“How are you going to vote to make her President?”
That used to be the main identity-based criticism of voting for Hillary Clinton that I heard. I heard it from other middle-class white guys who were basically flabbergasted that I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton for President. Many of them voted for Barack Obama at least once, but just couldn’t quite get there with Hillary Clinton. Some were explicit in their opposition to a woman being elected President. Others were not, and instead shrouded their opposition in many of *specifically* (not really) anti-Hillary stuff- she’s not likable, she’s mean, she’s crooked, she’s too ambitious, even that she “killed people.” Hillary Clinton had a “man problem,” and I’m sorry to say that *she* (to be read *they*) never fixed that.
The thing is, that discussion of identity politics and Hillary was, at least for me, a more 2015 conversation. By 2016, there was a new, leftist line of attack- that we should reject her “identity” politics in favor of a “class” argument. They argued that Hillary was distracting from the true division in America, class, because she supported corporations and the rich. Setting aside what I would call the obvious errors in their assessment of her and her political positions, their main argument had become that Democrats need to become “leftists” in a global sense, and take on corporations and the rich in traditional class warfare. Sure, they were blinded to some of the sexism in their rhetoric, but I found their rhetoric dangerous in the sense that it sought to separate class and identity, and put them in oppositional positions. This has the potential to be lethal. It only makes sense if you are trying to take an untenable position like socialism, and make it “mainstream.” Unfortunately that attempt did at least have moderate success.
Identity is who you are. Class is how you fit into the society you’re in. Everyone has an identity, and a class. Most people have a pretty decent idea of their identity. Many people don’t have a realistic idea of their class, because they have different definitions for it. Some folks, like the Bernie-leftists, define their class entirely by economic variables. Trump-ists over-value their personal characteristics in their identity- their race, gender, religion, and sexuality, namely. These extremes allow both groups to misidentify themselves with their candidates. This is what allows people in trailer homes to identify with their fellow white guy, who happens to be a born billionaire. It also gives both sides the ability to ignore all inconvenient facts, whether it’s the “socialist” paying his wife thousands of dollars a month from the campaign and buying another lake house, or the billionaire signing bills to cut his own taxes, while trying to take their health care.
The reason I vote for candidates with different backgrounds and experiences is that I know I share common needs and wants with what they are proposing. I don’t vote for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton because I hate white guys (I am one), or feel white guilt, or even because I necessarily prefer that people “like me” lose. I vote for them because they aspire to solve real problems that effect me. The truth is, the things I want to see the government do are more supported by women, African-Americans, Latinos, and generally oppressed people. Much of this is class recognition- I realize I share a lot more in common with them than wealthy, elite people, but also than rural white people and uneducated white people. A part of that class recognition is not assigning any higher value to my whiteness, maleness, or straightness. I realize those things are not making my life better.
The effort to pit class and identity against each other is foolish and misguided. There are specific issues to each identity that are unique and specific to them. Class is the weapon that should help us to understand and empathize with those different than us. One of the most alarming things to come of 2016 was the disconnect among leftists, that they could understand politics through a class-only lends, and be identity blind. If that becomes a trend, it could mean terrible things for America.