Have you heard about the newest gripe from Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Matt Taibbi, Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, et. al.? What is the hottest topic amongst social media edge lord grifters who clearly had a very dry pandemic and need to log off their favorite porn sites, and social media altogether, and get a little sun? Yes, indeed, the scourge, as they see it, of Identity Politics.
Along with its conjoined-at-the-hip twin intersectionality, the phrase has peppered our popular discourse for close to a decade, if not longer. It’s now become a bit taboo, for wildly different reasons, in multiple political vocabularies.
For radicals, Identity Politics is a concept that emerged from Black Feminist discourse in the 1980s, specifically originating with the Combahee River Collective, before being refined by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who coined the phrase “intersectionality.” At its best, it highlights the way the Black women deal with unique instances of oppression because of their race, their gender, and their sexuality compounding all at the same time.
At its worst, as pointed out by Dr. Tommy Curry, it reiterates a lot of noxious stereotypes about Black men as ravenous sexual predators even though, statistically speaking, the data indicates the complete opposite is the case and shows that Black fathers are extraordinary community members. Within radical organizing spaces, these ideas can be a useful way of tampering on the way that white, straight, cis-gendered men with big mouths and other cumbersome Ivory Tower modifiers take up a lot of space. Incidentally, while I absolutely understand the sentiment, when was the last time you heard a unionized grocer offer such a word salad?
Golly gee, why might sad sack Michael Tracey be so darned indignant about that? Of course, this can also lead to an endless cycle of recriminations and insinuations that any disagreement with a certain personage makes you a white nationalist, trans- or homophobic pig.
For progressives and liberals, Identity Politics is the unofficial name for the diversified neoliberal policy agenda of the Democratic Party. It amounts to a sometimes-tacit, sometimes-blatant argument that multicultural, multi-sex/gender lawmakers administering policies that pulverize the living standards of working class people is the pinnacle of human decency.
As such, any disagreement with a certain personage also makes you a white nationalist, trans- or homophobic pig. Hillary Clinton’s miserable 2016 presidential campaign, the cacophony of liberal freak-outs the weekend after Trump won the election, and the career of Kamala Harris are textbook examples of this. The problem for liberals and progressives who call bullshit on this behavior generally is they don’t fully comprehend the reasons why and, as a result, make asses of themselves while offering a rebuttal. A perfect example of this would be the obnoxious tendency within the Sandernista/DSA/Jacobin Magazine clique that spends half its time sounding like Rush Limbaugh impersonators.
For the conservative polity that has, at Spaceballs-style ludicrous speed, blasted into white nationalist militancy unseen in a century, Identity Politics is a conspiracy theory claiming that Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Planned Parenthood, the Clinton Foundation, the Black Radical Tradition, W.E.B. Du Bois, and gender pronouns are coming to Cultural Revolution them and outlaw Buffalo Wild Wings. There is nothing particularly novel about this. It is merely a digital-age remake of the “political correctness” riff from 30 years ago.
The real matter to discern is just how cognizant Taibbi, Greenwald, Tracey, et. al. actually are of this terminology conflation during their endless griping and whining. For instance, when Taibbi published a bizarre, rambling screed linking the insufferable Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility to Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse, an éminence grise of the New Left responsible for training Angela Davis in dialectics as she prepared to write the most useful book ever written on this topic, it was blatantly obvious he was talking out of his ass.
Meanwhile, Greenwald clearly knows what he is doing and it has become an obscene spectacle to observe his slimy downward trajectory. By contrast, Michael Tracey — who barely needs mentioning because his is so feeble and impotent — strikes me as a knuckle-dragging Cro-magnon invertebrate careerist who probably still lives in his mother’s basement and has never read anything deeper than the Goosebumps series.
When you have a resume that includes The Daily Beast, Al Jazeera, Reason Magazine, The Independent, The Intercept, The New Republic, The Federalist, The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, VICE, the New York Post, The Nation, Fox News, and The Guardian, your professional “versatility” means you are either a polymath, as was the case with Alex Cockburn, or an opportunist hack, lacking any skill beyond the ability to sweet-talk gullible editors into thinking your “style” is able to “cross the aisle” when, in fact, you merely regurgitate cable news talking points and blend it with your crabby uncle’s social media posts.
What is truly astonishing, nevertheless, is that these three clowns have all figured how to be absolutely wrong over a topic that is ultimately so boring and marginal. In 1806, Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames said:
Politics is the science of good sense, applied to public affairs, and, as those are forever changing, what is wisdom to-day would be folly and perhaps, ruin to-morrow. Politics is not a science so properly as a business. It cannot have fixed principles, from which a wise man would never swerve, unless the inconstancy of men’s view of interest and the capriciousness of the tempers could be fixed.
In other words, the fact there was ever a need for Identity Politics, an alienated raft of policy efforts within a group setting, bespeaks an astonishing fact: There once existed, and still does, an entire raft of sociopathic assholes who were so insufferable that the task of interpersonal relations with these cretins needed to be outsourced to the business of policy. Greenwald, Taibbi and Tracey have become such jerk-offs that it’s impossible to read their demented prose and you’d need the equivalent of a Human Resources officer to deal with their obnoxious egos.
The fact that all three missed this obvious fact is the true scandal of Identity Politics.