Conservatism is the ideology of the individual. To be a conservative, you must look at any political movement not on the basis of its effects on a particular group but rather its effects on individuals across all groups. For example, when discussing a federal minimum wage it is insufficient to merely look at the benefits of raised income to minimum wage workers; one must also consider the effect on industries who must now adapt to the increased cost of a minimum wage imposed upon them. You must also look at how an increased minimum wage affects those currently at or above the new minimum wage and consider that the policy’s effects may vary in different locations based on the local economy. A minimum wage supposes all entry level jobs and employees are of equal value and hinders a company’s discretionary ability to pay an employee based on their individual contributions. Certainly, this is a much more complex argument to make than simply saying people need a living wage and something must be done to help them.
This is why the Democrats have more success in modern media. They can capture an image of crying children on the border then attack proponents of stronger border security for the alleged actions taken on that individual. They have the inability to break down illegal immigrants into smaller groups such as asylum seekers and MS-13. (Democrats defended the gang whose motto is, “rape, control, kill” saying they had a spark of divinity.) Another example of this can be seen in the case the cover of one of Time Magazine’s June editions on the topic of family separation at the border. Leftists were not able to individually view the case of a child whose mother had run from her husband in Honduras, taking the young girl on a dangerous journey. This child was, in fact, not separated from her mother as the current border narrative suggests. When Time corrected the error, they stated the facts were wrong but it captured the narrative.
It is a beautiful fact of humanity we can see images of those in need and feel the need to help them. However, when the “do something” crowd is interested in action more than results, it is incumbent upon conservatives to ensure the outcome is in line with the intent. While this is a worthy goal, it often gets conservatives labeled as heartless because they, for example, don’t want to eliminate borders to allow all families into the country. Remember, those families are coming here to get away from something and the border is what protects us from the same fate the families are trying to escape.
Unfortunately, it appears as if the right is tiring of making these cases and is turning to group-based politics themselves. Identity politics, the belief groups based on ethnicity, religion, or race will reliably hold the same values, is modern racism – assuming you like fried chicken and watermelon because you are Black is no different than the assumption you like Maxine Waters because you’re black. Until the 2016 election, identity politics was a political strategy held only by the left. Identity politics holds that, not only can we tell what you think based on your race, but if you think differently than the group, you are no longer part of it. Enter Kanye West.
Kanye blew up the internet with his tweet, “I like the way Candace Owens thinks.” Candace Owens is a Black conservative and is arguably the current leader of conservative identity politics. Her desire is to be the leader of a Black political revolution and turn the 80% of Blacks who lean Democrat to conservative. This, it would seem, is something I could wholeheartedly get behind as that is the case made frequently on this website most notably here. However, I struggle with the idea it is necessary to turn to identity politics to accomplish this goal.
When the left uses identity politics they are saying if you are X you therefore think Y. The right’s reaction to this, it turns out, is if you are X you can only agree with someone who is X. This philosophy is what Candace Owens captures: Black people will listen to what she and all conservatives call reason because she is also Black. Perhaps it is not the notion of right identity politics that bothers me so much as the fact it is apparently necessary. There are two possible explanations I take from this. One is people are too lazy or ignorant to follow the line of logic put forth by conservatives or, more likely, we are hopelessly divided by race and identity group.
The job of a conservative is to be able to tell an individual how their policy would help him/her. It is troubling to think the logic can only be followed when it comes from someone who looks the same. There are indeed individuals from minority groups who are stalwart conservatives but the trick pulled by the left is to remove them from that minority group. Calling back to our earlier equations, if X believes Z instead of Y then X is no longer X. This gets Black conservatives labeled as Uncle Toms and coons. Rather than looking at why an individual turned from a group, they reclassify them in a group which can then be excoriated.
I truly believe in not only the power but the necessity of the individual. If we are resigned to think of ourselves as a member of a group rather than an individual, it becomes incumbent upon us to defend the group even when it’s against not only our personal interests but those of other groups as well. The case needs to be made that while a policy may not be of benefit to a group as a whole, the sum of individuals across all or many groups is enough to merit its passing. The knee-jerk reaction to help a group when we see them crying at the border may not be as beneficial as policy affecting individuals across all groups.
While I am concerned the message may now be less important than the messenger, if the right’s identity politics encourage more free thought then I am open to its use. If instead it promulgates the virtues of identity over ideas, conservatives have lost the battle and have moved to a racist tactic which does naught but drive us further apart. Do not fall prey to the identity another puts upon you, but pick the right identity for yourself and don’t let a group define you.