Why won't Trump publicly denounce guns?

Identity Politics in the US Election Campaign : Always different, always the same

Jan-Werner Müller teaches political theory at Princeton. His new book “Fear and Freedom: For Another Liberalism” will be published this fall.

The closer the American presidential election approaches, the more often one hears a clear announcement to the challenger Donald Trump: For God's sake (or for the sake of saving the republic), no over-the-top identity politics! Hillary Clinton's idea of ​​a rainbow coalition cost her victory in the 2016 presidential election; Trump responded cleverly to the policy of the minorities with his policy of a white majority who felt threatened. That shouldn't be repeated.

But this supposedly was so clear lesson of a culture, which the left allegedly started frivolously, is empirically unsustainable. As social scientists from Harvard have shown, the famous - in other words: always stereotyped as an example of excessive identity politics related - transgender toilet question was not an issue at all in 2016. The topics most likely associated with Clinton in the media were scandalous stories that raised suspicions that Clinton was corrupt (use of her private e-mail server, dubious affairs at the Clinton Foundation, etc.). Their socio-political ideas for “everyday Americans” (the not exactly happy expression of their election campaigners), on the other hand, did not get through to the public (again, almost only one topic was associated with Trump: immigration). The fact that Clinton appealed solely to the “special interests” of minorities (which strangely also includes women) was by no means the dominant perception of the electorate.

In any case, what is dismissed as identity politics today is not about “exuberant colorfulness” (Wolfgang Streeck) or narcissistic self-reflections, which, like critics, represent a pseudo-political extension of our selfie culture. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is a sometimes desperate attempt to make a not so indifferent as more ignorant majority aware of what one would think, actually generally comprehensible experience of vulnerability. Their representatives demand a natural basic right - namely not to be shot by the police. Something similar could be said about #MeToo. Here, too, there is a basic right: not to be molested or raped by powerful men.

From stigma to pride

The recurring accusation that people should be locked in a kind of identity prison here is also wrong. Seek movements to mobilize citizens; But one can only mobilize if one draws public attention to common experiences of suffering. And that is hardly possible without first referring to the identity that has been (often pejoratively) assigned to you. The fact that this also tries to reverse negative expectations - from stigma to pride - is not so much a demarcation, but rather an encouragement strategy or a tactical disambiguation of identity. Anyone who accuses minorities of always talking about themselves narcissistically forbids the stigmatized de facto from speaking about their stigma. Hannah Arendt once remarked that if you were attacked as a Jew, you had to defend yourself as a Jew. A defense that immediately withdraws into general terms does not allow any particular circumstances or reasons for an injustice to be recognized.

Especially since politics does not stop at strengthening us. But first you have to offer dense descriptions or tell individual stories - but also something about the story, because cruelty, oppression and exploitation did not start yesterday. Structural reasons for discrimination are the real issue, not all sorts of subtle ramifications of identity. The latter, however, become important when it comes to recognizing the overlap between different forms of discrimination.

No identity without demarcation

The popular notion of a symmetry of liberal or left-wing identity politics on the one hand and a right-wing identity politics on the other is at best an optical illusion. The former demands protection in the light of genuine experiences of discrimination based on differences. This does not mean, however, that these differences are absolute or that the individuals are now pinned to specific attributions (as if a new caste system of degrees of insult were to be created). At first glance, new right-wing identity politics also require protection - for example from “re-population”. But it cannot make plausible what, in this case, the discrimination or the suffering should actually consist; no identities are questioned or attacked here.

It is of course not objectionable to ask yourself about your own identity. But it is politically decisive how one deals with the identity of others. Are others basically denied legitimacy, as populists always do? In extreme cases, are conflicts understood as almost existential, so that politics becomes a cultural and civil war in one (Heinz-Christian Strache raved about the danger of a civil war in Austria)? No identity without demarcation is a truism for which one does not have to employ friend-foe theorists. But that is something different from the assertion “No identity without existential questioning of the other”. The highlight of modern, liberal democracy is that you don't have to love other citizens and their ways of life, you just can't forbid them to pursue their own ideas about a successful life.

The self-declared enemies of identity politics demand that the minorities should please concentrate on what unites and not what divides them. This precludes from the outset that the idea that rights have to be renegotiated over and over again could be what unites, instead of, as with the right-wing populists, attaching what unites once and for all to certain forms of life (“our way of life ”). It is also simply assumed that unity is a value in itself in a democracy; This then makes supposed special requests in the name of a "first-person policy" immediately appear to be a disturbance of the peace and ultimately illegitimate. But if there were no “divisions” and everyone was always completely united, there would be no need for democracy. But this is a conflict framed (by constitutions and, in particular, fundamental rights). In a democracy, unity is not a value in itself.

How general is the general?

It is often assumed nonchalantly that everyone can claim the general without further ado, i.e. what the American anti-identity politics activists Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukinanoff called "common-humanity identity politics" without a hint of irony. Only: how general is the general? Again and again people who do not find themselves suspicious of racism or sexism had to find out that their ideas of supposedly comprehensive categories of "citizen" or "human being" (and the rights that are then constructed for these categories) were just but were not as universal as they thought.

Basically, you say here to those who choose to name the blind spots of various forms of universalism: "There's nothing to see here! We have already achieved everything in terms of rights et cetera that there can be." Sociologist Silke van Dyk rightly called a universalism that reveals a supposedly real universalism as a product of particular interests, a “rebellious universalism” - in contrast to the critics who denounce it as somehow annoying particularism of penetrating minorities.

Successful struggles for justice are political of identity

Now it is criticized again and again that the supposedly purely emotional identity politics (which is good for the conscience of its liberal advocates, but does not hurt their wallet) suppress what is really important: distributive justice. Such a false comparison overlooks the fact that successful struggles for justice were always based on “identity politics”. The labor movement - to name just the most obvious example - saw itself not only as a wage labor lobby, but also as a common, dignified cultural project that was about the development of a certain way of life (remember the Red Vienna of the interwar period when social democracies created a way of life rich in cultural and material goods in the Austrian capital).

The attempt to position social fairness against demands for equality is based on the idea that politics is always a zero-sum game. The possibility that a society as a whole could become more sensitive to suffering and develop more solidarity is not even considered (which in turn does not mean that there has to be agreement on everything). Likewise, the noble universalists, for whom the particular only distracts from the big picture, are unable to see how material disadvantages and discrimination often reinforce one another. Just think of the "psychological wages" of white workers in the US, that is, the "additional benefit" of being able to feel superior to Afro-Americans.

It does not follow from all this that something special can (or may) only be explained by those affected. Nor does it mean that all claims to special regulations and exceptions always immediately beat all objections. As the philosopher Thomas McCarthy noted, victims and those directly affected must always have the first word - but not necessarily the last. In any case, it is certain that no one should have the last word who has not previously taken the effort to understand the special experiences of those who feel vulnerable and at the mercy of them. This is actually a matter of course - but it is no longer a matter of course at a time when victims are often mocked or ridiculed - or even given up to be shot down straight away.

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