An Identified Decline

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Beginning in the 1960s, a new form of political strategy evolved. The two-party system had worked well (at least if you were a party hard-liner) for several decades, but the synergistic sixties brought about a great deal of change, and the political parties evolved as new constituencies emerged and demanded to be heard. Certainly, the rich and powerful were well represented, as the politicians of the time (certainly not exclusive to that era) were more than willing to listen, as money always finds influence.

There were new voters, who looked in the mirror and noticed that they were different from the white shirt, suit wearing, card-carrying members of the two dominant political parties. The War on Poverty admitted that there was such a thing, and many people felt that they were underrepresented, if  even represented at all in American politics. The publishing of “The Feminine Mystique” in 1962 by Betty Friedan was a significant turning point, economically, socially, and politically. While this is certainly a brief explanation from where the identity movement came from, I willingly concede that there were considerably more influences than those mentioned here. Brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the paragraphs of detail that elaborate on fractionlets of a point previously made.


As political awareness expanded, certain participants of the electorate looked into mirrors and realized that the political parties didn’t reflect them. This lack of reflection was the initiator of “identity politics.” The underrepresented, i.e. nonwhites and females, to name the major players who “identified” with the new “identity” candidates, who were like them, minorities or female. This strategy was a good plan for local elections where the identification was simple and easy, and was a powerful tool for taking on the “political establishment.” Yet the ineffectiveness of identity politics on a larger, call it federal level, was illustrated by several dismal failures, one of the greatest being the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution, which was never ratified. In a several page letter explaining why their strategy would fail, I attempted to advise those who believed identity politics would be become a national issue (in this case the National Organization for Women) that grandstanding on the federal level would not capture the states needed to ratify their constitutional amendment. They ignored me, of course. They also lost, of course. That is one of the more detrimental features of identity politics, and that is that they are convinced that anyone not of their ethnic or gender persuasion is incapable of understanding their situation and position. This mentality would not serve them well, nor would it serve this republic well, in the long run.


In a bit of wisdom dispensed by the iconic Democrat Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local.” The identity politics scenario identified those who were alienated and abandoned by the major parties, but the major parties recognized the trend and made sure to put some faces on their agendas that the underrepresented could identify with, and this was especially a practice of the Democrats. Legislation, both state and federal, began to identify the rights of the underrepresented and they took a larger presence in American politics. The traditional political machines understood, eventually, that identity politics were a force to be reckoned with, and legislation acknowledging that fact made it into law and policy.


Identity politics encouraged diversity, and voters began to identify themselves further and further apart. As identity progressed, the categories became smaller and smaller, moving from ethnic and gender identities into sexual orientation and beliefs in policies so closely defined and enthusiastically followed that identity politics could no longer satisfy them. 



As America entered the post-industrial economy, the resultant uneven wealth distribution, the loss of jobs, and global economic forces only made these distinctions more obvious, and the differences by which people identified became more and more specialized and less and less serviceable. The election of Barak Obama was the last vestige of identity politics in America. (Imagine, if you will, ninety-five percent of whites voting for a candidate simply because he/she was white, and the backlash that would follow. ) Hillary Clinton attempted an identity politics theme (mostly due to a lack of any other strategy, since she could not identify why she wanted to be president beyond her own selfish ambitions) that failed miserably to a political outsider with no political background, who is, now, by the way, sitting in the White House.


Identity politics has seen its last hurrah. Not only has diversity exceeded its range, it has lost its meaning and purpose. There are too many variations of identity for which with any politician can claim to identify. The liberals have cracked up, and the remaining liberals are sweeping up the pieces to see whatever they can cobble together and pass off as policy. In the meantime, unable to identify with much, the only thing that the Democrats can identify with is opposition to Republicans and their agenda.


The Democratic leadership recognized the need for money, and personal agendas took over the Democrats. The previously labeled identity politicians made the conscious rationalization that their personal agendas were the agendas of the people that they represented, even when they were not. Many of the identity politics candidates had identities that were created by their campaign managers, and didn’t really share the trials and tribulations of their identity politics constituents. They thought that a synthesized identification was enough and used it as a ticket to political success; like claiming to be part Native American when you weren’t, but if that got you into Harvard it was not going to be challenged, especially when you could claim a female political identity as well. That ride is over, and it should have ended long ago.  


The identification with the working class, for the Democrats, ended bitterly during the administration of Bill Clinton, who sold the blue collar factory workers down the Rio Grande in the form of a free trade agreement. It’s been downhill since then. Betrayed by the Democrats, the workers looked to someone who, at least in rhetoric, could speak for them, his name was Bernie, with one holdout identity politics player, Elizabeth Warren. The identity politics game has run its course. All the Democrats can do now is oppose the Republicans. The Democrats have encouraged individual identity politics until those practicing identity politics cannot envision any outcomes other than those that serve themselves and their personal identity interests.


The Democrats have fostered the selfishness of identity politics until the identified constituents can see only their agenda, whether it is constitutional or not, and in many cases, not. But that doesn’t matter to the identity politics ilk who have been promised that they’ll be taken care of. The Republicans have already taken advantage of this and turned it against the Democrats. The Democrats are going to have to come up with a new strategy, tell the identity politics players that they live in a republic and they will have to recognize and realize that they are citizens first and always, and politicians do not exist to serve them exclusively and indulge their unconstitutional whims, no matter what hardship the republic, or fate, has foisted upon them.


The present economic conditions make it difficult to rationalize that Adam Smith’s theory of everyone pursuing their own best interests makes everyone better. The benefits of unbridled capitalism have become a shibboleth, mostly because certain players intend to keep an unfair advantage. Capitalism will have winners and losers, and the best the government can do is make sure the playing field is fair, or as fair as can be made. But fair does not mean taking up the cause of a group and defending them to the disadvantage of others, or offering special consideration just for their votes, no matter how democracy functions. There have always been and will always be special interests. The difference between identity politics and special interests is that often identity politics attempts to correct former mistreatment and transgressions by compensating the remaining or surviving members who share that identity with exceptional treatment.


Identity politics has a hard time moving forward, and at present time, in a narcissistic pattern characteristic of American politics and, unfortunately, the American constituency of the twenty-first century, cannot see the views or interests of anyone except themselves.  This formula is failing the Democrats, and it is failing the American political system as well. The Democrats are running out of time. They can only play their sympathy card for so long, and the card is fading fast.  They were warned. Now the warning is not just a lost election, but the party itself. Keep the identity and lose your credibility. Lose the identity, become a party of the people, and maybe you’ll have a chance. This republic became a great nation because of the sacrifice its citizens were willing to make. Stop asking what your identity representative can do for you, and ask what you can do for your country.





George N Romey Added Aug 18, 2017 - 8:55am
My belief is that starting with big money and PACs into the political system in the 1980s politicians of both sides began to serve the needs of the donor class. But both sides still had to get elected thus the need for identity politics.
Ultimately the old boundaries are breaking down and the parties are desperately holding onto their old paradigm. Where this goes is anyone's guess.
Autumn Cote Added Aug 18, 2017 - 9:20am
Please note, the second best way to draw more attention to your work is to comment on the work of others. I know this to be true because if you do, I'll do everything in my power to draw more attention to your articles.
PS - There is a lot I can do and would like to do on your behalf.
Thomas Napers Added Aug 19, 2017 - 2:15am
Your article makes me happy to be a proud member of the Republican Party. As evidenced by this article the Democrats have always been about identity politics.  That’s why they were the first party to nominate a black man and a woman.  Meanwhile, the Republicans represent the party of the people.  To the extent you like low taxes and less government intrusion, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, a person of color, or a white male, the Republican Party is for you. 
I do think the Democrats could rise from their current status but it won’t be because of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.  They simply need someone young and less hostile to business to lead them. 
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 19, 2017 - 7:20am
Thank you Thomas. I am for the most part very much in favor of the government intruding as little as possible into the lives of citizens. The government rarely does a good job of managing things compared to how well individuals do.
Utpal Patel Added Aug 19, 2017 - 8:15am
The two-party system worked well before the 1960s and after the 1960s.  I know this to be true because over the years a Republican or a Democrat has occupied every seat in Congress and the Presidency for the last couple hundred years.  Furthermore, despite the inner strife and competing factions, the people are poised to continue electing Republicans and Democrats in perpetuity.  So I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you say “Beginning in the 1960s, a new form of political strategy evolved. The two-party system had worked well.” 
Leroy Added Aug 19, 2017 - 8:26am
Another excellent article, Jeff, although I might disagree with some of it.
"Hillary Clinton attempted an identity politics theme (mostly due to a lack of any other strategy, since she could not identify why she wanted to be president beyond her own selfish ambitions) that failed miserably to a political outsider with no political background, who is, now, by the way, sitting in the White House."
I do agree that Clinton played the identity politics game, but she didn't fail miserably.  She was so close to winning.  When she made her PAC with the devil, she asked for votes and the devil gave her that.  She forgot about the electoral college.  Poor strategy and over confidence caused her defeat.  Be careful what you ask for.
"Identity politics has seen its last hurrah. Not only has diversity exceeded its range, it has lost its meaning and purpose."
I hope that you are correct, but I fear otherwise.  The 2018 and 2020 elections are shaping up to be identity politics, with Pocahontas leading the show.  The days of identity politics may be numbered, but no one has told them yet.  The liberals are doubling down.  No.  I believe, hope, that 2020 will be the last hurrah.  If they win, it will be the rebirth.
You are correct.  Identity politics and special interests are two different things.  Clinton masterfully played the special interest card.  She co-oped the Wall Street special interest and cobbled it together with identity politics. She played the moderate card and the progressive card simultaneously. Who would have thought that possible?
Identity politics will only die if Trump is successful.  He can only be successful if the economy improves significantly and he solves the Korea issue.  He brought the Korea issue on himself.  Now, he must solve it.
George N Romey Added Aug 19, 2017 - 8:45am
I think we are at a crossroads. Either identity politics becomes so entrenched the 2 party system is emboldened like never before. Or by 2020 Americans are walking away from the duopoly in mass. Right now I just don't know. HRC used identity politics to the max but just assumed certain key states would go her way. 
The wildcard is an economic meltdown so chaotic and massive the Fed and Treasury can't paper over it- a very real possibility. The impact on society could quickly send society into a total crash.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 19, 2017 - 8:58am
Utpat, sorry you don't understand it. As for voting for the same parties for centuries, the Republicans have been around since 1854, and the Democrats since 1829, but when another party comes along with a good idea, the Republicans or the Democrats simply take up that position and absorb the constituents of the new party. By the way, the presidential election of 1860 had two, yes, two Democrat parties, who ran both Stephen Douglas (North) and John Breckenridge (South). I guess the Democrats would call what they did in  1860 "diversity." 
What the parties call themselves might be the same name, but the positions that they have taken have changed over the decades, as would be natural. Politics doesn't stand still.  I like to read the Democrat party's narrative of their history, where they project themselves with positions and qualities I never heard them speak anything about until they start talking about all the wonderful positions that they have taken in the past. History looks favorably upon you when you're the one writing it.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 19, 2017 - 9:08am
Leroy, I agree that if Trump turns the economy around, he'll be in for another 4 years. Korea has been simmering for a long time, and that can has been kicked down the road so many times that someone will eventually have to do something. If Trump happens to be the president when something is done, I do not see all of the blame on him, things should have been done sooner; they have only escalated over the years. The kid-glove treatment by the Obama administration  only made them think we are weak in both our resolve and power. It would be a shame if millions of North Koreans had to die because of the series of whack-job dictators who have had their foot on their throat for decades. But if millions of the brainwashed North Koreans have to die, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. The Chinese have only a logistical interest in the Koreans; they just don't want millions of them pouring over the border. The best thing would be for some Koreans to assassinate Kim Jong Un, with help from, well, whoever.
Leroy Added Aug 19, 2017 - 9:21am
Jeff, the reason I mention North Korea is that the other presidents have kicked the can down the road.  Trump, with all his bluster, has made it a front and center issue.  Now, he must solve it. 
As far as a solution, I agree.  However, I might try another approach first.  Give Kin Jong-un a chance at immortality rather than meeting his end being sodomized with a sharp instrument like Qadaffi.  Trump could nixon North Korea.  Offer him the opportunity to be the one who turned North Korea around.  All he has to do is take credit.  China and the US would do the rest.  Convince him that he would be worshipped like the god he is.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 19, 2017 - 9:36am
As Harry Truman said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit."
S.R. Morris Added Aug 20, 2017 - 3:44am
By almost any economic metric you choose, the economy has turned around.  It actually turned around in 2009 and has been moving in the right direction since then.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 20, 2017 - 4:52am
Economically, according to The Wall Street Journal, wages are not going up, despite increased demand for workers. Unemployment is still at double digits, because unemployment statistics only count people who are collecting unemployment payments. There are millions of Americans who gave up looking for work years ago, but they are not counted in the unemployment rate.  I will agree the economy has improved, but, as mentioned, unemployment is still high and wages are still not going up, at least not for the average worker.
George N Romey Added Aug 20, 2017 - 9:51am
Jeff by most real measures the real economy is in serious decline. We are worse off than in 2007. The ginned up government stats and hyped asset bubbles do no spell a recovery.
Dave Volek Added Aug 20, 2017 - 12:51pm
If we insist on being governed by political parties, then we have accept the 12 limitations the parties bring to the decision-making process.
Remember the first loyalty of any politician is the party, not the people he or she governs.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 20, 2017 - 12:58pm
As Winston Churchill said "There are two things you should never watch being made, sausage and legislation." I appreciate your observation, Dave, because, yes, without the help of the party, most politicians would be lost. And we cannot seem to get any parties that can challenge the existing parties, mostly because the Dems and the GOP will take up any position from an emerging party if tn enough voters.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 20, 2017 - 12:59pm
George, I'm with you, I think that if the economy was as good as some people are saying, I would see a lot more jobs and a lot more people that I personally know that would be working.
George N Romey Added Aug 20, 2017 - 1:04pm
Or Jeff they wouldn't be in $15 an hour jobs despite years of experience. 
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 20, 2017 - 1:46pm
Yes, George, they top out quickly. Even if you start at what would be a decent wage to begin with, the blue-collar jobs top out with no more money to be made rather quickly in terms of careers, unless they get into upper management, and getting into upper management nowadays requires a lot of education and computer skills. While they claimed computers would make much of the regular routine processing cheaper, they forgot to mention that the "regular routine processor" has to be paid $30.00 to $50.00 an hour to put together those Excel reports, pay analysis, and projection reports. They're managing things like construction where they couldn't tell a 10-penny nail from a sheetmetal screw.
George N Romey Added Aug 20, 2017 - 1:53pm
Jeff many former middle managers are now in those $15 an hour jobs taking them away from younger workers. Underemployment is worse than unemployment.
Saint George Added Aug 20, 2017 - 6:09pm
Or Jeff they wouldn't be in $15 an hour jobs despite years of experience. 
That statement makes no economic sense. Wages are not determined by years of experience. Today, someone who makes wooden wheels for horse-drawn carriages is not going to command a very high wage even if he has many years of experience. The reason? No one today wants wooden wheels for horse-drawn carriages.
The same reasoning applies, of course, to a typewriter repairman. Sorry. Today, everyone's on a laptop or tablet. A "typewriter?" What's that?
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 20, 2017 - 8:30pm
Economic sense or not, Saint, a truck driver who has been driving for 20 years, in general, makes the same as a truck driver who has been driving for 2 years.The 20 year veterans do not make considerably more, nor do roofers, carpenters, or other blue-collar jobs.
Typewriters and horse-drawn carriage wheels are obsolete, which is not a valid comparison (I used to sell typewriters) with a trade such as driving a truck, as I have just explained. A teacher, however, might, as in my school district, start at $45,000 a year, but a teacher with 20 years experience will make $65,000 a year, that's an economic fact. The same goes with engineers, lawyers, doctors, and other professions. Blue-collar workers top out quickly, and in general, do not make considerably more than entry-level workers.  Of course there are exceptions, but in general, the pay tops out and that's it unless they go into supervision.
George N Romey Added Aug 21, 2017 - 8:39am
The collapse of pay based upon experience is now within the white collar world. In fact it's often a real negative in getting a job. Most companies will hire an IT or finance professional with 5 years experience before one with 25 years experience.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 21, 2017 - 5:08pm
Yes, George, a little experience is great, a lot of experience and non one wants you. I can say I never thought careers would come to this, where you move backward, even with education and experience.
Saint George Added Aug 21, 2017 - 6:37pm
Typewriters and horse-drawn carriage wheels are obsolete, which is not a valid comparison (I used to sell typewriters) with a trade such as driving a truck, as I have just explained.
BY DEFINITION: what makes something "obsolete" is precisely the fact that there's no demand for it, and it doesn't matter why there's no demand. If there were a demand, then the wage would be ultimately determined by the number of demanders and the number of suppliers.
A teacher, however, might, as in my school district, start at $45,000 a year, but a teacher with 20 years experience will make $65,000 a year, that's an economic fact.
That changes nothing about the ultimate economic truth that a "wage" (or a "salary") is simply another name for "the price of labor". That's all it is. Your teacher example only indicates that the real economic value of teacher labor was $65K/year, and that the original bid-price of $45K/year was an underbid. That's often the case: workers are willing to work for less than their full value in order to avoid unemployment . . . their full value being realized only after a certain time period.
The same goes with engineers, lawyers, doctors, and other professions.
Blue-collar workers top out quickly, and in general, do not make considerably more than entry-level workers.
Easy to understand why. In the estimation of employers, hauling tomatoes can be done just as efficiently and expertly by a trucker with 1 year of experience as it can by a trucker with 25 years of experience, so there's little incentive for employers to bid up the wages they offer for the same outcome (i.e., tomatoes moves from point "A" to point "B"). But most people would claim with good reason that a neurosurgeon with 25 years of experience is more competent and trustworthy — especially if he has a successful track record — than a neurosurgeon with 1 year of experience. Plenty of incentive in that case to bid up the value of the more experienced surgeon's compensation.
The point is that even in the case of the professions, compensation is ultimately based on supply and demand, not on years of experience.
Katharine Otto Added Aug 21, 2017 - 9:06pm
St. George,
Aren't you just saying that the job decides the wages, not the person performing the job?  If you're doing a janitor's job, you get paid janitor's wages, even if you're trained to be a banker.  (There's probably more demand for janitors than bankers, these days.)
If wages aren't going up, does that mean the dollar is deflating?  Are all those people who are walking away from debt (mortgage, credit card, student, auto) collapsing the money supply such that the dollar may develop more buying power?  Food and energy are conveniently not included in inflation measurements, so the Fed can't seem to meet its 2% annual goal.  Is it possible people are afraid to borrow, considering how they got shafted in 2007?  We've learned it's  best not to be in debt when the economic tower tumbles (as in 9/11, at the beginning of the bust).  Wall Street's bait-and-switch tactics are getting stale.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 22, 2017 - 4:34am
Saint, it would be nice if the markets determined the pay of everyone, but that is not reality. We have compensation consultants who determine the pay of certain people, and the organizations ignore those determinations, as in some of the compensation of some of the REIT executives, or in the case of Chipotle, where 70% of the shareholders disapproved of the CEOs salary and Chipotle ignored them and paid a salary far beyond the value the CEO created. While the markets undoubtedly have influence, in many cases what people are paid is not the market value or the value that they contribute to the organization.
The incentive to pay a trucker with 25 years of experience more than a trucker with 1 year of experience is because the trucker with 25 years of experience will know how to resolve a problem if it arises, while the 1 year driver simply misses the delivery screwing up the supply chain. You aren't paying them to hold on to the steering wheel, you're paying them to know what to do if there is a problem, the same as any profession. The teacher explanation is the same. A teacher with 2 years of experience is not likely to be as effective as a teacher with 20 years experience. The "real" economic value is a factor of ability.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 22, 2017 - 4:41am
Katherine, you probably recall when interest rates went through the roof in the 1980s. The economy was in a tailspin, because when people can't borrow people can't buy, and when people can't buy, goods sit on the shelf and eventually businesses fail. When people walk away from debts such as loans, either they cannot pay or are unwilling to pay. I like the example that says when you can't pay your loan of $50k to the bank, you have a problem, when you can't pay the bank its $10 million loan, the bank has a problem.
George N Romey Added Aug 22, 2017 - 10:27am
Remember the 1980s interest rate hike was self induced by Paul Volcker to smash inflation.  While the recession was deep the country was soaring back by 1983.  Also the way in which we kept track of unemployment in the early 1980s was much more viable and a truer reflection of the problem.  What came out of that experience was that business felt they needed to be more involved in steering the business cycle.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 22, 2017 - 11:28am
Absolutely George. We have had incredibly low interest rates since 2002, and the recovery is "sluggish." As I have stated numerous times, this government will never get out of debt as long as we have a stagnant economy. They can manipulate the unemployment figures as much as they want (4% unemployment is a joke, it is closer to 14%) but the bottom line is that unless more Americans start working and making money and paying taxes, we will never recover to pay the debts we have inherited.
Saint George Added Aug 22, 2017 - 10:14pm
We have compensation consultants who determine the pay of certain people,
They don't "determine" anything. The suggest what they think someone's compensation ought to be. That's not determination. Determination is always done impersonally by supply and demand.