Conflict and Leadership
Identity Politics in the United States as a Fundamental Challenge for State Administration

Identity preservation has always been one of the core values of the United States. A nation that, like a quilt, has been woven over several centuries from immigrants of various ethnic backgrounds, has ensured that representatives of each of them, even in a relatively small number, will retain their identity, while remaining Americans. In many respects, this is one of the paradoxes of the United States: how in the "melting pot", various groups retained their religious, ethnic, and other forms of self-identity. In many ways, this was facilitated by  Anglo-Saxon legal and political traditions, which are associated with the provision of citizens with a high degree of freedom and minimal prohibitions.

The religious factor played an equally important role. Protestant culture had a minimal relationship to the institutions of state pressure, and never had a multilevel hierarchy on a national scale. Related to this is the American concept of community, an aspect of the culture which has no direct analogue. In the literature, the described phenomena have received the general name "multiculturalism".

A very precise definition of multiculturalism was given by the outstanding Russian expert on American society Vladimir Sogrin. He departs from "ethnocultural determinism", and includes in this concept "the relationship of other social groups". He believes the principle groupings among Americans are: 1. Racial and ethnic; 2. Class-economic; 3. Religious; 4. Gender; 5. Generational. Sogrin explained that “In conflict were: the ethnic groups of whites, blacks and Indians; bourgeoisie and slave owners; capital, proletariat and farmers; Protestants and Catholics; men and women; adults and youth.”

Indeed, with the development of the political system in the United States, all new social groups received recognition and guarantees of their rights. At the end of the 18th century, with the formation of the state system, an aristocratic republic was actually established in the United States. Under that system, only wealthy male citizens were able to establish their civil rights.

The consequence of the reforms of the "Jacksonian Democracy" by the end of the 1850s was equality of opportunity, not only for members of the aristocracy, but also for the less wealthy citizens. President Jackson's reforms helped ensure equality of opportunity for larger numbers of American citizens, but large strata of the population continued to lack civil rights. The abolition of slavery marked the beginning of the struggle for black citizens' rights. A significant victory for the black population was the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1920, as a result of a large-scale suffragist movement, women's civil rights were recognised.

Each time, this or that social group has dealt with a political system, a characteristic feature of which, throughout most of the history of the United States, has been bipartisanship. In the 20th century, and especially in recent decades, various social groups have sought representation in power structures through the Democratic or Republican parties.

At the end of the 20th century, social groups were formed, with identities built around completely new ideas that had nothing to do with politics before. For example, in the 1990s, the LGBT community became a growing influence in the United States. Often, the struggle for rights went beyond reason and took completely wild forms, such as political correctness, which, at times, could threaten freedom of speech.

The Internet has played an important role in the development of communities and the political organisation of social groups. Thanks to the worldwide information network, it became possible to develop communities organized not locally, but through a network.

It is noteworthy that social Internet networks played a decisive role in this process. In particular, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, in one of his speeches about the prospects for the development of his company, said that one of the main goals of the company is "to enable people to create communities, to unite people in the world".

All this led to a noticeable complication of the political system, the emergence of new organisational structures, institutions, and functions. It is obvious that it is almost impossible to find a balance in the use of state resources in order to ensure equality of opportunities and respect for the rights of each of the communities wishing to preserve their identity. At the same time, many "Western democracies" are being forced to respond to the voices of sometimes marginal social groups and pursue a policy of identity.

The well-known contemporary democracy researcher Francis Fukuyama, an opponent of identity politics, notes that identity politics weaken political strategy. "The decline of the American political system observed in the modern world is associated with an extreme and unprecedented polarisation that has turned ordinary governance into a balancing act on the brink of war."

The "boiling point" in the melting pot has increased sufficiently. The political mechanism, which had worked stably and reliably for over a hundred years, began to "lose traction". The consolidation of social groups around the Republican and Democratic parties led to the fact that the positions of these parties became as opposed to each other as possible. As a result, a split has emerged in American society, which manifests itself especially sharply when political cycles intensify during elections. Thus, many experts have noted that the degree of political polarisation in the 2016 elections was especially high. David Kimball, Joseph Anthony and Tyler Chance, in their quarterly State of the Parties survey on US elections, are sceptical of the idea that ideology is a determinant of voters' preference. They argue that the driving force behind polarisation is the self-identification of interest groups with one of the two principal political parties in the United States. A voter's belonging to one or another group of interests determines his political views. The original version of this concept was expressed by Vox journalists: in their opinion, one of the factors of the success of President Donald Trump in the 2016 elections was the fact that he actually used the rhetoric of protecting a minority in relation to white Christian Americans, that is, the very category of the population that has never been a minority in the history the country.

By 2020, the situation had deteriorated sharply, and public dissatisfaction with the anti-crisis measures taken by the presidential administration in the fight against coronavirus was added to the overdue political contradictions.

It is extremely difficult to predict how the situation in the United States will develop. There are too many factors, and it is unclear which one will dominate in any outcome of the 2020 elections. It is increasingly heard that the protests sweeping America herald the collapse of the country, or at least a new civil conflict. The prerequisites for the start of a new civil war could be the emergence and development of a political force advocating radical changes to the current political system. Even if such forces are present in the United States, their weight is still clearly insufficient to exert a noticeable influence on politics. The loudest of the protesters appeal to the current system, and do not demand that the current government take action. Moreover, one of the forms of "reconciliation" is the change of power, the prospect of which exists precisely as a result of the upcoming elections. It is not excluded that the degree of tension in American society will be reduced if the Democratic Party wins in the upcoming elections.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.