Perhaps it was inevitable that the right would embrace ethnic and gender identity politics as have their liberal opponents. It is a useful political tool, but the toll it takes on the coherence of a political ideology can be substantial. Eventually, the practice of identity politics becomes indistinguishable from prejudice.
The proof of this proposition was observed in a crudely devised experiment by Maria Guadalupe, a professor of political science and economics at the international business school INSEAD. Many on the left still believe the results of the 2016 presidential election would have been different if the candidates’ genders were reversed. After all, Americans surely would not tolerate the boorish, rude, domineering fashion in which Donald Trump behaved if a woman exhibited those traits. To test the theory, Guadalupe enlisted two professors of educational theater to portray Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reenacting the presidential debates, only with the candidates’ genders swapped. What these researchers found stunned them.
“I developed empathy for people who voted for [President Trump] by doing this project, which is not what I was expecting,” said Joe Salvatore, one of the academics who crafted the experiment. “People across the board were surprised that their expectations about what they were going to experience were upended.” In interviews, audience members who observed the mock debates described being surprised by the effective simplicity of the message conveyed by the woman mimicking Trump. One attendee characterized the man portraying Clinton as “punchable” because of his body language. Another described being “struck by how precise” Trump’s message was. Another noted that the actress portraying Trump came off as unlikable but nevertheless comforting and protective.
“For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive,” read a New York University News review of the experiment, “raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.” Indeed; questions that the identity-obsessed left may want to ignore.
It is by some remarkable providence that this revelatory experiment found its way into popular culture just prior to International Women’s Day—a holiday commemorating the value of women and the sacrifices they make to create a better world. For an increasingly hysterical faction on the left, International Women’s Day became an opportunity to once again register their dissatisfaction with President Trump and the GOP. Though planned and orchestrated by the same organizers who put on the compelling, multi-city Women’s Marches in January, this was a very different kind of protest.
For some on the left, the Women’s March wasn’t transgressive enough. There were no violent incidents. No one was arrested or even too terribly inconvenienced (the events took place on a Saturday). So they organizers adapted their tactics to be a bit more conspicuous. In the process, however, they have sacrificed the qualities that made the Women’s March so effective.
Participants in the “Day without Women” protest have been instructed to refuse to participate in both compensated and uncompensated labor as part of a gender-wide “strike.” As Amanda Carpenter wrote in Politico, the organization of a women’s “strike” is likely to backfire. In one high-profile incident, the “strike” has had the effect of closing down schools in places like New York City, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the Washington D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Far from raising awareness about Trump’s abuses, like-minded parents in these overwhelmingly pro-Clinton districts have been targeted for aggravation and their children disenfranchised.
Further, as Carpenter observed, this is a protest without a purpose. What are the protesters demanding? Who knows? “No specific requests are apparent,” she noted. “All the organizing material is bathed in vague blather about raising awareness without asking for any specific reforms.” Carpenter, a longtime Republican congressional staffer, does not share the objectives of Trump’s political opponents on the left, but she knows what effective political organization looks like.
It should dishearten the left and Trump’s opponents that only conservatives can apparently recognize these tactics as both ineffective and counterproductive. Or, at least, only conservatives have the guts to say that out loud.
Sexism and inequality have not been eradicated. Around the world, the brutal repression of women is cause for alarm. In the West, too, discrimination persists. It is a heartening sign that so many liberals and center-left publications have recognized that sexist chauvinism is a bipartisan phenomenon and that Hillary Clinton was as much a victim of gendered intolerance in 2016 as is Kellyanne Conway is today. Yet that, too, is a critique of the left. So pervasive is the self-soothing liberal belief that Clinton lost as a result of sexism that it had become an unchallenged article of faith. So sanctimonious is the anti-Trump left that only its opponents can see when it has embarked on a self-defeating course.
Democratic opponents of Donald Trump do not lack for grievances around which they can mobilize. What they lack are allies with the courage to buck the consensus liberal dogma regarding the sanctity of identity. So cowed are liberals by a rigorously enforced unanimity around the belief that identity and self-conception confer legitimacy that it has become a movement lacking a measure of internal discussion and debate. Say what you will about conservatism—and it is an ideology in crisis—it certainly does not want for dissenters within its ranks. The stale theology of identity has become an inviolable tenet of the identity-first left. To skeptical outside observers, there comes a point at which a belief structure that is fixated on inherent traits conferred at birth becomes indistinguishable from bigotry.