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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The Off-Brand Opinion: Is identity everything?


Identity is everything. Identity is who you are. Identity is who I am.

I am a white, straight, and Republican male. If one were to create a stereotype of the human being with the greatest privilege in the American power hierarchy, the attributes that I listed for myself would create the perfect mold. This identity, along with socioeconomic status, no doubt gives me an advantage in our society. I believe this to be a fact, and I have the desire to be entirely transparent in this column.

I do not, however, believe that these identities ought to carry the weight that they do in politics today. The idealism of identity politics obscures actual policymaking and the goal of government – pragmatic cooperation. Since identity is everything, division in politics is everything as well.

The most precise definition of politics centers around power dynamics of individuals or parties. It only makes sense that politicians seeking power would exploit whatever devices necessary to bring their wishes to fruition. This means emphasizing issues that will inflame emotions within voters – very personal issues. As each party has collectively ramped up these personal issues, voters have tended to group themselves based on party rather than individual issues.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this division into groups in politics such a growth in self-interested elitism and the advent of easily accessible media outlets. These entities, the sources of division, would not be successful in their ends without the means of identity politics. Since the 1960s, they have harped on issues like race, the woman’s right to her body and LBGTQ+ matters. For better or for worse, these are the issues that have come to the forefront of politics.

A Pew Research Center study measured factors on which the right and left were divided between 1994 and 2017. In 1994, the division based on party and the division based on race mirrored one another. The division based on race is at 14 points (the same as it was in 1994) and the division based on party has grown to 36 points. As noted above, this occurs as a result of political grouping. Since a member of a minority ethnic group tends to be a Democrat, a Republican might generalize him or her as a Democrat with secular, pro-choice views. Alternatively, a Democrat might stereotype a white male as a Republican with religious, pro-life values. Universally, I believe these kind of generalizations are despicable. We ought to try our best to dispel these thoughts for the sake of civil discourse and humanity in general.

In any event, the state of our country is one in extreme political and relational disarray – a disarray that is consistent with the effects of pronounced identity politics. Of course, we can see the elements of this disaster in the Kavanaugh hearing, and the media swarm surrounding it. Instead of focusing on actual facts or considering the ramifications of the allegations upon the individuals involved, politicians and the public alike have pursued the most disgraceful route.

Democrats would allege that this road began with the GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court in 2016. Republicans retort with the so called “Biden Rule,” referring to then Senator Joe Biden’s recommendation that the Democratic Senate block any nominee appointed by President Bush in the summer of 1992. While both can be chalked up to political gamesmanship, one cannot make the argument that the Garland block by the Republicans called for the chaos that has erupted in the last few weeks.

What we see now with the Kavanaugh issue is the destruction of normalcy for presumable innocents – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, both their families and their friends. Senator Feinstein’s political gamesmanship came at the expense of two individuals’ personal dignity on a national stage. I seek not to embellish, but the situation seems analogous to a gladiatorial battle in the Roman Coliseum – two people with everything to lose under the lights, each being cheered on by their respective supporters who have comparatively little to lose.

However, because of our emotional investment and our identities’ proximate relationship to political party, we feel we have everything to lose. My call is for us all to at least attempt to acknowledge and separate our personal biases from our politics (and even friendships). Without this effort, we cannot look at facts on their face value. Without this effort, we will always see peers with other identities as the “out group.” Without this effort, we will continue to get nothing done in politics, or frankly anywhere else in our lives. One’s identity gives a personal feeling of fulfillment and self-importance, but can overlook others at times. I believe our goal in democracy is to include everyone. So, I leave you with the question: Is identity really everything?

I do not believe it is. In the pieces to come, I hope to provide conscientious arguments for conservative issue positions with a focus on facts, not identity. My end is to give clarity of why conservatives believe what they believe based not on personal rationalization, but based on reality.

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About the Contributor
Danny Harris, Former Author

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