Toxic Identity Politics

Published by Glenwood Springs Post Independent July 10, 2018

Tracer rounds, fire restrictions, traffic congestion on 82, budget transparency for city councils, and mountain biking trails. What do these all have to do with national politics? Somewhere between very little and nothing.

Yet, to read the comments on the paper’s social media pages in regards to these issues, one might think otherwise. In fact, it rarely takes more than three commentators on any one local news story to fall into the bitter rhetoric of Republican and Democrat. These comments usually take the form of “Well, isn’t [that awful thing that just happened] directly related to [Trump’s/Obama’s] [failure].” Or, “That is just like a [Republican/Democrat] to make that about [whatever].” Fill in the blanks, of course.

So, immediately, instead of addressing the needs of a local community, talking to neighbors, and listening to experts, even our local politics are instantly mired in the counter-productive, arbitrarily partisan and often hate-filled rhetoric associated with our country’s two major political parties.

This defensive response to a perceived attack on someone’s values is directly the result of the phenomenon most commonly labeled ‘Identity Politics.’

Identity politics happen when someone aligns themselves so completely with a political party that they find themselves internalizing all the priorities, agendas and pork-filled legislative goals of that party in the same way that they associate their childhood memories with their definition of who they are. And, our country loves it. Or hates it, of course. Because when not only the policies, but the actual political party which supposedly represents those priorities become a part of the way a voter sees him or herself, then it becomes impossible for that person to step back and evaluate the actions of that party.

In other words, identity politics is when someone believes that the statement ‘I am a Democrat/Republican/Libertarian” is as true and inflexible as the statement, ‘I have blue eyes.’

It is a deeply toxic state of mind.

The fallout from equating a political ideology with an intrinsic part of ‘self’ is that whenever someone suggests an idea that goes against that ideology, then a person’s mind equates that argument, whether it be a statement of fact or opinion, as a deeply personal insult. The insult feels like an attack and a defensive response is quickly triggered. So instead of responding to the issues with an objective counter-argument, every fully brainwashed ‘Democrat’ and ‘Republican’ spits back as though the ‘other side’ just insulted their mother.

Add to this the fact that the issues assigned to each party make almost no sense anymore. Fiscally conservative Republicans bailing out huge banks and shelling billions into the Military-Industrial Complex, and socially responsible, diversity embracing Democrats pushing back against religious freedom and instigating hateful speeches about political opponents.

I’ll say this very clearly to all readers – You are not a political party. You are a human being.

Political values and perspectives can and should shift depending on age and the context of issues in a person’s life. Priorities change – One day you were living paycheck to paycheck and partying on the weekends, next you have kids and a mortgage and suddenly you find yourself interested in things like ‘property value’ and ‘retirement.’

Life changes, filter bubbles shift, people learn from their experience and those of others. With new information and understanding, political values should be constantly re-evaluated. To blindly subscribe to all Republican agendas and pork-filled legislation simply because one is deeply ‘pro-life’ is ignorant and lazy. To be a Democrat who mindlessly believes that everything Obama did was amazing is just stupid.

No wonder everyone casually observes how divided our country is. When we cannot understand the difference between party-line and personal identity, dialog becomes impossible.

The answer to shifting away from identity politics is, of course, complex, but it can start with one simple change.

Instead of saying “I am a Democrat,’ try saying “I vote as a Democrat.” Instead of saying “I am a Republican,” rephrase it simply as, “I usually vote Republican.”

This removes the close association of personal identity from the act of voting. It’s not a perfect fix, or an instant one, but it is a step in the right direction. By stating one’s voting habit as action instead of identity, one is allowed to evaluate the issues in front of them, and choose appropriate action, instead of playing out our sadly unmusical version of Westside Story at the national level every day.

Politicians hate this, of course. If their voters stop blindly subscribing to a party, then they’ll have a lot more work to do in understanding the issues themselves. And they may occasionally be held accountable for their voting record instead of being guaranteed a certain level of support based solely on their backing party.

Colorado’s primaries are a strong example of this shift – allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries encourages politicians to take the time to understand a wider constituency. It also might allow the voting public to see that there is more to being an informed citizen than just yelling as loudly as possible that the ‘other side’ is wrong and cheering on your guy to the bitter end.

It is a step in the right direction, but we must all keep it going. Remember, no human is a political party.



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