The Inescapability of Identity Politics

Or: The Right’s Identity Crisis

When most conservatives consider identity politics they think of it as a creature of the Left and with good reason. The term “identity politics” was first used by self-proclaimed “Black feminists and Lesbians” in the 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement. The primary authors, Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith believed that “racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” formed an interlocking system that “Black feminists” were well positioned to oppose.

In their minds, black liberation and feminist movements stood against certain kinds of oppression while reinforcing others. Though the Statement authors were socialists they did not believe socialism itself was capable of destroying “capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy.” Therefore, their revolutionary task was to work within various identity-based movements on the Left to finally accomplish an ultimate liberation from white Christian males and the system they created to benefit themselves.

Essentially, the Left’s identity politics acknowledged the myriad of ways a dominant majority suppressed victim minority groups. It also sought to mobilize these victim groups into an alliance capable of competing against the majority. We can see the effectiveness of this strategy over the past two decades as Left-wing institutions concentrated their resources on different issues from same-sex marriage to firearm restrictions. Their coordination represents an unofficial political spoils system where resources are routed to various causes in exchange for participation in other progressive efforts. Activists for racial justice are expected to support feminists who are in turn expected to support LGBT+ causes, etc. As momentum begins to fade with one cause, another is brought to the forefront. This works well politically not just because it maintains constant pressure on the Right, but also because it weaponizes a communal aspect of human nature that modern conservatives, broadly speaking, refuse to acknowledge.

It is inescapably true that people will think of themselves in particular ways based on where they live, what they enjoy, who they associate with, and other factors. Some identity markers are superficial, such as membership in a bowling league. But others are deep enough to cause feuds, wars, and political movements when threatened. The Left knows this and uses such differences as a means to gain political power in their cosmic quest for universal justice. In contrast, the Right’s political messaging and goals are reversed.

The Right’s Identity Crisis

Political conservative’s messaging focuses on universal ideas and individual self-interest even though they are invested in the goal of preserving a particular way of life. In reviewing more than 1,000 political ads before the 2022 mid-term elections, The Washington Post found that Democrats highlighted concerns specific to particular groups such as abortion, Medicare, and special interests while Republicans focused on issues that impacted everyone like taxation, inflation, and crime.

Donald Trump is an exception in that he is the first major Republican in recent memory to overtly court the support of working-class whites, Christians, and other groups by appealing to their particular interests. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton identified half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorable” and “irredeemable” for being “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamophobic” Trump took credit for them, defended them, and attacked Clinton. He said: “People who warn about radical Islamic terrorism are not Islamophobes. They’re not. They’re decent American citizens who want to uphold our tolerant values and keep our country safe.” Trump’s willingness to defend ordinary Americans attracted the support of disaffected rust belt voters. Compare this to Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s reaction when Vice-President Joe Biden said Republicans would put people “back in chains” in 2012. Instead of defending the voters in his party, Romney lamented how Biden’s “reckless accusations . . . disgrace[d] the office of the presidency.”

Romney’s way of framing the problem in terms acceptable to everyone, including Democrats, is still standard Republican procedure and it seems to assume we still live in time of relative homogeneity like we did half a century ago. During the Cold War, Anglo-Protestantism still dominated culture, people expected immigrants to assimilate, and the threat imposed by another superpower united all citizens against a common foe. All Americans stood for freedom against totalitarianism and made it a priority in the voting booth. This broad understanding of what appeals to Americans still permeates much discourse on the Right. Republicans commonly campaign to restore what they believe is the country’s default setting against the identity politics that threaten this unity. Conservatives who lived through the Cold War knew that Soviet forces had infiltrated previous movements on the Left, such as the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements, in order to exploit social weaknesses and turn Americans against themselves. This understandably made conservatives suspicious of social movements that separated groups of people from the mainstream and promoted ingroup preferences among them.

John Wayne’s 1972 recitation of a poem called “The Hyphen” characterizes this sentiment well.

We all came from other places,

Different creeds and different races,

To form a nation. To become as one.

Yet look at the harm a line has done.

Wayne explained that when people call themselves things like “Afro-American” or “Irish-American” that they were actually “a divided American,” much in the same way that Teddy Roosevelt called for un-hyphenated Americanism. The poem concluded by championing American freedom and equality which “can span all the differences of man.” He warned that hyphenated divisions would ultimately destroy America by turning it into something resembling Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia if left unchecked. Wayne’s concern was shared by much of the Right’s intelligentsia who rooted the source of American homogeneity in a commonly shared commitment to the individual and related political “principles.” Frank Meyer said, “all value resides in the individual; all social institutions derive their value and, in fact, their very being from individuals and are justified only to the extent that they serve the needs of individuals.”1

Thinkers like William F. Buckley, George Will, and F.A. Hayek made similar statements.1 In theory, this universal thinking set a low bar that allowed Republicans to attract a more diverse group of people to their movement. Unfortunately, it simultaneously weakened the Right’s social vision and diluted the interests of traditional Americans who made up its base of support.

As wealth creation became more important than regional distinctions and foreign intervention a greater concern than domestic cultural rot, some voters suspected that behind the individual freedom message was a commitment to corporatism and globalism. Even when the religious Right campaigned for Christian sexual ethics they increasingly watered down their Christian character with broad terms like “Judeo-Christian,” “family values,” and “people of faith.” Advocating on behalf of a religious or cultural group was something the Left did, but conservative politicians felt they were not supposed to. One of the things that separated them from the Left was the fact that their message still applied to every American. Some political conservatives took pride in this fact, but others charted a different path.

During the Republican National Convention in 1992, presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan delivered his “Culture War” speech. Though he highlighted general themes such as job creation and foreign policy successes, he also took aim at homosexuality and pornography normalization, abortion policy, “radical feminism,” religious discrimination, and environmentalism. In a famous line, Buchanan proclaimed:

“This election is about more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe, and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.”

Buchanan spoke the language of particular identity later channeled in part by Donald Trump. Like Buchanan, Trump also acknowledged the cultural differences between two groups of Americans and championed one vision over the other. He prioritized citizens over asylum seekers, jobs for families over corporations, and American interests over “defending democracy” around the world. Trump supporters called this philosophy “America First” and Americans who stood in the way of it were enemies, not because they disagreed with abstract notions of freedom but because they lacked national loyalty. After years of Republicans emphasizing what they believed were American ideals, universal to all peoples, Trump emphasized the American people themselves and sought to protect their identity.

Though his record on the sexual revolution is mixed, Trump’s instinctual resistance to its latest innovations is also based on identity. Not long ago, he chastised Biden for recognizing Transgender Visibility Day when it fell on Easter because it disrespected Christians. He then declared November 5th, the day he expected to win the Presidency, to be “Christian Visibility Day.”

Leftists in the institutional media accused Trump of divisiveness. One op-ed implied he was bigoted by allegedly signaling to white Christians and diminishing the plight of people who considered themselves Transgender.

Ultimately however, it is the fact that Donald Trump considers the United States to be culturally Christian that offends liberal sensibilities. In the Leftist framework, identity politics are justified because they represent alleged victim groups in a crusade for equality. Yet, when people like Patrick Buchanan or Donald Trump signal support for particular groups the media portrays them as bigots since their policies benefit the white working class, middle America, and evangelical Christians who are allegedly oppressors by definition. This is how the Left can treat identities on their side as candidates for universal celebration and protection while rejecting similar treatment for identity groups opposed to them.

This is why even standard Republicans who use universal messaging and avoid signaling support for particular groups cannot escape charges of bigotry from the Left and are hardly competitive among cultural minorities. Democrats offer what appear to be an array of specific benefits preferable to the broad Republican message intended for everyone. Thus, the people who by default support even the most lackluster Republican campaigns are the same ones who stand to lose in the Left’s culture siege. They behave as groups even if their groups are not acknowledged. The media then smears Republicans anyway for dog-whistling for the support of alleged majority oppressors like white people, men, and Christians. It turns out that avoiding identity politics is still a decision to attract certain identities.

If there is a lesson to be learned from America First politics, it is that thinking in terms of identity is both unavoidable and perhaps necessary to break the Left’s stranglehold on framing who is and who is not a victim. Acknowledging and rewarding vilified or forgotten demographics can motivate them and may even expand one’s base of support.

Leading up to the 2024 election, institutional media noticed through polling data that Trump expanded his support among black and Hispanic voters. Perhaps this is attributable to his message which both acknowledged them and promised to help their families against crime and joblessness. This is something the Democrats have repeatedly failed to remedy. It is reasonable to think that if Trump could make good on his promise to help working class white people why not other groups as well? This is something other Republicans could capitalize on, but many are afraid to identify with people the Left considers “deplorable.” However, the fact is, in a certain sense identity politics is unavoidable even for Republicans who see America as a universal idea.

Politics by nature includes an “us vs. them” element. When Hillary Clinton in 2016 chastised Donald Trump for dividing America along an “us vs. them” battle line, she herself employed the same binary thinking she accused Trump of harboring. Clinton’s actual point was that there are those who do not want division (i.e. us) and there are those who do want division (i.e. them). Both their strategies recognized division.

Political theorist George Hawley, in his book Conservatism in a Divided America, observed that “tribalism, in one form or another, seems to be an inescapable element of democratic politics” and “at some point . . . one must work with human nature as it is.”

Despite the influence of neutralist classical liberal thinking, mainstream conservatives engage in partisanship. They also appear to defend more traditional gender roles and advocate for natives over foreigners. Some have started to mimic the Left by enacting broad hate speech laws against antisemitism in deep red states. All of these messages advocate for certain exclusive identities: Republicans, women, citizens, and Jewish people. If Republicans were honest with themselves, they have never exclusively advocated for rootless American individuals.

Defeating the Left’s Identity Politics

It is time for the modern political Right and its evangelical base to reject the fear and ideology that keep it from stating the obvious. The Left’s “identity politics” are at war with both the natural order and our traditional American heritage. Conservatives object to this vision because they wish to preserve ways of life unique to their Western Christian cultures. This may vary based on region, but overall the United States, as political theorist Barry Shain put it, is based on “British institutional development and Reformed Protestantism.”  The Left rejects these features and uses identity politics to expunge and dilute them. They accomplish this in two ways.

First, they socially construct group identities whose sole purpose is to mimic and replace actual institutions like the nation, the church, marriage, and the family. The Left is able to advance the interests of unassimilated peoples at taxpayers’ expense using the proposition nation which erodes the distinction between native and foreigner. They grant the same public access and privileges to Satanism that Christianity enjoys. They allow mothers to abort their children apart from the father’s input and children to have gender reassignment surgeries apart from the parents.

They treat homosexual couples and sexually deviant living arrangements as if they are marriage and family units. Ultimately, they justify the wicked and condemn the righteous for resisting their evil (Proverbs 17:15).

Second, the Left foments and capitalizes on resentment to persuade racial and religious minority groups to think of themselves in political opposition to the majority. In recent years, through campaigns to stop “Islamophobia” and “Asian Hate,” as well as the very successful “Black Lives Matter” movement, political progressives have fundamentally changed policy and damaged the reputations of Christians and white people. Whatever their intentions and legitimate historical grievances, the Left ultimately gives a false impression about their enemies and functions as a malicious witness (Exodus 23:1).

To say the Left’s identity politics are an exercise in evil and slander may be controversial but it is necessary to face reality. There is no way to compromise with people bent on using a tool designed to destroy one’s way of life. It is an attack on America’s civilizational foundation. The New Testament teaches Christians to prioritize family members, other believers, and fellow countryman over other groups. Yet it is this ordering the left seeks to undermine for traditional Americans and so far it has worked (1Timothy 5:8, Galatians 6:10, Matthew 10:6, 15:26, Romans 9:3).

Some evangelicals are concerned if they advocate for themselves as Christians, seeking the benefits a political society can afford them and working to identify that political society as Christian they are engaging in a right-wing version of identity politics, opening the door for white supremacy, or rejecting the “sojourner identity” Christians are supposed to have in the world.3

Most of these objections are easily dispelled by making simple distinctions though. It would be inaccurate to say that Christians who advance interests from a uniquely Christian tradition, instead of universal values, are simply parroting a right-wing version of the Left’s identity politics where only the names have been changed. As previously discussed, the Left’s identity politics is designed to destroy and replace Western Christian hegemony, which is really just traditional American culture. Some versions of it also assume that certain identities produce uniquely valid truth claims based upon their social standpoint. Christians obviously oppose these features since they believe truth is objective, slander is evil, and natural ordering should be protected. But the idea that social groups exist and possess certain interests, like avoiding persecution for example, is woven into the fabric of reality. At the very least, Christians should work toward propagating the identities God established through creation and custom while rejecting ones that threaten them.

The fear that if Christians can justify their collective action for a government that favors Christianity, white supremacists will seek to establish an exclusively white ethnostate, reflects a number of misunderstandings. The major one is probably thinking that liberal democracies somehow prevent the kind of identity-based politics that led to the German Nationalism of the 1930s. We have already discussed how the Left unabashedly uses identity politics and the Right, while believing it does not, also appeals to identity groups. Whether Christians seek political power as Christians does nothing to change this dynamic.

Furthermore, the nature of the United States reduces the possibility of an ideologically white ethnostate from forming. The country has always included ethnic minorities with an Anglo-Protestant core reflected in its major customs, laws, lineage, and religion. Subcultures who do not want to maintain certain Anglo-Protestant traditions, such as Jewish immigrants or Amish communities, generally gain levels of regional autonomy. Though there have been times Americans favored European immigration over other continents, this never led to exclusively white residents or citizens.

If a white ethnostate ever did begin to form, it would likely be due to the Left’s constant attacks on white people which make them believe their destinies are bound together in the face of a common enemy. Even then, this shared fate would likely not be enough to overcome the vast differences between people who think of themselves more by region and place of origin than they do an abstract “white” identity. If nations are extensions of families as the Bible teaches, the diverse array of Americans classified as white would make up multiple nations.4

Either way, such a development could not be attributed to Christians simply advocating for themselves. Those who think that Christians forsake their sojourner identity when they invest in political affairs as believers see a conflict where none should exist. Christians can still believe heaven is their final destination when involving themselves in the temporal world. If they can invest in making their families, churches, and businesses more Christian, there is no reason to believe they cannot do the same with their government.

American Christians and political conservatives should unashamedly use political power to advocate for identities that are part of God’s good order and discourage identities that are not. In the United States, it is still taboo for pedophiles, gangsters, and human traffickers to seek political representation even though they are at a social disadvantage. Many of the Left’s innovative grievance groups should be viewed this way. They are simply organizations of people who share a common enthusiasm for perversion. Instead, people should think of themselves in terms of who God made them, where He placed them, and what social groups they belong to with legitimate political interests. In scripture we find positive examples of people advocating politically for themselves, their region, their religion, their family, and their nation.

Protecting justice, upholding righteousness, and securing peace for one’s own is part of loving neighbor. This is why it is good to for American public policy to outlaw abortion, restrict pornography, protect the border, privilege Christian civic rituals, allow gun ownership, and punish crime to name just a few current issues. Objectives and priorities may change based on circumstance, but God’s ordering and His moral law do not. Scripture also teaches that God expects civil magistrates to treat people in their jurisdiction with equality before the law. They are even judged by God based on how they treat or mistreat their most vulnerable subjects (Proverbs 29:14; Daniel 4:27).

This means that people do possess God-given rights based upon God-given responsibilities. Unlike the Left’s identity politics, which have no moral reason to prevent the violation of someone’s rights, Right-leaning Christians are not free to reward a social group by taking fundamental God-given rights away from another group. Part of our Anglo-Protestant inheritance is a system of law designed to protect “life and liberty,” by which Sir William Blackstone meant the ability to fulfill “natural duties” like worship God and raise children.5


While the term “identity politics” belongs to the Left with all its baggage, separating identity from politics is ultimately impossible because of human nature. People want groups to belong to. In a healthy society, national, regional, familial, and spiritual identities help fulfill this longing. But, during a time of social breakdown, ideologies, frivolous activities, and novel identities fill the void. This is why we have “furries,” “bronies,” and even “Trekkies.” It is one reason why so many social justice warriors and “cat moms” are single women. It is why many young urban men join gangs and why white middle class men, without support networks, commit suicide. Reversing this trend will not be easy, but it is possible. Richard Weaver wrote in his 1963 essay Two Types of American Individualism, that for two millennia the West possessed a certain kind of individualism wholly different than the kind bandied about by modern liberals and libertarians. He called this notion “social bond individualism.” Both Christians and political conservatives must reject the temptation to battle identity politics by adopting the revolutionary anarchic individualism of today which subverts society by showing indifference “for all that civilization . . . has painfully created.”

Instead, they should get involved in their local communities once again. We can do things like join civic organizations, participate in government, produce local art, shop at farm-markets, and get to know our neighbors. Activities like these will help establish a place of belonging, form a local identity, and secure a natural hierarchy. This is infinitely more important and more fulfilling than sitting on the sofa perusing social media or watching television for hours. It is hard to love one’s neighbor if one does not participate in life with them. This is how we defeat identity politics by replacing it with the truth.

Image: The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, François Dubois (1572).

Show 5 footnotes
  1. George Hawley, Conservatism in a Divided America: The Right and Identity Politics (University of Notre Dame Pess, 2022), 62-69.
  2. George Hawley, Conservatism in a Divided America: The Right and Identity Politics (University of Notre Dame Pess, 2022), 62-69.
  3. Alan Atchison, “Christian Nationalism Is a Threat to National Security,” Capstone Report (blog), May 22, 2023,; Carl Trueman, “Identity Politics on the Right,” First Things, December 8, 2022,; Jesse Johnson, “Coveting Caesar’s Throne: Navigating Christian Nationalism in an Election Year” (Shepherd’s Conference, Grace Community Church, March 28, 2024), 47:20,
  4. Gen. 12:3, Psalm 22:27, Amos 3:2, Eph. 3:14-15. Acts 16:37, 22:25, Neh. 2:5, Exodus 9:1, 1 Tim. 2:2, Gen. 44:43-44, 1 Sam. 25:25, 1 Kings 3:16-27, Jer. 29:7, Est 7:3-6.
  5. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: In Four Books (Callaghan, 1872), 31. individualism” because it “battled unremittingly for individual rights, while recognizing that these have to be secured within the social context.” We are all born into a world not of our making, we receive an inheritance from those who went before us, and we are expected to maintain it for “ourselves and our posterity.”
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Jon Harris

Jon Harris is an author, producer, and cultural commentator. He is host of Conversations That Matter podcast, makes documentaries at Last Stand Studios, and frequently contributes to Truthscript, an online editorial featuring accessible, short form essays to help Christians think through contemporary issues.

6 thoughts on “The Inescapability of Identity Politics

  1. Real libertarians recognize the importance of communities and involvement in groups. It is just that we have seen the gross injustice when methodological individualism is rejected.

    I will have an article coming out on the topic on later this week.

  2. We have identity politics not because of the work of the Left, but because of the traditional intolerance of Western Christianity to those who were different. Before anyone from Europe came here, consider the religious inquisitions, conflicts and even wars in Europe. Consider how, before we became a nation, Puritans expelled, punished, and even martyred fellow Christians and Quakers. Consider how Puritans and others contributed to the ethnic cleansing of Native American people or participated in trading slaves.

    Consider how blacks were treated from the beginning settlements here and through the history of our nation. Whites couldn’t become slaves who could be bought and owned, even the Irish couldn’t. But suppose we accept Reagan’s Colorblind assumptions, for much of the history of this nation blacks have been greatly marginalized through slavery and Jim Crow. In fact, blacks could not be citizens of America until after the Civil War. Women couldn’t be full citizens of America until 1920 and even then, they were, for the most part, discriminated against by major financial institutions. Native Americans could not become American citizens until 1924. And during Jim Crow, harsh discrimination in many ways including voting and in the market place haunted blacks. Also, thousands of blacks and their allies were murdered with impunity by whites–that’s right, THOUSANDS. And even after the Civil Rights Movement, we see remaining vestiges of systemic racism in voting access, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, employment, environmental concerns, and social perception.

    The reaction of Western Christian tradition to the LGBT community shows that this tradition of Western Christian passionately embracing intolerance to those who were different. Around where I live, there is the saying, ‘If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.’ And that reflected the intolerance of the PA Dutch toward outsiders. But the PA Dutch don’t have a monopoly on such intolerance. For in the ‘land of the free,’ it seems that the only right that Western Christian tradition has recognized is the right to conform. And so the writer of the above article chastises the “left” for addressing concerns for specific groups?

    What has been done with Trump is to win the Blue Collar workers over with culture war appeals. Trump’s economic policies have been shown to have only benefited the upper 10% of the population. For others, they are being placated by a non-business corporate self-image of the nation based on delusions of grandeur and a continued intolerance of those who are different. Immigrants who are trying to escape poverty and violence, a significant amount of which has been caused by US trade and/or regime change policies, are portrayed as metaphorically polluting the blood of true Americans . For when it comes to caring for those who come from South of the border, the ironic reply of many Trumpublican Christians is a rhetorical question:Are we our brother’s keeper? At least that response comes from the Bible.

    Think about the Conservative reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick’s gesture was pointing to continued racial injustice. But that was too much for many Blue Collar NFL fans who quit watching because they didn’t want their entertainment to be contaminated reminders of today’s occurrences of social injustices.

    Though not exactly, but it seems that many of the articles posted on this website are longing for a return to an antebellum South of their creation. They want a return to Western Christian hegemony despite the updated demographics of the nation and the past suffering that hegemony has inflicted on those who were different.

    1. You seem to think that only White Christians are “intolerant” of others. The history of humanity is one of “intolerance” of others in the form of in-group preferences. The Hutu militias slaughtering Tutsis in Rwanda were not White Christians. People have preferred their own people over others as a survival mechanism since humankind came on the scene. You simply don’t like it when White Christians exhibit that trait but apparently it is just fine when other groups do.

      1. Arthur,
        I said no such thing about intolerance. I was addressing the subject of intolerance from the context of discussing Identity politics.

        One of the greatest fallacies in thinking that is exhibited today is to think that victims and victimizers are in two fixed, disjoint groups. I’ve written about that on my blog when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are both Israelis and Palestinians who are both victims and victimizers.

        Other than that, it seems that you are too eager to make personal judgments.

    2. The fruit of neoconservatism and liberalism is on full display in the west today. Reject any of Curt’s foolish arguments in favor of this setup and just look at what it has produced. We cannot accept his vision for the world any longer: it is simply wrong.

      We have to chart a new path, one that reaches towards Christ.

      1. Dylan,
        Let’s assume that none atrocities that Western Christianity has visited on others has ever had any significant effect on others. That, according to you, is the reasonable conclusion to make.

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