The End Of Identity Politics
“Who are we? asked the liberal social scientist Samuel Huntington over a decade ago in a well-reasoned but controversial book. Huntington feared the institutionalization of what Theodore Roosevelt a century earlier had called “hyphenated Americans.” A “hyphenated American,” Roosevelt scoffed, “is not an American at all.” And 30 years ago, another progressive stalwart and American historian Arthur Schlesinger argued in his book The Disuniting of America that identity politics were tearing apart the cohesion of the United States.
What alarmed these liberals was the long and unhappy history of racial, religious, and ethnic chauvinism, and how such tribal ties could prove far stronger than shared class affinities. Most important, they were aware that identity politics had never proved to be a stabilizing influence on any past multiracial society. Indeed, most wars of the 20th century and associated genocides had originated over racial and ethnic triumphalism, often by breakaway movements that asserted tribal separateness. Examples include the Serbian and Slavic nationalist movements in 1914 against Austria-Hungary, Hitler’s rise to power on the promise of German ethno-superiority, the tribal bloodletting in Rwanda, and the Shiite/Sunni/Kurdish conflicts in Iraq.
The United States could have gone the way of these other nations. Yet, it is one of the few successful multiracial societies in history. America has survived slavery, civil war, the Japanese-American internment, and Jim Crow—and largely because it has upheld three principles for unifying, rather than dividing, individuals.
The first concerns the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, which were unique documents for their time and proved transcendent across time and space. Both documents enshrined the ideal that all people were created equal and were human first, with inalienable rights from God that were protected by government. These founding principles would eventually trump innate tribal biases and prejudices to grant all citizens their basic rights.
Second, given America’s two-ocean buffer, the United States could control its own demographic destiny. Americans usually supported liberal immigration policies largely because of the country’s ability to monitor the numbers of new arrivals and the melting pot’s ability to assimilate, integrate, and intermarry immigrants, who would soon relegate their racial, religious, and ethnic affinities to secondary importance.
Finally, the United States is the most individualistic and capitalistic of the Western democracies. The nation was blessed with robust economic growth, rich natural resources, and plenty of space. It assumed that its limited government and ethos of entrepreneurialism would create enough widespread prosperity and upward mobility that affluence—or at least the shared quest for it—would create a common bond superseding superficial Old World ties based on appearance or creed.
In the late 1960s, however, these three principles took a hit. The federal government lost confidence in the notion that civil rights legislation, the melting pot, and a growing economy could unite Americans and move society in the direction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision—“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”……….Please continue reading: