Earlier this month a senator from South Carolina was called a “traitor” and told he “doesn’t have a shred of honor” because he voted to confirm Alabama’s Jeff Sessions as our nation’s attorney general.
A few days later a young singer from California received death threats after she wore a gown to the Grammys emblazoned with the campaign slogan of our current president.
Then a journalist in New York City was called a “monster” by his best friend after writing a rather balanced profile of political provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and was then called a “Nazi” in a local bar after admitting he supported stronger borders.
What was their great transgression? It wasn’t so much what they said or did, but who they are.
The senator is Tim Scott – a black man.
The singer is Joy Villa – a black woman.
And the journalist, Chadwick Moore, is a gay man who recently told NPR that he and others are “part of a brand new conservative” taking shape across the country.
“We were born in the Democratic party,” Moore explained. “Somebody set our house on fire, we went running out, and the right has been so welcoming to people like me and there’s so many of us.”
Yet, as Moore learned, his old pals on the left reserve a special sort of vitriol for those who dare to step outside of their neatly designed box of identity politics. If you’re a member of some type of minority – race, religion, sexual preference, etc. – it doesn’t matter if you happen to believe in things like limited government or the sanctity of unborn life. You owe unwavering political allegiance to the left because of who you are.
After being on the receiving end of liberal contempt, which included a petition by fellow journalists condemning his article on Yiannopoulos, Moore had an awakening.
“I realized that, for the first time in my adult life, I was outside of the liberal bubble and looking in,” Moore wrote in an article titled ‘I’m a gay New Yorker – and I’m coming out as a conservative’ in the New York Post. “What I saw was ugly, lock step, incurious and mean-spirited.”
It’s a typical response to a political apostate. But somewhere hidden behind all that viciousness is probably a heartfelt, reasonable, and serious philosophical question: How can you possibly be a conservative … since you’re black, or poor, or gay, or an atheist, or whatever else?
But that question mistakenly presumes that one part of our lives – even rather large parts – can, and perhaps should, become the prime movers of our minds to the detriment of all other parts that may, when taken together, form the majority of a person’s belief system.
Moreover, when we only focus on one characteristic of a person – like the color of their skin (which is possibly the least informative characteristic of all) – we will never truly know them, much less what they believe.
Those on the left are overpoweringly distracted by these largely meaningless “identity” distinctions, but not exclusively. We conservatives can fall into that trap, too.
“Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics,” wrote Paul Taylor in an analysis of a Pew Research Center survey of political trends. “The result has been a rise in identity-based animus of one party toward the other that extends far beyond the issues. It’s as if they belong not to rival parties but alien tribes.”
We’re not born into alien tribes, however, and people like Chadwhick Moore do indeed change their minds. So what force initially, or eventually, draws people to the political left or the right?
Is it the color of their skin, their sexual preference, where they’re from, or how much money they earn?
Or is it their understanding of human nature, their beliefs in what makes for a healthy or prosperous society, and their ideas about how best to secure freedom for themselves and their children?
For people like Tim Scott, Joy Villa, and Chadwick Moore, the answer is the latter. Their courage serves as a strong reminder that this is, or should be, all about ideas and not simply identities.