Protesters set fire to an American flag July 4 near President Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as part of an event put on by the Revolution Club in Los Angeles. (Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images)
How have identity politics, victimhood, and identitarian division contributed to the destruction of America? How can this ideology be rebuffed? Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss his new book, “The Plot to Change America.”
Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Mike Gonzalez. He’s a senior fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Mike, it’s great to have you back on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Two regimes are fighting an ideological war in America today. But what side are you on? And how can you sharpen up on how to defend your position? Learn more now >>
Mike Gonzalez: It’s great to be back on with you, Rachel.
Del Guidice: Well, thanks for coming on. Thanks for making the time. And you actually have a new book coming out, “The Plot to Change America.” Congrats on this new book. Some heavy topics, but definitely a message we all need to read and educate ourselves on. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, can you tell us just a little bit about the book itself?
Gonzalez: Yeah. It’s a book that is, unfortunately, I say, very timely because of the disturbances that we’re seeing and our divisions. My book really is about identity politics.
And you may ask, what is identity politics? Well, identity politics is the division of the country into groups based on race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender, even disability status, and it is based on the concept that American society and all societies are divided between the oppressed and the oppressor.
There are oppressor groups or one main oppressor group and you have different groups with different degrees of oppression, the subordinated groups, and that all of life is a group dynamic, and a very important part of this is that identity politics.
The proponents of identity politics have really raised the members of the oppressed groups with this idea of grievances. They have instilled grievance as a sense of victimhood, that they have been victimized and that their victimhood entitles them to attention, to justice, to rewards, to compensatory justice.
And the problem with that is once you derive your idea of pride, your idea of self, and your claim of compensatory justice from your victimhood, you have no incentive to overcome whatever it is that is victimizing you.
In fact, the proponents of identity politics constantly tell you that you can individually never surmount your problems, you can only collectively try to change society completely, and that is really the end part of the definition of identity politics.
It aims to change America from a free market, some would say capitalist system to socialism, the government from individualism to collectivism, from individual decisions and family-based decisions to central planning. And that, I argue in my book, “The Plot to Change America,” was the end goal of the ideologues who first put in this blueprint in society.
Del Guidice: In the book, you note that, the first myth that you talk about and unpack, and you discussed it a little bit just now, when you talk about how there’s this myth that identity politics is a grassroots movement. Why is this a myth?
Gonzalez: Yes. So, there are several myths that the proponents of identity politics created. One of them I said, this is a grassroots demand for compensatory justice. I show in my book how it is not that in the least. In fact, it’s an elite project begun by ideologues, by people who were quite leftist.
In fact, they’re neo-Marxists or Western Marxists or cultural Marxists. And their idea was to impose on the grassroots this sense of grievances as an idea that we get from Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist leader in the 1920s, and also from Herbert Marcuse, a German-American intellectual who … was active in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s.
… Marcuse had an expression, which is, “All liberation depends on the recognition of servitude,” and that once you tell a member of a group that they are being oppressed by servitude, that they are in a state of servitude, then you fill them with these grievances, then they will rise and overthrow society.
That unless you do this, the worker will fail to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie in capitalist society because the worker’s too contented, has bought into the the cultural blueprint of the oppressor class, has bought into religion, the idea of the nation state, the idea of the family and the economic system.
… And these ideologues believed that these workers had false consciousness and they wanted to remove false consciousness through struggle sessions and have consciousness-raising exercises, raise the consciousness.
That we’re seeing today, by the way, with the wave of anti-racism training that we’re seeing by all entities in society, whether it’s professional sports, or Congress or corporations that are hiring these consultants to do anti-racism training. I’m talking about people like Robin DiAngelo or Marcus Moore.
They say that they want to end the free market system. They want to end the capitalist system. They say that capitalism is racism and that racism is capitalism. This is all untrue, by the way. But the theories that I describe in my book are very much alive today and very much being instilled to our students.
Del Guidice: Mike, since you mentioned that, let’s talk about that a little bit more. This book is coming out at a time where we’ve seen tons of different protests against police brutality, on people calling to defund the police. Also, as you mentioned, just a whole movement against racism that has much deeper roots.
If you look at, for example, Black Lives Matter and other organizations, there’s a lot more that comes along with that movement than just the phrase that “Black lives do matter,” which they do. But can you talk a little bit about the larger picture here and why this book is coming out at such a critical time?
Gonzalez: Yeah. I mean, once again, to repeat myself, my book is very timely for reasons that I don’t like in the least. You take Black Lives Matter. Black lives matter. Well, of course, black lives matter greatly. All lives matter and black lives matter. Our black compatriots matter to us. We want to see all Americans flourish and thrive.
The problem is with the Black Lives Matter organization, the Black Lives Matter Global Network [Foundation], which is the main Black Lives Matter organization. The founders of the BLM global network were three women and they were the ones who founded the Black Lives Matter movement.
Let’s say you go to Google and you Google “Black Lives Matter.” It sends you first and foremost to the BLM global network. Well, who are they? The founders are Alicia Garza, then you have Patrisse Cullors, and then you have the third one, which is Opal Tometi.
In a 2015 interview, Patrisse Cullors, one of the three founders, said that she and Alicia Garza were trained Marxists, which is true. And then the next issue, the next question is, well, who trained Patrisse Cullors, for example?
You go back and you see that she was trained in something called the [Labor/Community Strategy Center], which is run by none other than Eric Mann. Who is Eric Mann? Well, Eric Mann is a former member of the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground was a radical organization in the ’60s, classified by the FBI as a domestic terrorist organization.
He is the one that founded the Labor/Community Strategy Center. … That’s where Patrisse Cullors was trained for 10 years, the Labor/Community Strategy Center founded by Eric Mann.
She was trained by Eric Mann, a man who spent time in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, who now he’s still a committed communist who wants to have world revolution.
And so, you have to ask yourself, why are organizations giving money to the BLM Global Network [Foundation] when the BLM Global Network [Foundation], one of its stated objectives is, for example, to get rid of the traditional family, to get rid of the nuclear family, which they see as oppressive.
Is this really something that’s going to help anybody, but especially the most impoverished in our society?
Del Guidice: You also talk about how the book examines the belief that America has grown into a nation that’s gripped by victimhood and identitarian division. What is the history of thought, Mike, that led to this in the first place? And also, what is the role that Marxism plays? Let’s talk about that a little bit more.
Gonzalez: Well, Marxism is the key role. Antonio Gramsci, who was the one that came out with the theory of hegemonic culture in the ’20s, that I had just described in my talk with you, he was a communist. He was a communist leader from Italy. Marcuse was a communist. They were all what is known as neo-Marxists, Western Marxists, but Marxists nonetheless and Marx was the inventor of communism.
So, it is not a stretch to say that all of these ideas are Marxist at base, right? Because Marxism is a theory that sees all of life as being a question of group dynamics, of the oppressed and the oppressor. And this is exactly what identity politics is all about.
Then you have this theory of cultural victimhood. We’re living in a culture of victimhood. It used to be that you drew your inspiration, you drew your claim to fame from the fact that you overcame challenges.
We all have challenges. Life is full of challenges. But you were famous, you wanted others to see you and respect you and pay attention to you because you could show a record of having overcome the challenges of life through your way.
Under a culture of victimhood it is rather the opposite. Your claim to fame, your claim for attention, and your claim to compensatory rewards is based on your degree of victimhood. The more victimhood points that you have, the more claims you have on rewards …
A system such as this is very, very corrosive to society … Before, we had people striving to be their best. Right now, we have people striving to be a victim, to have their grievances curated and shown and exhibited.
The problem with that is that then problems are never overcome. In a culture of victimhood, you have zero incentives to overcome anything. And of course the promise is you will overcome challenges collectively by changing society, by changing the nature of men.
Again, to quote Robin DiAngelo and to quote Ibram Kendi and the other people who sell this snake oil, they say, “We will change the way human nature functions. We will change human nature. We will no longer, people will no longer base their actions on their self-interest, on their enlightened self-interest.”
… That’s where the problem hits, right? Human nature is unchanging. No ideology can change human nature.
If you read ancient texts, read the Bible, or you read any books, you read the Quran, any book from ancient times or any of the classical, any of the texts from the Classical Age, you see that man was back then exactly the same way we are today.
Abraham and Moses are recognizable men. Just like we have today, they have the same vices and virtues. So, human nature is unchangeable and the people who peddle this utopia then run against the unchangeability of human nature and that’s what leads them to use coercion.
They must coerce people into acting a certain way and that’s why all Marxists, all totalitarian enterprises end in tears and with people in prison for long prison terms or people at the firing squad, or people hanged, because you must use violence. You must coerce people into changing their nature, which and then they never can.
Del Guidice: Mike, we’ve talked a little bit about this so far, but as racial tensions are high following the death of George Floyd, we’ve heard so much talk about minorities and people of color in America. What is the history of those terms and how did they come into play?
Gonzalez: Yeah, that’s a great question. We have a lot of words that we use today that we didn’t used to use them in that manner. “Minorities” is one of them. The first time a dictionary defines minority in the way we do today, I believe it was 1961 Webster.
Prior to that, we had minorities in the first part of the 20th century and for most of the 19th century. We meant the minorities in the large empires of Europe, that is the Habsburg, Ottoman empires, the Russian empires.
Minorities were people like the Ruthenians, the Irish, the Serbs, the Bosnians … There was a certain negative connotation that went along with that because they were seen as bickering.
I guess you have some flavor of that in the aggrieved minorities that we have today. And prior to that, obviously, in the 18th century, in the 1700s when people like [James] Madison and people like [Thomas] Jefferson used the term “minority,” they obviously meant legislative and ideological minorities, factions.
They cared for the fact that any ideological minorities would have their rights respected, even though they happened to be in a minority after a given election.
So, that word “minority” with the connotation of victimhood really first emerges with social scientists in the 1940s, and then enters the dictionary in the 1960s. A “person of color” is another one.
Because minorities, through the process that I described in my book, “The Plot to Change America,” were given compensatory justice as a result of past grievances, there was an attempt to associate minorities with a certain phenotypical look. Phenotypical meaning the way somebody looks where one can be identified as a member of a group just by looking at you.
Then the term “people of color,” which previously only really applied to black Americans, began to be applied more generally. The problem with that is you have some people who can be phenotypically, sometimes, identified.
For example, some Italians, some people of Slavic ancestry and some Jewish people can look a certain way. And you have the opposite. You can have, for example, people from Latin America that are just completely European that are not really any different from any other European. They’re not phenotypically different.
So, what we have under this really term of … “person of color” is an attempt to give justification for the compensatory justice. That is one of the ways in which you entice Americans to adhere to group membership. The way it’s used politically is just as a catch-all term that serves a certain political term.
And so you have all these new terms that you can write. Somebody’s actually writing an encyclopedia of the new terms, like “problematizing,” which crops up a lot in the literature of critical theory.
All these new terms, what I say in my book is that we should actually not play into the playbook of the left and use these terms as wantonly as we use it. We should be very more careful that we understand what the political project is.
Del Guidice: Mike, as we talk about how we can move forward, … the ideology of victimhood and identitarian division, how can that be rejected?
Gonzalez: I mean, I want to give credit where credit is due here. You have sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, who were the first ones to identify this culture of victimhood as opposed to a culture of honor or a culture of dignity in an essay in 2014, and then later a book.
What I want to do with my book, “The Plot to Change America,” is to change the terms of the debate, the way we Americans at all levels think about these issues because a lot of Americans have bought into these myths, the myth of the grassroots claim for recognition, the myth that it was the demographic changes that took place at the 1965 immigration law that had really reframed the debate.
America has always been changing demographically. America has been changing demographically from the very beginning with the incoming of the Scots-Irish in the early 1700s and even before that in the 1690s of Germans who came in here for religious freedom, but especially after 1850, when you have a massive wave of European immigrants.
So, American demography has always been changing. There was no real reason why it changed the model of America, the model of liberty after the 1965 law. This was done, again, by people with malice of forethought, people who wanted to replace the freedom principle in America, the liberty that we have.
What made America exceptional was this radical love of liberty. … I see my book, “The Plot to Change America,” as exposing all these things so people say, “Oh, wait a second. This is the reason why this was done this way.”
Some colleagues of mine who have read it, some professors are writing me and saying they have a lot of aha moments, places when they come, they go, “Oh! Oh, this is why this happened.”
So, I do hope it’s full of a-ha moments for the readers, people who then say, “Oh, wait a second. You mean the Hispanic panethnicity was invented by the Office of Management and Budget and introduced in a policy proposal in 1977?”
There’s this professor, Cristina Mora, who writes about these issues. She writes about it from the left, but she’s written a very good book called “Making Hispanics.”
She says that the desire was to have a moment of massive amnesia, a moment when we would all forget that, no, there was a time when the Hispanic ethnicity did not exist, that people were Americans of Mexican origin or of Cuban origin.
But now you have millennials and Gen Z Americans who think that they’re listening to “Latino music,” whereas the tango is very different music from Tejano music or from a Cuban punto. There’s no such thing as Latino music. These are very different musical traditions. They are very different culinary traditions.
And when you come to the term Asian-American, forget it, they are Americans as varied in origin as Pakistan, India, China, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, China, etc.
So, I strive to explain who created these identities, who led the three waves of the feminist movement, to what ends … My book really is to shed light on all of this.
Del Guidice: Mike, speaking of creating identities, where did the more recent phenomenon of cancel culture come into play and how is that also impacting today’s society in what you talk about in your book?
Gonzalez: … Any kind of totalitarian dictatorship will need cancel culture, but you can trace it. It’s really the direct heir of Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance.
He writes his essay, I believe in 1965, in which he says, “We’re going to be tolerant of only Left Speak. We’re not going to be tolerant, we cannot be tolerant of conservative ideas. Conservative ideas must be made illegal, driven from the marketplace of ideas.”
And so this is now repressive tolerance, which is obviously a contradiction in terms, being put into practice through cancel culture, and it goes back to what I was saying earlier.
Since the Enlightenment, we have dealt with human nature as it is, human nature being man is going to be self-interested. We’re going to use that self-interest for the benefit of all humanity.
As Adam Smith said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the baker, and the … ,” I forget the third one now. I quote this all the time, ” … or the brewer that we get our beef, our beer, or our bread. It is from this self-interest.”
So, capitalism, the free market system—I don’t use capitalism, really. I use the free market system. Liberty works with human nature as it is. Communism, Marxism is a vain, a supremely vain attempt at changing human nature. It wants to change man. This is what Che Guevara called “the new man.”
But you can’t. You cannot change human nature. It is deeply ingrained. So, when humans begin to resist and say “no,” you must use coercion.
You must say, “You’re not going to be allowed to say that, whatever that conservative thing is, and if you say it, you’re going to lose your livelihood. You’re going to be driven from your job. … Your children are going to be left without a provider.”
And that is what cancel culture is. It is repressive tolerance, which owes its origin to the fact that Marxists are engaged in a very vain, very painful—it always ends in pain, attempt at changing human nature, and they can’t.
Del Guidice: Mike, practically speaking, how would you encourage everyday Americans to reject identity politics?
Gonzalez: I suggest in my book that the government get out of the business of creating categories. The government really should not be creating ethnic categories.
But I think in terms of everyday Americans, I think when the head of HR or somebody, some pencil pusher in HR comes to you and says, “You must put a sign on your desk that says, “I am an ally,” I think you have to push back and say, “I’m not an ally. Why? Are we at war? What or who am I an ally of? What exactly are we doing?”
Or if you’re sitting in a boardroom and somebody says, “We must give. In a desperate attempt at showing that we have good intentions and to prevent us from being attacked as uncaring, we’re going to give money to the BLM Global Network [Foundation],” you should be able to raise your hand and say, “Does anybody have any idea of who they are? Has anybody gone to the … ‘about us’ section [on their website] and looked at the list of demands?”
I think putting a break on things individually is important. I’m not counseling anybody lose her or his job, but we have to remember that very brave people came before us in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, and today in Cuba, people who say “no” and face the consequences.
And as I said, I don’t want people to lose their livelihoods, but pushing back and saying, “You know, I’m not going to say X, Y, and Z. I am actually going to look into what these things mean.” I think pushing back politely is important. Otherwise, we’re going to lose our freedoms.
Del Guidice: Lastly, Mike, this book does cover a range of heavy themes about what is dividing this country, what has been dividing it. What did you find to be most disheartening about when you were writing the book, and then on the flip side, where did you find reason for hope?
Gonzalez: Well, I think disheartening is the fact that these terms and these ideas and these modes of thinking have been around for so long now that people, even conservatives, buy into it lustily. They use these terms and they embrace the whole … People just speak now in terms of minorities, in terms of groups. We assume all these things to be true …
But I am very optimistic, first of all, because I understand, I know that I have human nature on my side, and second, because I think that this is an inflection year.
I think many Americans are finally beginning to understand that indoctrinating our children to, in many ways, hate their country or think that the Founders are very bad individuals and that the whole thing was a con job for them to retain their privileges … I think that many Americans are understanding that this has been a colossal mistake.
I was crabbing in a creek off the Chesapeake about two weeks ago, very good crabbing this season, by the way, and I pulled out a book. I was reading on the dock and these boaters had been laying traps and they come over and said, “Hey, what you reading there?”
I said, “Well, it’s a book about the founding. It’s a book about the nation’s founding.” And one of the boaters said, “That’s what our children should be reading these days.”
I think there’s been a click moment for many Americans and they’re beginning to get all these things. So, I think, for reasons that are perhaps negative for the country, my book comes at a very propitious time.
Del Guidice: Well, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the podcast. We appreciate having you with us.
Gonzalez: Rachel, as ever, thank you very much.
A Note for our Readers:
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Rachel del Guidice
Rachel del Guidice is a congressional reporter for The Daily Signal. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Forge Leadership Network, and The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.