Naomi Klein on identity politics, Hillary Clinton, and The Apprentice.
In the days after the 2016 presidential election, a theory emerged to explain why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump: “identity politics” — specifically Clinton’s routine appeals to women and racial minorities.
This charge was put perhaps most passionately by Mark Lilla, a humanities professor at Columbia University, in a New York Times op-ed called “The End of Identity Liberalism.” Lilla maintained that if the Democratic Party wants to appeal to more working-class white voters, it needs to treat “identity liberalism” with a “proper sense of scale.” For Lilla, focusing on diversity has meant that a generation of young Americans have “shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good.”
Naomi Klein rejects such claims. In her new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, the best-selling author and activist writes that “it’s short-sighted, not to mention dangerous, to call for liberals and progressives to abandon their focus on ‘identity politics’ and concentrate instead on economics and class — as if these factors could in any way be pried apart.”
Clinton’s loss, according to Klein, had to do with her track record, not her messaging. As Klein has it, “it was the stupid economics of neoliberalism, fully embraced by her, her husband, and her party’s establishment,” that rendered Clinton without a persuasive case to offer white workers who previously voted for Barack Obama. For Klein, you can’t fully grapple with class without also understanding the marginalized people the economy affects.
This is one of the many salvos Klein throws in her book. According to her, No Is Not Enough is “one attempt to look at how we got to this surreal political moment; how, in concrete ways, it could get a lot worse; and how, if we keep our heads, we might be able to flip the script and arrive at a radically brighter future.”
I recently caught up with Klein by phone while she was in Portland, Oregon, on her book tour. Among other things, we talked about Clinton’s “trickle-down identity politics,” how some liberals fail to understand the implications of climate change, and why Trump’s “Make America Great Again” brand makes him politically vulnerable. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.