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Identity politics keeps American society healthy – The Washington Post

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“Suburban women, would you please like me,” pleaded Donald Trump in the latest and weirdest twist to identity politics — the idea that what really moves people is their race, religion, sex or education rather than membership in a broad party coalition.

But there is another side to the story. Identity politics springs from a dynamic society in constant motion. There is always a group on the margins, pressing for a proper place at the American table: Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews, Chinese, formerly enslaved people, Latinx, Muslims, civil rights activists, same-sex partners, transgender individuals and many more fired up by identity politics. Yes, each group rattles the establishment and provokes culture clashes. But they add up to a vibrant, changing, open society. New groups constantly inject fresh energy and new ideas, and they all faced grumpy pushback from the powers (and the identities) that were.

The creative tumult goes all the way back to the founding of the republic. In the 1790s, for example, conservatives panicked about the “Wild Irishmen” and “French Refugees” coming ashore: “They will corrupt our elections and tear us to pieces,” fretted President John Adams. On the other side, Thomas Jefferson’s party was pressing ballots on the immigrants almost before they had recovered from the sea voyage. Those early immigrants clung to their disruptive ways, promulgating French politics and practicing Roman Catholicism. At the same time, the Jeffersonians were terrified when Adams tried to normalize relations with the formerly enslaved people who had overthrown their masters in Haiti. What message would this send our own enslaved people? they asked one another. Already the debate over the role of Black Americans was beginning to percolate into national politics. Africans, Irish, Frenchmen and more: The first generation fought bitterly over the most profound American question — who are we? Across American history, the answer would come from the rich legacy of identities on the move.

But agitation by one group ultimately benefits others. When one group claims new rights, for example, they often spread to everyone. Take the 14th Amendment, passed after the Civil War to protect the formerly enslaved people. It boldly granted citizenship to anyone born on America soil — still unusual outside of the Americas — and guaranteed citizens “the equal protection of the laws.” Over time, courts used the 14th Amendment to extend rights to women, to immigrants, to people accused of crimes who could not afford lawyers, and even to White men who felt harmed by affirmative action.

Or take the Civil Rights Act. Passed in 1964 to break segregation in the South, the benefits keep spreading to others. This year, the Supreme Court deployed the act to forbid employment discrimination against transgender individuals. The same lesson springs up time and again. When one group wins new rights, they eventually expand to other Americans.

Identity galvanizes our politics because the alliances themselves are always in flux. Take a group for granted and watch its members slip away to the other party. Black Americans offer the most striking example. They had always voted Republican. African Americans won seats in Congress a total of 45 times over more than 60 years — and every one of them was a Republican. But by the turn of the century, the party had given up on Civil Rights. In the Northern cities, Democratic politicians began to recruit Black voters, newly arrived from the South. By 1936, thanks to both local parties and the New Deal, a majority of northern Black voters punched the Democratic ticket for the first time.

Newspaper columns chuckled over the naivete of Black voters joining a party dominated by Southern segregationists. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not even condemn lynching — he couldn’t afford to lose the South, he told Black leaders. But by the final convention of the New Deal era, in 1948, the liberals had grown strong enough to challenge nervous party leaders, and narrowly approved a rousing civil rights plank that went far further than FDR could have imagined. Southern delegates, reported H.L. Mencken in the Baltimore Sun, “rose to their legs and began to howl.” They walked right out and formed the Dixiecrat Party.

The consequences reverberated in every direction: Black voters eventually became solid Democrats. Republican liberals in the North had been reliant on those Black votes and began to disappear. Republicans conservatives started conquering the South. And Whites eventually made their own switch: Between 1968 and 2016, the Democrats averaged just 39 percent of the White vote in presidential elections as Republicans evolved into the party of White identity. Slowly but surely it lost (or drove out) every other group. A gender gap appeared by the 1980s. Immigrants left too — Asian Americans were the last to defect, sticking to George H.W. Bush (in 1992) and Bob Dole (in 1996) before moving across the aisle. The results are inscribed in the House caucuses — Republican House members in 2020 are just under 90 percent White males; in contrast, Democrats counted just 39 percent White and male.

For a long time, the White voters could be kept in place with little winks and whistles. But as national demographics evolved, Donald Trump resorted to full-throated racial cries, squeezing those last, hard, White votes out of the electorate.

That’s precisely what worries critics. As the racial divide emerged (yet again) in the 1960s, the New York Times served up the conventional wisdom we still hear today: “It is not a little depressing to read that … Americans vote only their bloodline, church, neighborhood, and caste.” The clash of group vs. group injects tribal animosities into our politics. It runs from groups reaching for the American Dream to bigots reacting against them.

Why isn’t this a cause for worry? Because identity politics always keeps right on changing. Groups evolve, parties shift, new coalitions emerge. The flux — and the clash — break the old status quo, refresh the culture, and prevent stasis. They are essential to an open society. The 2020 presidential election is just the latest example. White voters, who had anchored the Republican coalition for 50 years, began dramatically resorting themselves all over again — well-educated Whites to the Democrats, low-education Whites clinging fast to Republicans. Meanwhile, liberals stand incredulous as polls show Latinx voters are beginning to slip away from them. Their complaints sound eerily like those of the Republicans as they began to hemorrhage Black voters in the 1930s. Always the same lesson: Take a group for granted and watch it trickle away from your coalition.

Rather than lament the identity politics that has always been central to the American experiment, we ought to address their true gravest danger: the eternal temptation to suppress rival voters. Neither the Constitution nor any of its amendments ensure the right to vote or specifies clear procedures. The result has been constant mischief. From John Adams, who repressed votes from foreigners, to Southern Democrats who feared Black equality, to Donald Trump and his groundless blasts about voter fraud, politicians confront rising new majorities by finding ways to strip their right to vote. The answer to our restless clash of tribes lies not in trying, somehow, to suppress identity politics but in ensuring every side gets heard on Election Day.

American history offers us a clear lesson. Go on and embrace identity politics: It sits at the dynamic heart of the American way. Simultaneously, it’s time to end the long, national tradition of voter suppression. Give everyone the ballot, once and for all, and then celebrate the creative flux of American identity as it shapes and reshapes our politics, our culture and our nation.

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A King Above and Beyond Politics – The New York Times

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A King Above and Beyond Politics

Why are the people of Thailand rising up against royal power now?

By

Mr. Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

  • Dec. 5, 2020, 11:00 a.m. ET
Credit…Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several thousand people dressed in yellow or pink, colors associated with the royal family of Thailand, gathered along the road to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Many more people have gathered at recent protests to call for the monarchy’s reform.

Last week a demonstration was supposed to take place outside the majestic yellow building that houses the Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the Thai royal family’s colossal fortune. In 2018, the current king and Bhumibol’s son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, claimed direct, personal control over those assets, estimated at $30 billion to $60 billion.

But after razor wire and road blocks went up around the vast compound, organizers changed the venue for the demonstration to the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank: King Maha Vajiralongkorn is thought to be the bank’s largest single shareholder.

One of the protest leaders, Panupong Jadnok, had called for the gathering to “demand the return of taxpayers’ money.” In August, protesters put out a 10-point manifesto “to resolve the problems with the monarchy,” adding that it “must not hold power related to politics.”

Why, though, are the people of Thailand rising up against this king now when the previous one drastically restricted Thai democracy?

The kings of modern Thailand have sometimes exercised their royal prerogatives apparently at odds with existing laws. King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn’s father, intervened in politics occasionally but significantly, even though Thailand’s many constitutions over the years have defined the monarchy as being “yoo neua gaan meuangor “above politics.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in 1955 with their children Princess Sirindhorn, left, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Credit…-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The historian Thongchai Winichakul has argued that King Bhumibol’s reign redefined the meaning of that phrase: from staying out of politics to being on top of politics, or acting as the ultimate authority, superseding all laws.

King Bhumibol’s extrajudicial exercise of power wasn’t just tolerated by many Thais; it came to seem justified, even when it contravened the popular will as expressed in democratic elections. (During his 70-year reign, he endorsed a number of military coups.) Partly this was because of King Bhumibol’s status as a “dhammaraja,” a virtuous leader and god-king. He was also immensely popular, partly for spearheading development projects in marginalized regions and his personal outreach.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, after just a few years on the throne, seems to have inherited his father’s practice of overriding formal limits on royal power, but not his spiritual aura, nor his ways.

King Bhumibol usually pursued his political objectives by acting at a slight remove, typically through the monarchy’s vast influence network, such as via the Privy Council. More problematically, he at times called on the judiciary, including in 2006, to annul the results of a democratic election.

But King Maha Vajiralongkorn has tended to intervene directly, without proxies.

Soon after he ascended to the throne in late 2016, he requested amendments to a new Constitution — which was essentially drafted by the military and approved in a nationwide referendum — so that he could rule Thailand from Germany, where he had been residing. Last year, he ordered by royal decree that two army units be placed under his direct command.

In the lead-up to the last elections in March 2019, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, a splinter group from the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (who was deposed in a military coup in 2006) nominated Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, the king’s older sister, as its candidate for prime minister. The king issued a royal order prohibiting her candidacy, while accusing Mr. Thaksin of jeopardizing the monarchy’s supposed apolitical position. The Constitutional Court then disbanded the party.

Last year, too, King Maha Vajiralongkorn elevated Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, a former bodyguard of his, to the status of “royal noble consort” — a practice last exercised a century ago. Months later he summarily stripped her of her rank and titles; a royal statement claimed that she had been disloyal and had tried to compete with Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the king’s wife. Ms. Sineenat disappeared from public view, sparking rumors that she had been imprisoned or even killed. Then in September the king ordered her privileges reinstated, now calling her “flawless.”

By my count, based on announcements in the royal gazette, more than 200 people have been dismissed, demoted or imprisoned since 2016, without access to proper legal process, presumably on the personal orders of the king.

The country’s punishing lèse-majesté laws were not applied in recent years, at the king’s request. But with the protests of the past months becoming more and more daring, the government has redeployed them recently.

It is not the first time the royal family’s prerogatives have been in tension with the popular will. But protesters see King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personalized exercise of power as a breach of the monarchy’s tacit social contract with the Thai people.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Rajinikanth's spiritual politics not against any religion, says his aide – Mint

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Chennai: Superstar Rajinikanth’s spiritual politics has got nothing to do with any particular religion and the actor will embark on a political journey of inclusiveness without any kind of discrimination, his close aide Tamizharuvi Manian said on Saturday. Spiritual politics was first proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, he noted. Rajinikanth had on Thursday announced he will float his political party in January 2021 to face next year’s Assembly polls and take forward spiritual politics.

Manian, a former Congress leader, has been appointed by the actor in a supervisory role in the proposed party and for its launch. Speaking to reporters here after holding discussions with Rajinikanth, Manian said there was no link between spiritual politics and religion politics. “Spirituality has no religion. A spiritualist is one who sees him in every living being and all of them in him. He has no caste, religion, no discrimination. Spirituality is all about embracing everyone with love. Rajini is going to do that,” Manian said.

Rajinikanth’s spiritual politics should not be construed as for or against any particular religion as the actor is “indebted” to all of Tamils who have taken him to great heights, he added. “There is nothing like only a particular caste or religion stood by him. Beyond caste and religion, the entire Tamil Nadu has taken him to such heights and therefore he brings in a brand of spiritual politics encompassing all,” he said.

Mahatma Gandhi first proposed spiritual politics where the one practising it should remain selfless. “Spiritual politics is not some discovery of Rajini. Mahtama Gandhi said it first… there will be no selfish interest and it is all about public welfare which Rajini will strive for.”

“Further, the actor does not want the party to be strengthened by criticising others or “talking about the mistakes of DMK and AIAMDK” but will reach out to people with “what I intend to do for people,” he added. Rajinikanth aims to provide corruption-free, transparent administration where there will no discrimination based on caste or religion, Manian said, echoing what the superstar said on Thursday.

The actor’s politics will be a departure from the current “hate politics” in Tamil Nadu where attacking each other is the order of the day, he said. Asked about Rajinikanth’s earlier announcement that he did not intend to be Chief Minister even if his party captured power, Manian said that matter was not being discussed now.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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Canadian politicians won't get vaccine prioritization – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders of all levels will be waiting their turn to receive a COVID-19 vaccine like most other Canadians.

“We have really based our priorities on burden of illness, so people who have died most of the disease or have been most touched with complications, and frontline health-care workers, as well as Indigenous communities and remote communities. Political leaders are not part of these groups,” said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

This of course, is not unexpected, as the latest advice from NACI— the group of medical, pharmaceutical and public health experts who make recommendations to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on vaccines and vaccine-related issues—was to narrow down its priority list due to the small number of initial doses expected.

Under the revised recommendations, the advisory committee has identified four specific groups as the ones who should be considered for early immunization.

  • Residents and staff of long-term care, assisted living, retirement homes, and chronic-care hospitals;
  • Individuals of advanced age (starting with 80 years and older and expanding by five-year increments to age 70 years as doses become available);
  • Health-care and personal support workers, considering exposure risk and direct contact with patients; and
  • Indigenous communities

In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the government for not securing more doses that could be ready in the initial rollout, which is right now estimated to be six million doses by March 31, which is enough to vaccinate three million people.

“The census shows that seniors that are over 70 years of age, there are more… then the three million that the doses will cover,” Singh said. “The first round should have secured more.”

Asked earlier this week whether he’d be looking to get one of the early doses, Trudeau said that he’s “going to trust the experts to make the right determination of what the priority populations are.”

Discussions are continuing with the provinces as to how many doses of the initial tranche each will have access to.

Dr. Quach-Thanh said that while her team is offering the recommendations for who should get access to the first doses, “it is very possible that in the end, logistically and based on local epidemiology, provinces might decide to tweak a bit within the priorities.”

She also said that NACI is not recommending the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory, nor is it the government’s plan to force anyone to be immunized.

With files from CTV News’ Jackie Dunham

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