Conservative Identity Politics

Identity politics is not a left-only game. The beauty and wonder of conservative politics is that conservatives have become adept, dangerously so, in suspending and reigniting reality at will, when it suits them most, or when they sense threat. This blog criticizes hypocrisies and inconsistencies from the Left, but I am no conservative commentator. While the subject matter of the majority of my blog posts might put me in the same ideological sphere as conservative darlings Candace Owens, Larry Elder, Ben Shapiro—take your pick—this similarity is, at best, tangential. I don’t make the leap to conservatism because, in order to do so, I would have to suspend basic realities that they simply don’t believe are real.

Take identity: I, as a Hispanic, first generation, bisexual man could lay claim to a number of labels that may provide me with an advantage in law school admissions, as fits my current circumstance. The optional diversity statement offered by universities is intended for those communities who are/were historically disenfranchised so that they might have a chance to say how their background will enhance the school’s community understanding and provide intellectual depth, as informed by background. I chose to forgo diversity statements because, while my upbringing and history would indeed enrich the campus atmosphere, I’m of the opinion that so would that of a white applicant. Since my concerns in academia are academic first, I want my application to be measured by the merit of my work, by the output within my control, not some abstract injustice committed upon me decades or centuries ago—and whether that injustice happened or not.

So why do I not consider myself a conservative? Not only are conservatives no better than liberals, they’re actually worse because they commit the same sins they accuse liberals of committing, all the while refusing to recognize that basic reality. Conservatives don’t look past identity politics, they simply substitute in the identities that they like. Take Candace Owens: she is an African-American, Christian woman, and a proud conservative. Perfectly fine. She, along with Larry Elder, an African-American, Christian man believe that blacks are the slaves of the Democratic Party. Okay, sure. Their reason? To them, ideas like systemic oppression, institutional racism, white privilege, to name a few examples, are fables, myths, and stories perpetrated by the Democratic Party to keep the black population in a perpetual state of fear and victimhood. Their reason for that belief? Anecdotal evidence based on their own experience.

Let’s give them their credit, and while we do so, let’s give everyone credit who, despite growing up under unfortunate circumstances, managed to get ahead and succeed. I put myself in that category. I don’t draw on my racial identity because I don’t believe my race inhibited me from success, but, and here’s the crucial difference, I leave room for the possibility that there are people who live in this country for whom race does play a role in their ability to get ahead. Again, I don’t want to take away from the success of Ms. Owens and Mr. Elder, but I leave room for the possibility that, like me, their success took a herculean effort for which their determination and perseverance should be recognized, such that, if their race ever did get in their way, they didn’t use it as an excuse for why failure was okay. That is admirable and I think liberals could learn from that sentiment. But here’s why leaving room is important: Had my parents ended up in Arizona, we likely would have ended up back in Bolivia, deported, since the police in that state practiced racial profiling seemingly as a matter of course. Luck played a huge role in our ability to keep our head low. Imagine if we at any point were rear-ended. That would have opened an entirely new legal situation that likely would not have ended well for us.

Conservatives draw on the identities of immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities to enforce the negative stereotypes that already exist for these populations, which is why profiles of the first-generation student, the genius Muslim inventor, the young black man accepted into multiple ivy league schools are considered the exception rather than the norm. To be clear, these profiles are absolutely exceptions. The problem with singling out minority success stories is that white America thinks exceptionalism is their norm, when it’s just as unlikely to happen for them as it is for minorities (for the most part, anyway, not accounting for the slight but real advantages that come from economic heritage, for those for whom that makes a difference.)

Conservative commentators, libertarians, unapologetic capitalists, they believe we can all be successful. It’s a nice thought, both charming in its outlook and endearing in its simplicity. But they are proponents of an economic system that depends on the exploitation and failure of others. No, we cannot all be successful in this environment, but we can aim for equity—at the very least dignity. Society isn’t structured as a plateau. It’s a pyramid, and good for you if you manage to climb up a level or two, but it’s deluded to think that that rise was purely the cause of sheer, independent energy, unaffected and removed from good luck and happenstance—or real sociological factors.

Conservatives value simplicity. “Success is purely in your hands. Work hard and you’ll be rewarded. If you don’t have what you need, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough.” There was a gay conservative who recently wrote a column for Fox News. He was defending Mike Pence, saying that Pence never supported conversion therapy. In the same column, as he was championing Pence as not anti-LGBTQ, he failed to mention Pence’s religious liberty bill, that would legitimize discrimination under the pretense of religious freedom. In the same column, while defending how not anti-LGBTQ the Trump administration was, he failed to address Trump’s banning of transgender Americans from serving in the military, you know, the T in the LGBTQ community the writer is proud to belong to. Conservatives aren’t anti-LGBTQ, he wrote, because we can marry now—never mind the politics of the Supreme Court judges who allowed that to happen.

Never mind that history, he unintentionally insinuated. But while he ignores that history, Candace Owens comes along and talks about how the Democratic Party was the one filled with racists, how they were the ones in the way of voter equality, how they instituted Jim Crow. Never mind the history of slavery and segregation, Candace Owens says—all the while ignoring the generational impact that had on the African American community—because the only history that matters is of party politics, i.e. the identity of Democratic politics as they used to be. African Americans’ status as second-class citizens, Owens asserts, as they used to be, no longer matters in 2019. But the history of the Democratic Party? For whatever reason, that’s still relevant. Maybe it’d be better if I just didn’t think about it too hard.

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