Pundits love to throw around the term “identity politics.” It’s usually used to diminish the importance or legitimacy of political demands made by marginalized groups that turn on experiences specific to that group. This narrowed definition obscures the true might of identity politics. Virtually all politics is identity politics, because all social interactions revolve around identity and how we socially categorise ourselves.
Trump has created, or at least expressed, an identity for the working and middle class of middle America. The forgotten America. The Main Streets that lost out to Wall Street and globalisation. He represents them, champions them, talks like them, shares their anger, embodies their aspirations and he tells them at every opportunity that “we” are on this quest together, to make America great again.
This championing of the American identity has led to a phenomenon that business school and corporate models of leadership simply cannot explain. Emotionally intelligent, empathic, visionary, charismatic, strategic, strengths focused, humble with a steely determination – forget it! Trump’s success derives not primarily from having these leadership traits, but rather from his skills as an entrepreneur of identity — his ability to represent himself in ways that resonate with his would-be followers’ experience of their world. But, for a certain group, is he no longer representing them?
Is Trump losing the ‘women’ vote?
We are multifaceted and complex creatures with multiple identities. Since the 2016 election, the powerful #MeToo movement has swept the nation and, for many women, brought the identity of being a ‘women’ to the fore. While Trump may be championing the American identity to ‘great’ effect, his continual mocking of the #MeToo movement, general misogyny and tendency to insult women has caused surges of women to get involved in local political organising for the first time.
But what about Republican women? Is it possible that Trump is not just alienating left-leaning women, but permanently damaging the republican’s female ranks, driving some splintering portion of women away for good?
Republican women still overwhelmingly support the president—84 percent of them, according to a POLITICO poll. But that statistic overlooks a broader trend: Fewer and fewer American women identify as Republicans, and that slow migration is speeding up under Trump with women across the country recently rejecting their lifelong Republican identity which may go someway to explaining how the Democrats clinched the house of representatives, delivering a heavy blow to Trump.
Whatever the future of Trump as US president holds, one thing that he has repeatedly shown is that leadership is never about the character of individuals as individuals. This is the “old psychology of leadership” that new research is repeatedly calling into question. Instead, leadership is about individuals as group members—whose success and failure centres on their capacity to create, represent, advance and embed a shared sense of “us.”
To learn more about identity leadership, you can:
About the author…
Dr Will Thomas
Head of research at Great Teams Academy
I work with organisations, leaders and teams across business, sport and the military in providing evidenced-based yet practical solutions. At great teams academy, my role is ensuring that what we do is based on real science. I continue to research and apply a scientifically driven approach to team and leadership development as an honorary research fellow at University of Sussex.