ROD THOMSON: How identitarianism killed American meritocracy and will destroy the nation

In the deep background of the endless culture wars and bread and circuses politics, there has been a simmering debate over the value of meritocracy as a foundational basis for our choices. But that simmering is now turning to a boil as the reality of merit-losing bubbles to the foreground with escalating consequences.

From a US Supreme Court Justice writing an embarrassing, error-riddled opinion to a deputy Energy Department non-binary individual stealing suitcases at airports, and military public communications personnel using Russian warships instead of US warships for a Fourth of July social media post to a frequently incoherent vice president, the price of identitarianism is coming into full view.

Traditionally, in modern America, the operating assumption has been that choosing the best people for jobs, promotions, schools, sports and so on results in the best results for society. It has been seen as the upward on-ramp for individuals who do not have family connections or come from wealth, but are smart, hard-working and willing to delay gratification. It is individual-oriented bootstrapping upward mobility, a hallmark of Americanism.

In just one easy measure, meritocracy has resulted in nearly 80 percent of American millionaires who inherited nothing through family connections going on to earn their millions in net worth through hard work, dedication, and talent. This doesn’t happen in other countries, and it cannot happen in any other system, particularly the opposite one.

The opposite of this meritocratic system is the identitarian system, the increasingly dominant ideology governing American institutions. In this system, perceived victimhood in defined people groups, particularly race and sex/gender, drives choices for advancement. Diversity is the primary mechanism for achieving this brave new world.

This system does not reward the merits of individuals - hard work, dedication, talent, delayed gratification - but the victimhood of groups. It’s why it is most often associated with the group victimology of Marxism, but using groups largely consisting of immutable characteristics of race and sex.

That’s the broad outlines of the quiet debate. But the loud actions boiling from it are beginning to bedevil our institutions, as we watch, often without fully seeing, just exactly what the victory of identitarianism over meritocracy looks like. It’s ugly, and if it continues, there won’t be enough lipstick in the world to cover over this porker of a philosophy.

Let’s start with two of the most consequential appointments of the Biden Administration, because both were publicly declared to be identitarian choices from the beginning, i.e. they had to be black women. Math, newly discovered to be part of white supremacy, shows just how difficult this is to pull off with quality.

If all applicants for a position are considered regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, age and so on, then you have a theoretical basket of 100 percent of the population to choose the best. But if you narrow it to black women, you end up with a mere 6.8 percent of the population, ruling out 93.2 percent. That alone dramatically narrows the possibility of choosing the best person.

So candidate Joe Biden said he wanted to choose a black woman as his vice presidential running mate and the field for that was vanishingly small when considering the required political profile to pull it off. And so we ended up with a cackling, word-salad embarrassment of a vice president that even Democrats don’t know what to do with. Identity over merit.

The far more disturbing result was when Biden promised the same thing for a Supreme Court justice to replace retiring Justice Steven Breyer and chose now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. First, Jackson could not or would not say what a woman is during her confirmation hearings in the Senate. Which, while bad, also reflects our mass delusion on the concept of gender at the moment - a weirding element of identitarianism, in that gender is considered fluid.

However, in her first opinion as a Supreme Court justice, her dissent from the majority in striking down racial preferences read more like a college political paper that was light on law, heavy on political platitudes and riddled with embarrassing errors.

The biggest boo-boo was when Jackson wrote, “For high-risk black newborns, having a black physician more than doubles the likelihood that the baby will live, and not die.” She relies for this claim on an amicus brief filed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which referenced an earlier study, which does not even claim to find a doubling in survival rates for high-risk black newborns who have a black attending doctor. It actually found just a difference of 0.129 percent.

As Jay Greene wrote at the Daily Signal, “The fact that neither the Association of American Medical Colleges nor Jackson’s clerks could read and properly understand a medical study is an alarming indication for the current state of both medical and legal education.” Identity over merit, probably in Jackson’s choice of clerks, also.

In a cringing effort to feed the diversity machine of identitarianism with the latest in oppression, President Biden named Sam Brinton as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy. Brinton is a trans LGBTQ activist who goes by the pronouns they/them, which in itself butchers the English language and muddies up the most basic communications.

Brinton, it seems, is a bit sticky-fingered when it comes to lifting women’s suitcases at airports, which he has been caught doing repeatedly - and amazingly was not fired after the first one, but did it again. He was fired after that. Then it was discovered he’d done it a third time.

Identity over merit on a grand scale.

But the victories of identitarianism balloon far beyond politics and are becoming clear in everyday events.

For the Fourth of July, the United States Pacific Fleet tweeted out a picture of an American soldier saluting warplanes and ships. Only problem was, well, all of it. The soldier is saluting with his left hand and the war vessels were Russian Su jets and a Russian destroyer. Of course, this was Pride Month, and with even the US military becoming more identitarian, it was pushing out rainbow nonsense everyday. The tweet was deleted, but the victory of identity over merit was showing.

NASA has also moved heavily into identity over merit. Two years ago, the space agency announced its new "Mission Equity" initiative in a gushing promo. “At NASA, we're on a mission of equity, launching opportunity... To use science, data and technology to advance equity.” Equity is a part of identitarianism, as it seeks to create equal outcomes between all groups.

As part of this, NASA wanted more women scientists and made Jamie Rankin the project scientist for Voyager in December 2022, a hire that was ballyhooed across the media-sphere. About eight months later, NASA lost contact with Voyager 2 after 45 years when engineers “inadvertently caused the craft to turn its antenna 2 degrees away from the direction of its home planet.” Two weeks later, they were able to re-establish contact.

Of course, Rankin may well be a fine scientist, but her hire was promoted as part of the breaking barriers goals of NASA, and like affirmative action over the decades, all who are part of favored identity groups become smeared with a tint of not earning it.

The examples pile up almost daily. Not all can be directly attributed to an identity hire. Any engineering team can make a mistake. But it hadn’t happened over 45 years and when there was an apparent diversity hire, it happened within months.

This debate over merit and its ramifications are becoming more public. Tyranny of Merit by Michael J. Sandel, published in 2021 became a best-seller. He represents the increasingly popular notion in academics and mainstream culture that meritocracy is at odds with the common good, because it creates unequal outcomes. Indeed it does. Because free people making free choices will always result in disparate outcomes. That’s reality.

But Sandel writes a popular line according to what Kindle readers highlighted: “The meritocratic ideal is not a remedy for inequality; it is a justification of inequality.” It is a direct attack on merit.

The brief examples provided above, anecdotal though they may be, suggest that diversity hires through the rubric of identity politics will make for a spiraling quality of life. It will range from the comic to the tragic, and bit by bit, institution by institution, everything great in America will slowly decay into mediocrity or simply be destroyed.

We are watching it in real time.

Rod Thomson is a former daily newspaper reporter and columnist, Salem radio host and ABC TV commentator, and current Founder of The Thomson Group, a Florida-based political consulting firm. He has eight children and seven grandchildren and a rapacious hunger to fight for America for them. Follow him on Twitter at @Rod_Thomson. Email him at [email protected].


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