In all the damage assessments and recriminations following the presidential election, one theme I’ve seen way too much of is blaming Trump’s victory on “political correctness.” One person blamed the Left for “demonizing white men” for the past eight years instead of focusing on economic and class issues. Another clutched his pearls about what a dumb strategic move it was to dismiss most of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” And at Reason, human dumpster fire Robby Soave — whose shtik seems to be retyping old Reed Irvine and Dinesh D’Souza screeds with his name on them — literally lays the blame for Trump at the feet of campus speech codes, trigger warnings and safe spaces. (No, if anything defeated Clinton it was stay-at-home Democratic voters disgusted by a Democratic Party that embraced way too many of the same neoliberal — not genuinely libertarian — economic policies favored by Reason.)
Everywhere we see the atmosphere of grievance. Racists, sexists, xenophobes and homophobes, they say, are right to feel affronted at attacks on their bigotry. And even if the criticism is valid, marginalized people should still have tried to be less confrontational in order to avoid alienating all the working class white people whose support we needed to defeat fascism. For real: a Greek anarchist literally asked me last spring if standing up for principle on gay rights was worth the increased risk of losing an election to a fascist. Freddie DeBoer is pushing this line of crap now, although he uses weasel words like “liberals with academic vocabularies” because he won’t come right out and say black and LGBT people should be quiet so working class whites won’t be offended.
But the cultural Right’s sense of grievance is utter nonsense. For people who complain so much about the “politics of victimhood,” they play the victim card better than anybody else.
Long ago, as a child, I can remember hearing old folks complain that “this country’s been going to pot ever since all these people started screaming about their ‘rights.'” And that’s still the attitude of those who talk about “taking our country back.”
Whatever they think of marginalized people demanding their rights, they sure aren’t modest about the rights they claim for themselves. They think they have the right to decide what languages people speak, what religious garb they wear, who they marry, and what bathrooms they go to. And when they talk about PC as an assault on their freedom, what they’re referring to is their freedom to prohibit other people from doing things they disapprove of. You can’t even say “Happy Holidays” to them without them whining about a “War on Christmas.” For all their mockery of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” they’re the most emotionally fragile and easily offended people in existence.
They actually talk about “Thought Police,” and sidle up to other white males with “I guess we’re not allowed to say this any more, but…”
If you compare their complaints to the complaints of the marginalized people they criticize, they’re completely asymmetrical. Women in hijabs have to worry about being verbally and physically assaulted when they leave their homes. Unarmed black people have to worry about being shot in the back and having drop guns planted on their bodies, or being killed in “nickel rides” by sadistic cops. Gay and trans people have to worry about being stomped to death.
So if you think you’re living in a totalitarian nightmare because you have to worry about somebody giving you a dirty look for saying the n-word, or because you’re expected not to throw a tantrum when you see a woman in a hijab or two men kissing, I’ve got the world’s smallest violin. And if you think that’s a sufficient grievance to justify voting for a crypto-fascist just to “teach ’em a lesson,” then yes, you are deplorable.
On top of all this, treating the concerns of marginalized people as secondary for the sake of anti-fascist unity is really stupid from a purely strategic point of view. The fight for basic human rights for justice by people of color, women, LGBT people and immigrants isn’t a ruling class strategy to divide the producing classes. Rosa Parks didn’t refuse to give up her seat, the people at Stonewall didn’t decide to stand up and fight, because they’d been paid by elites to do so. But racism, sexism and homophobia themselves really are ruling class weapons to divide us against each other. It isn’t marginalized people fighting for their dignity, their very existence, who are being “divisive” and playing into the hands of the capitalist ruling class. The divisive ones, the dupes of the ruling class, are the people who would vote for a fascist just out of spite for having to coexist with people they disapprove of.
Besides, throwing simply marginalized people under the bus by de-prioritizing their issues won’t appease the bigots. They won’t be satisfied by anything but our active collaboration in oppressing them. So long as they know people they disapprove of even exist, they’ll feel victimized by the fact. As my Twitter friend @lbourgie says:
Over the years there have been several studies and polls that show skewed perception of majorities toward minorities…. Women speaking 15% and being perceived as talking equally as much. Male hiring managers falsely thinking they employ an equal number of women. People in the US and Europe believing there are exponentially more Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent in their countries. Straight people who think they’re being bombarded with gay propaganda if 2% of people on TV are LGBT. Christians who sincerely believe they’re unfairly penalized and the most disadvantaged group in the US. Knowing all this, why would you embrace a gut emotional reaction that minority group politics — “ID politics” — has drowned out real issues?
That Niemoller poem — “first they came for the socialists…” — isn’t just a cliche. When you throw marginalized people under the bus, they won’t be there when you need them. That’s the significance of the Wobbly slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
Abandoning marginalized people is also strategically stupid because it was marginalized people themselves, alienated by Clinton’s neoliberalism, who were some of the most likely voters to stay home and vote third party. A lot of ardent Clinton supporters liked to frame the left-wing opposition to HRC as “privileged white males.” But the people doing this framing were themselves disproportionately the upper-middle-class white professional types who are the demographic core of establishment liberalism. To the extent that they adhered to any kind of racial or gender politics, it was the outmoded 1970s model of one-dimensional “identity politics” that focused exclusively on putting women and People of Color into the existing power structures, and ignoring class issues, rather than dismantling the power structures themselves.
This ideology is almost the direct opposite of the intersectional politics adhered to by the so-called “SJWs” the cultural Right hates. The left-wing opposition to Clinton is full of People of Color, women, LGBT people (including transgender women excluded by so many second-wave feminists), sex workers, and destitute people from the working poor. Clinton’s biggest upper-middle class liberal worshippers — Amanda Marcotte, Peter Daou, Sady Doyle, Clara Jeffery and their ilk — were likely to insult or block such marginalized critics on social media, and continue to insist that they didn’t exist, that only right-wingers and “Berniebros” had a problem with Hillary.
African-American voter turnout was actually quite depressed compared to 2012 — perhaps because they just couldn’t get very enthusiastic about a candidate who endorsed her husband’s crime bill and welfare “reform” and talked about “super-predators,” and whose campaign put out all kinds of racist dog-whistles about Obama in 2008.
And Trump’s victory hardly reflects a surge of white racism in response to “political correctness run amok.” Trump got two million fewer voters than Romney in 2012. Clinton was rejected because she pursued an economic and foreign policy two microns to the left of the Republican mainstream, and nobody wanted to stand in line 90 minutes for a garbage candidate like her. Period.
So don’t blame marginalized people for Clinton.
The society we’re aiming for — that we should be aiming for, anyway — is one in which human beings are treated as ends in themselves, and not as means to an end. As the saying goes, the means are the end in progress. You don’t build a free and just society by treating some people as more expendable than others.