Colin Jost and the problem with bloodless opposition to “identity politics”

27 Nov 2016 04:52 pm
Posted by: Donna

On the Weekend Update portion of the November 19 SNL broadcast Colin Jost made a joke a lot of viewers of the show found offensive.

The dating app Tinder announced a new feature this week with gives users 37 different gender identity options.

It’s called “why Democrats lost the election”.

I rolled my eyes at the joke but I charitably figured he wasn’t just chiding Democrats for being too inclusive of out groups (which is terrible of him). I wanted to believe he was also talking about people voting Republican out of spite over things like this. It’s akin to losing one’s shit over hearing “para español, oprima el numero dos” when calling the cable company. It’s ridiculous.

But it turns out – at least according to his defense of the joke – Jost wasn’t kidding and his remark was directed at Dems, whom he believes lost the election due to an over-reliance on “identity politics”.

For some reason, Jost remained steadfast and decided to *gasp* explain the joke. Not only that, he also tweeted a link to an instantly notorious New York Times op-ed by Columbia professor Mark Lilla called “The End of Identity Liberalism,” which accused identity politics of perverting liberalism and destroying its electoral viability.

Lilla’s breathtakingly bad essay, which Jost claimed in a tweet “expanded on this idea” (referring to his joke), has been rebutted and debunked by far more talented people than I, so I let them do that at the links I provided.

What I noticed right away about Lilla’s piece is how he – like many of those whom Darren Hutchenson calls “post-identity commentators” that we’ve been hearing a lot from topic post-election – leans heavily on the theoretical and carefully avoids describing concretely what it looks like in practice going forward to move beyond “identity politics” in such a way that Democrats win elections again.

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

But, as you can see, Lilla does leave clues to where we should be headed, which Colin Jost seems to have picked up readily. Jost did not back down on his argument that Tinder, a private company that runs a dating service, contributed to the loss of the election (in the Electoral College, it should be noted, not the popular vote) by offering its subscribers the completely voluntary capacity to select the gender identification that fits them.

Of course, it’s likely Jost doesn’t blame Tinder so much as he blames transgender activists for pushing for the acknowledgment of gender categories that make Rust Belters (supposedly) feel ooky. Perhaps he feels people who don’t fit into binary gender classifications should just consider going back in the closet for the sake of elections. If so, then this is a real thing that Colin Jost proposes real people should do that will hurt many of them, and worse, reinforce the idea that it’s okay to hurt them. You can try to separate identity politics, or a desired lack of them, from the people those identities are attached to all you want, but you can’t. It’s their lives you’re talking about.

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