America’s Original Identity Politics

We hear a great deal these days about the right’s hostility to “identity politics.” In this framing, the election of 2016 was a populist backlash of ordinary voters against an increasingly aberrant left that is too concerned with narrow questions about niche groups and is out of touch with the troubles of Middle Americans. The good news for anyone feeling perturbed is that it simply isn’t true that identity politics represents the end of America or of liberal democracy. Nor is it true that identity politics began on the left, or that the Klan was America’s first “identity movement.” The only thing new about “the omnipresent rhetoric of identity” is the voices that have been added to it, reshaping it in ways that alarm and affront those who used to be its sole authors. But it was always omnipresent.

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