Democrats’ Interest in Intersectionality Is a Political Dead End

Democrats gathered in small town West Virginia—a state President Trump won by 40 points—to learn how to talk to “real people.” The day’s agenda included a “discussion with Trump voters” moderated by Sen. Joe Minchin and “speaking to this who feel invisible in rural America” led by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. Other sessions included: “Listening to this who feel unheard” and “Rising America – They feel unheard too.”

In normal circumstances Americans could take comfort in knowing that Democrats are trying to talk to people whom they now admit feel “invisible” and “unheard,” but these are not normal circumstances. Instead, it’s nothing but political sleight of hand. Democrats have ten senators who are up for reelection next year in states Trump won. So even as they coalesce around a progressive agenda that resonates in their coastal enclaves, they’re looking for methods of communicating it with rural voters. In short, the product isn’t changing, just the packaging.

That disconnect could be seen at the DNC Candidates Forum in Washington, D.C. – an event that seemed to exist in a different political universe than the “real people” of rural West Virginia. The event kicked off with a slam poet—Raul Herrera—who, the audience was told had “powerful words to say about the power of words.” And the word of the day appeared to be “intersectionality.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, well, brace yourselves, because it appears to be the animating agent of today’s Democrats. Gone are the days of simple “identity politics,” which attempted to tap into the perceived collective interests of certain social groups in an attempt to cobble together a winning constituency. As a political strategy it proved enormously unsuccessful in no small part because it was focused on dividing rather than uniting Americans.

Many Democrats sensed the inherent flaws of their approach. After all, it had led them to some of their worst electoral outcomes in generations. But instead of engaging in an honest reassessment of their approach, they party appears ready to throw its weight behind a strategy of intersectionality. The idea is best understood as an examination of how social identities such as race, sexual orientation, and gender, intersect and exacerbate systems of oppression and discrimination. It attempts to subvert social hierarchies by identifying how elements of privilege synergistically work together (straight, able-bodied, white, men) and then empowering those who don’t fall into those categories.

It’s identity politics with additional variables.

Damon Linker, writing for The Week, explains just how damaging this approach can be:

It should be obvious that this brand of politics is profoundly poisonous. Instead of seeking to level an unjust hierarchy, mitigate its worst abuses, and foster cross-group solidarity, intersectionality merely flips the hierarchy on its head, placing the least privileged in the most powerful position and requiring everyone else to clamor for relative advantage in the new upside-down ranking. Those who come out on top in the struggle win their own counter-status, earning the special privilege of getting to demand that those lower in the pecking order “check their privilege.”

This is a sure-fire spur to division, dissension, and resentment.

Successful politics, especially in a nation with a winner-take-all electoral system, requires building bridges with as many people as possible to win as many votes as possible. But intersectionality moves in the diametrically opposite direction, breaking the electorate apart into ever-smaller groups and pitting them against each other in a competition to determine which of them suffers most pervasively from systemic discrimination, and so also which has the right to demand deference and expressions of repentance from everyone else.

This balkanizing approach to politics was on display at the recent “Women’s March.” Most demonstrably, in spite of the inclusive name of the march, pro-life women were explicitly told they were not welcome. The march’s organizers even went so far as to revoke the partnership of a group called “New Wave Feminists” because of their pro-life values.

Behind the scenes even more tensions brewed. The New York Times reported that many would-be marchers came to “feel they [were] no longer welcome” because they were white. The march morphed from highlighting issues that unite women, to examining the things the divide them.

It sounds like before Democrats spend too much time learning about how to talk to “real people,” they ought to learn how to talk cordially amongst themselves.