The results of yesterday’s midterm elections have been used to evidence the increasing importance of “identity politics” in the US. Perhaps this was because, to many of us, the most striking victories were those that emblematised wider social progress. While the Republicans hold the Senate, and white men are still set to dominate the 116th Congress, it was a day of important firsts.
Women of colour were making history across America, and their ethnic backgrounds were seen as an important part of their victories. It seemed like a seminal moment of change, as though we had entered an age in which candidates did not have to separate their cultural and national identities, but rather competed as their undivided selves; using their unique stories to galvanise voters.
Before the election, Republican candidates were lamenting the rise of identity politics. The opponent of Deb Haaland (who is now one of the first Native American women elected to Congress), Janice Arnold Jones, was asked: “Do you think there’s too much identity politics in America right now?” Her reply was predictable, but telling. “Yeah I do,” she declared, “I think it’s terrible [...]”
But, as we saw in yesterday’s chaotic press conference and its aftermath, the Trump administration are now trying to position themselves at the centre of conversations about race and gender. Having witnessed how this new wave of politics bolstered Democrat campaigns, the Republican Party is cynically trying to jump onto the bandwagon that was created in opposition to their principles.
This is why, yesterday, when Yamiche Alcindor of PBS Newshour, an African American reporter, asked the president about the Republican Party’s support for white nationalists, Trump called it “a very racist question”. He’s trying to pretend that the shoe is now on the other foot despite the fact that, in the run up to this election, he shamelessly used candidates’ ethnicities to undermine their campaigns (on Sunday, he embarked on a racist attack of Stacey Abrams, saying: “You put Stacey in there and you are going to get Georgia turn into Venezuela. Stacey Abrams wants to turn your wonderful state into a giant sanctuary city for criminal aliens, putting innocent Georgia families at the mercy of hardened criminals and predators.”)
But now that so many women and so many women of colour succeeded in winning their seats, perhaps the president is panicking that the nakedness of his own racism and sexism has injected momentum into a political movement that will secure his downfall (although Trump recently said: “I have never used a racist remark”). And this concern catalysed his preposterous performance in yesterday’s press conference, in which he tried to lay claim to a marginalised status by accusing a black reporter of being racist towards his political party.
In a similarly manipulative manner, the Trump administration is now trying to weaponise and appropriate the #MeToo movement – the very movement which many have plausibly argued contributed to the Republicans losing control of the house. By accusing CNN’s Jim Acosta of inappropriately placing his hands on the young female intern trying to take his microphone, the Republicans are attempting to harness the power of the incendiary, identity politics that originally developed as a reaction to their principles.
It’s not coincidental that these utterly unfounded accusations of racism and assault come in the immediate wake of yesterday’s midterms. Trump and his party are now trying to reposition themselves as the only people who don’t care about skin colour and do care about women, in the hope that they will somehow be able to ride the wave made in opposition to the inequality that they work to uphold.
But the new Democratic congresswomen of colour are one step ahead. They’re creating an ideology out of the wreckage of Trumpian racism and misogyny. They’re taking lemons and making lemonade.
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