Identity is Fractal

It is one of the unfortunate aspects of human nature that it is not difficult to build a political movement centered on the idea that different ethnic or religious groups are responsible for the socioeconomic problems in a society. This is the essence of what propelled Donald Trump to the presidency. All politics is identity politics at some level. Liberal politics are oriented around respecting and including different groups; Trump’s politics are oriented around division and exclusion.

Identity, though, is fluid, and this goes in both directions. We can build larger identities, both with the intent of inclusion, such as inviting more people to become Americans, and the intent of exclusion and oppression, such as expanding the definition of white in order to allow continued oppression of other groups. We can also build smaller identities, again either with the intent of inclusion, such as helping people feel accepted and supported, or the intent of exclusion and oppression, such as creating a new out group to be discriminated against.

Exclusion and oppression are inseparable. The exclusive identity will fall apart in the absence of the oppressed group. The founders of the Confederacy understood this: the status of poor whites above enslaved blacks was necessary to maintain the white unity that enabled the Southern aristocracy to exist.

If the oppressed group is ever successfully expelled, the exclusive identity will soon find itself in need of a new scapegoat, which must be created from within. If a white nationalist state were ever created, it would still find itself beset by the same socioeconomic problems that exist in all human societies. And in the same way that it became necessary for new ethnic groups to become white, it would become necessary for a group to be stripped of its whiteness. Blaming the other guy for your problems requires there to be an other guy.

This explains why there are generic white nationalists in the US, but European nationalism exhibits smaller divisions (French nationalists, British nationalists, and so on). There’s no need to invent a larger white identity in the UK, so eastern Europeans don’t get to be part of the exclusive identity there.

Aside from being cruel, Trump’s Muslim ban is not going to solve the opioid epidemic. It’s not going bring back coal mining jobs in Appalachia or factory jobs in the Midwest. It’s not going to make America safer, and may very well put us at increased risk of attack.

And because of that, it’s just the beginning. They will come for someone else, and the only question is who. It’s up to Americans who care about creating an expanding, inclusive country to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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