As the armies of the American left, in particular the media, rise up to declare war on Donald Trump—in a way they never imagined declaring war against Islamic terrorism—David Brooks recommends sobriety.
By his lights the Women’s March last Saturday was an important cultural event, but it is still not a movement. As currently constituted, he says, it cannot be “an effective opposition” to the Trump administration.
Of course, millions of women marched against Trump. Yet, the issues they were defending had been repudiated by American voters. Not so much in the presidential election, but in every other election during the Age of Obama. As Nate Silver noted, with Barack Obama Democrats won the presidency but lost the country.
What were the issues that could ground an opposition movement? Better yet, did the March really address the problems that people are concerned about today? Brooks explains:
Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”
These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities. But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.
So, the marchers were claiming action on climate change and Donald Trump was assembling a group of labor union leaders—Hillary Clinton supporters all—and promising to take executive actions that will offer their workers new construction jobs?
Who will win that round?
Social movements, Brooks continues, require organization. They require political parties to turn their raw energy into policy. Such is not the case with the Women’s March. For Brooks it was a cri de coeur, a protest against the new political order, but, lacking a political basis, it was mostly therapy.
Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.
Yes, indeed, mass group therapy. I believe that Brooks was too polite to say it, but when therapy is merely about feeling and when it fails to direct people toward consequential action it is not just therapy, it is bad therapy.
Like Prof. Mark Lilla, Brooks declares that the Democratic Party should abandon identity politics. It has failed for years now. In the person of Hillary Clinton it failed again. It is not likely to come back. It is certainly not going to return in the guise of a woman from Idaho, by name of Sarah Boynton Brown, who wants the Democratic National Committee to shut down white people.
In Brooks’s words:
Finally, identity politics is too small for this moment. On Friday, Trump offered a version of unabashed populist nationalism. On Saturday, the anti-Trump forces could have offered a red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement.
Instead, the marches offered the pink hats, an anti-Trump movement built, oddly, around Planned Parenthood, and lots of signs with the word “pussy” in them. The definition of America is up for grabs. Our fundamental institutions have been exposed as shockingly hollow. But the marches couldn’t escape the language and tropes of identity politics.
He continues, remarking the incoherence of a movement that is trying to agglomerate a mass of incoherent and conflicting messages:
Identity-based political movements always seem to descend into internal rivalries about who is most oppressed and who should get pride of place. Sure enough, the controversy before and after the march was over the various roles of white feminists, women of color, anti-abortion feminists and various other out-groups.
The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now. Trump carried a majority of white women. He won the votes of a shocking number of Hispanics.
The central challenge today is not how to celebrate difference. The central threat is not the patriarchy. The central challenge is to rebind a functioning polity and to modernize a binding American idea.
As if to prove Brooks’s point, the March organizers banned a pro-life feminist group from Texas, while embracing anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour… a March organizer.
Bethany Mandel has researched Sarsour for The Forward. Her conclusions are not encouraging:
One of the key organizers of the event and a featured speaker, Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, bills herself as “an award-winning, Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American-Muslim racial justice and civil rights activist, community organizer, social media maverick, and mother of three. Sarsour has been at the forefront of major social justice campaigns both locally in New York City and nationally.”
It sounds good… until you remove the veils of propaganda. Mendel discovered that the truth—you know, the facts—disprove the assertion.
She quoted Andrea Peyser’s article from the New York Post:
Sarsour contends that Israel and American supporters of the Jewish state are responsible for slaughter in the Mideast….Her outrageous online assaults sank to a depressing level this month, when [she] tweeted a picture of a small Palestinian boy standing before Israeli soldiers clutching rocks in both hands. She added the words, “The definition of courage.”
Of course, Sarsour wants everyone to be living under Sharia Law… because it treats women so well.
The Forward explains:
When a Jewish Queens City Councilman, Rory Lancman, pushed back against Sarsour’s statements on Twitter, Sarsour deemed him a “Zionist troll.”
After the March, one of Sarsour’s first impulses was to champion the paid maternity leave policy in, of all places, Saudi Arabia, while downplaying that little issue of women not being allowed to drive.
The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov, herself on maternity leave, asked Sarsour why, if this the only metric by which to judge a country, why Sarsour doesn’t give Israel, which offers 14 weeks of leave, more praise. A tweet from last year from Sarsour surfaced after the March as well, championing the benefits of Sharia law.
“You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law,” she wrote, “if suddenly all your loans & credit cards become interest free. Sound nice, doesn’t it?”
Obviously, there is more. Notoriously anti-Semitic groups like the Council for American Islamic Relations sponsored the March. For the record, CAIR has consistently opposed late-term abortion. The United Arab Emirates has declared it to be a terror group. Noted Communist Angela Davis was there to defend the Palestinian Cause.
And yet, a pro-life feminist group from Texas was considered beyond the pale.