Suffering From Identity Politics? Take Two Memes And Call Me In The Morning

“Your identity shapes your politics, yes, but they are not one and the same.”
“Your identity shapes your politics, yes, but they are not one and the same.”

I’m jaded. There are moments when I just feel like screaming, but I sleep until noon instead. When I read something that gets my blood boiling in indignation but I don’t write a smashing op-ed on it or call my senator about it or even bring it up to discuss at the dinner table. Instead, my heart burrows a little deeper into my rib cage, and I stare out the window, wishing I was that little girl who played in the dirt even in her favorite purple jumpsuit, who had to line up all her Winnie the Pooh plushies just right to watch cartoons with her, again.

I’m anxious. I know that feeling helpless only exacerbates anxiety. I wrote an entire article for the newspaper about that actually, but it seems I can’t practice what I write. Lately I’ve felt too jumbled to write. Somewhere in my head I know there’s no such thing as inspiration or writer’s block and I just have to push through it, but then there’s that little voice asking me why. The voice that asks who’s listening, why they would care, and even if they did care, why they would respond to my words with action, or a change in rhetoric, or really anything more than a “like”.

I’m not apathetic but I’m very scared that’s where I’m headed. As a young adult I’m increasingly aware of how limited my freedom truly is —- the freedom I was raised to believe was infinite in America —- and how few choices I really have in life. I feel like being apathetic about any one of them would be sacrilegious, a sacrifice of what little agency I have in the wide world, especially since, as a white woman in America, I have more options at my disposal than many in the world do. This philosophy has its pitfalls, for example, the existential dread I feel deciding between my usual panini or some sexy new avocado melt at dinner. But it keeps me on my toes. It keeps me from sleeping through life.

I think a great measure of the collective jadedness of a society is the rate of meme generation. I keep seeing social media statuses warning that all the memes and the subtweets and the celebrity spats are just a distraction. Of course they are. But it’s not some conspiracy to keep the public in the dark on what’s actually happening in Washington --- it’s how people cope with what’s actually happening in Washington. It’s a lot easier to joke about the end of Western democracy, cry-baby liberals, or Joe Biden pranking the incoming administration than it is to engage in an open discussion of the issues, partly because the issues are terrifying, but moreso because they’ve become too gridlocked in identity politics for unbiased discussion of their solutions.

Crime, mass shootings, terrorism, poverty, a broken public education system, systemic racism, unequal access to healthcare, climate change, gender discrimination, reproductive rights, border control, unemployment, LGBTQ rights —- all these and more need to be talked about, but such discussions often get too emotional because it’s hard to separate your religion, your race, your ethnic background, your class, and all your life-experiences from what policies you think are best for America. When you’re suffering from identity politics, It’s hard not to take it personally when someone “attacks” your political views if you categorize them with everything else that makes up your identity. Your identity shapes your politics, yes, but they are not one and the same.

It’s always confused me how someone can have political “beliefs”. A belief is something based in faith because it can’t be proven by fact. I can believe in God, or Santa Claus, but I can’t believe in abortion rights or immigration reform. I can support both, but I can’t believe in either, because my opinions on both issues are based in the facts as I am aware of them, not my faith that they are empirically good policies. If you are basing your political decisions solely on belief, you honestly terrify me more than any other problem in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation of belief. When you say you believe in an idea, you give it a special, almost holy protection. You can’t argue against a belief, after all. We’re taught from a very young age to respect each other’s beliefs and values as members of a free nation, with protected speech and religion. You would get a slap on the wrist for saying someone else’s belief is wrong, because something with no basis in fact can’t technically be right or wrong.

Which is why it’s wrong to label your political views a belief. Political preferences should be based in fact and subject to change should those facts or your perspective on them change. My personal beliefs and values manifest themselves in my political views, but I don’t take your criticism of my policy preferences as an attack on my values.

Ideally, politics is a question, not an answer. Trump should ask, “How do we make America great?” and listen openly instead of defensively, his hands on a pen and paper to take notes, not on a phone tweeting comebacks. Somehow I doubt this will happen, but maybe if we can’t rely on the future president to lead by example, we can show him how its done.