Tag: Declaration of Independence

“Identity Politics” and the Struggle to Realize the Promise of July 4th

George S Ledyard“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

One of the things for which conservatives have criticized liberals and Democrats is what they call “identity politics”. Some maintain that “identity politics” rather than a focus on the economic realities of the heartland is what cost the Dems the election.

But the fact is,”identity politics” is the on-going struggle for our nation to realize in reality what the Declaration of Independence stated in principles. When the document was written, it didn’t cover women, it didn’t include blacks or native peoples. Over time we have as a society recognized that other groups were not included. LGBT communities weren’t even acknowledged to exist when that document was written. Hispanics didn’t factor in. Large numbers of indentured servants were not equal participants.

When this document was authored, its provisions largely meant white men of property. In the next almost 250 years we have steadily enlarged our notions of who is included in “all men” to actually mean “all people”. At every step, some portion of the previously “included groups’ resisted the addition of other new groups as belonging to “all men”. The have, at every step, have tried to keep the club small and exclusive.

The fact that we, in 2017 are still grappling with women’s issues, racism on a large scale, an anti-LGBT backlash, anti-immigrant hysteria, and so on simply makes “identity politics” inevitable and essential. It is the on-going battle to realize the promise of that original document.

What does the unalienable right to liberty mean in a society which imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world?

What does the right to the pursuit of happiness mean when economic class division condemns a significant proportion of our society to stultifying poverty with little or no opportunity to move up the economic ladder?

The Declaration of Independence set out the ideals of the nation, however imperfectly realized at the time. Later, the Constitution of the United States delineated the legal framework upon which this dream would be based. The provision for amendments recognized that this was a living document, that the future would require that we update the document to deal with realities not envisioned by the framers.

But the dream remains the same. And it is an unrealized dream. The unalienable rights defined in the Declaration of Independence are unequally available to our citizens. Vast economic inequality simply makes anything like an “even playing field” that affords equal opportunity a bad joke in our society.

So while conservatives try to pretend that we are in a post racist society, that no special protections should be afforded vulnerable groups within the larger society, “identity politics” will continue to be an essential part of the on-going fight to realize the original promise of our formation as a nation.

The conservative point of view:

The Declaration of Independence and the case for a polity based on universal principles

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