Ladies! David Brooks Has Thoughts On How You Did The Women's March Wrong
Hey ladies! New York Times columnist David Brooks would like to have a word with you about the Women's March this weekend. He thinks it was all very nice and cute of you to try, but you failed (by having the largest protest in the history of the United States?), and he'd like to help you see the error of your ways!
The number one problem, of course, is that you are wrong.
In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. 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.”
These issues are, he claims, only important to upper-middle class coastal elite types. You know, like me -- a freelance writer who lives in the Midwest! Oh, won't you give me a moment before I continue? Jeeves needs to know what kind of caviar I would like to eat tonight, here in my glorious mansion that I live in.
To be very clear -- these are all actually issues that affect the poor more than anyone. If you have enough money, you don't need reproductive rights. Because if you need an abortion and live in a place where it's illegal, you can jump in a plane and travel to get one, as was the case before Roe. You don't need your birth control to be affordable. To boot, equal pay is pretty important when you're counting every penny, as is affordable health care. Oh! And the environment? Also a class issue! You see any rich people rushing off to move to Flint, Michigan? You see any fracking happening in and around McMansions? No, and you won't any time soon, either. The rich will use their money to shield themselves as best they can from the impact of terrible environmental policies, despite the fact that they will be the ones to "profit" the most out of them.
Another problem, says Brooks, is the fact that protests are stupid and don't do anything, and we just should leave everything to elected officials/philosopher kings, ok? Which is definitely not an elitist thing to think!
Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements — the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.
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.
Now, I could see how you might think that is true, if you think that all people do is protest and then go off and do nothing. There's a reason protests are also called "demonstrations." The purpose is not simply to go and have a grand ol' time dancing in the streets, but to demonstrate the size and power of a movement. To stand up publicly and be counted. So that those who are in "party politics" take notice and see what people want. Brooks also seems to have missed all the speakers at the march who told people that if they really want change, they need to go out and run for office, contact their legislators, and keep up the pressure on the political process.
Oh! And for what it's worth -- it's not just the civil rights movement that came out of protest. It's not like the government woke up one day and decided labor laws might be a good idea, or that giving women the vote might be a good idea, or that funding AIDS research might be a good idea, or letting gay people get married might be a good idea all on their very own. No, people worked and protested and demonstrated for years for those things.
And last, but certainly not least, David Brooks does not like the fact that the march focused on "identity politics" rather than patriotism!
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.
If David Brooks would like to offer a "red, white and blue alternative patriotism" he is welcome to do that himself. It is not anyone's job to do that for him. We will continue to fight for Planned Parenthood, because we happen to think that's more important.
Brooks continues on his "ew, gross, identity politics" thing:
Soon after the Trump victory, Prof. Mark Lilla of Columbia wrote a piece on how identity politics was dooming progressive chances. Times readers loved that piece and it vaulted to the top of the most-read charts.
But now progressives seem intent on doubling down on exactly what has doomed them so often. Lilla pointed out that identity politics isolates progressives from the wider country: “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
Essentially, of course, Brooks is suggesting here that we are living in a "bubble" because we don't understand that more conservative types wish to live in a bubble.
The fact that people still see something that does not center straight white Christian men, and immediately shrink back and scream "Identity politics!!! RUN!!!!" is the reason why "identity politics" are needed in the first place. Straight white Christian men are not the "default" by some kind of magic or because they did something to earn it, they are the default because, for the last several centuries, they have been the most visible. By making a concerted effort to make other sorts of people just as visible, we seek to get to a place where there is no "default."
Sure enough, if you live in blue America, the marches carpeted your Facebook feed. But The Times’s Julie Bosman was in Niles, Mich., where many women had never heard of the marches, and if they had, I suspect, they would not have felt at home at one.
There were three Women's Marches in Michigan, actually, -- in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Also, Bosman covered the reaction to the Women's Marches in Niles, and although some hadn't heard of them, others were actually quite supportive. To boot, I'm not sure why they would think they would not have felt at home at one, unless they voted for Trump. In which case, why would they go?
You see, unlike David Brooks, I'm not down for condescending to people who live in small towns or small cities -- because also, unlike him, I grew up in one. And while some people who live in such places might not agree with me politically (just as there are people in Chicago who do not), I do not think they are somehow incapable of reading or watching the news and thus hearing about things like the Women's March.
And now he's gonna whine about "identity politics" again.
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.
That is not identity politics. Those are conversations we needed to have, in order to do better, to build a better movement. Because the whole point of being progressive is to consistently try to do better, and improve upon where we went wrong in the past.
Brooks is suggesting that we are marginalizing women who live in Niles, Michigan, by not centering their concerns, but is mad about us having discussions about how to not marginalize people? How does that work?
Call me crazy, but I actually do not recall David Brooks being all up in arms about identity politics when they had that "trucker protest" a few years back, when a bunch of truckers sought to shut down Washington, D.C. to demand that Obama be impeached. I do not recall him suggesting that it was wrong of them to not include non-truckers, or to reach out and understand the concerns of people like me, who did not want to see Obama impeached.
Brooks ends the world's stupidest essay by suggesting that the only way people who are opposed to Trump is by cohering around what David Brooks wants them to cohere around.
If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.
Um. How about no?
I hate to be the one to tell David Brooks this, but it is very weird that he thinks that he, a male conservative columnist, gets to tell liberal women what to do and what to want. I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would do the same. It would not even occur to me. I suppose I could have written an article in which I suggested that David Brooks, instead of whining about "identity politics" and what he thinks the Women's March did wrong, wrote an article praising the march instead, rather than be "divisive" by criticizing it, but that just seems like a weird thing to do.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse