Nancy Pelosi's mistake on identity politics

Identity politics is dehumanizing, no matter who your target is. Sadly, Democrats don't seem to realize this, includi...

Posted: May 4, 2018 9:29 AM
Updated: May 4, 2018 9:29 AM

Identity politics is dehumanizing, no matter who your target is. Sadly, Democrats don't seem to realize this, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, arguably the most powerful Democrat in office.

Pelosi told The Boston Globe that, when it comes to top leadership positions in government, "It's important that it not be five white guys at the table, no offense."

"I have no intention of walking away from that table," she said, according to the newspaper.

Pelosi's troubling words, dividing rather than uniting, follow the same playbook that lost Democrats the White House and kept them from gaining the congressional majority in 2016. They're the same type that perpetuates conflict in our political discourse rather than abiding by our national motto, "E pluribus unum" -- out of many, one. Pelosi's words echo Hillary Clinton's unabashed embrace of playing "the woman card."

Clinton went so far as to mail physical "Woman Cards" to voters. One recipient of this Woman Card was the household of a white male acquaintance of mine, from the swing state of Ohio, who said it left him uninspired. His state went red in 2016 despite having twice gone blue for Barack Obama.

Chlo- Valdary, a millennial, African-American writer formerly of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, sums up nicely the perils of Pelosi's type of identity-based virtue signaling: "PSA. The following are virtues: 'patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.' The following are not virtues: One's skin color, the reproductive organs one has, who one sleeps with, dietary choices, or the ability to scream in order to attempt to get one's way."

Sadly, some conservatives also play the identity card, and this is a problem for Republicans as the country continues to diversify. Forty-four percent of millennials are minorities, as are a majority of the babies born today. Part of our country's current political and cultural fracturing stems from a generational divide that hews to tribal identities rather than universal recognition of our shared humanity.

"Racially and ethnically," writes William Galston of The Brookings Institution, "the Republican base looks more like the country did two decades ago, while Democrats foreshadow what the country will be two decades from now. Neither party represents the United States as it is today."

In other words, neither party accurately reflects America's human family today, and we need to change our entrenched mindsets if we hope to rise above the gridlock.

Indeed, Republicans have struggled with minority voters, particularly since their Southern strategy and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Black GOP presidential support fell to 6% that year, after 39% voted in 1956 for Republican Dwight Eisenhower (a civil rights champion) and 32% for Richard Nixon in 1960.

President Trump did slightly better with nonwhite voters than his predecessor, Mitt Romney. And improvement in the black and Latino labor force under the Trump administration, along with support from iconic black figures like Ben Carson and Kanye West, are likely contributing to President Trump's improving poll numbers among black men.

It is significant that the immensely popular Chance the Rapper stated that "Black people don't have to be Democrats," and that he felt emboldened to recently point out that "Chicago has had generations of Democratic officials with no investment or regard for black schools, (black neighborhoods) or black lives."

On the heels of this momentum, and work on criminal justice reform by Jared Kushner, POLITICO reports that the "White House is exploring plans to host multiple summits on race between prominent athletes and artists and President Donald Trump."

Whether this cultural and political awakening continues among conservatives -- the realization of how much we need to connect with people from every walk of life -- will determine our movement's trajectory and viability in generations to come.

And rather than demonizing white men, it's worth asking Pelosi how her comment about "five white guys at the table" squares with Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that people would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Democrats who engage in identity politics would do well to look themselves in the mirror, also, to see if they are abiding by Maya Angelou's wise words: "I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike."

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