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Buttigieg Insinuates Identity Politics Have Made Democrats 'Divisive'

Pete Buttigieg

At an HRC gala in Las Vegas, the gay presidential candidate said "we're told we need to choose between supporting an autoworker and supporting a trans woman of color."

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg addressed a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas this weekend where he cautioned against leaning into "identity politics" when taking on Donald Trump.

"In 2020 we get the chance to change the channel of the horror show in the White House. We're not going to do it by out insulting Donald Trump," Buttigieg said warming up the crowd. "The truth is we're not going to knock him flat with some killer line on a debate stage, but believe me, I've thought of plenty. We can't let this election be about the president. If Americans see us spending all of our time talking about him they'll be left with this question, Who's talking about us?"

The gay South Bend, Ind., mayor spoke about how there's no stopping the forward movement of progress -- although conservatives in Georgia and Alabama are currently rolling back reproductive rights for women and the Trump administration continues an all-out assault on the transgender community.

"There are no honest or constructive politics that revolves around the word 'again.' We're not going back. We can't go back. Democrats can't take us back to 2008 or 1998 any more than conservatives can take us back to the '50s," he said.

"Things are changing. Our country is being buffeted by extraordinary change, tectonic change -- some of it good -- as so many of the people in this room can attest. Some of it very challenging -- especially for people in communities like mine who have found not just their income but their identity disrupted," the mayor said.

"That's why, in 2020, our focus can't just be about winning an election. It has got to be about winning an era," he added.

Then, Buttigieg led into a speech about moving away from identity politics toward a place of understanding each others' stories.

"I'd like to comment on one of the buzzwords of our time -- so-called 'identity politics.' When the phrase is used it's usually to wave away our attention from some of those things that make our lived experiences different and the political implication of those differences," Buttigieg began. "Many of the objections come from the right, which is ironic at this time because the current administration has mastered the practice of the most divisive form of such politics -- peak white identity politics designed to drive apart people with common interests."

"I'm not talking about pretending there are equivalencies between the different patterns of exclusion in this country," he clarified.

"I may be part of the LGBTQ community. But being a gay man doesn't even tell me what it's like to be a trans woman of color in that same community, let alone an undocumented mother of four or a disabled veteran or a displaced autoworker. But being gay, just like every other fact about me from where I grew up to what I look like, means that I have a story and if I look to that story I can find the building blocks not only for empathy but for the impetus to action. Because the more you know about exclusion, the more you know about belonging, and we have a crisis of belonging in this country. When you do not belong, that doesn't just put you in a bad mood, it puts you in a different country."

Buttigieg then gave examples of marginalized people whose situations place them in "another country." He spoke of black women dying at triple the rate of white women during childbirth, of Dreamers who've lived in the United States their whole lives yet don't have a path to citizenship, of disabled people being discriminated against in employment opportunities, and of autoworkers who are not longer able to provide for their families.

"Divisive lines of thinking have even entered into the consciousness of my own party, like when we're told we need to choose between supporting an autoworker and supporting a trans woman of color without stopping to think about the fact that sometimes the auto worker is a trans woman of color and she definitely needs all the support that she can get," Buttigieg said to cheers.

"The wall I worry about most isn't the president's fantasy wall on the Mexican border that's never gonna built anyway. What I worry about are the very real walls being put up between us as we get divided and carved up -- walls going up within the working class, within communities, even within families," he said.

"What every gay person has in common with every excluded person of any kind is knowing what it's like to see a wall between you and the rest of the world and wonder what it's like on the other side."

"Yes, I am gay. And I am the son of an immigrant and an Army brat. And I am a husband. And I am a musician. And I am an Episcopalian. And I am a Democrat."

Watch Buttigieg take on identity politics below.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist