If we want a more just society, weneed a successful political movement towards those aims. This means that, morally,we should use the most effective approaches to, and techniques of, persuasion,unless there is some other morally compelling reason not to use them. Whichmeans we must consider how toapproach the questions of identity.Lilla argues that the only possiblesuccessful approach is to appeal to core aspects of what he sees as thefundamental American identity (Lilla). Franke (Franke) argues that to dothis is to effectively legitimize white supremacy.
Alcott makes a number ofpoints about assumptions about identity that are almost never made explicitwhich nonetheless color all our discussions about it (Alcott). They lead logically to the conclusion that no workable progressive politicscan deliberately avoid using identity, but they are unhelpful for formulating aconcrete program. The suggestionsthat follow are necessarily speculative and tentative. The first is thatidentity is pervasive and unavoidable. The first political task for theprogressive, then, is “at least do no harm to identities.” This means affirmingthem and ensuring that they are not the basis of discrimination or claims orsuperiority. This will have particular resonance with claims to a “right” ofdiscrimination that will inevitably flow from claims of “religious freedom.
” Asquestions asked by the justices in a recent oral argument pointed out, if”public accommodations” laws have to yield to religiously based claims to allowdiscrimination against gays, what is to block claims of religious freedom topermit discrimination against blacks? The Supreme Court faced exactly thisissue in the Piggie Park case andflatly said that claims of religious freedom could never be used to deny rightsto blacks. It will be interesting to see what flows from the Masterpiece Cake Shop case. The “no harm”requirement means, not that identities be excluded from politics, but avoidanceof any objective threat to identity in a political program. This is a verynarrow road to follow but it is possible not to threaten identities whilestanding staunchly against practices, such as discrimination, which some ofthose identities demand. Second, aneffective progressive politics needs to rest primarily on economic issues.
These were, after all, the basis of Trump’s appeal to the white working class.It is indeed true that globalization has stripped some industries out ofAmerica, and it is true that automaton and artificial intelligence threatens upto 8000 million jobs worldwide, as a report from McKinsey and Company recentlyestimated. It is true that the American health care system is a machine forgenerating personal bankruptcies, and both the successes and failures of theAffordable Care Act (ACA, “Obamacare”) show us that much more work is needed tocreate a fair and equitable system for delivering health care. It is alsoimperative for progressives to begin the preliminary work needed to prepare forthe mass disruptions of labor that will accompany the continued growth ofautomation, and particularly of artificial intelligence. The former has so far disruptedonly manufacturing, although it is beginning to penetrate the serviceindustries. The latter promises to eliminate many white-collar jobs, many ofwhich, such as law and accounting seemed safe just a few years ago.
Evenmedicine is likely to be impacted. A minimal program to deal with this wouldinvolve guarantees for relocation and retraining. A larger program wouldinvolve the first steps towards a basic income guarantee (BIG). The selling pointsfor these programs needs to go beyond economics. They need to be sold as minimal guarantees of, growing from recognitionof, the fundamental human dignity of everyone in a society. This does notrequire confining identity to the sphere of private life, which Alcott arguesis a principle of neoliberalism.
It does require, for the moment, puttinguniversal economic concerns first.The most significantobjection that can be raised to this is that a focus on economic issues willde-emphasize identity issues that are a major motivator for some parts of theprogressive coalition. That is a danger that can be assessed only in practice.In sum, identity is unavoidable.
Pragmatic politics must take it into account;it is core part of our being humans in a specific society at a specific time.