle.

It can be done. The Right can win the debate on ideas. We can persuade people, even non-blue-collar white guys. If you’re a Trump supporter who doesn’t agree, here’s my question: When was the last time we really tried?

Photo by NBC News
Michael Graham is a radio talk show host in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter @IAmMGraham.
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