Gonzaga’s College Republicans club hosted its second speaker event of the semester on Thursday, bringing on Heritage Foundation fellow Mike Gonzalez to speak to community members about identity politics. The event took the form of a Q&A and discussion based conversation which lasted an hour as students engaged with Gonzalez about a multitude of socio-political themes and issues that identity politics are interwoven within.
Talking points ranging from the differential treatment of a student’s education based on race to the role that the enlightenment era played in allowing the government to promote virtues were explored by Gonzalez and all those in attendance during the meeting. The concept of identity politics plays a role in a myriad of different socio-political issues and can be difficult to synthesize as a single idea because of it, but Gonzalez established in his opening statement what identity politics can be boiled down to and why it can be used as a divisive tool in the political sphere.
“We should be trying to be doing our best not to assume what someone is going to be like because they are a member of a category, especially one created by the government,” Gonzalez said. “I think a citizen should demand from the government that, ‘No, you treat me as an individual citizen, voter, taxpayer American.’ You don’t make any assumptions at all based on characteristics that are immutable such as race, sex, national origin, and it’s dangerous when we practice essentialism in this way.”
Gonzales also made a point to illustrate that identity politics isn’t simply a conservative concern or a liberal concern, but rather something in which we should all be conscious of given our unique values, characteristics and situations. That’s part of the reason why this topic, and having Mr. Gonzalez as a speaker, appealed to College Republicans club President Caitlin O’Dell.
The event, as with all other College Republican meetings, was open to all of GU’s student body regardless of political ideologies or party affiliation. O’Dell was adamant about bringing up an issue that everybody can resonate with because she felt it would facilitate the most productive kinds of discussions with Mr. Gonzalez.
“These little debates on Zoom, they can be completely amicable and beneficial and that’s super amazing,” O’Dell said. “I was messaging Mike during the meeting about how much I loved this and this was so fun. This was the best case scenario, we're always looking for people to come to our events, regardless of the kind of political ideology.”
The discussions were cordial, academic and constructive as attendees discussed why they agreed and disagreed with portions of Gonzalez’s theory. Identity politics’ role in current political affairs can make it a touchy subject, but when Gonzalez broke down the some of the ways that identity politics-related issues can enable institutional essentialism and keep Americans from feeling empowered by their own unique self, it allowed the discussion to challenge some concepts that actually undermine some of America’s most core values.
One area of sociological research that Gonzalez saw as problematic in making some demographics in this country feel bound to precepts based on identity was the academic movement of Critical Race Theory. He discussed how in Critical Race Theory’s attempt to examine where laws in this country set back minority groups, it actually co-opts the victimization of these people in order to undo the statutes which are foundational to this country.
“Critical Race Theory is really a strategy to undermine American norms, principles and institutions in order to subvert society and institute a new political economic societal system,” Gonzalez said.
Overall, Thursday afternoon’s discussion on the issues of identity politics directly addressed a topic that is referenced often in the political realm, but isn’t commonly discussed critically. The conversations allowed students to branch out and make connections between identity politics and other current political topics while Gonzalez helped fill in the blanks and give his own input on various student ruminations.
For those who missed out on Thursday’s meeting but want to get a look at Gonzalez’s analysis of the complexity of identity politics and its role in current American culture, they can check out his book “The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free” on the Heritage foundation website or other outlets where books are sold.
“Mike helped show us that the solution to the issues he brought up needs to be bipartisan, it is not unique to any specific ideology or party or group,” O’Dell said. “It needs to be a solution that involves and includes everyone from every walk of life because this is a problem that affects everybody.”