Watch NBC political analyst Anand Giridharadas push back against right-wing hyperbole about "identity politics"
Giridharadas: "I think it is so fascinating that we are having a conversation about the problems of identity politics at a table with five men."
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From the January 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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NOAH ROTHMAN (ASSOCIATE EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE): Social justice as we understand it, is kind of a malleable term. Most Americans probably think it's a framework for just thinking about fairness and a just society and righting historical grievances, and it was once that. In the hands of it's present activist class, it has become something much different. It has become the antithesis of the pursuit of blind, objective justice. Its adherents have confused, in my opinion, a pursuit of a reparative form of justice with a form of justice that is much more retributive. And has such, it has become hostile to egalitarian notions like color blindness, like individual agency and merit, and like presumption of innocence. Bed rock, fundamental notions of common law, English common law. This is the kind of thing that I think is a fundamental outgrowth of an identitarian philosophy which is shared, by the way, by right and left. The extremes on both sides share more in common, in my belief, than they do --
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): And that's something that you bring out in this book, that Donald Trump has basically brought white identity politics to the Republican party.
ROTHMAN: Most certainly.
SCARBOROUGH: In a way that Republicans have always complained seemed to hamper Democrats.
ROTHMAN: Right, so, the side of the equation on the left that perceives itself to be the enlightened arbiters of historical animus are making the precise same arguments. They're appealing to power sources, they're appealing to the state for redress, for historical grievances, and the two of them don't seem to realize they're reflections of one another in a funhouse mirror.
WILLIE GEIST (CO-HOST): So Noah, we've had all these cultural flash points over the last couple of years that probably illustrate your point. Give us a concrete example of what you're talking about that people will remember and relate to.
ROTHMAN: The notion of the right to be believed, which was something that Hillary Clinton endorsed with regard to the claims of sexual assault victims, was perceived to be addressing a historical grievance and it is rooted fundamentally in intersectional theory and social justice theory which holds that the United States has such misogyny ingrained in its institutions that they cannot adjudicate claims like this, because they do not recognize --
SCARBOROUGH: Noah, when you say the right to be believed, you mean that -- what? What are you saying?
ROTHMAN: That a sexual assault survivor deserves not just impartiality but deference to their claims, which is antithetical to the notion of justice. And we had some high-profile examples of why that was, you know, unjust, but the ones that never make the headlines were the students who were made victims by the Title IX reforms under the Obama era. Both victims -- both accusers and accused, who were deprived of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights as a result of a perception that American judicial institutions cannot fundamentally adjudicate these claims fairly as a result of historical grievances dating back thousands of years. This is the kind of thing that I think is a conceptual misunderstanding of what the American idea is.
SCARBOROUGH: So Anand, are you here because you were the co-author of this book? Is that right? I'm joking. Your turn.
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS (NBC POLITICAL ANALYST): I think it is so fascinating that we are having a conversation about the problems of identity politics at a table with five men.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, to tell you the truth, Mika asked --
GIRIDHARADAS: I understand it may have been her choice.
SCARBOROUGH: Mika asked if she could leave --
GIRIDHARADAS: I don't blame her.
SCARBOROUGH: -- because she was offended by my hair.
GIRIDHARADAS: I don't blame her. Look, there are excesses in every cultural wave. When you have a rightist cultural wave, there's excesses. When you have a market kind of philosophy that entrenches itself, there are excesses as well as good things. And you may be right that there are excesses in the current wave of culture around identity. But I think you can't start there. Right? What is extraordinary that is happening in our time, the things you, I think, reflexively push back against is a real awakening at the heart of American discourse and the mainstream of American discourse about experiences of what it has been like to be a woman, what it has been like to be Black, what it has been like to be an immigrant, what it has been like to be a Muslim, that were actually not part of the discourse. I will tell you, as an Indian American growing up -- born, growing up in this country, there were experiences I have gone through in my life that only now do I realize were absolutely because of how I look and I didn't have that language 15 years ago when I was going through those things.
That language now exists. So, it's very easy to sit and say this is all, you know, looking at people by group and this and that, but I'll give you an example of Me Too, when the Me Too movement happened, a lot of guys treated it as an opportunity to say, you know, what are these people saying and women are kind of nagging us. I took it as even if you've never done any of those horrible -- the Weinstein kind of things -- I took it, reading the testimonies of all these women as a chance to say, "Wow, there was a lot of stuff I never saw coming up as a man. Wow. And I think when faced with these kind of cries for justice, there are some people whose reflex is to say, "I don't want my perch to be -- to be invaded." And there are others, and I think it's a wiser course to say, there's probably things I haven't seen, there are probably realities of other people that I haven't experienced. Let me open myself to that possibility --
SCARBOROUGH: That I can never understand as a man.
MIKE BARNICLE (MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR): And Noah, before you answer, I'd like to tack on to what Anand just said. Years of sitting in municipal courts, waiting for a case to be called you were going to write about, you quickly come to the conclusion about justice in America that it involves, at its stripped down to its model, two things. The color of money and the color of the defendant's skin.
ROTHMAN: Well, I think that's frankly an unfair reading of the American judicial system and the thousands of years of history that have created the English common law concepts upon which it is built. I mean, this is the foundation of the enlightenment.
GIRIDHARADAS: And the mass incarceration of Black and brown people. Is that something you've suffered and family and friends closely? Have you dealt with that?
ROTHMAN: No, not me personally, but the powers of ideas also transcend the power of identity in many ways -- well, I've experienced life in America, Anand. And as a result --
GIRIDHARADAS: Not that life.
ROTHMAN: Powers of ideas transcend the power of identity in many ways. And not to say that -- this book goes at length to say it is not adjudicating the claims of legitimate racial and historical grievances, even systemic grievances, which do exist, that's beyond the scope of any one book. This is a adjudication of illegitimate claims to regression, [inaudible] to regression, it is the notion that 'benign ghettoization', that some sort of a form of retributive justice owing to mere demographic traits and accidents of birth is progress, to me strikes me as absolute asininity. It is regression on a scale that, I think, should be resisted wholly with anybody who has an attachment to the American founding ideals.
GIRIDHARADAS: I don't know what 'benign ghettoization' is, but it seems like something that you may actually be able to use.
ROTHMAN: 'Benign, ghettoization' to me, is the idea that we can create safe spaces for individuals of different racial, ethnic, demographic traits to prevent "uncomfortable learning," which is something which members of the faculty and administrative positions in schools are saying is something that students need. That's not helpful. That's not something that I think is advancing any sort of justice. It is creating a retributive, and grievance-based, and small-mindedness communities that are definitely not a part of the American experience as I understand it, and I don't think will have a good outcome for the American social compact.