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Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy

By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Natan Sharansky with Shira Wolosky Weiss. In their view, it was perfectly understandable for liberals to lament an ideological defeat — but equating that defeat with a democratic crisis was not. If so, they should be clear about it — and honest with themselves about what it implies, which is that what was formerly considered perfectly normal the ordinary give-and-take of democratic politics has now become a luxury the country can no longer afford. It is indisputably true that individual progressives do, on occasion, irresponsibly equate discrete conservative policy victories with democratic crises.

Normal Republicans are trying to disenfranchise Americans who do not agree with them. These efforts fall into two categories. The first, and most alarming, consists of attacks on the formal mechanisms of democracy — on the capacity of eligible voters to cast their ballots, and on the ability of electoral majorities to translate their will into political power. On some fronts, the party has made this ambition explicit — Republican-controlled state governments have pushed to implement or maintain laws that disenfranchise former felons.

Instead, it has pursued this aim under the pretense of concern for a crisis of mass voter fraud. George W. This claim is affirmed by public opinion data and demography, but also, on occasion, by Republican operatives themselves. As the pool of eligible voters has grown less white, and more millennial, the task of customizing the electorate has become increasingly urgent for Republicans. This is most apparent in North Carolina, where the GOP-dominated state legislature has taken radical measures to insulate itself from the threat of an increasingly diverse and liberal electorate.

Not content to merely reduce Democratic voter participation, state-level Republican parties have also worked to dilute the influence of those Democratic voters who do happen to make it to the polls through aggressive, partisan gerrymandering. Nevertheless, the key point is that, in the present context, the GOP has a deep investment in the survival of extreme forms of partisan gerrymandering, while Democrats are more than happy to dispense with such distortions of the popular will.

In addition to its attacks on the formal institutions of democracy, the GOP has also sought to erode the substance of self-government. It has done this, chiefly, by working to insulate the policy preferences of the economic elite from popular rebuke — despite the fact that a majority of Republican voters oppose many of said preferences.


Upon taking unified control of the federal government last year, mainstream Republicans made passing trillion-dollar cuts to federal health-care spending — and massive reductions in the tax burdens of the wealthy and corporations — their top two legislative priorities. These policies certainly demonstrated that elections have consequences. In fact, polls show that a majority of the GOP electorate opposes cutting federal health-care spending , Medicaid funding, or the tax rates of the wealthy and corporations — and supports environmental protections of air and water, and strong federal regulation of Wall Street.

McConnell attempted to shield this legislation from public scrutiny until shortly before holding a vote, while refusing to allow any extended hearings or public debate on its contents. In this fashion, the GOP came within a few of Senate votes of restructuring the American health-care system in a manner that it knew its own constituents did not support. The party deployed the same tactics more successfully in its pursuit of regressive tax cuts.

Believe me. This was not abnormal. This is not because rank-and-file GOP voters would rather maximize the profit margins of Republican-aligned industries than keep their schools open five days a week. In Oklahoma, polls have longed suggested that a majority of voters support raising taxes on gas companies to increase teacher pay.

It is certainly true that Democratic office holders also break campaign promises, and try to divert public attention from the more unpopular aspects of their agenda.

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But the party does generally run on the policies it intends to make its governing priorities — and is at least directionally honest about what those policies are. Barack Obama did not campaign on a promise to slash Medicaid spending, or lower taxes on the super-rich. In its mission to undermine popular government — so as to insulate the policy preferences of reactionary elites from majoritarian opinion — elected Republicans have received the indispensable aid of normal conservative jurists like Brett Kavanaugh.

Over the past decade, the Roberts court has worked to systematically increase the influence that concentrated wealth can exert over American politics, while vetoing democratically enacted attempts to either constrain that influence, or else to buck the substantive preferences of the Republican donor class.

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And he has also evinced sympathy for a theory of the executive branch which, in practice, all-but prohibits effective regulation of private industry. In sum: The modern Republican Party has demonstrated a commitment to suppressing voter participation; reducing the influence of majorities over electoral outcomes; and subordinating the policy preferences of its own constituents to those of reactionary elites.

Defending Identity begins in the Gulag, with stories of suffering by Sharansky and his fellow dissidents.

Protecting your identity

Their identities, in other words, differed, but rather than this being a source of tension, Sharansky recounts how this actually resulted in a valuable solidarity. Chapter three sets out the two main forces that strike out at identity and seek to bury it. Of necessity, of course, this had to be all-encompassing, totalitarian. This is perhaps more gradual in its effect on the fabric of democratic societies, but it is certainly no less harmful. Most of the examples that Sharansky gives to illustrate the various assaults on identity relate to manifestations of post-identity politics.

To name a few of these, he attacks self-flagellating post-Zionists, juxtaposes the U.

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Defending Identity is highly-accessible and will be appreciated by both generalist and specialist audiences. Those who have read The Case for Democracy and who may have wondered whether democracy alone is sufficient to secure international peace and security will find their answer in this book.