Thursday Reading List: Identity is Politics and the "Race to the Bottom" Reloaded

I'm sorry there was no Reading List on Wednesday. Yesterday was moving day for my family. Now that we're settled in Brooklyn, let the blogging resume ...

Vann Newkirk II is in The Atlantic, describing how a Democratic coalition, rooted in identity politics, was an effective bulwark against a GOP surge in North Carolina:

From its beginnings, that protest movement in North Carolina has been forged over concerns that don’t fit neatly along the lines of class or party ideology. When I went to Raleigh to report on the “Moral Movement” that forms its core, the first thing that I noticed was the diversity of the crowds. They included not just the standard liberal spectrum touted on stage at the Democratic National Convention, but also older, whiter longtime Republicans from the most rural parts of the state ... for liberals, the successes in cross-party activism and intersectional dialogue in North Carolina cannot be ignored. Perhaps that approach can be expanded nationally by thinking of fluid intersections, and emphasizing morality and empathy instead of rigid class hierarchies and pure economic self-interest. If the governor’s race is any example, Democrats and progressive allies can fight their next fight without losing or diminishing their identities.

Newkirk's piece is a stirring antidote to the overwrought critiques of identity politics circulating right now, especially given the effectiveness of the North Carolina coalition. Many social movements, and their political companions, have depended on appeals to morality and empathy to supersede pure self-interest. Reflect on the last generation of politics, and consider how many times you've thought that Americans voted "against their own self interests." Usually, the justification was "values."

Jamelle Bouie makes a similar argument in Slate, while criticizing Bernie Sanders for thinking that identity is something that can be subjugated for the sake of political compromise:

[Sanders] wants to make a distinction between compromising on racist or sexist or homophobic policy and compromising with a racist or sexist political movement. That distinction doesn’t exist in practice. Bipartisan legislative victories bolster Trump and his administration, giving legitimacy to a movement centered on white grievance and white anger. Working with Trump to raise the minimum wage, for example, invariably strengthens a politics that casts Hispanic immigrants as a threat to national prosperity or paints Muslim Americans as a threat to national safety. Building new infrastructure doesn’t change Trump’s commitment to draconian policing. For black workers, then, the gains that come with new jobs are undermined if not vaporized by a larger agenda that endangers and disadvantages. A working-class politics that leaves black and brown workers vulnerable to white nationalism isn’t a working-class politics. It’s a white politics for white workers and counterproductive to broad advancement. Because Sanders puts those questions of identity in a silo, he misses this relationship and risks being co-opted by Trump. At minimum he is pushing an incomplete populism that doesn’t grasp how the experience of class is inextricably bound up with identity.

The last sentence is key, and I see a lot of pundits ignoring Bouie's final point, because it's simpler to pretend that "identity politics" vs. "class politics" constitutes a binary. Because class and identity are linked in our culture - given the foundations of our racial caste system - it's impossible to reckon with one while ignoring the other. 

It's also important to remember that politics, and policymaking, involve tradeoffs. While it's possible to walk and chew gum, it may not be possible to - oh, I don't know - reform the criminal justice system AND engage in a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure revamp simultaneously. Moreover, let's say an infrastructure investment happens ... which communities will benefit, and why?

In education news, Shavar Jeffries and Peter Cunningham are in Real Clear Education making a similar point to the one I made earlier in the week about choice and accountability:

The grand bargain at the heart of the school choice movement is accountability for autonomy. In exchange for performance goals linking a charter school’s survival to academic results and other student outcomes, they are freed up from bureaucracy and red tape that limits innovation and flexibility ... President-elect Trump has said nothing about accountability but he has promised to spend $20 billion on school choice programs. It’s unclear if Trump will try to fund this with new dollars or with existing dollars currently dedicated to poor children and students with disabilities. Either way it will trigger a firestorm on the left and the right. Meanwhile, the new federal law governing K-12 education weakens federal oversight and pushes back to states responsibility for protecting “at-risk” populations of students, low-income students, students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Accountability is most fragile for the families with the least political and economic power. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: choice without accountability is a race to the bottom.