Home 2016 elections We Are All Americans First: The Failure of Identity Politics

We Are All Americans First: The Failure of Identity Politics

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by Glen Besa

Throughout the presidential campaign, we heard pundits and pollsters focus on identity politics: Hillary’s strength and Trump’s relative weakness with the women’s vote, millennials, Hispanics, college-educated this and non-college-educated that.

Following the Democratic Party meltdown on Tuesday, it is clear that identity politics and the concern whether Hillary could keep the “Obama Coalition” together were the wrong ways of looking at the electorate in 2016, and, I would argue, at Obama’s wins 2008 and 2012, as well.

Certainly, the media’s approach to campaign coverage and the FBI’s investigation of Hillary’s e-mails were problematic, but there were larger underlying problems with the Clinton campaign.

The tendency of political consultants and theorists to dissect the electorate into discrete demographics is a clear example of failing to see the forests for the trees and of looking at voters as ethnic and social blocks of automatons.

When Obama won in 2008, especially, and even in 2012, it was because his message of “Hope” and “Change” resonated with folks across class and race, even though some groups favored Obama more than others.

Similarly, this election year, Trump’s message of “change” and “anger” directed at Washington establish politics of both Republicans and Democrats resonated across the “boxes” that pundits and pollsters like to put us in.

The irony, of course, is that much of the anger caused by the deadlock in Washington was the fault of Republicans who thwarted Obama’s efforts at reform including an infrastructure bill and changes to health care and immigration law. Trump will now try to advance legislation in all these areas, although his reforms will look far different from what the Obama Administration was trying to achieve.

While Republicans may have been inadvertently rewarded by voters for their obstructionism, the Democrats, and more specifically, the Clinton campaign, failed to put forward a message that resonated with and united an angry and fearful electorate. In the end, voters needed a reason to vote FOR Hillary; not simply AGAINST Trump.

Barack Obama’s words from his memorable 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address are instructive in light of Tuesday’s election day outcome:   “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

Today, too many Americans are hurting; Americans of every hue and persuasion. Most of Trump’s supporters (who totaled 47% of those voting) are not bigots, and that is a good thing. While Trump successfully tapped into that hurt, it is not likely that his solutions and those of the Republican-led Congress will address that hurt or heal the divisions he magnified and exploited. Therein lies the hope for Democrats, as long as we believe in a United States of America.

Follow Glen Besa on Facebook at facebook.com/glenbesa and on Twitter at @glenbesa 

  • michael

    Good read