Identity Politics is Killing Off Healthy Debate

By Rachel Sylvester

The bitter row over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice in the US is symptomatic of a wider trend on both sides of the Atlantic.

Politics is about whose side you are on rather than what you believe.

The liberal protests against his confirmation following allegations of sexual assault were mirrored by a surge of support for the Republicans among conservative voters ahead of the midterm elections, in what Donald Trump’s allies are already calling the Brett bounce.

From Trump to Brexit, Scottish independence to climate change, politics is increasingly polarised along identity rather than partisan lines. Margaret Thatcher used to talk of cabinet ministers approvingly as “one of us” and now social media divides everyone into tribes.

Virtue-signalling to friends is combined with vicious denunciations of enemies.

The language of “mutineers” and “saboteurs” on the right is matched by attacks on “traitors” and “melts” on the left. MPs who refuse to conform face deselection or even death threats.

There is a lack of civility that derives from the fact that people are playing the man (or woman) and not the ball.

If politics is no longer about persuasion but personal identity, then it is much harder for anyone to change their mind.

But a liberal democracy depends on rational debate rather than emotional allegiance.

It is based on constantly questioning, challenging and testing ideas.

The “will of the people” should be an expression of these freedoms, not an excuse to divide and rule.

This is the conclusion of the piece by Rachel Sylvester published in the London Times on October 9, 2018.

For the full piece, see the following:

She makes a number of key points throughout her piece, and notably, raises the question of the role of the universities in promoting the legitimacy of identity politics and the decline of genuine debate.

As politics turns into a culture war, universities are finding themselves on the front line, under fire from left and right…. 

Instead of encouraging diversity of thought, the education system seems to be narrowing the scope of acceptable opinions. At the Tory conference in Birmingham last week, a secondary school teacher told a fringe meeting that she did not dare to admit she was a Conservative at work because the staffroom had become a “socialist convention”.

One minister says: “Left-wing identity politics has provoked right-wing identity politics. There’s an unhealthy situation where both sides feel that people can only speak from the silos into which they’ve been put in the culture war. It’s about facts rather than emotion and it’s narrowing the scope within which you can have a proper free exchange of ideas.”