The Democratic Party Cannot Abandon Identity Politics

Going into the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election, a big conflict for the Democratic Party, one which began to emerge in the 2016 primary and the general election, is how the party is going to address “identity politics,” issues that focus on the rights of specific groups of people. After the 2016 election, I, like a lot of people, had the general impression that one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton lost was not only because of Donald Trump’s ability to build support by scapegoating certain groups of people, but also because she spent so much time trying to counter this racially and religiously charged rhetoric. Clinton tried to build her own political base founded on an ideal of moral unity, but as a result she was and has been perceived as having forgotten to address the economic anxieties that drove much of the support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary, and became one of the reasons that so many may have been willing to accept Trump’s demagoguery. Clinton’s campaign, many argued, opened the door for a resurgence of the “Southern Strategy” of the ‘60s and ‘70s, were the Republican Party was able to capitalize on racial resentment in order to appeal to white voters.. But I’ve come to realize that in attempting to modify ourselves to rebut Trump’s racism, we may ultimately adopt an insufficient message that leaves out those that still need a national stage.
For a while I believed that if Democrats wanted to continue down the path of “Stronger Together”, the fundamentals needed to be reworked. I believed that the Democrats needed to focus more on the economic populist message of the Sanders campaign, and unite people in the understanding that, regardless of our identities, most us are in a nation where the economy is working out obscenely well for the very few, while a large part of the population doesn’t have the resources they need to raise a healthy family or live a decent life. We would still be able to keep to our progressive positions on social issues, but the main message needed to be an economic one. To some extent, the Democratic Party leaders who adopted the “Better Deal” platform seem to have adopted this line of thinking, with the Senate Democrats writing on their website, “The Democratic Party’s mission is to help build an America in which working people know that somebody has their back.” This model of focusing on the economics, while maybe more favorable politically on face, however, leaves out those who may have saw or still see in the Democrats a party that will stand as a champion for their rights.
I understand the argument that state and local candidates need to fit their districts, and that progressive social positions are toxic in some areas. However, issues such as LGBTQ expression and racial equality, issues that can affect people’s both physical and mental well-being, are an important part of the ability of many to live a full life, in similar fashion to affordable healthcare. It’s important for the Democrats to make clear that this is the party that will stand against police brutality, that will stand against unnecessary deportations, that will stand against restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, and that will stand for people of all identities. Just like income inequality and educational opportunities, these issues matter to the wellbeing of people. And to those who insist that the Democrats may need to, at least superficially, abandon these people, it must be made clear that doing so runs counter to the society we want. In order to properly stand up for everyone, both the poor and the discriminated, we have to illustrate to those who may be resistant to embracing these ideals that identity politics are not just fringe issues, but ones that truly matter for people in society. We cannot shy away from the issues that people rightfully care about, unless we’re okay advocating for a government that abandons those who need it.

The views expressed above are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Penn Democrats.

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