Reflections on the book, Identity Crisis
Working every day for an organization that promotes ideological conservatism, and therefore being hyper aware of that particular frame, one of the more interesting facts about the 2016 Republican primary (to me) is that the winner of that contest was by far the least conservative of the group.
The winner of the Republican primary ran against almost every single position of the Republican platform. It was always a bit head scratching to me when “Republicans” would accuse me of being a socialist for quoting Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse, or George Will’s complaints against the candidate’s anti-conservative policy positions which were in stark contrast to the party’s platform.
Many commentators have pointed this out and observed that when it comes to actual Republican voters, unlike the elite punditry class, only a small fraction are ideological conservatives.
So when the candidate said the most important job of the federal government was to provide public education and health care, when he promised to raise taxes on the wealthy, when he could not be distinguished from leftist progressives on free trade policies and big government spending on infrastructure, when he ran against his party on entitlement reform, when he blamed his party for its foreign policy orthodoxy, “conservatives” were shocked and outraged – but it turns out that Republican voters and “conservatives” were two very distinct groups who held surprisingly different views.
This book is full of data. Tons and tons of data. There are more graphs in this book than I can count. Enough findings to shake your understanding of politics. Very revealing. If you want to get beyond punditry, empirical data has some lessons to teach.
The core message of this book is that policy is downstream from identity.
Who are you? The way you answer that question has very important implications for political science. In other words, in order to really understand political science, you must first understand social science.
On that note, I will share one data point from the research:
According to Pew research, in 2007 whites were just as likely to identify as Democrat as Republican, with 44% on each side. After the 2008 election this began to change dramatically as whites began pouring into the Republican party. By 2010 the number of whites self identifying with the Republican party had already increased by 12%. The trend continued and by 2016 the number had increased to 16%. These are huge numbers. A very big and important shift was happening here.
The candidate may not have been conservative and may not have agreed with very many Republican ideas, but he did represent and connect with something very real and that something had a lot to do with a certain identity, and as it turns out, as we are all learning lately, identity can be more powerful than policy.
It is pretty to think that politics can be viewed as a high minded clash of ideas. This is the view of the professional punditry class. It is the view I had adopted from as early as high school, reading Cicero. But there is a more down to earth, vulgar view of politics as a clash of identities. The last 10 years have been a wake up call for many, myself included.