The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez on American Identity

On Thursday, February 1st, Mr. Mike Gonzalez addressed Buckley Fellows and guests on the topic, “American Balkanization: A Failed 40-Year Experiment. We Need to Return to E Pluribus Unum.” The lecture focused on assimilation, multiculturalism, identity politics, diversity, and the US Census. One Fellow spoke with Mr. Gonzalez before talk, and his thoughts are printed below. 

Mr. Gonzalez is a senior fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. After spending 20 years as a journalist, reporting internationally from Europe, Asia, and Latin America for much of this period, Mr. Gonzalez served as a speechwriter in the Securities and Exchange Commission and in the State Department’s European Bureau under President George W. Bush.

By: Kobe Rizk

In the face of increased prevalence of so-called “buzzwords” like “identity politics” and “lived experience,” the William F. Buckley Program had the chance to hear from a speaker who specializes in this atomization of American culture and politics, and has consistently worked across the spectrum to fix it.

Mr. Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C. basked Heritage Foundation, gave a talk to Buckley fellows last week titled “American Balkanization: A Failed 40-Year Experiment. We Need to Return to E Pluribus Unum.” In the talk he outlined several ways in which the government has attempted to categorize races and ethnicity in America, and why exactly such a system of organizing data is harmful and even misleading.

In an interview before his talk, Gonzalez noted that “the things that our government has done” have created identity politics, which he asserted “has become a real problem in our county.”

“We have come to the point on the right and the left where we realized that with the best of intentions, we have done something that has divided the country,” Gonzalez said.

During his talk, Mr. Gonzalez also outlined how immigration has changed during the past century and the way in which all levels of government have reacted differently to immigrants in recent years. Stating that today’s governments tend to put immigrants into “silos” rather than pushing for an American assimilation, Gonzalez says we’ve sacrificed the overall unity of American identity.

One recent way this has been done, according to Mr. Gonzalez, is the Obama administration’s initiative to create a new ethnic category on the United States Census referred to as Middle East & North Africa (MENA), which he says combines drastically different races and cultures into a single category in a way that is unproductive and even harmful.

This is a formula “that further balkanizes the nation,” Gonzalez said in reference to this Obama initiative, further stating that “this is not something that America should be.” But Gonzalez notes that the Trump administration’s view on proposed changes have been largely positive.

“This [MENA] option isn’t going to be on the 2020 census,” said Gonzalez, a victory which he noted was in large part to the work of him and his team on spreading the message about how this change would have been harmful to the work of the Census Bureau while propagating false beliefs about race and ethnic identity.

When asked if America talks about race too much, Gonzalez noted that “America is by no means that most racist country in the world,” and that “America is the only country that fought a civil war about slavery.” He also advised that “we have to discuss these things, it’s no good to keep them hidden, neither should we obsess about them and think they’re determinate.”

Thinking about the future of this American atomization and how it will look under the new President, Gonzales said that “Trump is a disruptor, his M.O. is disrupting, which means he can change things for the better.”

“This president is about change and he wants to change the way things have been done for the past few decades” said Gonzalez. His talk concluded with a question and answer session about the future of American racial and ethnic identity and how his work at the Heritage Foundation is aiming to fix the myriad problems he has identified and form a more unified America moving into the future.

The Buckley Program hosts weekly events with respected and expert speakers like Mr. Gonzalez. These include lectures, dinner seminars, and firing line debates.


Kobe Rizk is a first year in Ezra Stiles College and serves as the Publicity Director for the Buckley Program.