Since the 2016 election, Mark Lilla and others have been decrying Democrats’ efforts to address the needs of individual groups, such as women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, atheists, the LGBTQ community, minimum wage workers, labor unions, teachers, senior citizens, immigrants, environmentalists and others. Such efforts have been decried as “identity politics,” as if that is something negative.
Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
The aforementioned groups represent some of the most vulnerable parts of our society. Yet, combined, they make up a significant majority of the nation’s population. And all of these groups are constantly under attack by Republican policies.
Republicans want to deny contraception and abortion to women, taking away their rights to control their own bodies and their lives. In addition, the GOP has used a variety of tricks – including gerrymandering, voter ID laws, reducing the number of polling places and early voting hours to suppress black votes. They have passed “show us your papers” laws to harass Latinos. They have passed laws to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and non-Christians. They have fought increases to the minimum wage. They have fought collective bargaining. They have fought against raises and pensions for teachers. They’ve tried to take away health care from tens of millions of citizens. And they threaten to reduce or eliminate safety nets for the poor and the elderly.
Protecting these groups does NOT mean the Democrats are engaging in identity politics to show preference for some groups over others. It merely shows that they care for others.
Meanwhile, the GOP has engaged in its own brand of identity politics – focusing on protecting the interests of large, greedy corporations, the wealthy, intolerant evangelical “Christians” and white supremacists. Republicans pander to those who view others as commodities to be exploited or as threats to their dominance. In doing so, they foment fear and hate. Yet few political pundits question their strategy because they believe that is why Republicans have won the Oval Office and the majority of seats in Congress, as well as numerous gubernatorial seats and state legislatures.
However, the pundits tend to ignore the structural advantages that have led to those wins. Republicans control more than 90 percent of talk radio shows and numerous Internet “news” sites that shamelessly create false news stories and narratives.
Republicans benefit from a popular cable network that, under the cloak of a news organization, serves as a megaphone for the Republican National Committee. Through Sinclair Broadcast Group, they will soon control the majority of local TV news programming. They control an organization (ALEC) sponsored by large corporations that writes legislation for conservative legislators. They benefit from the Kochtopus, a maze of non-profit organizations that funnel billions into political races to support right-wing candidates. They even benefit from the sensational supermarket tabloids that specialize in stories attacking celebrities and glamorizing Trump.
All of this makes it easy for Republicans to engage in hateful politics that divide us.
Yet, despite these disadvantages, I believe that Democrats can still win, but not by abandoning the vulnerable. To win, the Democratic Party needs to improve its leadership and unify behind the party’s long-held principles of supporting the majority of Americans, especially those who cash paychecks rather than stock dividend checks. Democrats must continue to reach out to Americans who face discrimination, those who struggle to make ends meet, those who have retired, and those who need a helping hand.
The Democratic Party needs to better communicate its principles. It needs to create a brand; a brand that will make it crystal clear that it is unapologetically committed to improving lives and protecting the dignity of ALL Americans regardless of gender, race, religion, age or economic status.
The Democratic Party needs to hold Republicans accountable for trying to turn Americans against one another. It needs to offer hope for a kinder, more prosperous future.
In other words, it needs to explain that it represents “We the People.”