Commonplace Book #22

Politics related to immigrants, refugees, and citizenship are the heart of current identity debates, but the issue is much broader than that.  Identity politics is rooted in a world in which the poor and marginalized are invisible to their peers, as Adam Smith remarked.  Resentment over lost status starts with real economic distress, and one way of muting the resentment is to mitigate concerns over jobs, incomes, and security.

Particularly in the United States, much of the left stopped thinking several decades ago about ambitious social policies that might help remedy the underlying conditions of the poor.  It was easier to talk about respect and dignity than to come up with potentially costly plans that would concretely reduce inequality.  A major exception was President Obama, whose Affordable Care Act was a milestone in U.S. social policy.  The ACA’s opponents tried to frame it as an identity issue, suggesting sotto voce that the policy was designed by a black president to help black constituents.  But it was in fact a national policy designed to help less well-off Americans, regardless of their race or identity.  Many of the law’s beneficiaries include rural white in the South who have nonetheless been persuaded to vote for Republican politicians vowing to repeal ACA.

Francis Fukuyama, Identity, 178.