Of all the viruses that equally infect both the left and right of the political spectrum, ‘identity politics’ may be the most virulent. But since it’s a non-partisan bug, merrily hopping from one political bent to the next, it’s also one of the most interesting. Here’s a working definition:
Political attitudes or positions that focus on the concerns of social groups identified mainly on the basis of class, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
During this U.S. presidential election, the germ has reached full-term infection on the right – with the Republican camp having relied on it for weeks now, chiefly manifesting in Sarah Palin, self-described duchess of ‘joe six pack’ America - the latest marquis oppressed social group; victims, in Palin’s words, of the “liberal elite.” In this narrative scheme, certain parts of the U.S. are “the real America,” while others, and those who live in them, are presumably “un-American” or merely don’t count.
In terms of mind, this is intriguing stuff – because in order for a narrative so extreme to actually influence peoples’ perceptions and beliefs, it must resonate at an unconscious level. The term “real America” must have a visceral effect, tapping into an array of presuppositional beliefs and biases. For those who react as such, the result is strong galvanization as a group – the “Us” of Us and Them.
On that note, The Situationist has a good short piece about Us and Them politics worth checking out. And for a primer on the role of emotionalism in politics–a major component of identity politics–check out Drew Westen’s discussion of “The Political Brain” below.