Mark Lilla: The liberal vision for America is impaired by identity politics

rs podcast mark lillia

In a recent feature in The Outline, Adrianne Jeffries took on millennial-oriented website, which she said "exploited social justice for clicks" before laying off part of its staff and "pivoting to video."

Jeffries singled out headlines like "In a Single Tweet, One Man Beautifully Destroys the Hypocrisy of Anti-Muslim Bigotry," or "This Brave Woman's Horrifying Photo Has Become a Viral Rallying Cry Against Sexual Harassment" -- the kinds of stories we have all seen our friends share on Facebook, often in conjunction with an outraged comment.

But when liberal media outlets cover the social justice beat by creating click-friendly narratives steeped in so-called identity politics, is that coverage actually illuminating the real issues at play? Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, and the author of "The Once and Future Liberal," thinks that's not the case.

Lilla was Brian Stelter's guest in this week's Reliable Sources podcast. He drew a connection between some of the liberal media's coverage of diverse identities and a larger issue that affects progressives in America today: lack of vision.

"A sum-total of stories about social injustices doesn't add up to a picture of the kind of country we want to create," Lilla told Stelter.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

Lilla, who identifies as a liberal, thinks "identity liberalism" is hindering the Democratic Party's ability to win elections. He analyzes these issues in his new book.

By being "constantly focused on differences," liberals have "slowly been losing parts of the country" because "we haven't had a unified vision of what country we want to build," Lilla said.

He added that, in recent times, the message of American liberals has been: "We're not a nation, we are nothing but [...] a collection of different groups that have different identities, that can't understand each other's experiences, because who are you to speak of my experience?"

This tension, Lilla thinks, is a departure from what inspired the fight for civil rights and equality in the 1950s and 1960s, asking for various groups to be incorporated in "the great democratic 'We' of this country." Now, liberals are doing without that concept, in ways Lilla believes are detrimental to their cause.

Related: Meet the Habermans, a journalism family

Identity politics is also trickling into the conservative media sphere. In fact, there is evidence that "white identity" is becoming more salient among white voters, as described by Thomas Edsall in a recent New York Times column.

Has there been a change in the experience of white Americans? Lilla doesn't think so, but established conservative outlets like Fox News, and "bottom feeders" like Breitbart, are stoking the flame to the benefit of the Republican Party.

What's more -- the Republican Party that has invested considerable resources in expanding its State and local footprint, something Lilla thinks the Democrats should start focusing on as well.

"On our side, what we've done is we've captured the university, a lot of the media, we've captured elite opinion, but that doesn't translate into real political power in our system -- you need to build from the bottom up," Lilla told Stelter.

Listen to the full podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here.


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