Predictions For the 2020 Democratic Primaries (Part 2 of 3)

Guest Post!
Jeremy is back with part 2 of his thoughts on the 2020 Democratic primaries.

There will be calls to not refight the 2016 election. This will not happen.

There will be calls to not play identity politics. This will not happen.

Me, last week
A photographer surrounded by a swarm of locusts
The Democratic 2020 presidential candidates take the stage for the first debate

Ostensibly 23 candidates means 23 different paths forward – but in reality, voters face a choice of just two paths: progressive or centrist. Differences between candidate positions, while real and important, will quickly be subsumed into one of the two overarching narratives. Everything else is details.

At the end of last week’s post, I wondered if “electable” is just another word for “white male.” And speaking of white male power, let’s talk identity politics.

The term is generally used pejoratively by people who view it as a distraction from real issues, and a non-starter with voters who might otherwise be on board with a Democratic agenda. On the other hand, people pushing the idea of identity politics view these ideas as a struggle to not be considered an unperson because of their identity. This being a fundamental issue of survival, they’re not about to let it go.

The people who want identity politics dropped frequently point out that you don’t see this kind of mess – and hence this disunity and fracturing of effort and resources – going on with Republicans, which is true but not actually equivalent. The reason identity politics, in the way they are meant here, don’t get messy with Republicans is that socially, conservatism is about rights and power for exactly one group of people: cisgender straight white male Christians. Republicans will deny this, but Republicans will deny a lot of things that are nonetheless true.

If they had total dominion they’d start fighting over exactly which kind of Christian, but for now that’s being kept to rumblings on the fringe.

Trump holds up signs saying "Women for Trump
Blacks for Trump! Not pictured: black people

When you’re only out to make things good for one group, and that one group is already the most privileged demographic in the country, there’s no infighting to be done, and all perceived threats are equal. Since every other group is getting royally fucked in some fashion, there is endless squabbling about whose problems have priority and which issues are the most important.

Also, absolutely no one is so oppressed that they won’t oppress someone else. It’s not always just a struggle for airtime, but a genuine dislike by one minority for another. This is one reason intersectionality has become such a buzzword—until you get the different groups to consider each other’s well-being, that infighting is there to stay.

With only two parties, one of which doesn’t like any of these people, everyone has to fight to get on the agenda, and that usually involves competing with other people also vying for influence. Remember all those things that’re going to get yelled about because there are so many candidates? What’s merely galling to one group will be unforgivable to another, and vice versa.

The transgender flag.
The transgender flag

Candidates sometimes manage to evade or sideline the issue while paying it lip service, but there are three attacks on minorities by the Trump administration high profile enough that the Democratic hopefuls will all have to face at least one: gay people’s children with foreign connections being denied citizenship, Latin American children being separated from their parents and housed in inhumane conditions, and the military’s ban on transgender soldiers.

I am aware that the murder rate for trans people, especially trans people of color, is a much bigger problem. However, fixing that means confronting daunting systemic issues that make people uncomfortable, which is the opposite of successful politics. The trans military ban is simple to understand, fairly easy to reverse, and easily classifiable as an isolated act of petty cruelty.

So no, identity politics aren’t going anywhere fast. And that’s a good thing.

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