Be honest about the last 10 years. Have any identity-based crusades made our collective economic, social and cultural lives any better? Think of all the money that’s been poured into activist NGOs, diversity and inclusion departments, sensitivity readers, boutique academic departments, and books telling us to Do Better™. Consider the energy expounded on enforcing changes to language, customs and taboos. Has it given sense and coherence to our society such that we can navigate our differences in good faith?
No honest person can answer in the affirmative.
It’s true that in 2012, there were still instances of police brutality and intimidation that were especially prevalent among African-Americans. Likewise, sexual harassment in the workplace still occurred—and in some industries powerful men were protected by networks of pliant colleagues who kept their mouths shut. Additionally, gay and lesbian couples didn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals. So while I’d argue the broad cultural environment was pretty stable, some Americans had some legitimate grievances.
And the Democratic Party knew this. They also knew they’d shot their bolt on any economic initiatives during Barack Obama’s first term. They passed a sub-par stimulus bill that barely budged one of the slowest economic recoveries in history. They passed a banking reform bill that made life harder for small businesses, community banks and credit unions—while bolstering big businesses and the consulting firms they hire to help with compliance. And we had Obamacare, a giant giveaway to insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry (and more consulting firms, with Accenture getting $90 million upfront to fix the stupid website).
The Party was pulverized in the 2010 midterms by the Tea Party wave—the dying breath of austerity-loving zombie Reaganism—giving them easy cover from having to discuss economics. Obama himself got behind pinning Social Security to the Consumer Price Index, which would slow the growth of benefits to recipients. Why would a supposedly “progressive” president do this this instead of, say, raising the cap on income taxable for FICA (currently at $142,800)? Could it be that the Democratic Party’s true constituencies had become financial services companies and big pharma?
As for Occupy Wall Street, Obama and most of his party paid scant attention. Why bother? Most participants were cut from the cloth of the Democrats’ most loyal constituency of all, highly-educated, upper-middle class liberals. Occupy, like the Bernie Sanders-led “movement” that emerged in its wake, functioned as a radical chic recruitment drive for young Democrats. The people marching in Zuccotti park would vote Democrat no matter what, just as Bernie would always endorse whomever the Party nominated.
But the Democrats still needed votes. They needed a way to reassure its real constituents that it could obtain power and deliver the goods. By 2012, it was clear that we didn’t live in 1962 anymore. The notion would be a crass insult to civil rights leaders, women, gays and others who’d put their reputations (and sometimes, lives) on the line. However, as Obama’s second term lurched onward, the Democrats and their soft-power legions in academia, the media and entertainment realized something. There was money to be made and votes to be won in terrifying people into thinking it really wasstill 1962.
They couldn’t hurl the country into the maelstrom too quickly. Phenomena like trigger warnings and safe spaces were met with caution when they emerged in academia in 2013. The Black Lives Matter movement that came about in 2014 was kept at arm's-length. Gamergate, gigantic as it felt on Twitter and certain online spaces, was still too esoteric to bubble up to the surface. As for workplace scandals, a lot of them were still confined to adultery—how quaint!
What they needed was a heel, a villain to act as a catalyst for a nationwide cultural psychosis. And they got one. Trump’s nomination and subsequent election was the sum of all fears. While he ran on and implemented plenty of the old Reaganite orthodoxies, his platform also included a lot of populist planks from his days in the Reform party. Some of these ideas, from strong borders to immigration controls, were once top priorities of the Democratic party. To run against Trump, the Party would have to pivot on much of its old economic agenda and go full-force into the culture war.
The #MeToo movement highlighted some terrifying behavior, but was blown so far out of proportion that a bad date with Aziz Ansari was equated with actual rape. But proportionality wasn’t the point. The point was to scare suburban women with white collar office jobs into voting for the Democrats. Trump did say some horrible things about immigrants. And in an act of cruel ignorance, his first immigration ban on several Muslim-majority countries didn’t make exceptions for current visa and Green Card holders. But American workers of all races have a real interest in the size of the labor pool. And the “kids in cages” meme was hilariously ignorant of Obama’s own record. But genuinely representing any community’s interest wasn’t the point. The point was to scare Latinos and Muslims into voting for the Democrats.
The gay rights movement had accomplished many of its major goals by 2016. Gays and lesbians could openly serve in the armed forces, get married and visit their spouses in the hospital. But the Democratic Party and several NGOs and advocacy groups had made gay rights into one of its major pillars, and it paid off. Why stop there? You think people on the activist payroll would just pack up and go home after Obergefell v. Hodges? The point was to reify ever-more marginal identities and causes to create Democratic voting constituencies out of thin air.
And then there’s race.
If we consider the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, from the riots ignored by much of the media, to the swindling tens of millions of dollars from BLM’s supporters to the benefit of its leaders, to the devastating effect equity-based criminal justice has had on many black communities, it doesn’t seem like our great racial reckoning has done black people much good. But you know what the point of it all was—to scare as many African-Americans as possible into thinking it’s still 1962. But it’s not true. And it didn’t even work that well. In 2020, Donald Trump increased his share of the vote with every demographic exceptfor white men. The Democrats once crowed that “demographics is destiny,” and perhaps they were right, but not in the way they expected.
However, some people online act like we should be back in 1962. Since 2015, whenever a leftist says, “I’m here to scare you!” some right-wing crank replies, “And I’m here to help!” Without fail, a few Republicans and Fox News hosts will be dumb enough to try and cultivate edginess from this dynamic. They see the increasing numbers of non-whites in the United States and play cock-tease with “The Great Replacement” theory, ignoring the facts I shared above about the changing voting preferences of many Latino, Asian, and even black voters. By throwing away the opportunity of a century to build a diverse voting coalition with the promise of moderation, normalcy and stability—they make the exact same error as the woke, essentializing people by race.
They’d rather share the lunch table with IQ obsessives, the dissidents sooth-saying about the impending collapse and national divorce, and the very serious intellectuals categorizing human ethnicities like the races in Dungeons and Dragons. Such are the people produced by post-Covid state of exception. The “alt-right” is dead, and was barely a force to be reckoned with in the first place. But it’s a mistake to characterize it as simply a Democratic Party op. Charlottesville was an isolated incident, one callously milked by leftists ever since. But it still happened. And a lot of radical right-wing groups are packed with feds. But the number of true believers is not zero.
It’s also a mistake to condemn these ideas merely because they help the left. While most of this really is just laughably cheesy, it can still kick up some dust we shouldn’t be breathing. There’s only a few embers of racism left in the US, why pour gasoline on them? Edgy jokes and shitposting are one thing. Who cares. But if you start memeing your schtick into a movement, you might start losing track of who’s merely blowing off steam on 4-Chan and who’s Xeroxing copies of The Turner Diaries.
Highly intellectualized, irony-veiled bigotry is poisonous and corrosive on its own terms. And it’s simply incorrect. Consider the success of Nigerians in the US. As Financial Times reported in 2020: “In the US, Nigerians are the most highly educated of all groups, with 61 percent holding at least a bachelor's degree compared with 31 percent of the total foreign-born population and 32 per cent of the US-born population, according to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute. More than half of Nigerian immigrants (54 per cent) were most likely to occupy management positions, compared with 32 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 39 per cent of the US-born population.”
And then there’s the idea that “difference plus proximity equals conflict.” If that were true, then why is it that New York City is more racially diverse than ever and nowhere near as violent as 30 years ago? In 1990, New York City had 2245 murders. In 2020, it had 468 murders. In 1990, non-whites made up 48 percent of New Yorkers. In 2020, they made up 66 percent. Every year, without fail, New Yorkers of all races go to concerts together, ride the subway, go to Yankees and Mets games, avoid Times Square, hate Bill De Blasio, etc. While never perfect, they seem to shuffle along pretty well for the largest city in the country.
These facts should prove embarrassing to the two groups looking to sow discord in American society. For the left, if America really was a congenitally racist society, how would any of this be possible? For the extreme right-wing fringe, doesn’t this contradict the wisdom and intelligence stats you calculated so carefully? Could it be that ethnic Nigerians don’t magically conform either to internalized victimhood or some stupid IQ graphs? Is it possible that NYC’s problems were complicated? The Irish and Italians got over it. Imagine trying to cultivate victimhood in OR race-hatred between those two groups today.
But to focus on woke “allyship” for a moment, here’s a critical point no one is willing to make. For any woman, person of color or member of the LGBT community currently reading this—consider two versions of me, a straight white male, pledging their support for you.
Here’s what the first one says: “I just want you to know that I support you, a [fill in identity here], as an ally. I formally recognize my privilege and understand the various wrongs people like me have done to people like you. I promise to do the work and to do better. Please know that you’re safe around me.”
We’ve been politically-conditioned to think this is how we should talk to one another. But any honest person will see it as flimsy, weak and fake. First, It’s contingent on political expediency and identity, which is messed up on its own. But here’s something else that should give you pause. It’s a manipulative sleight-of-hand that solicits validation for the speaker. “Please tell me I’m one of the good ones!” Can you think of anything more pathetic? If someone isn’t a bigot, they don’t need validation. There’s a good reason women hear alarm bells now when a man self-identifies as a “male feminist.”
Even more unsettling is the language of “safety.” This is especially salient to the racial question. Why would a white person need to convince you that you’re safe around them? Maybe what they’re really saying is, “I hope I’m safe around you.” You know the type, the prep-school kid who minored in gender studies and posts incessantly about racial justice. But when he visits his friends in Brooklyn, and realizes they live off the J train, you know he’s going to shell out for an Uber instead.
Here’s the second one: “Listen, I want you to know that I’m your friend and you mean a lot to me. No matter what happens, I’ve got your back. If you’re going through something, I’ll be there for you.” This is the language of someone who cares about you. This is how human beings talk. You don’t need a training course on inclusion or a book to teach you this. It’s real, it forms the basis of genuine solidarity, and it’s what makes life worth living. I don’t want to be your ally. I want to be your friend.
People can make fun of the Kumbaya colorblind universalism of the 1990s and 2000s all they want. It was better than what we’ve got now. I remember my college dorm in sophomore year. We had a Sunni Muslim from Egypt and a Shia Muslim from Pakistan living on our floor. They were practically best buddies. None of the bullshit in the Middle East mattered, because they were here, in America. And between them and us white dudes, our friendship was built on what Slavoj Zizek calls “shared obscenity.” We made hilariously offensive jokes to and about each other, but far from detracting from our bonds of friendship, it helped establish and solidify them. You could never get away with what we did back then, and it sucks.
And that was only 2007. We can still go back. And if we want our society to survive and function, we have to go back. We must elect, support and promote people who emphasize the things we have in common. Wokeness and “based-trad” branded bigotry must never be censored by social media platforms or other entities. Rather, they must be voluntarily rejected by as many people as possible. We can’t go on like this.