Presidential Campaign

GOP voters need to re-think their newfound identity politics


There is a difference in this world between the segment of the electorate reading and writing about the term “identity politics” and Donald Trump, who obsessively talks about jobs he’s bribed to stay where they are (in order to potentially profit himself) at a mathematically impossible rate while casually doing things to upset the international order (and make a profit for himself.)

{mosads}And even when the two sides of this conversation try and speak with each other, it’s still being done in a way that doesn’t make sense.


The story of the election is not about white women who voted for Trump in larger than expected numbers versus millennials who failed to turn out.

It’s not about Trump using identity politics against the left while the left defends its use of identity politics amongst itself, yelling at Bernie for not being intersectional enough while other people shout back, “But you lost.”

It’s about “activated identity” versus a simply “acknowledged” identity, and I’d argue that that’s a very important thing to think about going forward.

By “activated” voters, I mean voters who suddenly or suddenly enough see their political position as a part of their identity, of it being them themselves, which is something I saw in-between stories in the United Kingdom — not only as part of the Scottish Independence Referendum or the Brexit vote, but in casually walking through the streets of Scotland and England and taking the temperature of the air.

Because here’s the thing: there is no reason why a “Trump voter” shouldn’t exist in Scotland.

They don’t (mercifully), and it’s hard to imagine politics over there bending in that direction, but it could, as the manifestation of “The Glasgow Effect” looks very similar to a lot of what’s been plaguing white working class voters in this country: Poverty, a lack of jobs, opioid abuse, drastically decreased health outcomes, and systemic neglect.

A Chief Medical Officer in Scotland further characterized the depth of the problem by noting that The Glasgow Effect is also:

“a psycho-social problem that will not be fixed by targeting conventional risk behaviours.”

And yet national identity in Scotland is usually invoked in an “in spite of” fashion — people are mindful of when sectarianism was much worse and would be loathe to see that replicated at a larger level.

In Scotland, national identity is not invoked in the defense of someone who fears that someone is going to take something away from them, which — as has been pointed out — is one reason to describe the “out of nowhere” nature of the Brexit vote, Trump’s level of support, and the rise of rightist parties in Europe.

And that’s important to think about when it comes to nudging those with an “activated” identity back into the realm of an acknowledged identity.

Here is what I mean by that distinction: Someone may identify as Scottish, but the chance is more likely than not that that person won’t invoke their Scottishness in an act of high moral dudgeon to damage Scotland’s economy in the name of the idea of immigrants they’ve never seen or met not taking their jobs.

Scotland knows it’s Scotland. They know that they’re a part of Europe. They know they’re a part of the United Kingdom. These aren’t issues of conflict. To be someone who voted for independence is to be someone who took part in a debate. Their identity isn’t up for a vote. It’s an acknowledged identity — which can a proud one, too; don’t get me wrong — but it’s not an activated one.

Even when national identity was invoked in the run-up to the independence referendum, there were loads who looked on it as a way of expressing policy rather than sense of self (i.e., the fact that an independent Scotland wouldn’t pursue Tory-like cuts.) It’s why UKIP — the party of Brexit — barely exists in Scotland.

With Scotland as an example, I’d argue that the broader question for Americans of “what to do” in the era of Trump refocuses itself on how to tell an arch-conservative American voter that it’s okay to be American and for the United Nations to exist — that these two things aren’t competing with one another.

To tell such a voter that it’s okay to think about both war and peace; that the trauma of 9/11 or the fear of accepting the reality of a war in Syria isn’t a fact that can be brusquely applied over the entire lives of one billion people, and that none of these things are a substitute for an economic plan grounded in reality, let alone a substitute for mercy.

Evan Fleischer is a writer-at-large. In addition to The Hill, his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and numerous other publications.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill. 

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