Book Review: "The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free"
by Mike Gonzalez. 2020. NY, NY: Encounter.
Every now and then a book is published that has the appearance of a scholarly work. This book, The Plot to Change America by Mike Gonzalez, is such a book. The author has a threefold purpose: to provide an intellectual chronology of the rise of identity politics and discuss its impact on American society and the threat that it poses to American liberties. He provides scholarly footnotes to buttress his arguments. As readers can tell, his purpose is political rather than scholarly, which tends to seek accurate interpretation and/or explanation of a particular aspect of reality. He falls short in each component of his purpose when the book is assessed from a scholarly perspective. In keeping with his goal to change how Americans think about identity groups and identity politics, he has produced a conservative political argument that assumes the best of American society and ignores all its forms of domination and oppression.
The book consists of an Introduction and eight chapters which are equally divided between two parts of the book. The four chapters in Part I “describe how the main ethnic and sexual categories were created” (p. 4). The three in Part II “explain the ideological basis for such category creation” and the final chapter offers “policy and political solutions for ending identity politics” (p. 4). In Chapter 1, Gonzalez provides an account, however distorted it may be, of how the label Hispanic was used by scholars, militants, and political leaders to promote a sense of victimization to generate political influence and get a fair share of federal funds. Chapter 2 is devoted to a similar account of Asian Americans. Chapter 3 focuses on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), an invented ethnic category, he argues, to claim, as have Hispanics and Asian Americans, special benefits from governments. In Chapter 4, titled “Sex,” the author provides a similar account as in the previous chapters, this time focusing on feminism, the construction of gender, and “LGBT” identities.
In Chapter 5, the author “traces” the roots of critical theory and postmodernism to Marxism and communism and links the movements of the Sixties to Marxist thinkers. Strangely, he tosses Julian Samora in the lot with Gramsci, Marcuse, and others. Frankfurt School scholars and their adherents are presented as having launched a “systematic attack on Western democratic societies and their cultural norms,” promoted moral and cultural relativism, rejected universal truth and objectivity, and extended the conflict between “oppressors and subordinates” from economics to culture. The aim being to replace the hegemonic narrative with a socialist hegemonic narrative. Gonzalez goes on tirades against Wirth, who defined the concept minority group sociologically rather than numerically, Horkheimer, who promoted critical theory, and Adorno, his colleague who studied “the authoritarian personality” following the conclusion of WWII. Remarkably, he claims that Adorno “pathologized a respect for authority, tradition, religion, and honor as a psychological type especially susceptible to fascism” (p. 130).
In Chapter 6, Gonzalez claims that the Census Bureau has been captured by ethno-racial minority scholars and leaders in their pursuit of political goals. He criticizes scholars who use official racial categories to promote political and social projects to line their pockets and to resist assimilation and ethnic attrition, and implies that the “twilight of ethnicity” would likely be up on us were it not for these activists who have institutionalized these categories in government bureaucracies. The author then criticizes the use of the term “diversity” and corporate practices that use it to produce what he calls “coercive group proportionalism.” He disagrees with the view that we must take into account race in order to get past racism. While preferences were to last until they were no longer needed, he claims, their use has led to the “balkanization of America.”
In Chapter 7, Gonzalez tells readers why all of his concerns matter, namely that school work settings have been transformed into “reeducation camps” where employees are forced to undergo training to not only stamp out implicit bias and White supremacy culture but also “’individualism’, ‘objectivity,’ ‘perfectionism,’ ‘either/or thinking, a ‘sense of urgency,’ and worship of the written word’” (p. 178) as a way of introducing socialism. The ultimate aim, he says, is to “destroy the free enterprise, liberal system that best offers protection for man’s natural rights” (p. 179). White supremacists, he asserts, “are numerically small and have little to no impact on policy or politics” (p. 191). He goes on to cite Huntington and Schlesinger, conservative scholars concerned with the “disuniting of America.” Grievance mongering and a “culture of victimhood,” he says, have become the ways by which to attain moral status and material rewards.
In Chapter 8, the final chapter, Gonzalez argues against preferential treatment on the basis of race, national origin, and/or sex. The plot, the central theme of his book, is “to transform the country, upend the culture, abolish the family, and replace it all with a totalitarian system that eliminates the individual, his agency and his rights” (p. 199). He proposes a civil rights movement 2.0 that eliminates the distortions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and proscribes preferences based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. He cites the ideas of conservative social commentators and conservative justices such as Scalia, who claimed that Americans are one race. To instill grievances to disempower individuals, he says, is the “devil’s work” (p. 214). Schools must stop poisoning students’ minds. We need new schools, he says, and points to charter schools to break the stranglehold that proponents of Critical Race Theory have on the curriculum. Ultimately, he wants to eliminate economic benefits on the basis of group identities.
While familiar with and citing a vast political and sociological literature, Gonzalez does not use it to understand the social and political features of the U.S. Instead, he uses it selectively, distorting views, making direct connections where there aren’t any, and overgeneralizing relationships. In the end, the book constitutes a political diatribe filled with hyperbole against progressive movements that asserts conservatism as the solution. Apparently, he has learned nothing from the nation’s past and contemporary history.