On certain controversial issues -like race, gender, and religion- public figures are rarely in danger of receiving a fair reading. This is the nature of identity politics: the purpose of discussion is no longer to interpret arguments charitably in search of the truth or common ground -it’s to ferret out the enemy. One speaks not to understand the opponent, but to gather evidence of their hidden motives or moral inferiority. The game is played by catching your opponent uttering words that will allow you to say, “aha! I knew you were ‘x’,” where ‘x’ can be ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’.
Are you with Clinton, or are you sexist? Are you with Black Lives Matter, or are you a racist? Do you believe Islam is a religion of peace, or are you Islamophobic? One takes a contrary position on these issues at their own risk. They are minefields, and the slightest misstep could have you blown up on social media. Tread carefully.
In the game of identity politics, opinions are not the result of considered argument, but merely the flags we wave for our respective camps. Media platforms are not used for fruitful conversation, but rather to exchange linguistic tokens of allegiance. The discourse of identity politics supplants the discourse of rationality. Are you with us, or against us? There is never a middle ground in identity politics. If you’re not on board, then you’re the enemy.
It would be putting it mildly to say that this is bad. It is the antithesis of reason, it is counterproductive to social progress, and, on a personal level, it’s just kind of a dick move (you should listen to what people have to say, not call them names and cast aspersions). We need to remind ourselves of the central democratic function of rational discourse: it is the peaceful means by which we resolve differences of opinion. If we can’t talk over our differences, we will fight over our differences.
This is the toxic fallout of identity politics. People are incapable of rational discussion, incapable of meaningful communication, incapable of reaching common ground. The only thing left, then, is tribalism: pick what team you’re fighting for, and get ready to fight.