Identity Politics vs. Progressive Policy

Interesting piece by Krugman (who I love and is definitely a must read) in the NY Times about identity politics vs. policy progressivism. Basically, should Democrats appeal to identity (black, Hispanic, asian, Muslim, immigrant) or focus on strong policy positions that will help workers and the poor overall, in an attempt to win back those working class whites who went for Trump in 2016?

Krugman argues, essentially, that people don’t vote based on what’s best for them–it’s identity: who am I? If that answer is: Republican. White. CHRINO (Christian in name only). Then that’s who I’m voting for. It doesn’t matter that I might lose my healthcare if Trump wins–he’s on my team and my racist tinge flares up when I hear him speak.

So what Krugman and a lot of other Democrats are saying is: don’t worry about the progressivism–focus on identity and social justice. They’re right to an extent, but there’s an element of danger in pursuing such a narrow course, Because at the end of the day, the average voter wants to know: what are you going to do for me? And there are a lot of Democratic constituencies that aren’t motivated to vote or care if the answer is Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ rights or No Muslim Registry or DACA.


It’s not to say those things aren’t important–they most certainly are, and Democrats have to champion the civil rights of all Americans during the Trump era, especially in our most vulnerable and diverse communities–but we’re forgetting a massive group of our base: the young.

I’d use the term millennial, but that’s become a pejorative. Think for a minute, of just how cruel that is, that we basically sit around as a society and make fun of our kids. Let that sink in.

And then consider how much more cruel it is given how we’ve utterly screwed them: first, by systematically underfunding our public schools, meaning larger classes and shorter school years for most of their lives. Then we allowed college tuition’s to get jacked up between 200-300% since 1995, so when they graduate, their student loans are astronomical. Next, they go into a job market that offers low wages and little opportunity, while they deal with an exceptionally high cost of living (especially housing).


In all seriousness, as a society, we need to do more to help our young people. And that’s where Democrats need to go with a marriage of identity politics and progressive policy.

Yes, we need to stand for social justice, but we should also show people what the next great American society looks like, and that vision includes making our society more equitable, rebuilding our infrastructure, and reforming our educational system to help students meet the needs of the 21st century.

We can start by offering programs for debt free college, setting interest rates to inflation on student loans and allowing those with debt to refinance at that rate. We can give some of them jobs by creating a Green Corps, which would be a new government program like Americorps or Peacecorps, but instead, it’s focus would be on reducing carbon emissions and being proactive about fighting climate change.

And we can go much further than that. But the point is we have to offer people a positive policy vision, and that will help us with identity politics too. The young are by far the most diverse group of Americans, and the least racist. Something people forget when they look at the election outcome and blame our system of education: young people didn’t vote for Trump. They voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. And in an election that broke down very simply by education–if you had it, Clinton, if you didn’t, Trump–what does that tell you?


MILLENNIALS ARE SMART! A hell of a lot smarter than the 65+ group who voted overwhelmingly for Trump and Republicans, who’re now poised to end Medicare and privatize Social Security. That’s the thing: we’re never going to win the dumbs. If you’re 70, living on government programs and complaining that Obama’s a socialist, your not voting for a Democrat–you’re too dumb. It’s the same with the people in Clay County, Kentucky who voted overwhelmingly for Trump and now realize they may well lose their healthcare because of it.

I’m sorry. I know that sounds harsh. But it’s true. If you vote Republican on the regular, it’s one or a combination of three things: dumb, angry, or craven. What about ignorant, religious, or corrupt? Sure, but if you’re so ignorant you regularly vote against your best interests/values, isn’t that pretty dumb? And if you’re a “Christian” but you don’t want old or poor people to have healthcare or Food Stamps and you think Trump’s wall is a good idea, aren’t you dumb, angry, and craven (which is why I call them CHRINOs)? As for corrupt–that’s fair. Dumb, angry, craven, or corrupt.

Point is, Democrats should be appealing to smart people, and smart people want to know how your policies affect them. Which is why infrastructure, healthcare reform (whatever happens with Trump and co.), reinvesting/reforming education, tax reform, strengthening the social safety net, and battling climate change have to be a part of our agenda moving forward.

A few additions to the media section if I may:


Paul Krugman, Catherine Rampell, Gail Collins, Emma Roller, Jamelle Bouie, Charles Blow, Greg Sargent, Leonard Pitts, Jonathan Haidt… I’m definitely forgetting some, so let me know if I should add more here.


The Economist, Time (occaisionally), Democratic Underground, Think Progress…

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About The Author: Jay Scott


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