Bill Clinton did not practice identity politics in 1992; nor did Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Nor have most Republicans. Some liberals have charged that Trump’s campaign was based on “white” identity politics. I consider that to be a case of either grammatical sloppiness or projection. Trump did have a following among fringe groups that extol and defend whiteness, and liberal cryptographers were able to find occasional twitter statements and the like that spoke to these groups, but Trump’s campaign was thematically centered on the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Its appeal was nationalist. When I explained this to one interviewer, he responded, “But nationalism is a form of identity politics.” That’s a misuse of the term. It’s allowing “identity” to go on a linguistic holiday. Is a concern about global warming planetary identity politics?
In Clinton’s case, even when she tried to sum up her campaign thematically, she invoked identity politics. “Stronger together” and “inclusivity” conjured up an image of the different groups gathered together and stronger together than they were by themselves. I am not going to repeat arguments here that this kind of identity politics is not a path to a Democratic majority – the results are clear in Clinton’s failure to defeat a remarkably flawed Republican opponent. In this brief note, I just want to make clear that it’s not an adequate response to the critics of this politics to say, as the editors of Vox do, that all politics is identity politics.