“FAVORED GROUPS,” IDENTITY POLITICS, AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE
Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic
“FAVORED GROUPS,” IDENTITY POLITICS, AND
THE IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE
by Stephen M. Krason
The Treyvon Martin case in Florida illustrates disturbing realities about the identity politics that have been deeply engrained in American life since the 1970s. Once word got out about Martin’s shooting, the response of all too many was that it was racially motivated. There was not much interest in the facts; a white man had killed a black man, so it must be racism and the gauntlet must come down on the perpetrator of racism. Although we don’t know what facts the trial will bring out or what the final disposition of the case will be, this initial rush to judgment—led by such supposed spokesmen of civil rights as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and joined in even by the White House—indicates the extent to which the concern for truth and fairness has given way to the perceptions generated by identity politics. Or perhaps it is more correct to say the imperatives of identity politics, since so many see racial or gender or religious or sexual or ideological reasons behind so many actions. As Dennis Prager recently wrote, this view is widely held by the left—which is to say, the opinion-making strata in America today—but on racial matters the black community also has largely bought into it.
Other commentators have spoken for some time about the new “favored groups” spawned by identity politics. William A. Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has said that for America’s elites the “segments of our society who are the good guys include liberals, homosexuals, non-whites (especially African-Americans), Jews, Muslims, women, atheists, celebrities and left-wing activists,” while the “bad guys” are “conservatives, homosexuals, whites, Christians (especially Catholics and Evangelicals), men, and those who work in business.” Those who have the “wrong” views—even if “right” in gender or race—default to the “bad guy” side, however (e.g. conservative women). Even though many of these favored groups have benefited from affirmative action (blacks and women), gained high positions in various facets of American life (women), are wealthier than the norm (homosexuals), or get special judicial protection for their sensitivities even though it has trampled on the sentiments of a majority (evangelical atheists and secularists in establishment clause rulings), they still believe that they are the victims of maltreatment and even repression. Even the achievement of electing America’s “first black president”—actually, of course, Obama is multi-racial, with sub-Saharan African, Caucasian, and American Indian heritage—has done nothing to still racial resentment.
Perhaps most disturbing about all this is the effect it seems to be having on the rule of law, part of the backbone of a democratic republic. In the Treyvon Martin case, there seems to be a challenge to the rule of law on many points: that law should be applied equally irrespective of persons, that a person is not supposed to be charged with a crime nor the wheels of justice start turning until there is probable cause and a sufficiency of evidence, and that well-established principles instead of the pressures of a mob are supposed to shape law enforcement and prosecutorial decisions. One cannot help but to wonder about official actions that charged Zimmerman—with a unexpectedly serious charge, under the circumstances, of second-degree murder, no less—a month after authorities thought he had committed no crime and only when facing fear of racial unrest breaking out. This sounds suspiciously like utilitarianism: “it is good that one man should be sacrificed for the people.” We also hear now that the U.S. Department of Justice has started a civil rights investigation. Is it prepared to jump in with criminal civil rights charges if the state jury exonerates Zimmerman? While not technically so, for all practical purposes that would be double jeopardy.
There is little doubt that this case has gained the notoriety it has because of the respective races of Martin and Zimmerman. As some commentators have noted, it is very unlikely to have garnered much media attention at all if the races of the two persons had been reversed. Some questions have been raised about whether the Obama Justice Department is reluctant to pursue civil rights actions when Caucasians have been the alleged victims.
If the rule of law is being compromised by the left’s identity politics and if certain groups are being favored and elevated above others, arbitrariness reigns. That means that justice and true morality are the casualties, and tyranny cannot help but to advance.
The Church, of course, has condemned racism and stressed that ethnic and racial minorities should not face unjust discrimination, must be accorded equal legal and political rights and access to economic, social, and cultural life, and have their particular contributions recognized (Nostra Aetate #5, Octogesima Adveniens #16, Pacem in Terris #96). She has also insisted that while the value of ethnic diversity is to be respected, it must not obscure the fact of the commonality of men (Mater et Magistra #181). Also, minorities must not exalt themselves and their culture (Pacem in Terris #97), and one group should not make progress at the expense of others (Populorum Progressio #44). Those who believe group identity to be the central consideration (the group as the measure of all things), unreasonably extol certain groups and excuse their waywardness and denigrate other groups, and replace a sense of common personhood with “tribalism” are obviously at war with these Church teachings. They are also opening the door to serious social conflict and, worse, a throwback to the brutality of the ancient world grounded in the belief that other peoples were somehow less than human. The relativistic left does not seem to realize that human rights depend on universal brotherhood grounded in sound morality—and have been advanced furthest by Christianity.
Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Co-Founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. His new book, The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic, is due to appear in June 2012.