Do identity politics truly represent “the demand for dignity,” as centrist political philosopher Francis Fukuyama asserts in the subtitle of his new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment?
Personally, “dignity” would strike me as an odd characterization of such recent manifestations of identity politics as your local gay pride parade, Ferguson’s bouts of undocumented shopping, Bruce Jenner in a ball gown, or the Asia Argento vs. Rose McGowan #MeToo spat. Nor do I expect the upcoming Supreme Court nomination hearing/teen sex comedy to be a high point in the history of American dignity.
If I were looking for an alliterative subtitle, I might try instead “The Demand for Dominance.” Contemporary identity politics seem far less about Jackie Robinson maintaining a stiff upper lip as he demonstrates his right to play baseball than about Serena Williams feeling entitled to go off on the tennis umpire.
Identity: The Demand f... Best Price: $10.98 Buy New $15.70 (as of 11:00 EDT - Details) In the current year, we seem well down the road to diminishing marginal returns in identity politics. It has less and less to do with equality of rights and more to do with hunger for acclaim. Celebrities have figured out that the social constructionist dogmas taught in college, such as “representation,” can serve to bolster their bank accounts. Identity politics increasingly are manipulated by celebrities into getting softheaded fans to believe that if only, say, Beyoncé were to win all the Grammys, then boys will think I’m pretty instead of that awful Becky with the good hair.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton’s main argument for electing her president seemed to be to get vengeance on your ex-husband or ex-boss. Thus, Hillary made her anchor arguments in the first two debates Donald Trump’s fat-shaming of scandal-plagued telenovela actress Alicia Machado in 1996.
Interestingly, some potential identity-politics categories simply don’t exist in modern America. For example, although Hillary was convinced that condemning Trump for fat-shaming a woman was going to put her in the White House, “short-shaming” men isn’t even a word. Our society indulges in quite a bit of pointless derision of short men for their genetic shortcomings, but nobody cares. Further, most American sports—such as basketball, baseball, and football—are strikingly biased toward the tall, but there’s negligible interest in reforming the rules in the interests of equality.
What this all has to do with dignity is left unexplained by Fukuyama. Identity turns out to be fairly reasonable if you read all the way to the end, but the initial bulk of the book consists of Fukuyama going to undignified lengths to assure the politically correct that he’s not going to do any of the crimethinking he sneaks in later on.
For most of the book, Fukuyama claims that the real danger in leftist identity politics lies in rightist “politics of resentment” in which native working classes ask for trade and immigration policies that would allow them to earn enough from their labor to afford to have families. You might think that would represent the old notion of the “dignity of labor,” and Fukuyama ultimately hints that he does too. But he mostly sticks to his safe framework of good leftist dignity vs. bad rightist resentment.